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The Bible as Literature


Title: The Bible as Literature Author: NZRUser Last modified by: NNPS Created Date: 9/13/2005 4:00:09 PM Document presentation format: On-screen Show (4:3) – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: The Bible as Literature

The Bible as Literature
What Makes Up The Bible?
  • The Bible in the West includes the Hebraic and
    Christian scriptures, respectively the Old and
    New Testaments.
  • Jews accept the Old Testament as their
    foundational text.
  • Christians broaden that outlook to include both
    the Old and New Testaments.

  • Accepting the scriptures as the revealed word of
    the Lord is a matter of faith, and systematic
    analysis of the scriptures is theological
    interpretation, which results in a code of
    beliefs called religion.

1.What does it mean to read the Bible as
  • Even if divinely inspired (The Word of God) the
    Bible is still a product of human beings written
    for human audiences.
  • The book is a collection of writings
  • produced by real people who lived in
  • actual historical times.

The Authors
  • Came from a variety of social positions and
  • Kings
  • Shepherds
  • Doctor
  • A Tax Collector
  • Fishermen

  • --The Bible is the common heritage of us all,
    whatever our religious beliefs.
  • --The Bible contains various literary forms
    written for a variety of purposes
  • It contains genealogies, laws, letters, royal
    decrees, instructions for building, prayers,
    proverbial wisdom, prophetic messages, historical
    narratives, tribal lists, archival data, ritual
    regulations, and information about personal
  • Poetry-Prayers-Short Stories- Novels- Gospels

  • Aeitiological
  • Charter
  • Instructional

  • Explains how concrete objects or abstract
    concepts that exist in the world came to be.
  • Concrete (Physical) things Sun, Rain, Bears
  • Abstract (Conceptual) things Justice, Sin, Shame

  • Explains how religious rites, rituals and
    ceremonies came into existence.
  • Marriage
  • Bar Mitzvah
  • Baptism
  • Sacrifice
  • Circumcision

  • Teaches a community or individuals how to behave
  • Obey God
  • Obey your elders
  • Dont sleep with your brothers wife
  • Dont drink water that has a dead moose in it

2.What is the Bible about?
  • The structure
  • --The Bible as an anthology--a set of
  • selections produced over a period of
  • some one thousand years.
  • The Old Testament (39 books)
  • The New Testament (27 books)

  • The Old Testament (39 books)
  • timeline creation of the universe and of
  • mankind to the end of BC
  • subject history of Israel
  • original language Hebrew
  • The New Testament (27 books)
  • timeline AD to the end of the world
  • subject life of Jesus
  • original language Greek

An Overview of the Major Parts of the Bible--Each
with its Distinctive Literary Features
  • Pentateuch
  • Historical Books
  • Wisdom Books
  • Prophetic Books

  • The Gospels (Historical and Wisdom)
  • Travel Literature (Historical)
  • Epistolary Literature (Historical)
  • Apocalyptic Literature (Prophetic)

The Pentateuch
  • Called the Pentateuch, the first five books of
    the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers,
    and Deuteronomy), also called the Torah by the
    Jews, contain numerous literary forms
  • In Genesis, the story of Creation is a literary
    catalogue distinguished by classification and
    division and by incremental repetition.

  • The Pentateuch, continued contain numerous
    literary forms
  • In Genesis Continued In the first stage or day
    of Creation, the narrator recounts that God
    created light, divided it from darkness, and
    classified the light as day and the darkness as
  • The narrator follows the same pattern in
    describing subsequent days of Creation.
    Accordingly, God separates the earth from the
    sea, then creates the respective creatures
    dwelling on land and in the water.

Test Items/Characters - Old Testament
  • Creation numbers (next lecture)
  • In the Garden- Adam and Eve
  • The First Murder Cain and Abel
  • The Great Flood Noah and symbols
  • Babel Theme
  • Abraham A Promise and a Test- Abraham, Sarah,
    Hagar, Ishmael, Isaac, Holy Messenger

Test Items Continued
  • Jacob- (also known as Israel), Isaac, Esau
  • Joseph Dreams, Joseph, Coat of many colors
  • Moses The Calling Moses, Aaron, Burning
    bush, numbers
  • Moses Challenging Pharaoh the Plagues,
    Passover, Red Sea, Miracles in the Desert

Test Items
  • Samson- Samson and Delilah
  • David David, Goliath, Bathsheeba
  • Jonah- Numbers, Symbols,
  • Job- Theme, Theodicy, Comforters
  • Daniel- Daniel, Darius, Dreams, Symbols

Story of Adam and Eve in the Garden
  • Remember to use images-
  • Do NOT use many words in your presentation

Archetypal Message/Theme/Lesson
  • Three Major Themes
  • Man can be easily tempted toward Sin.
  • Man must know his place before God and show
    appropriate deference for authority.
  • Disobedience is punished!

Archetypal characters
  • The Caretaker
  • The Hero, Temptress,
  • The Outcast

Archetypal images/symbols/settings
  • Paradise
  • The Apple
  • Serpent

Cultural significance
  • The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden is
    Aetiological helping to explain how sin and
    temptation came into the world.
  • This is also a charter story that helps to
    explain marriage.
  • Finally, the story is instructional in that it
    teaches human beings subservience to God.

The Great Flood
  • Similar to the Gilgamesh narrative.
  • Differs in the motivation behind the cause.
  • Differs in the construction.
  • The pattern of Gods judgment and mercy.

Genesis contains the recurrent literary theme
describing a trial or test during which the
characters exercise the virtues of faith and
  • Noah tested in the flood.
  • Abraham tested when God commands him to sacrifice
  • As protagonists in the stories of Genesis, the
    patriarchs by their trials, sufferings, and
    eventual triumph resemble heroes in literature.

The Tower of Babel
  • Aetiological- And so Yahweh scattered them upon
    the face of the Earth, and confused their
    languages, and they left off building the city,
    which was called Babel "because Yahweh there
    confounded the language of all the
    Earth."(Genesis 115-8).

  • When God speaks in this story, He uses the
    phrase, "let us go," referencing the trinity (3).
  • God says in Genesis 116, "If as one people
    speaking the same language they have begun to do
    this, then nothing they plan to do will be
    impossible for them." (NIV)
  • God realizes that when people are unified in
    purpose they can accomplish impossible feats,
    both noble and ignoble. This is why unity in the
    body of Christ is so important.

  • Some scholars believe that this marks the point
    in history where God divided the earth into
    separate continents.
  • To build, the people used brick instead of stone
    and tar instead of mortar. They used "man-made"
    materials, instead of more durable "God-made"
    materials. The people were building a monument to
    themselves, to call attention to their own
    abilities and achievements, instead of giving
    glory to God.

Abraham, Isaac, and Ishmael
  • The Child of Promise

  • Known  called the father of the Jews and is
    considered the founder of the Jewish religion. He
    was the first to believe in one all-powerful God
    instead of many gods.
  • Christians and Muslims also honor Abraham and
    trace their belief in one God back to him.
  • Progenitor of the three major Western Religions.

(These came after Isaac and Ishmael)
Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael
  • Ishmael
  • Isaac
  • Son of Abraham and Hagar
  • Known as the Outcast
  • Muslims believed that he is the sacrificial son
    as he was Abrahams only child for 13 years.
  • Becomes the progenitor of Arabs and is an
    ancestor of Mohammad.
  • Son of Abraham and Sarah
  • His son is Jacob who will become known as Israel
    and whose 12 sons will become the 12 tribes of
    the Jews.
  • Because he was born to a sterile mother (Sarah)
    he is seen as an example of Gods providing for a

  • Theodicy- The problem of evil. Why does evil
    exist in the world? Why do bad things happen to
    good people?
  • Jobs comforters- Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar
  • Schadenfreude- taking pleasure in the misfortunes
    of others.
  • God as judge, and the adversary (satan)

The Book of Job
  • The Book of Job extols an exemplar of faith and
    fortitude who is beset by one misfortune after
  • Urged by his wife to renounce the Lord, who is
    perceived as having unjustly punished one of his
    faithful servants, Job enhances his fortitude and
    affirms his faith despite intense suffering.

  • Urged by friends to accept blame for the
    disasters of his lifethus allowing them to
    maintain a sense of order in the universe.
  • Calls for a conference with God.
  • Gets no answer, but is responded to by the Lord
  • In the course of suffering, Job becomes humble,
    learns the limitations of human intelligence in
    probing the mystery of God, and marvels at the
    higher wisdom of the Lord that humankind can
    never fully comprehend.

  • Numbers in the Bible have deep spiritual and
    symbolic significance.
  • Although the books of the Bible have multiple
    authors, there seems to be a remarkable
    consistency with number symbolism throughout the
    Bible from Genesis to Revelation
  • Numbers reference both Good and Evil.

Important recurring numbers and their meaings in
the bible
  • 1-Beginning, First
  • 2- Witness, Separation
  • 3- The Godhead, Trinity
  • 4- Earth, Creation
  • 6- Man, Beast, Satan
  • 7- Perfection, Completeness
  • 10- Law, Government, Restoration
  • 12- Divine government, Apostles
  • 13- Rebellion, apostacy
  • 30- Consecration, maturity
  • 40- Trial, Test, Probation
  • 75- Separation, cleansing
  • 666- Antichrist, Satan, the damned triplicate

Important recurring numbers
  • THREE- Trinity, Let us go in Babel, Noah had 3
    sons, Jonah in Fish, 3 comforters, 3 wise men,
    Jesus in tomb Peters denial, 3 patriarchs of
  • FOUR- Creation, (Earth, Wind, Fire, Water)
    Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Gospels

Important recurring numbers
  • SEVEN- Perfection, Combination of God creation
    including mankind. 7 days and nights in Genesis,
    in Noah, in Joseph,7 years of plenty,
    (Jesus-77th in line from Adam).
  • TEN- 10 commandments, 10 plagues, (10 generations
    between Adam and Noah Noah and Abraham.)

Important recurring numbers
  • TWELVE- 12 sons of Jacob (Israel) become the 12
    Tribes of the Jews, 12 apostles (12 days of
  • FORTY- 40 days and nights of rain, 40 years in
    the desert (Israel), 40 days and nights (Jesus),
    40 days after the resurrection before the

  • Where is he who has been born king?
  • Is this not the Carpenter?
  • The Sermon on the Mount
  • Parables
  • Last Days in Jerusalem
  • The Tomb is Empty

Characters from the new testament
  • Jesus- as Man, as God
  • Mary- Mother of God
  • Joseph- Jesus human father
  • Herod- tries to kill Jesus
  • Peter- denies Jesus at his death
  • Judas- betrays Jesus
  • Thomas- doubts the resurrection

  • Instructional stories meant to reveal a truth or
    teach a lesson.
  • Sometimes confusing and ambiguous.
  • The Good Samaritan
  • Prodigal Son
  • The Great Supper
  • The Lost Sheep The Lost Coin

Historical Books
  • Among the historical books of the Bible, Samuel,
    Kings, and Chronicles predominate.
  • They are part of the Jewish scripture called the
    Nebim (the prophets)
  • Officially in the Jewish tradition there are two
  • The former prophetsfrom the entrance to Canaan
    to the Babylonian captivity.
  • The later prophetsIsaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and
    the 12 minor prophets.
  • They describing the roles of kings and prophets
    among the Chosen People and the evolution of a
    nomadic community into a political and military
    kingdom in the land of Canaan.

Historical Continued
  • Emphasized are the first monarchies of Saul and
    David, the histories of various kings, and the
    grandeur of their temporal realms.
  • More important is the role of the prophets as
    spokespersons of the Lord.
  • Inveighing against monarchs and the people for
    their periodic lapses in fidelity to the Lord,
    the prophets uphold the expectations of the Lord
    in the midst of a community whose majority, at
    times, becomes wayward.

Literary Form of Narrative
  • The histories of the kings are presented in
    accord with the literary form of the exemplum, an
    example or case study.
  • The kings who are faithful to the Lord thrive,
    whereas the unfaithful sovereigns are punished,
    even to the extent of being defeated by their
    enemies in battle. When impelled by vainglory and
    by lusts (materialistic or carnal), the kings are

Literary Form of Narrative
  • In line with the literature of didacticism, these
    books teach readers clear-cut lessons concerning
    one's relationship with the Lord, the virtues to
    be imitated and the vices to be shunned, the
    importance of fidelity to the Lord and his
    heavenly realm, and the dangers of inordinate
    attachment to worldly pleasures and possessions.

  • Thus, the prophets, in contrast to the kings, are
    self-disciplined, abstemious, and humble. Such a
    state of purgation and purity readies them to
    accept and disseminate the word of the Lord.

Wisdom Books
  • Among the so-called Wisdom Books, the most often
    cited are Job, Psalms, Proverbs (also known as a
    Book of Wisdom), and The Song of Songs.
  • In the Jewish tradition these are contained in
    the Kethubim (the Writings)
  • The collective wisdom of these books instructs
    people concerning the adversities of life and the
    means to withstand and overcome them.
  • In short, the Wisdom Books stress fortitude and
    faith in the Lord in the present life so that one
    may be rewarded.

  • In doing so, the Wisdom Books adapt the overt
    methods of didactic literature
  • to highlight exemplars who manifest faith and
    fortitude during adversity,
  • to dramatize a prayerful relationship between the
    people and the Lord,
  • to cite aphoristic lore derived from the
    experience of generations, and
  • Aphoristic a concise statement of a principle
    or a terse formulation of a truth or sentiment
  • to use allegory in highlighting the interaction
    of the Lord and humankind.

The Book of Ecclesiastes
  • Ecclesiastes 911, "I returned, and saw under the
    sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the
    battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the
    wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor
    yet favour to men of skill but time and chance
    happeneth to them all."

The Psalms
  • Psalm is based on the Greek word which
    represents the sound of a plucked string.
  • Hebrew poetry is not based on strict metrical
    pattern alone (as in Greek or Latin) or on
    metrical pattern and rhyme (as in English and
    other modern languages).
  • It works by what is known as parallelism. A
    first statement is repeated or amplified in a
    different form--The statutes of the Lord are
    right, rejoicing the heartthe commandments of
    the Lord is pure,enlightening the eyes (198
    KJV) (Berggren).

Psalms Psalm 96
  • The Psalms, collected into a book or Psalter,
    number approximately 150, including both communal
    songs and prayers and individual utterances,
    often set to music.
  • Like lyrical poetry, which was often sung or
    recited to musical accompaniment, the Psalms
    manifest a tonal range that includes primarily
    praise and gratitude to the Lord and the
    self-examination of a sinner who becomes a
    penitential suppliant.
  • Since many of the Psalms are attributed to King
    David, they are called the Davidic Psalms
  • Psalm 117 The Audio Bible King James

The Book of Proverbs
  • The book is a compilation of gnomes, a word
    derived from the Greek to know.
  • It is presented in the manner of gnomic or
    sapiential literature, which is commonplace in
    cultures as varied as the Greek and the
  • the Book of Proverbs provides pithy summations of
    wisdom to be imparted to younger generations.
  • As a distillation of the lessons learned by an
    older and wiser generation, the Book of Proverbs
    imparts a philosophy of life, a perception of
    one's place in society, and an outlook on one's
    relationship to God.

The Song of Songs
  • Also called the Song of Solomon and the Canticle
    of Canticles.
  • The text features a loving relationship,
    including courtship and marriage, between a
    bridegroom and his wife.
  • Though attributed to Solomon and interpreted as
    his wedding song to his beloved, the Song of
    Songs is more often perceived by Christian
    commentators as allegorical literature.
  • Especially through lyricism, drama, and dialogue,
    the work suggest various interrelationships
  • God and His People (or one soul)
  • Jesus and His Church
  • Christ and his mother Mary

  • The description of the beloved to a company of
    horses in Pharaoh's chariots (Chap. 1).
  • Robert Alter clarifies this perplexing reference
    a mare in heat, let loose among chariotry, could
    transform well-drawn battle lines into a chaos of
    widely plunging stallions.
  • The male celebration of female sexuality as
    landscape is familiar to readers of later love
  • However, the Song of Songs is also remarkable for
    the frequency with which the woman speaks

Prophetic Books
  • The term prophet is derived from a Greek word
    meaning to speak on behalf of (Britannica).
  • The prophets were ancient Israelites who spoke to
    the nation on behalf of God. In other words, they
    were preachers.
  • Their purpose was not, as is often mistakenly
    assumed, to foretell the future.

  • The prophets were men who interpreted Israel's
    behavior in the light of God's laws and
    frequently found reason to condemn that behavior.
  • The prophets also declared that Israel would be
    punished for breaking the laws.
  • A series of national disasters that befell Israel
    seemed to prove the merit of the prophetic
  • Israel was conquered or subjugated in turn by
    Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome over a
    period of seven centuries (Britannica).

Thus, these Prophetic Books recount the lives and
activities of major and minor prophets who were.
. .
  • summoned by God,
  • received the divine word, and
  • preached it to the people.

  • The literary genre of prophecy, including the
    oral traditions and written narratives of
    Graeco-Roman and biblical antiquity,
    characterizes the prophets as spokespersons with
    two major functions
  • (1) to admonish the people against wrongdoing,
    usually violations of their covenant with the
    deity, and to foretell punishment if wayward
    conduct persisted
  • (2) to proclaim the expectations of the Lord,
    which the people are urged to heed.

  • In the literary genre of prophecy, prophets
    typically received communication from God through
    dream-visions and trances.
  • Unaware of their surroundings and impervious to
    external stimuli, prophets became more attentive
    to divine communication.
  • Characterized as zealots who were abstemious and
    at times ascetic, prophets renounced the
    temptations of worldliness and carnalism,
    purifying themselves to become fit vessels to
    receive and disseminate the divine word.
  • Isaiah, in fact, cleansed his lips with a burning
    coal as a gesture of self-purification. (??)

  • As they inveighed against wayward rulers of the
    Israelites or against the people at large, the
    prophets often jeopardized their physical
    well-being while they served as divine spokesmen.
  • Whether imprisoned, persecuted, or martyred, the
    prophets were resolute in their faith in God and
    in their steadfast service,
  • This passion derived, in part, from the dramatic
    manner in which prophets were summoned to their
    ministry, which often led to their ardent zeal
    reflected in denunciations of wrongdoing, in dire
    predictions of the imminent wrath of the Lord,
    and in vivid descriptions of the torment of
    everlasting damnation.
  • The preaching of Jeremiah, notably mournful in
    his lamentations and fierce in prophesying the
    Lord's wrath, gave rise to the term jeremiad, a
    diatribe often couched as a sermon admonishing
    sinners that their souls will be in the hands of
    an angry God (Labriola).

The Book of Jonah
  • Jonah also spelled Jonas, the fifth of 12 Old
    Testament books that bear the names of the Minor
    Prophets, embraced in a single book, The Twelve,
    in the Jewish canon.
  • Unlike other Old Testament prophetic books, Jonah
    is not a collection of the prophet's oracles but
    primarily a narrative about the man. (similar to
    the patriarch narratives).
  • Jonah is portrayed as a recalcitrant prophet who
    flees from God's summons to prophesy against the
    wickedness of the city of Nineveh (Britannica).

  • Like Odysseus, Jonah is a reluctant traveler who
    takes refuge in sleep.
  • Ancient writers use symbolic details like this to
    suggest delicate psychological states of mind
  • A clear example of a travel archetype.
  • Go a great distance to the edge.
  • Come back with a new understanding.
  • Jonah is willing to obey
  • Jonah learns that his ways are not Gods.

  • According to the opening verse, Jonah is the son
    of Amittai.
  • This lineage identifies him with the Jonah
    mentioned in II Kings 1425 who prophesied during
    the reign of Jeroboam II, about 785 BC.
  • It is possible that some of the traditional
    materials taken over by the book were associated
    with Jonah at an early date, but the book in its
    present form reflects a much later composition.
  • It was written after the Babylonian Exile (6th
    century BC), probably in the 5th or 4th century
    and certainly no later than the 3rd, since Jonah
    is listed among the Minor Prophets in the
    apocryphal book of Ecclesiasticus, composed about

  • Like the Book of Ruth, which was written at
    about the same period, Jonah opposes the narrow
    Jewish nationalism characteristic of the period
    following the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah with
    their emphasis on Jewish exclusivity.
  • Thus the prophet Jonah, like the Jews of the day,
    abhors even the idea of salvation for the
  • God chastises him for his attitude, and the book
    affirms that God's mercy extends even to the
    inhabitants of a hated foreign city.
  • The incident of the great fish, recalling
    Leviathan, the monster of the deep used elsewhere
    in the Old Testament as the embodiment of evil,
    symbolizes the nation's exile and return.

Works Cited
  • Berggren, Paula. Teaching With the Norton
    Anthology of World Literature Vols. A-C. New
    York Norton, 2002.
  • Cauthron What the SNU Religion Department
    Believes and Teaches What SNU Teaches.
    http// (13 Sept.
  • Fairchild, Mary The Tower of Bable Story
    Summary Christianity 19 Sept. 2010
  • "Jonah, Book of." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2005.
    Encyclopædia Britannica Online School Edition.
    20 Sept. 2005 lthttp//

Works Cited Continued
  • Labriola, Albert The Bible as Literature The
    Literary Encyclopedia. (16 June 2003)
    ID1283 (13 Sept. 2005).
  • Walton, John H. "Is there Archaeological Evidence
    of the Tower of Babel?" Christians Answers. 19
    Spt. 2010 lthttp//

Historically Accurate?
  • "Are the individuals mentioned in the Old
    Testament (such as Adam, Eve, Noah, Jonah, Job,
    David, and Solomon) real people or just
    allegories for teaching principles?"
  • Scripture everywhere speaks of them as real
    people. Archaeological exploration in the Middle
    East have pointed increasingly to many
    identifiable parallels (names, places, artifacts,
    and texts) with things in the Bible. These
    parallels give warrant for accepting the
    actuality of persons named in the Old Testament
  • Remember, however, their importance is not
    determined by their historical but spiritual

A good way to describe these texts is to call
them "primeval narratives / traditions"
  • These stories focus on events that took place
    long before humanity began to document its
    history and civilization.. . . These chapters
    contain narratives about the world out of which
    Israel's ancestor Abraham came to follow God's
    call." Discovering the Old Testament 62).

"Can you really diminish the historical
legitimacy of any Biblical character without also
diminishing the theological legitimacy of the
lessons that character conveys?"
  • This question appears to assume that historical
    veracity is the complete measure of all truth. To
    say it another way It takes the affirmation "If
    it is historical, it is true" and turns it into
    the statement "If it is true, it is historical."
  • Yet, one must ask how we usually understand
    Jesus' parables in the gospels. Must we hold that
    Jesus referred to a specific, living individual
    when he spoke about a farmer, a land owner, a
    wife making bread, a pearl merchant, a father who
    divided his possessions (see Matthew 13 and Luke

  • The theological truth of a parable is not
    lessened, or made any less legitimate, when we
    assume that these were stories of what might
    happen rather than specific reports of what
    actually transpired in someone's life.
  • In fact, Biblical interpreters through the
    centuries have argued that the father in the
    prodigal son parable would not have been a real
    Jewish father in Jesus' day. In that culture, a
    father would not be so foolish as to do what the
    younger son asked, because the request was an
    insult to the father. Yet, these same
    interpreters have spoken at length about the
    message and meaning of the parable with regard to
    Jesus' emphasis upon God as Father.

      To return to the question to "diminish the
historical legitimacy" of a character in the
Bible may undermine the legitimacy of the
theological affirmations associated with that
character's story, but not necessarily in every