CHAPTER 1 REVIEW
This week’s chapter review covered material from our primary text. The bibliographic information is: Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction. Crain, Jeanie C.. United Kingdom: Polity Press, 2010. Pages 1-19.
This first chapter of Crain’s Reading the Bible as Literature aims to introduce the reader to some basic background knowledge of the bible. Crain describes how one can read a bible as literature by using a literary approach. This allows the reader to read the bible as a whole, continuous, and ever-improving work of literary mastery. Reading the bible in this manner creates a bridge between the bible and our ideals of general literature. This is exactly what Crain is trying to promote throughout this first chapter. She states, “I have written this textbook with an assumption that a literary approach to the Bible rightfully should begin with reading, understanding, and assessing” (p. 15). By using literary analysis, readers are able to dissect the Bible into familiar tools such as story, theme, genre, plot, form, and technique. The audience for the book includes not only the students in this class and classes similar to ours across the nation, but is also comprised of the individuals who are looking for enhanced and simplified ways to read and understand the Bible. Personally, I have extremely limited religious affiliation. Reading the Bible as a piece of literature will assist my understanding. In this review paper, I will provide the background information of the first chapter: Reading the Bible as literature, a summary of the main points, and conclude the review with my evaluations of the chapter.
Crain is currently a professor at Missouri Western State University. She is the author of both Biblical Genres: Introduction, and Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction. Her academic achievements include: a PhD. in English and Philosophy from Purdue University, a M.A. in English from Purdue University, a M.S.A. in Management from Georgia College and State University, and a B.A. in English from Berry College.
The chapter begins with a section called “Preliminary Considerations”. This section introduces some basic definitions and background needed to improve the reader’s understanding of the Bible. The Bible is devised of thirty-nine books of the Old Testament and twenty-seven books of the New Testament. The word “new” is not meant to be misconstrued. Crain says, “ ‘Old’ and ‘New’ have not been used to suggest that Christian faith has superseded, or is superior to, Judaism; nor is there the suggestion that the New Testament merely reinterprets, or distorts, the older tradition” (p. 3). She then moves on to discuss form. The form of today’s Bible differs greatly from the form given by the original authors. There was often no punctuation or space between the words. This caused multiple interpretations of the breakdown of the letters.. By two-hundred CE Hebrew translations included verse divisions. Crain is quick to point out that although these divisions make reading the Bible easier, they also, “…interfere with textual unity and reading the Bible in the form(s) in which it originally existed” (p. 4). The last point in this section was about translations. Most translations are either form-based or meaning-based. The literal translations retain both the Hebraic and Greek forms of language, whereas the idiomatic forms are based on meaning and transform the text into modern-day language.
Now that the introduction has been reviewed, it is time to look at the next section, “Reading the Bible as Literature”. This section is all about paying attention to literary features to understand the Bible’s meanings. Crain begins with the topic of appeal and readership. People read the Bible for religious, historical, moral, and literary reasons. The religious texts “…represent something more than acts of the imagination and something more than ‘just literature’” (p. 6). Crain insists that due to its deep, worldwide impact, the Bible should be considered amongst the world’s greatest literature. The next topic is about the literary approach of reading the Bible. Using this approach allows readers to read, understand, and assess the Bible as a piece of literature. Crain then moves into the concepts of intertextuality, allusion, and typology. Writers often used early biblical texts and recast language and themes as well as borrowing imagery and phrasing without directly naming the source. Writers of the New Testament also allude to texts of the Old Testament. They are referred to in the form of formulaic or composite quotations. Lastly, writers use typology to explain the Old Testament in New Testament terms. The next topic is about prophecy, the overlying genre of the Bible. It is not supported be scholarship because it is a definition of the world to come. Macro-plots are another characteristic that supports the Bible as literature. The several stories of the Bible function as a single entity. Crain proposes that “…the strongest unifying principle consists of metaphorical and symbolic use of language”. The Bible subdues reality to enhance connectedness. The last major point that Crain discusses is the impact on literature. As I mentioned in the introduction, the Bible provides a bridge from ignorance of general literature. Knowing the Bible well aids in recognizing stories, characters, allusions, genres, plots, and other literary devices.
Crain’s third section is titled “Approaches Taken in Textbooks for Teaching the Bible as Literature”. She describes three approaches taken in college curriculum. The first is the literature of the Bible. This was commonplace in the 1900’s. It contains independent narratives, and acknowledges that only some parts of the Bible are literature. The second practice is the Bible as literature which was common in the 1970’s. This approach “…recognizes that the Bible provides a ‘framework for Western literature’ and should be taught in literature classes” (p. 13). The last approach is the Bible in literature. This approach describes the influence of the Bible on literature. It also states that the Bible should be admired for its “literary beauty”. There is a challenge with reading the Bible as Literature. It is not recognized by modern-day scholars. Many believe that calling the Bible a piece of literature is a disguise for introducing religion. This brings up the question: Does it have a place in education?
The final section is titled: “Traditions in Biblical interpretation”. Using literary criticism allows a reader to analyze the Bible and to learn from the works of others. There are two types of criticism: biblical and narrative. Crain says, “Biblical criticism should be understood as an umbrella term for the study and investigation of biblical writings” (p. 16). Biblical criticism prides itself on objectivity, and promotes that the Bible is an evolutionary collection produced over centuries by numerous authors. Narrative criticism encourages a reader to look how the story is told in relation to literary structures such as plot and characters. It looks at the collection as a whole and points out continuities between the New Testament and the Old Testament. Narrative criticism seeks to avoid the idea that there is only one correct interpretation of the Bible.
I think that this chapter has more than accomplished its goal. The intent was to view the Bible as a piece of literature through the use of literary analysis. After reading this chapter, I was able to read the Bible in a completely different light. Due to the fact that I have never been very religious, it is much easier for me to read, understand, and assess the Bible in a literal sense instead of purely for spiritual or moral attainment. The possibilities suggested by this chapter are focused on reading and appreciating the Bible as a unified piece of literature that has a beginning, middle, and an end. The literary elements include characterization, plot, allusion, foreshadowing, tone, and language, to name a few. Compared to other textbooks on the subject, Crain aims to quicken gratification between reading a textbook and understanding the Bible. I also enjoy the fact that Crain speaks to her readers through the use of italics. Reading her personal insight helps me to understand her own thoughts and opinions. She also manages to keep the textual aspect of the book objective by speaking in third person. I like how she says, “…whatever we learn about it [the Bible] will deepen and enrich its meaning for us.” To me that indicates that the Bible has a various purpose for all of us. We receive multiple interpretations from the same body of text. There is no correct method to pursue as we read. I think that for me, the most difficult part of reading this chapter was to understand the Biblical examples that Crain provides. I can understand all literary elements completely, but sometimes it is difficult for me to connect those elements to the Biblical illustrations.
In conclusion, chapter one of Reading the Bible as Literature is attempting to persuade the reader to realize the advantages of reading the Bible as a piece of classical literature. The usage of literary elements is a starting point to understanding the Bible’s meanings. By recognizing and connecting these elements to the text in the Bible, a reader is able to then truly appreciate the Bible as a inimitable collection of literature.