Chapter Four Review
October 21, 2012
Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction. Jeanie C. Crain. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2010. 65-89
When you enter a library or book store, you will most likely find the books arranged in a particular way. Perhaps you will discover a “poetry” section. Maybe there will be books in a section titled “historical fiction.” Regardless of what specific sections there are, it is typical that books are arranged by genre. In Dr. Jeanie C. Crain’s Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction, readers are introduced to the importance of genres in the Bible. Entitled “Major Genres: A Way of Seeing,” Chapter Four aims to introduce students to multiple biblical genres. In doing so, Professor Crain strives to demonstrate effective examples of various genres in the Bible to improve students’ understanding. This chapter observes major genres such as narrative, drama, and poetry. After discussing these genres in depth and providing a multitude of examples, the chapter concludes with exercises and discussion questions for students to revisit the material and display what they have learned. Chapter Four is highly effective in conveying information about the genres in the Bible. Dr. Crain states that “the Bible has been regarded as a model for literary genres,” and through this chapter, students will learn why this is the case.
How does understanding genres enhance understanding of the Bible? As Dr. Crain demonstrated, it is important to first understand what is meant by the word “genre.” The author writes, “genre means ‘type,’ ‘sort,’ or ‘kind’ and designates the literary form into which works are classified according to what they have in common, either in their formal structures or in their treatment of subject matter, or both,” (66). In other words, genres are different categories of literature. The Bible is a unique book in that it contains many smaller books “made up of diverse genres,” (66). But why is this important to readers? Professor Crain writes that genre is “an interpretive tool” that “guides you in your encounters with text, telling you what to look for and how to organize your experience of it,” (66). In other words, we may read different genres with different states of mind. We may read poetry in a different way (more rhythmically) than we read a particular narrative. Knowing what to look for in a piece of literature and determining which category, or genre, that it fits into furthers a reader’s understanding of the text.
Dr. Crain begins this chapter with a personal note briefly recalling the first three chapters of Reading the Bible as Literature. She discusses why understanding different genres is important and offers preliminary considerations regarding essential definitions of keywords such as fiction, plot, and setting. The chapter then proceeds to examine genre criticism with questions such as, “Are genres objective?” and “Should the Bible be viewed as one book, or a collection of books?” Dr. Crain then explores a major genre in the Bible: narrative. She discusses stories with a structured plot, such as the story of Zacchaeus, the story of a man who climbed a tree in order to see Jesus (70). Useful definitions are also included throughout, to enhance the readers understanding of the narrative genre. Some definitions include the following: exposition, which informs readers of the setting and main characters; and dialogue, which is a verbal exchange between characters (70). Chapter Four then focuses on “linking episodes,” which observes how multiple stories in the Bible are related to other stories in the Bible. This contributes to the unity and coherence of the Bible. Dr. Crain provides multiple examples to reinforce her points. She explains that certain stories in the New Testament, such as the story of Jesus healing a woman who then serves him, are linked to stories in the Old Testament, such as the story of Elijah providing for a woman who then serves him. The chapter then observes a very prominent book in the Bible: Genesis. The genre of Genesis and stories (both independent and in groups) in Genesis are discussed. The discussion then turns to drama and poetry, two other genres. In this section, comedy and tragedy are explored, with an in-depth examination of the book of Job. Dr. Crain elaborates on the variety of literary devices used in Job, such as parallelism (“lines that use different words to express the same or similar ideas”) and chiasm, which “takes on an X-shape…representing the crossing of two objects in reverse order,” (85-86). Chapter Four concludes with close reading exercises and discussion questions to aid in reflection of the material.
Chapter Four was an excellent chapter that presented information and ideas that were more challenging, but extremely useful. Upon completing this chapter, I felt more confident in my understanding of biblical genres. One thing that really impressed me as I was reading this chapter was not only Dr. Crain’s knowledge of the topic, but her passion for the topic as well. She was able to present the material in an interesting way because of her obvious passion for the subject. She is also able to back up each of her points with multiple examples from the Bible itself, which assists the reader in applying what they have learned. When discussing the book of Job, Professor Crain goes in-depth with her examples and cites exact verses to demonstrate her point. For example, to demonstrate the chiasm, she presents Job 5.8 and 5.11, and shows the X-shape of the related terms. It is difficult to learn without application, so I appreciate Dr. Crain’s use of numerous examples.
For a comparison, I looked to Chapter Four in The Bible as Literature, a textbook written in 1986 by John B. Gabel, Charles B. Wheeler, and Anthony D. York. Their chapter is titled “The Bible and History.” As one can gather from the title, The Bible as Literature’s chapter four observes the Bible from a historical aspect. Instead of examining biblical genres, “The Bible and History” asserts that “To study the Bible, then, is necessarily to study history—and a very specific history,” (Gabel, Wheeler, & York, 60). Gabel, Wheeler, and York’s chapter discusses biblical history. Like Crain’s chapter, “The Bible and History” does inform readers on what to expect while reading the Bible, but in a different way: “Our intention thus far has been to make a clear case concerning the centrality of history to the Bible. But if we have succeeded in that effort, we must immediately turn about and set some limitations on the relationship between history and the Bible. Although the Bible is intimately bound up with history, it cannot properly be read as a history book,” (Gabel, Wheeler, & York, 61). The Bible as Literature’s fourth chapter is interesting and informative, but, as with Chapter Three, I find Dr. Crain’s approach in Reading the Bible as Literature to be more linear and effective. Dr. Crain is providing students with the fundamentals of reading the Bible as literature. She is laying a foundation for understanding the proper way of reading the Bible and what to expect. I feel that Gabel, Wheeler, and York’s textbook is interesting and informative, but is not as easily applicable to reading the Bible as literature. I also appreciate Dr. Crain’s use of personal notes and careful organization of information. As mentioned before, I also benefit greatly from Dr. Crain’s many examples that she provides.
In conclusion, Chapter Four of Reading the Bible as Literature was an effective, thought-provoking chapter. The chapter observes major genres used in the Bible and encourages readers to use their knowledge of different genres to analyze the text. Upon completion of this chapter, readers will have learned about the Bible’s use of narrative, drama, and poetry, and will be able to identify specific stories or books in the Bible as such. Dr. Crain has provided a useful chapter full of helpful examples and things to think about.