Monday, December 10, 2012

The Bible As Literature

As a Christian who believes the Bible is the inspired word of God, I didn't often look  at Scripture through a writer's eye, even though I've read the stories about Creation, Noah's Ark, Moses and the Ten Commandments numerous times; and  the tale of  a young shepherd named David  who slew an opposing giant with a sling shot. The same shepherd who was son of Jesse, the successor of Saul as King of Israel; The same David  mentioned in the New Testament,  most frequently  in the phrases  "son of David" or "seed of David"  spoken to Jesus, born in Bethlehem,   or about Him.


In recent years I've discovered the Bible  is a writers dream showing many different types of writing - poetry, prose, narrative, allegory , and offers one one of the oldest of literary forms, a form by which moral truth or a practical lesson in everyday wisdom is enforced - the parable, which often appears to be a simple story, but when the reader delves deeper into the parable, hidden lessons can teach profound and important truths.

John L. McKenzie, S.J. writes the parables of the Gospel are a unique development of a literary from which has its roots in the Old Testament and in rabbinic literature. The purpose of these anecdotes is to bring the listener (reader) to concede a point which he does not perceive as applicable to himself. In addition the anecdote whets the curiosity  and attracts attention; to hear how the story comes out.

According to some, including Paula R. Backsheider in her article titled Defoe's Prodigal Son's , Daniel Defoe's reworkings of the biblical parable are evident of the prodigal son in his books The Family Instructor, Memoirs of a  Cavalier, and particularly Robinson Crusoe.  According to Backsheider they  anticipate some of the directions of the major eighteenth century, and development of Defoe's prodigal son stories.

The biblical story of Jonah is also alluded to in the first part of the novel. Like Jonah, Crusoe neglects his duty and is punished at sea.

Leland Ryken , Ph.D University of Oregon writes literary form exists prior to content; no content exists apart from the form in which it is embodied.  The idea of the Bible as literature began with the Bible itself. The writers refer in a whole range of literary genres in which they write : proverb, saying, chronicle, complaint, oracle, apocalypse, parable, song, epistle, and many others. Secondly, some of these forms correspond to the literary forms current in the author's surrounding cultures. For example, Ryken directs us to the Ten Commandments and how they are cast in the form of the suzerainty treaties that ancient Near Eastern kings imposed on their subjects, and the New Testament epistles show many affinities to the structure of Greek and Roman letters of the same era.

Ryken suggests not only should the Bible be read theologically, but also as literature as every page of the Bible is virtually replete with literary technique, and to possess the individual texts fully, we need to read the Bible as literature, just as we need to read it theologically and (in the narrative parts) historically.

As writers I think we can agree with Ryken when he says, any piece of writing needs to be interpreted in terms of the kind of writing that it is. The Bible is a literary book in which theology and history are usually  embodied in literary forms. Those forms include genre, the incarnation of the human experience in concrete form , stylistic  and rhetorical techniques, and artistry. 

*** 5 Strategies for Reading the Bible as Literature

1 comment:

Jennifer Rova said...

Excellent examination of the Bible from a different perspective. I have found since I began writing 6 years ago I am more critical of the others writing. I am better able to analyze and appreciate the techniques the authors use. Unfortunately, this unconscious habit has also spoiled several books that non authors loved because of my ability to recognize poor character development, bad subplot, etc. After reading your post, I will approach the Bible in a different, but better, thought process. Thanks!