Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Bible As Literature

Bible.. Photo. Britannica ImageQuest, Encyclopædia Britannica, 25 May 2016. Accessed 14 Jun 2017.
We can see this on a global scale when we look at the overall format of the Bible. That format is the literary anthology—a collection of varied literary genres written by multiple authors over the span of many centuries. In its details, too, the Bible is a literary book. Most of it is embodied in the genres of narrative, poetry, letters, and visionary writing. Dozens of smaller genres accumulate under those big rubrics. Why should we read the Bible as literature? Because its literary format requires it. C. S. Lewis sounded the keynote when he wrote in Reflections on the Psalms that “there is a sense in which the Bible, since it is after all literature, cannot properly be read except as literature; and the different parts of it as the different sorts of literature they are.”
~Leyland Ryken, "The Bible as Literature"

"Bible as literature" is actually a subject heading we stumbled across in the library catalog, but it turns out many schools teach it as a class - from MIT and Yale to BYU and University of Colorado, and even our own UNM! Perhaps unsurprisingly, the literary study of the Bible falls under the English course heading rather than Religion.  Literary forms such as parable, poetry, hero narratives, and proverb are studied, along with typical literary concerns such as setting and character; historicity is examined along with biography; sometimes a particular version of the Bible is the focus, such as the King James. The core of the studies seems to remain the influence of the Bible on the Western literary canon - in the Huffington Post's article about teaching high schoolers about the Bible, it is suggested that "It is one thing to teach the Bible as if it were the word of God, and another to teach about the Bible — its stories, characters, events, and lessons — as a human book, and to discuss the many interpretations that have been advanced over the centuries." A book that could be called "the single most influential piece of literature in the world" (it certainly is a bestseller) deserves to be studied for literary merit as well as religious content - you can find references to Biblical writings in other great works by Shakespeare, Milton, Hemingway, and even in the movie The Matrix. The author Marilynne Robinson writes, "Literatures are self-referential by nature, and even when references to Scripture in contemporary fiction and poetry are no more than ornamental or rhetorical — indeed, even when they are unintentional — they are still a natural consequence of the persistence of a powerful literary tradition."

Interested  in studying the Bible's literary influences? If you don't want to take a class in the Bible as literature, there's a reading group on the Librarything website, or you could just check out a book from the library catalog on the topic.

The Book of the People: How to Read the Bible by A.N. Wilson

The Good Book: Writers Reflect on Favorite Bible Passages  edited by Andrew Blauner

Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God by Jack Miles

No comments: