Chapter 5 Review

 Hon 395-40: Reading the Bible as Literature

 Jeanie Crain


Title- Chapter 5: Sub-Genres A way of clarifying and mapping

Author-Jeanie Crain

 Place of publication- Cambridge, UK

 Publisher- Polity Press

 Date of publication- 2010

 Number of pages- 90-109


                Genres help guide readers into a text and also help them to comprehend what to look for and how to organize their reading experience. Having knowledge about genres can help readers to understand the literature of the bible and also help them to interpret the book According to the book, a literary approach “emphasizes the familiar genres found in other kinds of literature as well as the universal features present within these that make them similar and recognizable across the centuries.”

                The recognition of genres can help the reader to better understand the meaning of a text. The book of Job can become more meaningful once the genre is recognized. It can be addressed as a drama and as a philosophical discussion. Readers tend to read a text for the overall meaning, and pay little attention to the authorship, source, dating, and purpose of the text. Literature courses encourage close reading, interpretation, and appreciation of a text. The emergence of genres happens a lot in the Bible. Genesis is an example of epic and narrative of national destiny. The rest of the Pentateuch is both narrative legislative genres, including poetry and prophecy. Books following the Pentateuch are often questioned if they should be fiction or history. The genres cannot always be easily separated. Many books in the bible include more than one genre and often they are mixed. For example, Job has not only been found to be drama and philosophical discussion, but also wisdom literature. Psalms and Proverbs are also considered to be wisdom literature.

                The metaphorical function of the Bible is also very important. Biblical genres can be used to metaphorically map divine action in history and also as providing an explanation of how persons fit into God’s created order. The story of the Bible is a metaphor for individual life and how it should be lived.

                Recognizing the different literary types that take place in the Bible help readers to understand the collection of books that would otherwise be difficult to comprehend and confusing. Critics say that genres are not ready-made heuristic tools for interpretation, but instead they say that genres are essences derived from a study of other works and that they become the subject of regulations established by critical abstraction. The also oppose an approach of literature that looks only at the technicalities of form. They say literature of “living texts” resist such reductions to classification and types.                 There are many familiar sub-genres. One of these is song. The Bible contains many examples of words that are meant to be sung, such as hymns. Music was important to the people of Israel. The songs express all sorts of feelings and show them lifting their hearts and voices up to God. The songs have many of the characteristics of poetry, such as inset arrangement, genre and mode markers, occasional antiphonal arrangement concrete imagery, parallelisms, cognates, and allusion.

Now translations of the Bible usually inset poetry from the surrounding prose. This started in Hebrew literature around the first and second temple periods. The surrounding prose will provide a marker of the genre poetry and its mode. These can be exhortation, praise, song, performance with a musical instrument, spoken by characters, or inviting the audience participation. These markers can be found in the Song of Moses at the Red Sea (Exod.15.1-8), the Song of Miriam (Exod. 15.20-1), the Song of Deborah (Judg. 5), Hannah’s song (1 Sam. 2), Mary’s song (Luke 1.47-55), and Zechariah’s song (Luke 1.68-9). The song of Moses, Miriam, and Deborah are considered victory hymns, where they are celebrating victory with chanting and singing. Men and women take different turns singing in these songs. Long apostrophes, which are poetic devices in which singers turn aside from the story to address God, are included in these songs of the Bible.

The three main parts of poetry in the bible are stanza, parallelism, and imagery. Stanza is the grouping of regular, rhymed, recurrent units. It is comparable to paragraphs in a paper. Each stanza arguments or builds upon the one before it. Parallelism is the matching structure of lines within a couplet. For example, Psalm 78.1 says, “Pay attention, my people, to my teaching/Be attentive to the words of my mouth.” This is an example of synonymous parallelism, because the second line basically says the same as the first. Imagery is expanding detail and vivid pictures. The Bible uses allusion to connect biblical texts across tradition. The song of Moses alludes to other biblical poems that tell of God’s primordial defeat of the sea and assumption of kingship. A lot of other stories in the Bible reference mention other stories, which helps unite the books of a Bible as a whole.

                The next section of the chapter talks about allegories in the Bible. An allegory is elaborate analogy in which the narrative intends elements and events to be interpreted in a corresponding other meaning. An allegory can be defined as a continuation of a metaphor. Using metaphors and allegories, the bible can express abstract or spiritual meaning in a concrete or material way. Psalms 23 is an example of an allegory of the Lord and the Shepard’s care.                 The Bible also uses parables. A parable uses narrative to show relationships between things. A parable is a story using the familiar to illustrate a religious, ethical, or moral point. A parable continues simile. It has to have two meanings constructed in parallel action. Prayer is also an important genre in the Bible. Prayer is dialogue between humankind and the divine. It shows that God can and will respond. It is not a poetic composition that is intended to be sung, nor is it simply a story or tale. Since prayer has characteristics that other genres lack, it can be its own genre.



I think chapter five did a good job explaining in-depth many of the sub-genres in the bible. After reading chapter 4, I was thinking that there had to be more than just the big genres of poetry, drama, narrative, etc. and after reading chapter 5, it gave a lot of information on song, prayer, allegory and parables. There was so much information presented on each of these genres and I found myself surprised that there was so much information. The section on song had so much detail. It took almost 5 pages. When so much information is presented, I find myself a bit overwhelmed and eager to get through the section. However, I understand why so much detail is given because it is an important genre in the Bible. Also many great examples of each were given, such as Psalm 23 for an allegory, Song of Solomon for song, and the prayers of Abraham, Moses, and Nehemiah for prayer. Actually reading these parts of the Bible helps me to get a better understanding of the genre and how it is written. Since recognizing the genres is essential to understanding the Bible, I feel this chapter and the previous one are very important. I know from experience that the reader can miss the whole point of the text if they don’t correctly understand the genre. I have read parts of the Bible before and not got the full meaning out of them, but after reading this chapter and learning about the genres, it won’t be as hard for me to grasp the full content of the text. This chapter will help me and I’m sure others to better understand the Bible as a piece of literature.