Kelsey Samenus

Reading the Bible as Literature.  Jeanie C. Crain. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2010. [43-62]

In chapter three of Reading the Bible as Literature by Jeanie C. Crain, image, metaphor, symbol, and archetype are explored in order to discover their place in the Bible as literature.  The chapter is divided into four sections: Preliminary Considerations, Two Unifying Images, Five Metaphors of Divine-Human Relationship, and Archetypal Encounters of the Divine and Human.  Crain states that “the structure of the Bible reveals itself in interlocking patterns of myth, metaphor, and typology richer than the descriptive language of fact and evidence” (Crain 43).  She then goes on to say that this chapter will challenge the reader.  I have discovered that the learning style I am most accustomed to is when information is presented factually.  It is so much easier to answer a question when the answer is clearly presented.  This chapter, as well as the class in general, is challenging me to not look for the clear-cut answer or interpretation, but to broaden my perspective, mainly by focusing on the figurative uses of language in the Bible. 

“A literary approach to reading the Bible means understanding how it uses language, both literally and figuratively, to present human experience in a connected pattern of images, metaphors, motifs, symbols, and archetypes” (44).  For some reason, this quote spurred a reminder of the question I had asked previously in my chapter two summary – what is the Bible about?  To me, it seems that the Bible is about what the reader intends for it to be about, whether that be the amazing use of figurative language in the Bible, the religious aspect of understanding God’s word, the confirmed belief that events in the Bible are untrue, or even a combination of these intended meanings.  I may be totally wrong in this assumption, but it’s the best answer that I’ve come up with so far about what the Bible could be about.

Crain lists image, metaphor, simile, motif, symbol, and archetype as examples of language used to understand the human experiences of the Bible.  I decided to find an example of each of these, in order to make sure that I am capable of understanding the figurative aspect of the Bible.  An example of image in the Bible is the mentioning of sheep.  Sheep connect metaphorically to humans; we are the sheep who must be lead by a shepherd.  As humans, we are placed below God (he is “an infinitely bigger other” (45)).  We recognize our place in the universe, because we accept that God is our shepherd, that we must follow him in order to be granted salvation. An example of sheep as an image in the Bible is Luke 15:3-7, which refers to lost sheep (sinners) being found by their shepherd (Jesus).  An example of a metaphor is from Psalm 91:4, “He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge.”  In this verse, we are granted protection by God’s “wings and feathers,” just like a mother bird takes care of her chick.  An example of a simile is from Proverbs 25:26, “…like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.”  This simile compares a decent man that has given in to the ways of the wicked leading to a tainted body of water.  This simile also relates to the master image of water in the Bible.  An example of motif is the importance of gaining wisdom to obtain the benefits of the righteous. Proverbs 4 says “Get wisdom; get insight,” “I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness,” and “the path of righteousness is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.”  Proverbs 10 says “On the lips of him who has understanding, wisdom is found,” “the wage of the righteous leads to life,” and “the desire of the righteous will be granted.”  An example of symbol is John 8:12 when Jesus states, “I am the light of the world.  If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”  In this verse, Jesus is referencing to himself as light, but also referencing that following him will lead to salvation.  Lastly, an example of archetype is the relationship between father and son.  God and Jesus Christ are represented as father and son, as well as Abraham and Isaac.  God and Abraham have only one begotten son; their sons would sacrifice their lives for God.  Crain calls attention to “the importance of the mythological and metaphorical and to the image-making capacity of the imagination” (45), which allows for a more advanced understanding of the Bible beyond literalism.

Crain notes that a scientific view of human beings is that our “[reasoning] itself relies centrally upon imaginative capacities…and that meaning can never be purely objective or subjective” (44).  This statement seems correct to me, because I feel that humans normally have unique interpretations.  For example, even an objective statement, like “Over 50% of people have a television in their home” is somewhat opinionated, because televisions were chosen to study over laptops. 

“Master images…connect metaphorically to a mythology addressing the nature and destiny of human life, its place in the universe, and its sense of an infinitely bigger other” (45). The master images that Crain reveals are light, darkness, and fire, and water.  I have been exposed to many of these images in reading the Bible, but I had never paid any attention to them.  “Darkness, light and fire provide primal images symbolizing God’s absence or presence.”  I found an example of light symbolizing God’s presence, and darkness symbolizing his absence from Isaiah 60:1-2: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.  For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.” An example of fire symbolizing God’s presence is in Ezekiel 1, “”What had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around…such as the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.”  An example of water “as a cosmic force of life” (48) that only God can control is in Psalm 77:16, “When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; indeed, the deep trembled” and 77:19, “Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters.” 

The five metaphors of divine-human relationship are king and subject, judge and litigant, husband and wife, father and child, and lord or master and servant.  “Each metaphor begins with the literal, physical image, but beyond the literal image, each represents in some way a characteristic of God” (50).  Being aware of these metaphors will help me be able to interpret the word of God.

Archetypal encounters of the divine and human, as in the encounter between Moses and God, Noah and God, etc., provide “a full metaphorical and archetypal picture of the envisioned ideal world realized in the final descent of a new heaven and earth” (62).  It is amazing to see how these archetypal encounters connect the Old Testament to the New Testament.

In reading chapter three, I was challenged to move beyond literalism; this opened up a world of understanding of the figurative uses of language in the Bible.  Having an understanding of these figurative uses of language in the Bible has brought about a more vivid interpretation of my reading of the Bible.  Also, I feel that this chapter aided in my understanding of what the Bible is truly about.           

Reading the Bible as Literature.  Jeanie C. Crain. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2010. [43-62]