Making Sense of the Bible: Literary Type as an Approach to Understanding

Making Sense of the Bible: Literary Type as an Approach to Understanding

Making Sense of the Bible: Literary Type as an Approach to Understanding

Making Sense of the Bible: Literary Type as an Approach to Understanding

Synopsis

No book in the Western world has evoked more diverse interpretations than the Bible. One reason for this multiplicity of interpretation is the vast historical gap lying between the writing of the Scriptures and our own time. Can ordinary persons today really make sense of this body of ancient literature? In Making Sense of the Bible Marshall Johnson gives readers the tools needed to better understand Scripture by teaching them to recognize and handle the diverse kinds of literature that make up the Bible. Focusing on the eight major literary forms in the Bible - wisdom literature, liturgical materials, quasi-historical material, prophetic writings, collections of laws and precepts, apocalyptic literature, letters, and Gospels - Johnson describes each forms central features and gives readers a sense of what to expect from each literary form and how to approach it. In addition, helpful appendixes discuss the forms of ancient Hebrew poetry, highlight the major literary types in biblical books, and provide suggestions for further reading. For inquisitive laypeople or students in search of the original meaning of the Bible, this book provides a thoughtful, concise, and nonsectarian introduction.

Excerpt

No book in the Western world has evoked more diverse responses than the perennial bestseller, the Bible. It is appealed to as a prime authority by evangelists, nominal Christians, militias, politicians, and social reformers — not to mention the large number of organized Christian denominations and branches of Judaism — and we wonder at the variety of interpretations given it and the conflicting claims made on its behalf. How is it possible that biblical authority can be cited for widely divergent causes? In light of such postmodern confusion, can ordinary persons make sense of this body of ancient literature?

A Matter of Distance and Difference

A good part of the difficulty in making sense of the Bible is the gap of 2000 years between the writing of the Bible and our time. There are enormous differences between the ancient Semitic and Hellenistic societies that produced the Bible and the postmodern Western, technologically-based communities of the present. Essential to understanding the Bible is an appreciation of the cultural distance between these two worlds. Language, literacy, geography, economic realities, myths, children’s stories, tribalism, traditional values — all these and much more shape a people’s culture. At the same time, I believe that it is not neces-

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