Reading the Bible as Literature. Jeanie C. Crain. Malden, Maryland: Polity Press, 2010. [129-151] 22 pages.


This chapter review is over Reading the Bible as Literature by Jeanie C. Crain. The chapter covered is Chapter 7. In Chapter 7 the main focus was identifying themes and motifs that reoccur and how they unify the Bible. It was broken down throughout the chapter by Dr. Crain introducing the themes and motifs the audience can identify them and the extended framework in which they are found. As given in every Chapter covered so far, the outline for Chapter 7 gave the reader expectations for what main ideas were to be covered in the chapter. The outline included: preliminary considerations, major themes in the Bible, the various covenants promised, close reading, and questions for reflection. Overall, this chapter was effective in providing the audience with various ways of identifying the themes and motifs, while also giving direct examples of the motifs or themes in the Bible so that the reader actually understands what’s being explained. To be honest, I was able to recognize many of the themes and motifs from the Bible, but not how often they reoccurred throughout the Bible. Jeanie C. Crain did a great job by not just giving definitions, but by providing multiple examples of each throughout the chapter helped me to truly grasp what this chapter had to offer.

To help readers understand how to read the Bible as literature, Jeanie C. Crain authored a book that affected the common reader audience to understand how to identify and understand the Bible has to offer. Chapter 7 was written with the idea that by identifying and understanding how often themes and motifs occur in the Bible, a reader can understand how they play a significant role in being able to read and understand the Bible. Jeanie C. Crain explains in this chapter how to identify a theme from a motif, so when they occur throughout, as an audience you can interpret them

As mentioned in the introduction the main focus of this chapter is identifying themes and motifs and how they unify the Bible. The outline at the beginning of the chapter promised to include preliminary considerations, major themes in the Bible, the various covenants promised, close reading, and questions for reflection. To begin, Jeanie C. Crain explains why themes and motifs were covered last in the book, “I have delayed a focused discussion on it until now on account of the difficulty, if not impossibility, or separating theological from literary ideas in the Bible as a unified, coherent whole.”  In the chapter are individual sections that cover each motif or theme in the Bible, provided with examples and definitions that make the way of understanding how the motifs and themes and how they tie the Bible together easier to understand.

Crain explains in this chapter that she will introduce the definitions of themes and motifs, major themes in the Bibles, and examples of where to find each reoccurring theme in the Bible. Dr. Crain then leads individual section, with examples, where to find the themes, and what they represent throughout the remaining portion of the chapter.

When chapter 7 began, the audience was given some preliminary considerations and definitions. Dr. Crain thought it would be of importance to share a few definitions about what was to be discussed before going into detail for the rest of the chapter. She covered: theme (an organizing idea or main emotional analytic and perceptive core of a text), thematic analysis (the approach that systematizes the work of identifying, analyzing, and reporting patterns in a text), motif (consists of recurrent patters – themes, characters, events, situations, verbal, and symbolic), plot motif (motifs that help to unite and hold together a story), type-scenes, and leitmotif (less dominant patters and images). Then, before moving into the sections of each major theme covered in the Bible, Dr. Crain mentions thematic analysis, which has been in a decline since the 1970s due to settling too quickly on a theme or point. Finally, this is why Dr. Crain then led into how the Bible traditionally has been read for moral instruction!

The main focus of this chapter was once again set on identifying themes and motifs of importance to the Bible. Dr. Crain states what to expect from the rest of the chapter, “you will explore several major themes important to the Bible.” There are two perspectives that are covered: relationship of human beings to God and relationship of human beings with each other. Before leading into explaining each theme with examples and definitions, Dr. Crain explains how the themes tie closely to the common literary theme of the archetypal heroic quest.

The first theme covered is relationship to God and other human beings: the Decalogue. A Decalogue is a name given to the 10 commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai. The Decalogue is characterized by apodictic or unconditional laws, which were established so ancient Israel its duties toward God and neighbor. Through the Decalogue, a Christian is to worship God and God alone.  This is followed by the definitions of monotheism and monolatry. Dr. Crain follows this with a number of examples and how through the years the interpretations have changed. Before leading into the next section another point is made. The Bible provides many examples of individuals violating the laws guiding human behavior and suffering the inevitable punishment of retributive justice. Then, Dr. Crain leads us into other themes that build closely upon the theme of relationship to God and to people found in the Commandments.

The next theme covered is The Shema: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is One.” As covered before, Deuteronomy prepares Israel as a nation to live under one law. The Shema, named for the first word, “Hear”, calls attention to a sovereign and unique God to whom Israel must be loyal. This was followed with direct quotations from the Bible and where to find the verses. Also covered in this section was YHWH – “to be”, which was clarified with the definition of rabbinic tradition that describes a God who presents Himself in three conditions: was, is, and will always be. This was followed by the definitions of: inclusive monotheism (accepts human limitation in the face of the transcendent and evidences a degree of tolerance for plurality) and exclusive monotheism (attempts to define and separate ancient tradition from that of surrounding communities). The Shema works structurally to bring together what has come before, the Decalogue, and what comes afterwards.

The following theme is “He declared to you: His covenant”: Relationship based upon promise and obligation. This theme involved the commandments with the statutes and ordinances from a covenant and compact between God and his people. There are four major covenants between God and humankind: Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. These were followed up with examples and the direct verse the theme occurred in. For example: Genesis establishes covenant as a prototype for God’s relationship with human beings. The greatest example of that would be Adam and Eve and how people behave and the consequences.  Overall, Genesis stories present a difference between what God sees and what humans see as good.

Next, were the Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants. The Noahic covenant was found in Genesis 9-11, while the Abrahamic Covenant was found in Genesis 17-26. Both sections were comparing the Yahwistic verses priestly covenants. To end the Abrahamic covenant the motif of a “barren” wife was briefly covered with the examples of Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah, and Elizabeth. The reoccurring theme was God’s promise of circle of life. The Mosaic covenant was the section that followed. This covenant commits the people of Israel to observe God’s statutes, ordinances, and commandments. They regulate worship, justice, and family life. Again, Deuteronomy is brought up again, that it brings together the themes of promise and commandment. David covenant was covered next. This theme was a promise of an unbroken succession of kings upon the throne of Israel. The examples were covered and listed throughout the section with the verses listed. The Davidic covenant continues to show the promise made to Abraham.

                God’s Mercy: “I have loved you with an everlasting love” was the theme that followed the covenants. Right after the title is introduced is direct verses where the theme has come from. The idea of this theme is that love is the connecting power for achieving everything. The Decalogue and great covenant require exactly the same behaviors that to love god is to love each other. However, the New Testament unveils a tension between how love manifests.

                The theme of God’s Justice follows. This theme has occurred throughout the Bible and been covered in the text already, that God is just. Dr. Crain also states that God is merciful and forgiving, but, ultimately, just God creates a tension that has been a part of Judaism and Christianity for two and a half millennia. The main idea from this theme is that the Creator (God) does ultimately right and just even when humans can’t understand. The character of God evidences a tension between mastery and control – plan, promise, and obligation – and pity, compassion, and love.

                Finally, to end the chapter was the idea of the Heroic Quest. The bible throughout evidences the archetypal heroic quest common to literature, with its themes of alienation and sense of not belonging, initiation, exile and suffering, and transformation and rebirth. From Genesis through 2 Kings, the Bible pulls together a series of heroic quests. The archetypal heroic quest involves: separation, initiation, and return. Examples then followed the definition of where they occur in the Bible.

Reading the Bible as Literature is a great tool for identifying the themes and motifs throughout the Bible.  The chapter truly achieved its goal by providing direct examples from the Bible, along with in each section giving direct examples of where the theme or motif occurred. It gives the audience the understanding of how each book or multiple verses in the Bible contain a verse or motif. Crain did explain that in this chapter that she chose the major/important themes and motifs to go into describing. Dr. Crain helped us to understand the importance by appreciating a piece of literature is through its themes, which reoccur throughout the Bible. The numerous ways to identify the themes/motifs covered in this chapter, along with direct examples, and thorough explanations were beneficial for the audience to truly grasp the theme/motif. Even for a Bible reader like me, the idea of reassessing or gaining knowledge on a new theme can be beneficial. I can see how a beginner Bible reader would definitely need to read this book and especially this chapter so they know how to decipher a theme/motif! Like Dr. Crain said, “With the exception of covenant in the books of Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, these themes help to unify all sixty-six books.”