Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction. Jeanie C. Crain. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010. [Ch. 4] pg 65-89.

This review covers the fourth chapter of Reading the bible as Literature: An Introduction, by Jeanie Crain. First, I will provide some background information on major genres and genre criticism followed by a summary of chapter four. The summary will touch on the main points of the chapter, which include the major genres of narrative, poetry, and drama. It will also point out how these genres and their individual elements are woven together to make the Bible a more cohesive unit. After the summary, I will add my personal evaluation of chapter four followed by a conclusion.

                There are many different genres within literature which “designate the literary form into which works are classified according to what they have in common” (Crain, 66). The main genres that are used throughout the Bible include poetry, prose (often in the form of a narrative), and drama. Each of these has their own unique characteristics. Prose, which is akin to regular speech, often tells a story. Drama and poetry may also tell stories, but poetry tends to take a more structured form in how it is written. Drama usually carries more thematic elements whereas plain prose could be little more than facts with some explanation.

                Chapter four of Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction was about the major genres of literary works and how these genres contribute to “a set of expectations that shapes a reader’s interpretation of a text” (Crain, 65). The section on preliminary considerations addresses the different genres present in the Bible including lyric, drama, epic, prose, and poetry. It also makes note of genre criticism and its relation to the Bible. While the Bible has been criticized principally concerning its sources, genres are important because of its composite nature.

                The bulk of this chapter is focused on narrative. According to the author, the purpose of this is to introduce “the key elements of story” and to explore “how the Bible takes individual stories and weaves them together” (69). The key elements of a story are the protagonist, plot, and theme. The protagonist is the focal point of a story and is often the person with whom readers identify. They are often affected by the plot, which is “the succession of events, including conflict, suspense, and conclusion, events linked explicitly or implicitly in a cause-and-effect relationship” (Crain, 67). Plot, in turn, emphasizes the theme. As an example of plot, the author mentions the story of Elisha and the widow. The widow introduces the conflict that her children will be taken as slaves is a debt her husband left is not paid. Elisha gives her instructions to fill empty containers with oil from the jar in her home  and there is suspense as the reader wonders how this will help the widow and her family. A conclusion is reached when it is revealed that the jar will never run dry – the oil may be used a source of income to pay off the debt. After this explanation of plot structure, the author segues into how such episodes are linked together across the Old Testament and even the New Testament. While stories can and do exist independently, “narratives also have larger structures whereby episodes can be arranged thematically, chronologically, as parallel stories, or as stories in a cluster” (Crain, 71). The story of Elisha and the widow can be tied to the story of Elijah and another widow by its similarity in plot. Both of these Old Testament stories can then be tied to stories in the New Testament book of Mark.

                The remaining portion of chapter four concentrates on the genres of drama and poetry.  In this section, the author often cites the book of Job for its many dramatic and poetic attributes. Dramatic elements can be seen in the background, Job’s trials, and God’s appearance. Poetry can be found in the use of repetition, allusion, and imagery as well as other things. One other important form of poetry is parallelism, or, “the use of different words to express the same or similar ideas in grammatical form” (Crain, 85). The author illustrates this effect by mentioning when Job cursed his birth and the multiple phrases he used to express the same sentiment for most of Job 3.

               Chapter four of Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction provided excellent depth of explanation on the topics it covered. However, from the title of the chapter, “Major Genres,” I was expecting more information on the genres specifically. A close re-reading revealed that the text actually delved quite deeply into these genres. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised that there was much more information than I was expecting. I noticed that in the sub-section on structured plot, the author refers the widow Elisha helps as “the Shunammite woman” (Crain, 71). However, the widow is never identified as Shunammite in the Bible; instead, she is called the wife of a prophet. It makes me wonder if the author, or perhaps the editor, mixed up the story of Elisha and the widow in 2Kings 4:1-7 with the story of Elisha and the Shunammite woman in 2Kings 4:8-37. Aside from this one thing, I thought this was an excellent chapter with good breadth and depth of topic.

In conclusion, I found this chapter of Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction immensely detailed and informative. I actually had a hard time writing a concise review because there was so much information. This is a chapter that definitely deserves a thorough, attentive reading.

Works Cited

Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction. Jeanie C. Crain. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010. [Ch. 4] pg 65-89.