Chapter 2 Review
September 23, 2012
Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction. Jeanie C. Crain. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2010. 22-42
The Bible is considered to be one of the most powerful pieces of literature in history. It can’t be denied that religious people, students, writers, and scholars all look to the Bible for inspiration, whether it inspires readers on how to live one’s life or how to write a captivating story. What is it that makes the Bible so convincing even after so many years? In Chapter Two of Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction, author Jeanie C. Crain argues that a huge contributor to the Bible’s success is its use of style, tone, and rhetorical strategy. In her introductory paragraph, Dr. Crain explains, “My reason for introducing style, tone, and rhetorical strategy early in this book is that they play a significant role in your being able to read and understand the Bible,” (22). The chapter explains to readers the importance of style, the arrangement of words, and the use of rhetorical devices. There are many rhetorical devices used in the Bible, and Chapter Two educates readers on some of the most important ones. To conclude, Dr. Crain offers close reading exercises and review questions to assist readers in reflecting upon the material that the chapter covered. Chapter Two aims to introduce students to various rhetorical devices used by the Bible. This chapter accomplishes its goal; by the end of the chapter, readers will have gained a much better understanding of why the Bible says certain things the way it does, and they will be prepared to read the Bible more closely and carefully to find new meaning.
It may seem strange that there is an entire chapter devoted to style, tone, and rhetorical strategy. Dr. Crain even acknowledged that, “in early writing classes, you will commonly encounter rhetorical devices in an alphabetical list, with definitions, and be told that using these will help you to improve the effectiveness, clarity, and enjoyability of your writing,” (22). While it is true that nearly every student has encountered rhetorical devices before, the majority have not studied the Bible’s use of such. As a student, I have heard about metaphors countless times; however, until I read this chapter, I have never read a verse in the Bible and thought, “That’s a metaphor. Why did the writer use this metaphor here?” That’s why this chapter is so important. “Studying these [rhetorical devices in the Bible], you will learn quickly that the Bible is about more than theology and doctrine and that it is not reducible to science, natural science, or history,” Professor Crain writes in her introduction to Chapter Two (22). While students may be familiar with certain rhetorical devices, Reading the Bible as Literature’s second chapter introduces new ways of viewing the devices, like how and why the Bible uses personification, for example. It also introduces some unique rhetorical devices that students may be unaware of, such as anthropomorphism.
Chapter Two begins with some preliminary considerations concerning the Bible’s unique style (multiple authors each using different arrangements and personal styles make the Bible quite a unique work) and its tone and rhetorical strategies. The preliminary considerations also focus on the different translations of the Bible, and how style may be affected by translation. Professor Crain uses the example of 2 Peter 1.13-14 written in the NRSV translation compared to the same verse written in the KJV translation (24). The NRSV focuses more on the literal, where KJV maintains the figurative language (in the 2 Peter 1.13 example, the NRSV changes “tent” to “body,” while the KJV keeps the figurative “tent”). To further emphasize the importance of translation, Dr. Crain includes a quote that states, “If any book requires special attention to style when translated, then surely, it is the Bible,” (24). This is such an important concept to consider when studying style in the Bible. Sometimes it is important to read more than one translation to fully grasp the ideas presented. Next, the chapter examines comparison, association, and the arrangement of words. Then, in the majority of Chapter Two, Dr. Crain introduces many essential rhetorical devices used in the Bible. Perhaps more importantly, the author includes numerous examples to show each rhetorical device in use. Metaphor and simile begin this section of the chapter to provoke thought in the reader of how paying attention to detail enhances one’s understanding of the Bible. For example, Psalm 84.12 presents the following metaphor: “The LORD God is a sun and a shield,” (26). By developing a better understanding of metaphor, the reader is able to better understand what the Psalm means. The chapter proceeds to examine other useful rhetorical devices, such as synecdoche, where “a whole or totality is represented by naming a part,” and anthropomorphism, where God is given characteristics of human beings (29). Dr. Crain also introduces ways the Bible uses devices that readers and writers are already familiar with, such as allusion, foreshadowing, irony, and euphemism. After concluding the explanations of rhetorical devices with examples of signs and visions in the Bible, Chapter Two continues to provoke thought in the reader by providing close reading exercises and questions for reflection. These exercises and questions enable the reader to apply what they read in the chapter to their reading and understanding of the Bible.
This chapter was extremely effective in providing students with information on many rhetorical devices that are used by Biblical authors. Because of Professor Crain’s organized list, easily applicable examples, and personalized notes written in italics throughout the chapter, the reader will complete the chapter feeling confident about identifying the Bible’s use of rhetorical devices. The close reading exercises allow the reader to apply their new knowledge right away, with questions such as, “How does vision work in Isaiah 1?” One of the questions for reflection states, “Why does the Bible present God anthropomorphically?” This question truly got me thinking; I had always taken God’s humanistic qualities for granted until I learned that the use of anthropomorphism allowed readers to better relate to and understand God. Chapter Two truly did an excellent job of covering the important topics concerning style, tone, and rhetorical strategy. The chapter didn’t seem to be lacking any important information. As a reader, I learned much from the chapter.
In the first chapter of Reading the Bible as Literature, Professor Crain introduced readers to a similar text, The Bible as Literature (15). This book was written by John B. Gabel, Charles B. Wheeler, and Anthony D. York. I looked at this work to see how the second chapter in Jeanie Crain’s Reading the Bible as Literature compared to the second chapter of The Bible as Literature. Gabel, Wheeler, and York’s chapter is titled “Literary Forms and Strategies in the Bible.” This is a similar idea as Crain’s chapter, which makes sense; after establishing an introduction on why the topic of studying the Bible as literature is important (Chapter One), it is important to begin looking at literary components of the book (Chapter Two). The Bible as Literature by Gabel, Wheeler, and York also presents information on the multiple, vastly different authors of the Bible. However, the formatting of the two books varies. Crain’s chapter begins with an outline and a personal note, where Gabel, Wheeler, and York’s chapter jumps right into to the material. In The Bible as Literature, the authors begin the chapter by saying, “The Bible is an anthology, to the making of which many hands contributed over centuries of human history” (Gabel, Wheeler, & York, 14). Jeanie Crain begins her chapter with the previously mentioned note concerning why she is introducing style, tone, and rhetorical strategy early in the book (22). After two paragraphs of introduction, she begins her preliminary considerations discussing the Bible’s multiple authors, history, and differing translations. The preference of Chapter Two’s formatting will likely depend on the reader. I, however, appreciate Dr. Crain’s personal notes to emphasize certain points. I also find Professor Crain’s organization of rhetorical devices to be more beneficial for my understanding. While both chapters are effective in communicating what they intend to communicate, Reading the Bible as Literature discusses the many rhetorical devices being used in a more concise, organized way.
In conclusion, Chapter Two of Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction achieves its goals. Students are not only introduced to the styles, tones, and rhetorical strategies used in the Bible, but they are also provided with ways to apply what they learn. Readers are able to see why Jeanie C. Crain argues that style, tone, and rhetorical strategy are a major contributor to the Bible’s success. Dr. Crain offers a multitude of useful examples to enhance understanding of the rhetorical devices being used. I enjoyed the chapter, and am confident that the way I read the Bible will be changed. Instead of simply reading the Bible, I will be paying special attention to detail so I can enhance my understanding of what the authors of the Bible are truly saying.