CHAPTER 5 REVIEW
This week’s chapter review covered material from chapter five of our primary text. The bibliographic information is: Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction. Crain, Jeanie C.. United Kingdom: Polity Press, 2010. Pages 90-109.
Chapter five of Crain’s Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction focuses on sub-genres as a way of clarifying and mapping the readings of the Bible. The emphasis of this chapter is that an extensive exposure to literary criticism and ancient languages is not a prerequisite when beginning to read the Bible. The important thing is to ask questions when reading. Paying attention to the overall form and making connections between stories helps to reconstruct meaning. Sub-genres can assist in this understanding. The sub-genres that Crain focuses on include song, allegory, parable and prayer. Each genre has its own unique set of characteristics that distinguish them from one another.
Crain is currently a professor at Missouri Western State University where she has been teaching this course since 2000. She is the author of both Biblical Genres: Introduction, and Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction. Her academic achievements include: Ph.D. English and Philosophy, Purdue University; PhD. Biblical Studies; M.A. English, Purdue University; M.S.A. Management, Georgia College and State University; B.A. English, Berry College.
The fifth chapter begins with the “Preliminary Considerations” section. In this section, Crain describes the conventions and metaphorical functions of sub-genres and how to recognize the different forms. She also touches on some objections to Literary Criticism. Genres involve conventions that guide readers and teach them to organize their understanding of the readings. A literary approach to reading the Bible makes these genres recognizable. Through a reader’s understanding of the overall form, the Bible becomes more meaningful. It also promotes “reading it” as opposed to “reading about it”. With a metaphorical function, sub-genres map divine action in history as well as providing explanations of how humans fit into God’s order. Readers are participants in the metaphor for individual life and how it should be lived found within the Bible. There are genre challenges that are produced, however. Some stories can be classified as many different genres, making genres subjective. It may also be difficult to distinguish whether some stories should be read as individual narratives instead of pieces of earlier source materials. Many biblical books are presented as wisdom literature which can also lead to ambiguity. Critics object to using sub-genres as an interpretive tool. They fear reductionism and an overly simplified way of using heuristic tools.
The next section focuses on familiar sub-genres. These include song, prayer, allegory, and parable. The first genre is song. Song was very important to the people of Israel. Crain says, “In lifting their hearts and voices upward to their God, they provide a cultural inheritance for the generations that follow them” (93). Songs share many characteristics with poetry. This is evidenced in the recognizable stanza, imagery, and parallelism found within songs. The Song of Moses utilizes strophe. Each subsequent strophe builds on the previous to present fullness. The Song of Mary uses parallelism, and the Song of Deborah uses theopany and repetition. Present translations inset poetry from the surrounding prose. This prose also gives a marker of the genre and its mode. Allusion found within songs is used to connect biblical texts. The Song of Mary’s intertextuality demonstrates how texts are related to one another which contribute to the unity of the Bible. The next genre is prayer. Prayer is defined as life-changing dialogue between human and the divine. It is often difficult to distinguish prayer from song. . Instead of being sung, prayer is understood as the “continuum between conversation and formalized address” (Crain 105). Prayer carries the idea that God can and will respond. There is both spontaneous, individual prayer as well as ritual, communal prayer. Prayer within the Bible substitutes sacrifice and addresses concern for God’s provision and the preservation of mankind. The most widespread and influential prayer is the Lord’s Prayer. It serves as a synthesis between the Old Testament and the New Testament. It recognizes divine paternity and describes the future homeland for God’s people. When prayers are read within a greater context, they carry historical, traditional, and faithful meanings.
The next set of sub-genres includes allegory and parable. Allegory is associated with metaphor and parable with simile. Both utilize analogy which shows the comparison between two things. Allegory should be understood “as an elaborate set of parallel meanings” (Crain 98). Allegory and metaphor often express spiritual meaning through concrete characters and events in narrative form. It is a continuation of metaphor in the sense that a phrase is applied to something not literally applicable to show a resemblance. This is demonstrated in Psalms 23 where the Lord is a shepherd. There are arguments in how the Bible should be read. When the Bible is only read in a literal sense, the nature of the language and the deeper meaning is not appreciated. However, when it is read strictly as an allegory, the literal application is not appreciated. Books such as Song of Solomon, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea all stress the “right relationship” with God through allegories. The marriage relationship between bride and groom can be understood to represent Israel and God, respectively. Marriage is a unifying process and rebellion and transgression have lived since the days of Adam. Infidelity of God’s people will cause him to punish them, but not abandon him. This is representative of his covenant. The next genre is parable. Parable is an extension of a simile. It shows the common denominator between two unlike concepts. Parables are different from allegories because they are brief and realistic. Explicit analogy is also a common element found within parables. Less familiar meanings emerge with more familiar use. Two meanings must be constructed in parallel action. Physical circumstances are compared to spiritual ones which lead to the parable being described as a “moving picture”.
I found this section extremely relatable. I thought that the sections flowed well and were easy to understand. I really liked the examples that were provided as well. They did a great job at demonstrating the distinguishing characteristics of each genre. For a beginning reader, knowing the many elements of genre increases insight, interpretation, and appreciation of the literature within the Bible. Recognizing different types of genres help a reader to make sense of a somewhat difficult text. The context surrounding these genres is important and should always be taken into consideration. Allegories, parables, prayers, and songs should not be read as individual stories. They should not be interpreted apart from the greater narrative. Crain again reinforces the importance of making connections between texts and how this contributes to the unity of the Bible as a whole. She also cautions to not strictly read the Bible with a literal scope. Doing this diminishes the deeper spiritual meaning found within the Bible.
In conclusion, this chapter serves to introduce just a few of the sub-genres found within the bible. These genres have considerable overlap and mixing of modes. Sub-genres are just one element amongst many that contribute to a fuller and more unified reading of the Bible.