Chapter Six Review
November 18, 2012
Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction. Jeanie C. Crain. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2010. 110-128
Character development is one of the absolutely essential keys to a good piece of literature. Readers look for characters they can relate to or learn from. In many cases, the characters involved can make or break the story. The Bible introduces readers to thousands of characters, all unique and important in different ways. In Chapter Six of Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction, author Jeanie C. Crain examines the Bible’s use of characters. In this chapter, titled “Character: A Way of Identifying,” Dr. Crain aims to introduce students to the Bible’s use of characterization, and how to identify biblical characters through context, actions, responses, words, symbolic actions, requests, impact, description, and structure. She writes about characters that may be overlooked in the Bible, and demonstrates to students how to understand them. This chapter is interesting and thought-provoking; as a reader, I felt encouraged to look more closely at characters in the Bible from now on.
Why is studying character beneficial to a better understanding of the Bible? “As we learn about characters, we learn about ourselves,” Dr. Crain writes (p. 110). One of the Bible’s goals is to encourage self-reflection and self-assessment. By a character’s actions in the Bible, a reader may learn how to behave (or how not to behave). Some characters have traits we all aspire to have. Characters in the Bible also provide powerful examples of God’s love for his people. God also tests many of the characters in the Bible. Dr. Crain writes that the characters’ “struggles provide a glimpse into the human condition,” (p. 112). This shows the importance of appreciating character development in the Bible.
Obviously, as an introductory text, Reading the Bible as Literature can’t discuss every character found in the Bible. But how does one determine which of the thousands of characters found in the Bible to discuss? Dr. Crain explains her decision on page 113: “I have chosen characters who are less well known or, in some cases, familiar characters who deserve reassessment.” By avoiding the obvious characters, Dr. Crain shows readers that all characters in the Bible are of importance, and that all characters can be studied, regardless of how well-known (or not well-known) they are.
Chapter Six begins with an introduction to character and why examining character in the Bible is important. The introductory statement explains, “As we learn about characters, we learn about ourselves—coming to understand our own motives, attitudes, and moral natures,” (p. 110). This is a powerful statement that attracts the reader’s attention right away. Dr. Crain then introduces readers to definitions of important terms, such as characterization (“the revelation or display of a character’s habits, emotions, desires, and instincts”). The chapter proceeds to discuss omniscient narrators, unique characteristics and how to understand characters in the Bible. The remainder of the chapter focuses on identifying characters through context, actions, responses, words, symbolic actions, requests, impact, description, and structure. Professor Crain uses King Saul and the Witch of Endor as examples of identifying character through context, discussing the witch’s compassion toward Saul after he deceived her. Next, the chapter examines identifying character through actions, focusing on King Solomon and two women prostitutes. In this story, two women are fighting over a child, and Solomon orders to cut the son in half, striving to reveal the true mother’s rejection of this idea and protection of her son. Saul and Solomon are well-known characters of the Bible, but Dr. Crain points out, “just about the time when you think you have these characters figured out or know what they mean, a full grasp of their motives or the narrators’ intentions for them eludes you,” (p. 119). This statement proves to readers that studying the Bible as literature is an on-going process. The chapter then discusses identifying character through other characters’ responses, examining King Josiah and Huldah. As Dr. Crain mentions, Huldah’s importance is revealed through Josiah’s actions and legacy. Next, Stephen and his speech are examined, as the chapter observes identifying characters through their words. Dr. Crain then tells the story of Ezekiel’s wife, as identifying character through symbolic actions is explained. This is an interesting story, where Ezekiel’s wife serves as a symbol for the Temple that the people love and take pride in. Ezekiel’s reaction to his wife’s death serves as a symbol for how the people are expected to react when God takes away the Temple. Chapter Six continues to examine identifying character, now through requests, focusing on Salome, who requested, “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom,” (Matthew 20.21). Identifying character through impact and description are addressed next, observing Eunice and the “elect lady.” The final facet to identifying character is through structure. The structure of the gospel of Mark is discussed. Chapter Six comes to a close with close reading exercises and questions for reflection, such as, “In what ways can characters function as ‘signs’ or symbols?” These questions enable the reader to assess their knowledge and understanding of what they have read.
Chapter Six, “Character: A Way of Identifying,” is an extremely informative and thought-provoking chapter. Dr. Crain achieved her goals in writing this chapter. Readers are given the necessary foundation to understanding and identifying character in the Bible. There are so many different characters in the Bible that it is hard to know where to begin when studying the topic of character. Dr. Crain did an excellent job of providing a starting point. In providing this starting point, the author sparks interest in readers and provokes thought regarding characterization and character identification in the Bible.
A large benefit to Professor Crain’s book is the supplementary material that is provided. Dr. Crain explains in her book that there is more information on her website, www.readingthebibleasliterature.com. This website provides notes, charts, and tables that supplement each chapter. For Chapter Six, the website provides a table titled “Some Named Characters in the Bible.” This table lists some characters in the Bible and the verses in which they can be found. This table, along with other supplementary material found on the book’s website, allows students to gain even more knowledge on the topic being addressed. It is highly beneficial for further study.
In conclusion, Chapter Six of Reading the Bible as Literature is another successful chapter for Dr. Jeanie Crain. Understanding character in the Bible may not seem essential to an average, uninformed student, but this chapter shows the true importance of developing this understanding. Chapter Six is interesting and educational, teaching students how to identify characters in multiple ways. By the end of the chapter, students will be enabled to identify characters in the Bible, and to better understand why characters are the way that they are.