Chapter 2 Review

This week’s chapter review covered material from chapter two of our primary text. The bibliographic information is: Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction. Crain, Jeanie C.. United Kingdom: Polity Press, 2010. Pages 22-42.

The second chapter of Crain’s Reading the Bible as Literature explores the literary elements of style, tone, and rhetorical strategy in an attempt to further a reader’s understanding of the Bible. These three elements play a significant role when reading the Bible. They change reading and interpreting at face value to reading and searching for the underlying meaning. The Bible is filled with extensive uses of rhetorical language. These can be in the form of similes, metaphors, merisms, and oxymorons, to name a few. Crain says, “Studying these, you will learn quickly that the Bible is more than theology and doctrine and that it is not reducible to science, natural science, or history” (22). Using these tools enhances the audience’s reading experience and gives them an insightful way to improve their understanding of the Bible.

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 second chapter begins with the customary “Preliminary Considerations”. In this section, Crain suggests that the meaning of the Bible must be interpreted by looking at the most minute parts as well as paying attention to the meaning as a whole.  This is often difficult to do without becoming a reductionist and simplifying the Bible into individual parts. Style, tone, and strategy all work synonymously to add weight, and emphasize feeling to the sentences within the Bible. Style refers to how something is written, tone refers to the manner in which an author expresses attitude, and strategies control language to reach a desired effect. Viewing the Bible as literature does not mean neglecting its individual characteristics. Parataxis is a vital component of the additive nature of the Bible. It shows the linkage between micro-events, which presents the Bible as “episodes of a greater whole” (Crain 24). This is important to keep in mind while reading.

The next section looks at the comparison, association, and arrangement of words. Crain says, “Rhetorical devices occur so frequently that ignoring them means not using the literary tools readily available for understanding it” (25). At the most basic level, these include comparison and association. Comparison uses simile, metaphor, implication, personification, and condescension. It also utilizes metonymy where meaning is derived by the reader from two associated nouns. Association includes appellation where a quality, office, or attribute is used as a proper noun. This is seen when God is referred to as “the Majesty”, Lord, Christ, etc. Association also uses circumlocution which replaces a name with a descriptive phrase to add emphasis. The arrangement of words is seen in the omission, addition, repetition, and reversal of words.

The last section in the chapter describes the extensive list of rhetorical devices found within the Bible. Figurative language adds layers of meaning to the Bible. Similes and metaphors are used to compare things and increase the vividness of reading through the play on a reader’s imagination.  The Bible often uses anthropomorphism to attribute human characteristics to God. This is the reverse process of when human beings give themselves characteristics of God. The Bible frequently shows how humans aspire to take the role of maker as demonstrated when Adam attempts to eat from the tree of life. Merism and oxymoron emphasize the importance of close reading to prevent misinterpreting the Bible. It is important to not read these devices literally. Mersims express ideas together to display greater wisdom. Oxymorons pair contradictory words to “show that something normally foolish can, upon consideration, be exceedingly wise” (Crain 31).  Quotation, allusion, and foreshadowing create an interlocking series of events that add emphasis to the totality of the Bible. The N.T. quotes and alludes to passages in the O.T.. Foreshadowing is used to advance the plot by providing hints about future developments. Rhetorical questions are another important literary device. These are often used to remind the creature of the creator. It also serves to point out the difference between God’s way and the way of human beings. Euphemisms soften delicate topics (such as death) for human beings.

Repetition is claimed to be the Bible’s most important literary device. It is used in both poetic and narrative literature. The most repeated theme in the Old Testament is exile. Repetition is also the basic device used in the New Testament book of Revelation. The number seven is the most repeated theme here. Recursion ensures that key elements are repeated from one narrative to another through the deliberate shaping of events. Crain says that, “Inclusio uses repetition to mark off the beginning and ending of a section, framing or bracketing the material it contains” (38). The last commonly used form of repetition is chiasm. Chiasm juxtaposes events with the most important idea in the middle of the story. Repetition is used to reinforce the important themes into a reader’s mind.

After reading this chapter, a reader now has multiple literary devices to further their understanding of the material. The definitions were clear and concise and they were easy for the reader to locate within the sections. I thought that the examples did a fine job of illustrating the multiple devices Crain discusses. They were just basic enough for a beginning student like me to understand. Once a reader is able to grasp the concept and usage of the literary tools, it becomes easier for them to locate these within the Bible and gather the deeper meanings. The devices also expand a reader’s mind and involve them more within the text. I think the devices I had the most issues with were metonymy and synecdoche. Even with examples in the text, it took additional research and colloquium discussions to increase my understanding.  Perhaps even more basic descriptions are needed for a beginning reader to fully understand these definitions.

In conclusion, the second chapter continues to introduce the use of rhetorical devices as a way to re-approach reading the Bible. They are not meant to completely change previous interpretations, but to add additional feeling, emphasis, and character to passages within the Bible.