Reading the Bible as Literature.  Jeanie C. Crain. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2010. [110-126]

In chapter six of Reading the Bible as Literature, Crain focuses on identifying characters. “The Bible has a cast of thousands of multifaceted characters representing a wide range of human activity” (Crain 110).  The most important point that Crain makes is that “as we learn about characters, we learn about ourselves – coming to understand our own motives, attitudes, and moral natures” (110).  When I was younger, I remember reading my favorite series of books, The American Girl series.  In each of these books, I remember learning about myself through the main character.  The main character was always kind, intelligent, brave, and most of all, perseverant.  The main character’s perseverance always led her to success in the end of the book, and when it came to the end, I always knew that that was how I was, how I would always intend to be, perseverant through every struggle I’m faced with.  I am excited to discover how relatable and unique the characters in the Bible are and how they respond when faced with struggles.

As I said earlier, the Bible contains thousands of different characters, each unique.  Characters must be interpreted, every detail studied closely.  Characters in the Bible are presented with a “cryptic conciseness” (111), described without embellishment and in little detail, but every detail provided is of the utmost importance.  Characters can either be one-dimensional (characters that seem to lack learning or growth and can normally be summarized by one characteristic) or multi-dimensional (characters that are more like real people, learning as they grow, gaining many characteristics along the way).  The details (morals, actions, emotions) about characters are discovered through the narrator; narrators provide the greatest certainty about characters.  Even with the information given by the narrator, the characters in the Bible will remain unresolved – readers will always have to draw their own inferences and come up with their own interpretations. 

Crain simplifies identifying with characters of the Bible by using certain principles of selection: context, actions, responses, words, symbolic actions, requests, impact, description, and structure. I feel that characters reveal themselves through their words, actions, requests, and thoughts.  I will focus on how characters reveal themselves through their words.

As usual, Satan decides to stir up trouble and challenge God’s “blameless and upright servant,” Job.  Job was a man who was very well off, abundant with family and wealth.  Satan believes that while Job fears God, Satan believes this will no longer be true if Job is removed of his family and wealth.  God gives Satan permission to curse Job, trusting that Job will still fear God.  Job is removed of his abundant family and wealth in one day, and struggles with fearing God and withstanding from evil, wondering what he did wrong to anger God.  Job’s dedication to God is shown when he is afflicted with painful sores after recently losing his children, servants, and livestock.  His wife tells him to “curse God and die!” but throughout the day, Job did not sin in what he said.  Naturally, Job eventually feels sorry for himself, as all humans do: “May the day of my birth perish!”  There’s no doubt that Job is blameless, if he is willing to “prove [his] innocence before God.”  Job’s intelligence and faith is revealed through his words: “God understands the way to [wisdom] and he alone knows where it dwells” and “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know…I know [God] can do all things.”  Job’s words reveal his characteristics, even though we are not provided many other details about him except through his words. 

Another example is when David, a seemingly arrogant young man, decides to battle Goliath, an experienced warrior.  David says that Goliath has defied God, but David is shown to be truly faithful to God when he says the words “The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”

One last example of identifying characters by their words is the story of the martyr, Stephen.  I am so excited that Crain mentions him in this chapter, because I just learned about him at church today!  In Acts 6:1-15, Stephen was chosen out of seven “[men], full of the Spirit and wisdom, to represent Jesus as a disciple.  Stephen “performed great wonders and signs among the people.”  As opposition arose, people of the Synagogue of the Freedmen decided to stir up rumors that Stephen spoke blasphemy against Moses and God.  The members of the Synagogue seized Stephen and forced him in front of the Sanhedrin.  Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin revealed bravery and honesty: “You stiff-necked people…always resist the Holy Spirit” and “Your ancestors…have betrayed and murdered the Righteous One.” Saul (mentioned in the chapter for being identified through context) and his jury, listening to Stephen’s preaching, stubbornly decided that this man with a face “like the face of an angel” was to be stoned as a lesson to others to not speak “blasphemy” about Jesus.  Stephen’s dying words uncovered his strong faith and his grace: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against [Saul and his men].”  In the book, Jesus Freaks: Martyrs, by dc Talk, Stephen was pronounced to be the first martyr of Jesus.  Saul saw fearlessness in Stephen, as well as faith, grace, and power.  These characteristics, revealed through Stephen’s words, sparked something in Saul – he eventually became Paul, the first Christian missionary.  Stephen’s words should also spark something in the reader; at least it did for me.  His words renewed my faith in Jesus Christ, knowing that Stephen died proclaiming him.  It is very exciting that I am figuring out how to identify with characters through such simple things as their words and actions.  It makes the characters so much more relatable.

What I find most important is that the struggles of the characters in the Bible “provide a glimpse into the universal human condition” (112); readers are able to experience how characters respond to the same struggles that they deal with.  This makes the characters in the Bible more relatable.  With this knowledge, I feel as though I will be so much more insightful when learning about the characters of the Bible, as well as when learning about characters from other pieces of literature.

Talk, dc. Jesus Freaks: Martyrs. Bloomington: Bethany House Publishers, 1999. Print.

Reading the Bible as Literature.  Jeanie C. Crain. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2010. [110-126]