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Examining the Bible as a work of literature

Published:Sunday | February 15, 2015 | 11:02 PM



What is the Bible?

Is it a narrative? A history? A manual for life?

"There are several different ways to approach the Bible," said the Rev. Chris McAlilly, pastor of Oxford University United Methodist Church. "A person's expectations have a lot to do with what they get out of scripture."

Perhaps in the most basic sense, McAlilly said, the Bible is a book. As a text, the good book is to some extent akin to classics of literature, "Moby Dick," ''A Tale of Two Cities," and so on.

"To suggest the Bible as literature brings in the idea of authorship," McAlilly said. "Bringing the tools of literary analysis to bear on scripture can certainly be fruitful. To me, it suggests the humanness of scripture, and the creativity of the Biblical writers."

For those starting on page one of the Bible, McAlilly attested to a huge shift from the story-style writing in Genesis and Exodus to the dry, list-like book of Leviticus.

"At that point, scripture stops reading like a novel, and because of that, lots of readers get what we call 'shipwrecked on the shores of Leviticus,'" McAlilly said. "However, to skip it and go on without understanding the narrative place of law in ancient Israel is to miss out on a whole lot."

The meticulous may mirror, say, "Robinson Crusoe," which contains long passages of Crusoe's minuscule day-to-day tasks the shipwrecked Brit must accomplish to survive.