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Reading the Bible as literature is something known from the last decades. Before that, everyone was understood to know the Bible. Nowadays, it is still necessary to know the Bible, not specifically as a sacred text, since it is one of the most influential pieces of literature. Peter S. Hawkins says in his article The Bible as Literature and Sacred Text: "Given the Bible's importance to Western literature (not to mention to our culture as a whole), we study it to 'get the references', to gain some notion of the biblical literacy that until recently almost any writer both possessed and expected to find in a reader"(197). To illustrate how reading the Bible as literature might be done, the essay will focus on chapters 1-3 from the book of Genesis, and Psalms 17, 46 and 119 in the book of Psalms. Although the book of Genesis and Psalms are sacred works, they can be read as literature, by focusing on literary aspects. However, to stay objective will be the toughest challenge facing the literary analyst.
For analysts of literature knowledge of this book of the Bible is necessary to understand a lot of literary works. When taking on a literary point of view on the text there can be looked at e.g. structure. What is particular to this text is the way lines are repeated. For example, "and it was so", to conclude a creation God made, such as the division between day and night (Genesis 1:7). Through this structure the text gets a unique character. When looking at the content, it might probably be the best to read it the same way classical myths are being read nowadays. They are no longer interpreted as sacred texts, but merely as sources in order to understand literary texts. Many symbols can be found in literature that are originated from Genesis 1-3. E.g. the tree of life and the tree of knowledge, the four heads of the river; Pison, Gihon, Hiddekel, and Euphrates (Genesis 2:11-14), the snake, the apple, and Cherubims (Genesis 3:24).
The book of Psalms is also widely used in literature. Lines are adapted for a poem, or a modern version of a psalm is created. The literary approach here is illustrated with psalms 17, 46, and 119. First of all, psalm 17. In this psalm there can be looked at structure in relation to the meaning. According to Pieter van der Lugt, who wrote Cantos and Strophes in Biblical Hebrew Poetry II, the structure of psalms is fixed. Verse 7 in psalm 17 has one line more than verse 8. "Verse 8 is the rhetoric centre, the summary of the psalm: 'Keep me as the apple of the eye'(Psalms 17:8). In Hebrew, exactly 17 'cola' precede this line, and 17 'cola' follow"(LC p.17). Secondly, when reading psalm 46, the literary analyst can focus on tone and style. In this psalm is for example the poetic imagery evident. "though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea"(Psalms 46:2).
Thirdly, in psalm 119 the literary analyst can look at form. "Ps[alm] 119 consists of 22 sections, each of eight lines, which begin with the same letter; the initial letters for each stanza are in turn the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet" (Browning).
When reading the above-mentioned works, the literary analyst faces a number of challenges. The first and foremost challenge is to stay objective. Since the Bible, or its ideas, are still present in the Western culture, prejudges and subjective views are always in one's mind when dealing with a biblical text. The religious aspect in a literary approach should not be completely forgotten, in order to place the text in the right context, but should also be limited to the context. Otherwise, the analyst can offend the reader from a religious point of view based on aspects of his analysis. This is the second challenge for the literary analyst. Although the view is as objective as possible, careful choice of words is still necessary. If the analysis is in some way offensive, it can become likely that the author will not be taken seriously. Another challenge the literary analyst faces is that when religious aspects are of no importance, the message of the text could be not clear, or different. The literary analyst must have a general idea of the religious aspects of the text, to develop a full dimension of its contents.
To conclude, when reading the Bible as literature, which is in this essay illustrated with Genesis 1-3 and Psalms 14, 46, and 119, the focus is put on the literary aspects. In Genesis there can be looked at structure, tone, style, and symbols that occur in literary works and are originated from Genesis. The book of Psalms illustrates how the literary analyst can look at structure, form, and poetic style. The main challenge the literary analyst faces is to stay objective. Other challenges are the careful choice of words and the lack of religious knowledge in order to understand the full meaning.