The Literary Study of the Bible

The Literary Study of the Bible

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The Literary Study of the Bible

The Literary Study of the Bible

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Excerpt

An author falls naturally into an apologetic tone if he is proposing to add yet one more to the number of books on the Bible. Yet I believe the number is few of those to whom the Bible appeals as literature. In part, no doubt, this is due to the forbidding form in which we allow the Bible to be presented to us. Let the reader imagine the poems of Wordsworth, the plays of Shakespeare, the essays of Bacon, and the histories of Motley to be bound together in a single volume; let him suppose the titles of the poems and essays cut out and the names of speakers and divisions of speeches removed, the whole divided up into sentences of a convenient length for parsing, and again into lessons containing a larger or smaller number of these sentences. If the reader can carry his imagination through these processes he will have before him a fair parallel to the literary form in which the Bible has come to the modern reader; it is true that the purpose for which it has been split into chapters and verses is something higher than instruction in parsing, but the injury to literary form remains the same.

Of course earnest students of Scripture get below the surface of isolated verses. Yet even in the case of deep students the literary element is in danger of being overpowered by other interests. The devout reader, following the Bible as the divine authority for his spiritual life, feels it a distraction to notice literary questions. And thereby he often impedes his own purpose: poring over a passage of Job to discover the message it has for him, and forgetting all the while the dramatic form of the book, as a result of which the speaker of the very passage he is studying is in the end . . .

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