Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction. Jeanie C. Crain. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010. [Ch. 7] pg 129-151.

This review is over the seventh and final chapter of Reading the bible as Literature: An Introduction, by Jeanie Crain. First, I will provide some background information on themes and motifs, followed by a summary of chapter seven. The summary will cover the main points of the chapter, which include major themes in the Bible such as relationships, covenants, and the Shema, as well as mercy, justice, and the heroic quest. It will also provide pertinent examples of these sub-genres that were used by the author to clearly elucidate their significance. After the summary, I will provide an evaluation of the chapter followed by a conclusion.

                Themes are a very important point of literature. They serve as glue for any particular work, “and can be embedded in images, actions, and emotions” (Crain, 130). The author goes so far as to call themes the “perceptive core of a text” (130). Separating the literary from the theological is nigh on impossible when distinguishing Biblical themes, but both have their uses. Together, they “contribute continuities among texts and between the two collections and offer a framework for examining the Bible as a whole” (Crain, 129). Themes allow us to draw parallels not only between one story and the next, but also across generations.

                Chapter seven of Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction was about themes and motifs. In the section on preliminary considerations, the author provides a few necessary definitions. It is noted that theme “holds together a work and… is the main emotional, analytic, and perceptive core of text,” and that thematic analysis “systematizes the work of identifying, analyzing, and reporting patterns in a text” (Crain, 130). Motifs are a close relative to themes that also work to unify stories. The author also includes a discussion on traditional reading of the Bible and the objections to thematic analysis. For the most part, the Bible is read for its theological and religious value. It is seen as a “manual of moral instruction,” and “sacred” (Crain, 131). By taking a literary approach to reading the Bible, readers can consider its characters “as representatives of the universal human quest to understand its nature, destiny, and place in the universe” (Crain, 132). In regards to thematic analysis of the Bible, it has generally involved “how the text, the author, the audience, and the world relate” (Crain, 131). Of course, readers must be careful to avoid bias and missing details. Some critics object to thematic analysis, saying that the search for a theme causes readers to “settle too quickly” (Crain, 131). Even so, thematic analysis is valuable because it encourages healthy academic debate.

                The main body of the chapter discusses major themes in the Bible. Among these themes are the Decalogue, the Shema, and covenants. The Decalogue is another name for the Ten Commandments, which were given to Moses on Mount Sinai by God. Within the Decalogue are commandments both the divine-human relationship and human-human relationships. The way this fits into a theme is by how human character function in relation to the commandments. Obedience earns the favor of God, while “violating the laws guiding human behavior [causes humans to suffer] the inevitable punishment of retributive justice” (Crain, 135). The Shema, meaning, “Hear,” “calls attention to a sovereign and unique God to whom Israel must be loyal, to whom it must devote mind, will, and vital being” (Crain, 136). It is a confession of faith and serves to bring together the Decalogue and the duty to guide future generations. Covenants are a relationship of promise and obligation. Many Old Testament covenants are fashioned like a suzerain treaty, which “establishes a condition such as observing the treaty stipulations” (Crain, 138). The covenants God makes with humans, such as the Noahic Covenant and Abrahamic Covenant, serve “as a prototype for God’s relationship with human beings” (Crain, 138). Often, as in the case of the Mosaic Covenant, God promises his chosen people something while attaching certain rules. When the rules are broken, fulfillment of the promise is delayed until all wrongs have been righted.

                Other major themes in the Bible include God’s mercy, God’s justice, and the heroic quest. The mercy and justice of God often seem antithetical. According to the author, “a charged tension exists in the Old Testament’s presentation of a compassionate, loving and merciful God and a just God punishing command infractions” (141). Mercy is synonymous with love, and “remains the connecting power for achieving [the divine-human relationship]” (Crain, 143). God’s mercy is emphasized by the Yahwist, Deuteronomic and Elohist traditions, while the Priestly tradition emphasizes a just God that punishes covenant violations. Heroic quests are common to many forms of literature and may be found throughout the Bible. They follow the general order of separation, initiation, and return. The heroic quests found in Genesis, such as those of Abraham and Jacob, are often “linked to the beginnings of a nation chosen against all expectation” (Crain, 147). Quests are then linked through macro-plots to make the narrative complete and united.

                I felt like chapter seven of Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction was the most helpful chapter in book, at least for me. Finding the theme of a story is something I have always struggled with, so having a chapter with detailed explanations of different Biblical themes was extremely beneficial. I also liked the structure of this chapter. It was fairly simple, with one main point and six sub-points, one for each major theme. The one part of the chapter I didn’t agree with was suggestion of a disconnect between God’s mercy and God’s justice. Personally, I do not separate the two. However, since this is a chapter about themes, I attributed that to a difference in opinion.

                 In conclusion, I felt that this chapter of Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction was very informative. The themes discussed were broad enough to encompass all parts of the Bible, and the explanations did not get too bogged down in minutia. I think that this chapter was a fitting end to an introduction on reading the Bible as a piece of literature.

Works Cited

Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction. Jeanie C. Crain. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010. [Ch. 7] pg 129-151.