CHAPTER 4 REVIEW
This week’s chapter review covered material from chapter three of our primary text. The bibliographic information is: Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction. Crain, Jeanie C.. United Kingdom: Polity Press, 2010. Pages 65-89.
The fourth chapter of Crain’s Reading the Bible as Literature:An Introduction introduces the major genres into which literary forms are grouped. Crain reinforces the importance of reading the Bible as a unified piece of literature. Each genre is grouped according to form, style, and subject matter/content. The major genres of the Bible include Narrative, Drama, and Poetry. Narratives take individual stories and weave them together to demonstrate overarching themes called macro-plots. Drama and poetry use interconnected series of events and characterization to represent the human encounter with God. Together, these genres are titled “Creative Works” and interpret the human situation and what is true to life.
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 fourth chapter begins with the “Preliminary Considerations” section. In this section, Crain suggests that, “The Bible has been regarded as a model for literary genres, its overriding form being that of an anthology made up of different genres” (66). This text serves to introduce tools necessary for literary analysis and describes how to use genre as an interpretive tool. Genre classifies works based on what they have in common. Recognizing differing forms of genre assist a reader in determining what to look for and how to organize that experience. The genres of narrative, poetry and prose provide a way to see the world, organize the content, and construct new forms of reality. Narrative presents imaginative stories based on historical events to tell a profound truth of human beings as well as the human condition. This requires special attention to the plot and characterization of the story. Drama and poetry utilize dialogue to reveal/conceal character’s thoughts and motives. Genre criticism pays attention to structure, genre, setting, and intent. It is argued that genre grouping is subjective and types cannot be distinguished because there is too much overlapping. Source criticism debates if the Bible is one book or many books. The Documentary Hypothesis argues that the Torah was not written by the same author. Four strands of tradition were woven together by a redactor.
The next section includes the major genre of the narrative. The Bible takes stories and weaves them into a greater narrative. Stories begin as discrete units with structured plots independent of the whole and then advance into the linkage of these episodes into greater wholes. This occurs either chronologically, thematically, or as clustered stories. The repetition of narrative events suggests that there is an overall shape and purpose to the Bible. Some episodes occur so frequently that they become type-scenes with a predetermined set of motifs. Crain explains that NT episodes have roots in the OT which suggests the importance of reading the Bible as whole. The reader is expected to recall the OT to predict the outcomes of episodes in the NT. In this sense, the Bible is understood through the three macro-stories of exodus from Egypt, return from Babylon, and the priestly story of sacrifice. Genesis displays similarities amongst its stories that suggest its coherence. Genesis interweaves myth, legend, and histiography and presents God as the main character. The first 11 chapters can be read independently of the whole. Five to six independent stories are then organized into groups. Three to five groups of stories are then organized into cycles. There are four cycles: Primeval History, and the patriarchal history of Abraham, Joseph, and Jacob. Each cycle contains a macro-plot that helps unite several stories. The near sacrifice of Isaac demonstrates how a multitude of seemingly independent stories and cycles become linked. Without the Isaac account, the Jacob and Joseph cycle would not exist. Crain says, “More than a link, the emphasis upon continuity of the family line and fulfillment of God’s promise becomes an overarching macro-plot” (79). Macro-plots encourage reading the Bible as a whole as opposed to independent stories.
The final section of chapter four includes the genres of drama and poetry. The Book of Job brings readers into contact with the leading forms of literature. It has a beginning, middle, and end (characteristic of a narrative), poetry in the form of dialogue, and addresses the imagination. The poetry within Job addresses the justice of God. It also addresses the retributive notion of justice. Does Job love good only because it is a reward of righteous living? The Book of Job proceeds through colloquies and monologues. As a genre of narrative and poetry, the Book of Job represents a poetic drama of the human encounter with God. It is characteristic of a drama because it has the elements of plot, characters, dialogues, and a theme. It uses poetry to attempt to bridge the gap between humans and God. Theopany is presented through the “formless wind”. This theopany is represented through two modes of poetry: one spoken by Job and the other by God. Job has a death wish, and God wants him to see the splendor of life beyond the human plight. Crain says, “The Book of Job has long been considered literature that captures the sublime and engages the emotions and imagination” (84). This is accomplished via poetic techniques of allusion, repetition and figurative language. These poetic devices enrich style and promote meaning. As a whole, the Book of Job can be understood as the representation of our imperfect human knowledge of God.
I thoroughly enjoyed this chapter. I think it has done the best at emphasizing the importance of reading the Bible as a unified piece of literature as opposed to independent stories. I thought that Crain presented the information concisely. I enjoyed reading the biblical examples provided to reinforce the different elements of genres. It was easy to see the connection. Crain highlights the many tasks a reader must accomplish when reading the Bible. Genre can be an interpretive tool when used correctly. Genre creates new forms of reality which requires a reader to understand the relationship between actual life and life depicted in literature. On the story level, a reader must be able to understand the independent nature of these stories as well as engage in visualization, interpreting, and visualizing. It is also vital to pay attention to tone, the narrator, and the sequence of events in order to understand the relationship between humans and God. At the next level, it is important to not read the Bible solely as isolated stories. The reader must understand that the Bible is a narrative that links stories into greater episodes to present an overarching theme of profound truths of human experience. This necessitates close attention to layers of text.
In conclusion, the purpose of this chapter is to introduce genre as a literary tool that weaves stories into a greater whole. Genres found throughout the Bible mainly include narratives, poetry, and drama. Although stories can be read independently, it is important to recognize their significance as a unified set of episodes. This is required if the macro-plot is to be fully understood and appreciated.