The Bible as Literature

Dear Prof. Marx,

As the arts and humanities section editor for the Encyclopedia for Sciences and Religions, I am writing to inquire if you would agree to contribute an article of 4000-5000 words on the subject of “The Bible as Literature” for this particular reference work. The volume will be published in 2011.

As a leading international publisher, Springer is known not only for its comprehensive reference works, but for the global scope of the knowledge and expertise these works contain.

Your name was selected for this project because of your visibility and reputation in your particular field, and I genuinely hope will you say yes.  In the meantime, I thank you so much for taking the time to look over the particulars of this groundbreaking and highly significant project.

1. Describe this discipline/subdiscipline and some of its most recent developments.

“The Bible as Literature” denotes an academic subject taught in high schools, colleges and universities and the academic specialty of a worldwide network of scholars. As a Library of Congress subject category in World Cat it elicits entries for 1252 books. In recent years, practitioners have preferred the term, “Literary Study of the Bible,” which produces listings as the subject of 653 books. There is no professional organization or journal specifically devoted to the topic.
The Bible as Literature/Literary Study of the Bible is a subdiscipline of both Biblical Studies and Literary Criticism.  Its activity is “exegesis,” that is, commentary on and interpretation of the Bible.

The word “Bible” has several meanings. It refers to a collection of separate books and to that collection defined as a single book. The Jewish Bible consists only of the Hebrew Scriptures or Tanakh. The Christian Bible includes the books of the New Testament plus the Hebrew Scriptures, which it refers to as the Old Testament. The Catholic Bible contains, in addition, the Apocrypha, a set of books not included in the Protestant Bible

Literature is defined as “¦artistic writings worthy of being remembered. ¦that are characterized by beauty of expression and form and by universality of intellectual and emotional appeal.”  Literary Study is defined as “the humanistic study of literature.”  “The purpose of a literary inquiry is a better understanding of the text”its construction, its forms of expression, its meaning and significance, and/or its relation to non-textual elements or to other texts.”  Although the text that Literary Study examines is usually concrete and specific, no understanding it produces is exhaustive or conclusive.

The Bible as Literature /Literary Study of the Bible is governed by a set of hermeneutic methods”i.e. certain principles of commentary and interpretation. It takes a secular approach, treating biblical texts as works produced by human beings within human history rather than a theological approach, which treats them as Holy Scripture, Divine Revelation or The Word of God.  It applies techniques of literary criticism to the Bible in the same ways they have been applied to other literary works since the time of Aristotle. These include:

¢    analysis of plot and structure,
¢    discussion of character, including the characters of narrator and author
¢    exploration of theme
¢    consideration of historical and geographic setting
¢    delineation of linguistic and stylistic devices, including figures of speech and verse and prose conventions
¢    categorization of genres
¢    correlation of intertextual references to other works

Some readers within faith communities that adhere to a theological approach to biblical interpretation regard the The Literary Study of the Bible as subversive; others see it as complementary.The Bible as Literature/Literary Study of the Bible is also defined by contrast to a different secular approach to the Bible known as the “Higher Criticism,” Textual Criticism, “Literarkritik,” or, confusingly, “Literary Criticism of the Bible.” This academic discipline studies the Bible as a documentary artifact, employing scientific methods to understand the historical or “diachronic” process that produced the texts accreted and deleted during the period in antiquity encompassing the Bible’s composition and canonization. While Higher Criticism attempts to reverse-engineer the received text into earlier constituent layers and fragments, The Bible as Literature/Literary Study of the Bible interprets the received text as a completed “synchronic” whole at the end of its evolutionary history. It discusses characters and plot events in the present tense.

The Bible as Literature/Literary Study of the Bible emerged as a self-conscious academic specialty in the 1970’s, but recorded interpretations are as old as the text itself.  Examples of internal exegesis include Moses’ explanations of the purpose of the Sabbath day by reference to the seventh day of the creation, or Jesus’ interpretation of the laws of the Decalog in his Sermon on the Mount, or St. Paul’s disquisitions on the spiritual rather than the literal meaning of circumcision portrayed in Genesis.
Early exegetes like Philo of Alexandria supplied allegorical interpretations of anthropomorphic features of the Hebrew God to make the Biblical deity palatable to rationalistic Hellenistic readers. During the Rabbinical period collections of oral interpretive commentary on passages of the Hebrew Bible were collected in the Midrash.  Some Jewish and Christian commentaries, for instance by Longinus and St. Augustine, acknowledged the richness of poetic and rhetorical language in Biblical passages of poetry or parable.

Medieval Jewish scholars described principles of parallelism in Hebrew poetry and patterns of metaphor, hyperbole, worldplay and rhyme as well as different authorships of different sections of Isaiah. The Venerable Bede (672-735) wrote a treatise entitled On Figures and Tropes of Holy Writ. During in the Middle Ages the Bible also served as a model for original literary writings like Dante’s Divine Comedy and English miracle and mystery plays.

The revival of classics and the rise of humanism and science during the Renaissance and Reformation generated more interest in the Bible as Literature. Petrarch, one of the modern originators of the idea of literature as an independent subject, stated that “the bible not only contains poetry, it is poetry at its core.”  In his “Defense of Poesie” from Puritan attacks against secular literature, Sir Philip Sidney celebrated the literary accomplishments of  “David in his Psalms; Solomon in his Song of Songs, in his Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs, Moses and Deborah in their hymns; and the writer of Job.”  George Herbert admired the structural configurations of the text: “Seeing not only how each verse doth shine,/But all the constellations of the storie./This verse marks that, and both do make a motion/Unto a third, that ten leaves off doth lie¦”  and John Donne expostulated upon the arcane beauty of its rhetoric: “thou art a figurative, a metaphorical God too; a God in whose words there is such a height of figures, such voyages, such peregrinations to fetch remote and precious metaphors¦such things in thy words, as all profane authors seem of the seed of the serpent that creeps, thou art the Dove that flies.”  Works like Milton’s Paradise Lost and Samson Agonistes amplified such appreciation by using Biblical texts as sources for original literary production.

This development of literary appreciation of the Bible was accompanied by the beginnings of a scientific-historical approach.  Lorenzo Valla applied meticulous scholarship dependent upon knowledge of ancient languages to finding, comparing, emending multiple manuscripts, leading the way to Erasmus’ critical editions of the Greek New Testament and Tyndale’s translation of the Old. Such scholarly efforts continued during the late seventeenth and eighteenth century Enlightenment. Spurred by the strategy of systematic doubt and reliance on reason and empirical observation developed by Bacon and Descartes, Spinoza declared that the Bible needed to be understood only on the basis of evidence present within it and available to any reader. Reading unencumbered by theological presuppositions led to the first formulation of multiple authorship of the five books of Moses by Richard Simon in 1678.

This secular historicizing scientific approach was paralleled by further exploration of the aesthetic literary values of the Bible.  Robert Lowth discovered that the principle of Hebrew poetics lay not in meter or rhyme but in the balance of ideas and phrases, which he discerned in the Psalms, the Prophets and elsewhere. Lowth’s literary-critical work inspired the poetry of Ossian and of William Blake, who based his idiosyncratic poetic and artistic output directly on Biblical models of style. Blake claimed that the Old and the New Testament were “the great Code of Art,” that all great art is as visionary as the Bible, that poets are by definition prophets, and that all gods reside in the human breast.

These dual tendencies in secular Biblical exegesis continued throughout the 19th century.  Scientific-historical analysis became known as “higher criticism,” elaborated in the Documentary Hypothesis proposed by Julius Wellhausen. Based on linguistic and stylistic analysis of the Hebrew Bible texts, he postulated four strains–J, E, P, and D–written at different times in different political and  cultural contexts, eventually knitted together by ancient editors known as redactors. This hypothesis continues to guide “Biblical Literature” studies today, where refinements and revisions still proliferate based on new discoveries and interpretations of material artifacts. Scientific/historical research proceeded in New Testatment studies with efforts to separate myth and legend from fact in Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus, for example in David Friedrich Strauss’s 1846  Life of Jesus Critically Examined,  and in Adolph Harnack’s, What is Christianity?, which placed New Testament stories and teachings in the context of Near Eastern religious traditions.

The Higher Criticism combined with the geological discoveries of Charles Lyell and the biological theories of Darwin to present direct challenges to religious worldviews based on theological readings of the Bible and led to widespread Victorian soul-searching about the conflict between science and religion. An alternate approach, sidestepping that conflict was provided by the Bible as Literature movement, which, though secular, repudiated the Higher Criticism’s atomism, reductionism, technicality and insensitivity to the Bible’s aesthetic values.  One of its founders, Matthew Arnold, had abandoned belief in a personal God, but argued that the arts provided a worthy successor to religious faith, and as a superlative example of literature the Bible should remain as a central object of study and appreciation. Arnold maintained that the Bible’s literary language was of a different order than the language of objective description subjected to scientific confirmation or rebuttal.

Following Arnold, “The Bible as Literature” became a popular phrase denoting the subject of academic research and college and high school English courses. By the middle of the 20th century, T.S. Eliot and C.S. Lewis, prominent British author/critics who remained religious believers, objected to its secular subversion of the Bible’s unique theological authority. The technique of intense close readings of biblical texts fostered by the “New Criticism” generated widely cited critical accomplishments beginning with the translation of Eric Auerbach’s essay “Odysseus’ Scar.” It contrasted the Bible’s spare characterizations and descriptions with those of the classics, finding them richer with suggestive depth and hidden complexity””fraught with background.”

Northrop Frye and Robert Alter, two literary critics and professors of English, made major contributions to the field during the latter half of the twentieth century.  Though often in stark disagreement, both applied systematic theories of literary analysis which rewarded intensive attention with the discovery of subtle details and rich patterns of coherence.  Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism postulated an overall unity of language, plot, imagery, theme, and character, an analytical framework that he completed elaborating in his last three books, all of them about the Protestant Bible.  Robert Alter’s The Art of Biblical Narrative developed a technique for linking small and large units of composition in the Hebrew Bible through internal reference or allusion.  Their approaches have been classified as variations of “structuralism” or “narratology,” each claiming some scientific authority derived from methodological sources in linguistics and anthropology. These approaches also have more traditional roots: Alter’s in the rabbinical techniques of midrash and Frye’s in patristic typology and in the poetics of visionary experience he found in William Blake.  Though secular rather than theological interpreters, Alter and Frye assume that the received texts are coherent and complete.

By the middle seventies the abundant fruits of such formalist literary study of the bible were attracting historical scholars and led to the launch of a new journal by their professional association, The Society of Biblical Literature. Titled Semeia, it combined historical with literary approaches to interpretation. At the same time some literary scholars adapted the historians’ idea of separate strains of biblical authorship to arrive at new literary readings.  In the J strain, Harold Bloom found a complete literary masterpiece he ascribed to a woman at King Solomon’s court.  Leslie Brisman construed a dramatic dialogue in Genesis between the normative voice of Isaac, associated with the P strain, and the quirky voice of Jacob, associated with J.

The contrast between Literary Study of the Bible and other interpretive approaches has been further blurred by literary critics’ adoption of the “hermeneutics of suspicion” associated with the movement called post-structuralism, post-modernism or Critical Theory. Rather than discovering formal coherence, aesthetic value and truth of representation in the Bible, the new analytic methods have brought forth Feminist gender analysis, Marxist class analysis, New Historicist power analysis, Cultural Studies anthropological analysis and Psychoanalytic depth psychology analysis. This expansion of the category “Bible as Literature” has further stimulated research, publication, the organization of conferences and the creation of courses. Some interpretations generated by these methodologies are offered as more scientific than traditional literary exegesis, some simply as “a reading,” one among many that are possible.

Such relativism regarding knowledge of the Biblical text has issued in two related avenues of inquiry in Literary Study of the Bible: 1) the history of interpretation, which determines Biblical meaning as the changing outcome of the way it is understood by readers in specified historical and ideological contexts, and 2) intertextual studies, or “The Bible and Literature,” which explores how literary texts by later writers like Milton, Blake, Shakespeare or Toni Morrison, interpret and are influenced by the Bible.

Recently developed “ecoliterary” and “ecocritical” approaches incorporate the biological sciences into the Literary Study of the Bible.  They focus on Biblical representations of nature and of human and divine relationships with nature, particularly in light of present day environmental issues.  Lynn White’s 1967 essay, “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis,”  asserted that a significant cause of that crisis is the influence of the Bible’s language commanding humans to “fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over¦every living thing¦” (Genesis1.27) This language has been reinterpreted to enlist the Bible in the cause of environmental stewardship, both by secular critics and by theological writers concerned with Creation Care or Creation Theology. In one of several hortatory introductory essays to The Green Bible, an edition that replaces red lettering for the words of Jesus with green lettering for words dealing with nature, Ellen Bernstein writes: “The ecological language of the creation accounts helps us discern the ecological vision alive throughout the Hebrew Bible. So we begin with a literary reading of these texts to see what we can learn about God and Gods relation to the world, and about nature and human nature.”  Such ecocritical biblical exegesis is practiced by fundamentalist, anti-Darwinian “creationist” theologians , by literary critics who find in Genesis evidence for an emerging ethos of anti-anthropocentrism , by cultural geographers,  and by environmental scientists who study  human history within the framework of natural history.

Another ecocritical approach is pursued in Agrarian Studies, which finds throughout the Bible an underlying theme of respect for the land, concern for soil, and appreciation for sustainable agriculture. Blending theology with science and literary analysis, Agrarian Studies supports efforts to reform the present industrial food system, to critique some applications of science in modern technology, and to revive local agriculture and the culture of farming.   The interplay between the Bible and such agrarian issues is prominent in recent ecoliterary works, including the writings of Wendell Berry, Barbara Kingsolver’s novel, Prodigal Summer, and Ruth Ozeki’s novel All Over Creation.

Yet another new ecocritical approach labeled “Darwinian Literary Studies” applies findings and methods of sociobiology, evolutionary psychology and Darwinian anthropology to the study of literature. Assuming that natural selection “shaped the human mind, and thus human behavior, and thus human culture,” it uses the mechanisms of evolution to make sense of literary activity and of the content of texts, claiming to find in them elements of a biologically determined and scientifically defined universal human nature. Such findings are “tied into a web of mutually reinforcing, falsifiable hypotheses in the biological and social sciences” and form part of the larger “tree of knowledge” uniting all of the sciences. According to Jonathan Gottshall, “Darwinian literary criticism ¦ focuses on the fascinating multiplicity of ways characters ¦ accomplish the prime directive of all life: to live long enough to reproduce and, in species where parental care is necessary (like ours), rear young to reproduce again.”   Such a directive echoes the command reported in the Book of Genesis to have been issued by God to all living creatures including humans: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth…” (1:26). The structuralist literary critic, J.P. Fokkelman observed in 1987 that “the overriding concern of the book [is]: life-survival-offspring-fertility-continuity,”  and Steven Marx elaborated that idea in his discussion of generation, genealogy and genetics in Genesis in 2000,  but as of 2009 the application of self-conscious Darwinian studies to the Literary Study of the Bible remains only a promise.

2 (a) To what extent does this discipline/sub-discipline self-identify as a science? How so? In what way, or why not at all?

As reflected in the preceding chronological account, The Bible as Literature/Literary Study of the Bible has traditionally defined itself by exclusion of science: first by distinguishing its subject matter from theology, which treated the Bible as God’s revealed truth, and second from the “Higher Criticism,” which treated the Bible as a historical artifact representing actual historical events. Some proponents of the Bible as Literature (Sidney, Donne, Blake, Frye) have claimed that the language of the Bible refers to visionary or imaginative reality distinct from the material, temporal reality referenced by the language of science. Ancient midrashic and contemporary post-modern exegetes reject the scientific principle of falsifiability and the logical law of contradiction and accept multiple mutually contradictory interpretations.  Nevertheless, the Bible as Literature/Literary Study of the Bible has also incorporated methods that can be classified as scientific because of their appeals to supportive textual and archaeological evidence, inner consistency, principles of design and symmetry as well as to the psychology of rhetoric and the classification of genres. Recent developments in ecocriticism applied to the Bible as Literature/Literary Study of the Bible abandon the exclusionary definition of the field and seek to make it compatible with disciplines conventionally regarded as scientific such as ecology, cultural geography, and evolutionary biology.

2 (b). To what extent does this discipline/sub-discipline self-identify as a religion? How so? In what way, or why not at all?

The Bible as Literature/Literary Study of the Bible doesn’t identify as a religion, but can be considered as either a religious or non-religious endeavor.  Early literary biblical exegesis was usually done within the framework of theology to enhance the status and appreciation of the sacred text by illuminating its literary virtues. Until the sixteenth century such study was limited to a few people who could read, and in both Jewish rabbinic and Christian patristic traditions, interpretation was seen to be inspired by God or the Holy Spirit. Since the Renaissance, one strain of literary criticism considers poets to be prophets and the Bible as prophetic utterance stemming from a quasi-divine source within humans. Some historical criticism and post-modern literary criticism aims to highlight arbitrary, accidental or erroneous features of the Bible to undermine claims of its religious significance.

3. What makes this discipline/sub-discipline distinctive among the other disciplines/sub-disciplines?

As mentioned, the Bible as Literature/Literary Study of the Bible is defined by its distinction from both theological and from historical or scientific biblical studies.  It is a blend of literary criticism and Biblical studies. However since Biblical studies are sometimes theological and literary criticism sometimes incorporates methods of historical or scientific disciplines, another distinction lies in its unstable and elastic definition.

4. To what extent does this discipline/sub-discipline see itself as relevant to,or interested in the scholarly area called ˜Science and Religion’? If interested, in what way? If not interested, why not? Here, entries also may address practical implications the area ˜Science and Religion’ may have for e.g., the teaching of a particular discipline, the career of the scientists/non-scientist, and the place of that discipline within a university/academic setting and in society.

The category and academic pursuit of The Bible as Literature/Literary Study of the Bible arose out of the Science and Religion Controversy of the nineteenth century.  Scientific discoveries about the historical evolution of the received biblical texts and about the circumstances of their composition along with discoveries about geology and biology contradicted many traditional beliefs about the Bible’s truthfulness and authority.  The Literary Study of the Bible avoided this controversy by creating new possibilities for finding meaning and value in the Bible as a work of art available to non-religious people.  Religion has inspired and in turn been strengthened by art, and in this sense the Literary Study of the Bible can enhance religious experience and support religious belief.  Conversely, study of the Bible as Literature can widen scientific access to the richness and complexity of religious experience and can reveal ways that texts and their interpretations have motivated the behavior of readers. For example, in a general education course entitled “God and Nature,” proposed for Cal Poly University San Luis Obispo for Spring 2010, a biologist will present current scientific research that explains the variety of life on earth with Darwinian principles, a religious studies scholar will compare the Genesis account with creation myths from other cultures, and a literary critic will examine the aesthetic design and the emotional appeals of the language of The Origin of Species, of the Bible and of the other creation myths.

5. What are the sources of authority for this discipline/sub-discipline? What makes these sources authoritative?

As a blend of Biblical studies and literary criticism, The Literary Study of the Bible accords authority to researchers in both fields. Prestige of historical Biblical scholars usually depends on mastery of ancient languages, historical, geographic and archaeological erudition and technical skills like paleography and epigraphy, as well as on standing within professional hierarchies. Prestige of literary critics depends more on breadth of learning, rhetorical eloquence, self-fashioned identity and originality of positions argued. Publication in prestigious journals and employment at select universities counts for both. Authority also stems from textual sources, primary and secondary. Biblical authority is no higher than the authority of other literary texts. Generally in Biblical scholarship, the more ancient the material referenced the greater its authority. Literary criticism tends to value references to new trends and information from unexpected quarters.

6. What are the ethical principles that guide this discipline/sub-discipline?

Since the subdiscipline has neither a journal nor a professional organization and since its definition is somewhat elastic, it is hard to answer this question.  One principle generally observed by participants is respect for readers who don’t share the same view of biblical authority or similar interpretations of the meaning and significance of biblical texts.

7. What are the key values of this discipline/sub-discipline?

One is aesthetic: participants pursue discovery and elucidation of imaginative and intellectual beauty encoded in the Biblical text and its interpretations. Another is philosophical: the apprehension of truth and wisdom through various ways of understanding the Biblical text and through the revelation of errors or distortions. The values of non-violence, gender, racial and ethnic equality, social justice and environmental stewardship inform some literary readings of the Bible.

8. How does this discipline/sub-discipline define/conceptualize the following?

a- nature/world

Literature represents nature/world, i.e. creation, with words.  The study of literature inquires not about the world of nature, but rather the world of words and images. The Hebrew Bible shows God creating nature with words. The New Testament includes the statement that “In the Beginning was the Word¦and the word was God.” So both the Literary Study of the Bible and the Bible itself privilege verbal utterance over physical creation.  However, insofar as the Literary Study of the Bible regards it as a historical artifact it treats the Bible as a product and representation of the natural and social world of its historical and geographic settings.

b- human being

Literary criticism examines the Bible’s alternate representations of the human being: it is  created male and female at the same time as the other animals by the words of God and it is molded male first out of earthen clay and then born female out of the male’s body. Literary Study of the Bible relates these stories of origin to other discourses in the Bible about the relationships between men and women and between humans and animals.  It tends to regard these stories of the creation of humans by God as products of the human imagination.

c- life (and origins of)/death

Literary Study construes the Bible’s stories of the origin of life either as contradictory to the scientific narrative of evolution or as analogous to it. It devises figurative meanings of the story of the origin of death as punishment for transgression and as a consequence of gaining the knowledge of good and evil and observes the symmetries created by New Testament images of death overcome by the resurrection of Jesus and the community of the saved.

d- reality

Concepts of reality are classified as 1) “realist,” meaning that reality consists of formal abstract universals encoded in words and symbols 2) “nominalist,” meaning that reality consists of material particulars arbitrarily categorized and labeled by formal abstractions, words and symbols, and 3) “conceptualist,” meaning that reality consists of a combination of formal abstractions and material particulars.  All three have adherents within the Literary Study of the Bible.  The realist view manifests in formalist, typological and archetypal criticism, which regards the text as absolute.  The nominalist view informs historical and post-structuralist readings. The conceptualist mix is adopted by most critics in actual practice.

e- knowledge

Knowledge in this field is largely textual”knowing what’s in the Bible, understanding its languages–ancient and modern, explicit and occult–and being attuned to subtle detail and hidden pattern. Some knowledge is intuitive: the ability to read between the lines, discover significance in the unstated, discern correspondences, and find meaning in unusual psychological states. Knowledge is accumulated by study of the text and its interpretations, by understanding literary theories, analytical vocabulary, and lexicons of symbol and archetype. The Literary Study of the Bible also values non-textual scientific knowledge about the provenance of the text, the history and geography of its settings, and the findings of comparative religion.

f- truth

Literary Study of the Bible elaborates the notion that the truth of the text’s assertions is found not only in their literal sense but in figurative, allegorical, or “spiritual” senses arrived at through knowledgeable interpretation. Theological notions of the Bible’s “inerrant truth” assert that as God’s Word, the Scriptures contain truth that no human inquiry, scientific or otherwise, can fully comprehend.  Both the Book of Proverbs and the Gospel of John claim that the Word of the text precedes the creation of the world. The Literary Study of the Bible reflects on what is meant by such paradoxical utterances.  Adherents of New Criticism assume that the Bible in whole and in parts, like other literary works, has a fullness of meanings that can be approached but never fully grasped by interpretation. Historical and scientific forms of Literary Study of the Bible find truth by placing the Bible in its material and cultural context”referred to by some scholars as its Sitz im Leben.

g- perception

Perception is closely related to “knowledge.”  Realist-leaning literary critics associate perception with “vision” of a non-material higher-order reality apprehensible through dreams and other altered psychological states.  The Bible itself is full of representations of such visions and auditory perceptions, which realist interpreters identify with and sometimes share. Nominalist-leaning critics regard perception as accurate only if backed by scientific methods requiring falsifiable, repeatable, intersubjectively-confirmable evidence. They seek to explain Biblical visions as hallucination. Conceptualist-inclined interpreters regard perception as a synthetic creation of subject and object and find the range of vision recorded in the Bible worthy of further investigation.

h- time

The Hebrew Bible/Old Testament begins with the creation of Time””the first day””by God, who presumably exists outside of time.  The Christian Bible concludes its temporal narrative of the history of the world with an account of the end of time and its replacement by a new heaven and new earth, also presumably eternal.  With utterances like God’s I AM WHO AM in Exodus 3:14 and Jesus’ “Before Abraham was, I AM,” in John 8:58, the text suggests a supertemporal realm of existence pondered by Biblical interpreters like Augustine and Aquinas and rendered artistically by Dante and Bosch. “Synchronic” literary criticism of the Bible treats the whole text as contemporaneous and present simultaneously to the reader, especially in its employment of typology.  “Diachronic” criticism treats the text as an artifact that evolved in the past over a long temporal interval.

i- consciousness

Some Literary Study of the Bible treats its sequence of portrayals of God from beginning to end as a study in an evolving consciousness, one that learns by experience and by interaction with its human offspring in history–for instance Jack Miles’ God: A Biography and Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God.

j- reason/rationality

As a secular academic discipline, Literary Study of the Bible values rationality and reason, which it applies to understanding even those Biblical texts that appear irrational or are claimed to be super-rational.

k- mystery

The Bible is filled with incident and language that is perplexing, enigmatic, and uncanny.  Protagonists like Abraham, Job and the disciples of Jesus and antagonists like the Pharaoh or the Roman authorities are mystified by God’s words and actions. Such mystification promotes wonder and awe, which can contribute to the authority of the divine or the divinely inspired speaker and can increase reverence for the text.  Literary analysis can either intensify or undermine such responses on the part of the reader.


1.    Ecoliterature or Environmental Literature and ecocriticism: Literature dealing with nature, the environment, and environmental issues.  Literary criticism about  ecoliterature.
2.    Exegesis: Interpretation of texts, in particular of Biblical texts.
3.    Hermeneutics: Principles of interpretation, usually in reference to the Bible.
4.    Higher Criticism: The historical study of the provenance of Biblical texts.
5.    Intertextual: referring the relationships between separate texts, by specific or implied allusion or similarity or contrast.
6.    Midrash: Specifically the collection of early Rabbinic commentaries on the Hebrew Bible; in general a commentary on a text that is free and sometimes fanciful.
7.    Narratology: The study of the structures of narrative, in general and in application to specific stories.
8.    New Criticism: A style of literary criticism popular in the mid-twentieth century that emphasizes close reading of texts to discover hidden patterns and meanings without reference to authorial intention.
9.    Redactors: The editors of earlier texts who combined and integrated them into the received texts of the Bible, a process inferred to have taken place by practitioners of Higher Criticism.
10.    Typology: A study of how part of an earlier text foreshadows and adds meaning to a part of a later text.  Earlier and later may refer either to sequence of appearance in the text or to time of composition.

General References

1.    Joseph Patrick Wall: A History of Literary Study of the Bible, PhD. Dissertation, Department of English, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, May 1995.
2.    Eric Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature. Tr. Willard R. Trask, Princeton NJ, 1953
3.    Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism, Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1957; The Great Code: The Bible and Literature, New York: Harvest, 1982; Words With Power: Being the Second Study of The Bible and Literature, New York: Harcourt, Brace and Jovanovitch, 1990
4.    Robert Alter, The Art of Literary Narrative, New York: Basic Books, 1981; The Art of Biblical Poetry, New York: Basic Books 1985; The World of Biblical Literature, New York: SPCK Publishing, 1992; The Literary Guide to the Bible, Cambridge: Belnap Press, 1987 (editor, with Frank Kermode)
5.    Harold Bloom and David Rosenberg, The Book of J, New York: Grove, 1990
6.    Richard Elliot Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible? New York: Simon and Shuster 1987
7.    Regina Schwartz, editor, The Book and the Text: The Bible and Literary Theory, Cambridge MA: Blackwell 1990
8.    The Green Bible, Project Editors Michael G. Maudlin and Marlene Baer, New York Harper Collins, 2008
9.    Joseph Carroll, Literary Darwinism: Evolution, Human Nature and Literature, New York: Routledge, 2004; Jonathan Gottschall and D. S. Wilson, eds., The Literary Animal, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2005; Brian Boyd, On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition and Fiction, Harvard University Press, 2009.

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