Bible as Literature

Bible as literature is a concept newly introduced to the modern world. The Bible has long been a source for Western fundamentalism and ideologies due to the fact that it is a religious text. Billions of people throughout the world believe that the Bible is not merely a storybook but a code of ethics by which to live. Jews and Christians study the teachings of the Bible and apply its laws to everyday life. Viewing the Bible simply as a form of literature is a new phenomenon, causing much provocation and controversy.

The Bible is a canon of books. Jews and Christian sects canonized the Bible differently. The Christian Bible includes the Old Testament, which is Mosaic Law, and the New Testament, which features Jesus as its main theme. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew while the New Testament was originally written in Koine Greek. Jews have read and learned the Bible on their own. Christians originally only allowed priests to study the Bible, and the books were written only in Latin, preventing the majority of Christians from even considering delving into it. During the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation awakened a rediscovery of the Bible; Protestants claimed that all Christians should be able to read the Bible and interpret it on their own. They printed the Bible in numerous languages.

Extensive reading of the Bible ultimately led to Biblical criticism. In the 17th century, Thomas Hobbes asserted that Moses could not possibly have written the Torah (Mosaic Law). Baruch Spinoza claimed that there were inconsistencies throughout the biblical text that proved Hobbes right. Though religious observers took little heed of these claims, many scholars agreed with these conclusions. David Norton wrote A History of the English Bible as Literature in which he explores the 700-year history of the changing perception of the Bible. English Protestants such as John Wycliff and William Tyndale revolutionized the Christian perception of the Bible when they attempted to translate the Bible into English and take it away from the control of the Roman Catholic Church. The King James Bible gained more popularity than the Puritan Geneva Bible because of its simple style. The Romantics later on would view the King James Bible as a literary classic.

Because so much controversy surrounds the Bible, educating children about the Scriptures has posed a problem. Across America, public schools have been determining whether or not teaching the Bible is a necessity. Due to the separation of church and state, the public school system cannot in any way enforce the study of the Bible. Yet questions arise as to the Bible's relevence in general education. The Washington Times published an article discussing how public schools are implementing learning the Bible as literature based on the approval of teachers and parents. Teachers have explored the alternative of teaching the Bible as literature, not a religious subject. Many teachers assert that the Bible has made such an obvious impact on laws, morals, politics and other forms of literature that it must be studied. Many literary texts were written by authors that assumed their readers were knowledgeable about the Bible.

Many authors and literary critics have explored the literary motifs throughout the Bible to discover its symmetry and overall message. J.H. Gardiner wrote Bible as English Literature in 1907, before the issue of teaching the Bible as literature arose. He says, "The way in which the various types of narrative have been put together has produced a literary effect different from anything else that we have in English literature." He claims that biblical narrative is at its strongest in the stories of the Garden of Eden, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. These pastoral stories of individual men are at once idyllic and relevant. The author goes on to analyze the poetry and rhythmic style of the Old Testament and the New Testament just as he would any other literary text. He does not examine the Bible within its own context, its time and culture. Rather, he presents it to the reader as a relevant form of literature in the modern world. Studying the Bible as literature does not diminish the eternal aspects of its message; it simply does not enforce that message.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The English Bible as Literature
Charles Allen Dinsmore.
Houghton Mifflin, 1931
Biblical Interpretation
Robert Morgan; John Barton.
Oxford University Press, 1988
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "Literary Study of the Bible"
The Mythic Past: Biblical Archaeology and the Myth of Israel
Thomas L. Thompson.
Basic Books, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 11 "The Bible's Literary World"
The Literature of the English Bible
Wilbur Owen Sypherd.
Oxford University Press, 1938
FREE! The Bible as English Literature
J. H. Gardiner.
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1907
The Bible and the Narrative Tradition
Frank McConnell.
Oxford University Press, 1991
Dialogues of the Word: The Bible as Literature According to Bakhtin
Walter L. Reed.
Oxford University Press, 1993
The Biography of Ancient Israel: National Narratives in the Bible
Ilana Pardes.
University of California Press, 2000
FREE! A Literary Guide to the Bible: A Study of the Types of Literature Present in the Old and New Testaments
Laura H. Wild.
George H. Doran, 1922
How to Read the Bible
Edgar J. Goodspeed.
John C. Winston, 1946
FREE! The Bible and English Prose Style: Selections and Comments
Albert S. Cook.
D. C. Heath & Co., 1892
Canons in Conflict: Negotiating Texts in True and False Prophecy
James E. Brenneman.
Oxford University Press, 1997
Librarian’s tip: "The Bible as Story" begins on p. 28
The Literary Impact of the Authorised Version
C. S. Lewis.
University of London the Athlone Press, 1950
The Creation of History in Ancient Israel
Marc Zvi Brettler.
Routledge, 1998
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