Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction. Jeanie C. Crain. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010. [Ch. 5] pg 90-109.

This review covers the fifth chapter of Reading the bible as Literature: An Introduction, by Jeanie Crain. First, I will provide some background information on sub-genres, followed by a summary of chapter five. The summary will touch on the main points of the chapter, which include the four sub-genres of song, allegory, parable, and prayer. It will also provide pertinent examples of these sub-genres that were used by the author to clearly elucidate their significance. Following the summary, I will provide a personal evaluation of the chapter followed by a conclusion.

There are many different genres with the realm of literature. Each of these may then be divided further into sub-genres. Having different genres and sub-genres is useful because it “helps readers make sense of a collection of texts they would otherwise find hard to read, difficult to understand, confusing, esoteric, and ancient” (Crain, 93). Although a person should not exclusively search for genres when reading, knowing which genre a work is from can help to increase understanding of the literature.

                Chapter five of Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction was about sub-genres in literature. The preliminary considerations section addresses conventions and recognition of genre. Similar features found in genres throughout time allow readers to recognize which genre is present. Understanding these features “brings interpretive insight and provides a basic foundation for beginning to appreciate the literature in the Bible” (Crain, 91). This section also notes the metaphorical function of genre and general objections to genre criticism. The author makes the point that metaphorically, genres in the Bible “[map] divine action in history… and [provide] and explanation of how persons fit into God’s created order” (92). In a way, different genres highlight different actions of God. Praise and song may highlight a God-granted victory while parables and allegories emphasize moments of instruction. Some people oppose the use of genres as “ready-made heuristic tools for interpretation,” and say that genres are merely “essences derived from a study of other works” (Crain, 93). Instead, they prefer to look at literature as though there must be an active understanding between the author and the reader.

                 The main section of Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction focuses on the four sub-genres of song, allegory, parable, and prayer. Songs are obviously meant to be sung, and instances of songs in the Bible are usually quite evident. The author makes the observation that “the surrounding prose will often provide and explicit marker of the genre poetry and its mode” (94). Many elements of poetry are present in Biblical songs such as parallelism, allusion, antiphony, and cognates. There are also apostrophes and stanzas. Some songs in the Bible are songs are praise, others make theological points, and some even contain prophecy. Allegory and parable are very similar in that they both make comparisons between unlike things that still have something in common. Allegory is a continuation of metaphor and uses elaborate analogies to express “abstract or spiritual meaning in concrete or material forms” (Crain, 98). One notable Biblical allegory mentioned by the author is the story of Hosea. Hosea’s marriage to an unfaithful wife can be viewed as allegorical for God’s relationship with the people of Israel. Some regard the exclusively allegorical reading of the Bible as dangerous, and would promote an almost entirely literal method. While this is a valid point, the author observes that “reading the Bible literally as fact resists full consideration of the complex nature of language as symbol” (99). Parables are a continuation of simile and likewise make explicit comparisons. Genuine parables have two meanings that “must be constructed in parallel action” (Crain, 104). One parable mentioned by the author does this by comparing the spiritual and the physical. The phrase “Physician, cure yourself” contains not only the physical meaning that physicians cure for a living, but also the spiritual meaning that the physician should attend to his own spiritual well-being. Last but not least, is the sub-genre of prayer. Unlike allegory and parable, prayer is usually not narrative, and while prayers may be sung, it is not necessary. The author notes, “Prayer can be described as a life-changing, character-constituting dialogue between the human and the divine” (104). Such dialogues give life to the relationship between human and divine. The Lord’s Prayer is probably the most prominent prayer in the world. It begins with an invocation and presents six petitions, including a plea for the forgiveness of sins and a plea for deliverance. This simple prayer is not only “a compendium and synthesis of the Old and New Testaments,” but a summary of the divine-human relationship (Crain, 107).

                I liked how chapter five of Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction dug deeper into the genres discussed in chapter four. It was like opening a nesting doll to find another, more detailed doll inside. One thing I had an issue with was the section focusing on allegory. There were several in-depth examples with explanations of allegory in the Bible, but there was hardly any explanation of allegory on its own. However, I realize that allegories are an extension of metaphors and that I, as the reader, should already have some understanding of what the author is addressing since it has been discussed before. I do understand the point the author is trying to make, but I am partial to reiteration for the sake of emphasizing points. That being said, I did appreciate the use of examples. Definitions do not always lend themselves to cohesive writing, but examples may be tied together into a larger unit. The use of examples in chapter five definitely helped to draw everything together.

                To conclude, chapter five of Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction was well written and contained an appropriate amount of detail. Each main point had several examples that were helpful in fleshing out the crux of what the author was trying to explain. Overall, I enjoyed reading this chapter, I only wish that more sub-genres could have been included.

Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction. Jeanie C. Crain. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010. [Ch. 5] pg 90-109.