Bible as Literature

Books

Alter, Robert. The Art of Biblical Narrative. New York: Basic Books, 1981. (195 pages) BS 1171.2 .A45

This book would be listed first even if this list were not the accident of the alphabet but instead the reflection of my priority. He intends the book "to be a guide to the intelligent reading of biblical narrative." He succeeds by not only making a case for reading the text as literature, but by supporting his case with clear examples.


Alter, Robert. The Art of Biblical Poetry. New York: Basic Books, 1985. (228 pages) BS 1405.2 .A48

Alter proves again that specific example is the best teacher in this poetic parallel to his first book. The student just discovering biblical poetry would do well to consider Ryken's How to Read the Bible as Literature before letting Alter make the points clear with his lucid examples.


Alter, Robert. The World of Biblical Literature. New York: Basic Books, 1992. (225 pages) BS 535 .A57

There are other people that explicate biblical literature besides Alter; however, this collection of essays is a must read as a capstone experience. It is best enjoyed by the student who wants to put a fragmented study of the Bible as literature together.

 

Alter, Robert and Frank Kermode. The Literary Guide to the Bible. Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1987. (678 pages) Hum Ref BS 511.2 .L58

For most readers this is not a cover to cover read. It is an encyclopedic work of essays by some of the best and a good resource tool. There is an essay on each major book of the Old and New Testaments. This is an especially good starting point for a student trying to explicate a particular biblical narrative.

 

Barlow, Philip L. Mormons and the Bible. New York: Oxford UP, 1991. (251 pages) BX 8621.08 .B249m

This book is not about the Bible as literature. It is included on the list because students ask for it when they wonder about the use of the Bible in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. "Examining the writings of key Mormon leaders from founder Joseph Smith up to the present day, Barlow analyzes their approaches to the Bible and then compares these approaches with those of other American religionists." The book is scholarly history and first rate for interesting.

 

Bloom, Harold and David Rosenberg. The Book of J. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1990. (340 pages) BS 1223

Bloom makes exciting commentary on the oldest documentary source of the Old Testament. The book includes this source, 'J', extracted from the rest of the text and allows the reader insights into what may have been the earliest narratives of the Bible. This book is an excellent companion to Kikawada's challenge to the documentary hypothesis.

 

Friedman, Richard. Who Wrote the Bible? New York: Harper & Row, 1987. BS 1225.2 .F75

This book offers a non technical but insightful analysis of the documentary hypothesis. The analysis takes the form of a search for the author of the Bible. It has been especially helpful to me as I fill out my book request for the bookstore each term. I now know what to put on the line that asks for author.

 

Frye, Northrop. The Great Code: The Bible and Literature. New York: Harvest/HBJ, 1982. (261 pages) PN 56 .B5 F7

Frye is not an easy read but is a must for the serious student of biblical literature. His goal is to demonstrate the literary influence of the Bible.

 

Gabel, John B. and Charles B. Wheeler. The Bible as Literature: An Introduction. New York: Oxford, 1990. (286 pages) BS 535 .G25 2000

The volume could well be a text for a Bible of Literature course for students with little background in the Bible. It may be that it is more an introduction to the Bible than an introduction to the Bible as Literature.

 

Hayes, John H. and Carl R. Holladay. Biblical Exegesis: A Beginner's Handbook. Atlanta: John Knox, 1987 (159 pages) BS 476 .H35

Those who admit to not being able to pronounce k'se-j 's a will have a friend in this primer. The book does not instruct but is more like a dictionary that defines the different criticisms of the Bible. The book is probably most valuable for its excellent bibliography.

 

Kikawada. Isaac M. and Arthur Quinn. Before Abraham Was. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989. (144 pages) BS 1235.2 .K48

Although this book intends to refute the documentary hypothesis, it is also an excellent and accurate description of the hypothesis and makes a good companion of Bloom's The Book of J. It is a good read from someone looking for a good challenge to the working hypothesis of literary criticism.

 

Longman III, Tremper. Literary Approaches to Biblical Interpretation. Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation vol. 3. Grand Rapids: Academe, 1987 (164 pages) BS 535 .L58

The entire series, edited by Noises Silva, is worth reading. It is a technical notch above Hayes' Biblical Exegesis: A Beginner's Handbook, but is still elementary enough for a starting point.

 

Potok, Chaim. Wanderings: Chaim Potok's History of the Jews. New York: Fawcett Crest, 1978. (576 pages) DS 117 .P65x

Those who have always felt guilty for not reading the works of Josephus can now escape to a Jewish history spun out by a master storyteller. This book is not about the Bible. It is very readable and a must for those who need the context of the history of the Jews as a backdrop to a literary reading of the Bible.

 

Romer, John. Testament: The Bible and History. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1988. BS 635.2 .R65

This is the history of the Bible for those who missed the seven hour TV series also developed by John Romer. It is "the story of the Bible's extraordinary journey from the most ancient East to the heart of the modern West." It is told by an expert in the worlds of art history and archaeology and is especially well illustrated. It is a must for someone wishing a survey of the Bible's history.

 

Ryken, Leland. How to Read the Bible as Literature. Grand Rapids: Academe Books, 1984. (208 pages) BS 535 .R89

Although Alter wrote the number one book, Ryken is probably the best place for most people to start. This book is a bit pedestrian but is fundamental in the best sense of the word.

 

Ryken, Leland. Words of Delight: A Literary Introduction to the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987. (382 pages) BS 535 .R94

Ryken's second book parallels his first but contains actual explications of the texts which are lacking in the first book and are very helpful. The examples make this another candidate as a best place to start.

 

Ryken, Leland and Longman III, Tremper, eds. A Complete Literary Guide to the Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993. Hum Ref BS 535 .C56

This encyclopedic work is an excellent collection of essays explicating biblical narrative and poetry. The collection of essays is prefaced with five excellent chapters that introduce the Bible as literature, biblical narrative and biblical poetry. The work is current and from some of the best close readers of the Bible. It is a good place to start for those new to reading the Bible as literature and those wishing to write on a particular book of the Bible.

 

Sternberg, Meir. The Poetics of Biblical Narrative. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985. BS 535 .S725

Robert Alter makes the case for this book. The book "contains some of the most brilliant close readings anyone has done [ demonstrates in case after case that there is far more that nicely dovetails or complexly interacts in the elements of the received text than has been imagined in the two centuries of biblical scholarship."

 

Trible, Phyllis. Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984. (128 pages) BS 575 .T74

There are some savvy feminists writing today and many are mentioned in the article in this text reprinted from Atlantic Monthly. To me Trible seems especially perceptive and articulate. This book explicates four difficult narratives, the stories of Hagar, Tamar, the unnamed woman called a concubine from Bethlehem in Judges, and the daughter of Jephthah. In these explications Trible not only help readers understand the feminist perspective, but helps us understand sad stories in the Bible.

 

Walker, Steven C. Seven Ways of Looking at Susanna. Values in Literature Monograph 1. Provo: BYU, 1984. (115 pages) BS 1795.3 .W3x

Susanna is a model. She provokes voyeurs and literary critics. The voyeurs clumsily seduce while Walker allows her to model biblical criticism. The value of this work is not only in what it does with Susanna but in what it suggests for other texts. Students who want to write about the Bible would do well to read Susanna first.

 

Wouk, Herman. This is My God The Jewish Way of Life. Boston: Little, Brown, 1987. (345 pages) BM 561 .W65

Wouk is writing to Jewish friends who are seeking a Jewish identity. The rest of us look over his shoulder and discover the Jewish religion and culture. In his only nonfiction work he describes current Jewish practice with the same skill with which he writes novels. The book is a place for us to look to try and understand Jewish worship and culture.

 

Commentary


Albright, William Foxwell and Freedman, David Noel. The Anchor Bible. New York: Doubleday. (multiple dates and multiple volumes)

There of dozens of good multi-volume Bible commentaries and it is impossible to name one of them as the best. The Anchor Bible is readable and contains some of the chestnuts of biblical scholarship. No student should try to make it through a Bible as Literature course without consulting a good commentary.

 

Dictionaries


Freedman, David Noel, ed. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 1992. (6 volumes) BS 440 .A54

The best, one-stop Bible dictionary for words, people, places and events in the Bible. Very thorough, with bibliographies following most signed entries.

 

Periodicals (Located in the Periodicals Room, Level 2, in the new library addition.)


There are hundreds of Bible related periodicals. Many have a particular theological bent and none is specific enough to consider the Bible as literature. The Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University subscribes to many. Here are two of the best: Bible Review (BS 410 .B58) is published bimonthly by the Biblical Archaeology Society. This publication is aimed at an informed but not necessarily scholarly audience.

The Journal of Biblical Literature (BS 410 .J7) is published quarterly by the Society of Biblical Literature. This is the largest organization of Bible scholars, and the journal is the closest we get to some definitive Bible publications. It is a refereed journal and some of the articles are quite technical. It is an excellent resource.

Both of these journals are located in the ATLA Religion Database published by the American Theological Library Association. This index is located on the Library Website under Resources by Subject> Religion> Electronic Databases> ATLA Religion Database.

 

compiled by Roger Baker