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Thread: Biblical References

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    Biblical References

    Hello,

    I suppose this question applies to all the arts, but I'll make it specific for literature. I was wondering what the best way is to understand Biblical references in literature.

    I don't really have much knowledge of the Bible, should i just read it from cover to cover? Or maybe this isn't necessary?

    Thanks or your time.

  2. #2
    Pirate! Katy North's Avatar
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    Honestly, because I found the Bible itself to be a boring, dry read, I read a childrens Bible. I read it through once, so I had a good idea of what was where, and if I wanted to reference the Bible itself, I would just remember where that story was in the kiddy Bible and read that section in the King James until I found the quote/reference I needed.

    If a teacher ever assigns sections of the Bible for you to read though, you should grit your teeth and buckle down to it. That would probably only ever happen in a religious studies class though.

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    Dance Magic Dance OrphanPip's Avatar
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    Reading the Bible once won't enable you to catch all references, unless you have a very good memory. You should be able to catch the really well known passages. In most cases using an edition of a text with footnotes will help you catch all the Biblical allusions you would otherwise miss. It's difficult for people who aren't religious or Christian to learn the Bible well enough to catch every obscure reference.

    Although, it doesn't hurt to read the Bible at least once, it's not the most exciting book in the world, but you don't have to read it all in one go. Try reading a book of the Bible a month or something like that.
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    Registered User kiki1982's Avatar
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    Most Biblical names shout HEBREW NAME/BIBLE! I mean, Ahasuerus or Bethsheba, to take an example, is not going to be Shakespeare. Things like Jacob, Rachel, Joshua and the like are likely to be a reference.

    With implicit references it is a little trickier because if you do not know the Bible by heart then you will not get it. Characters would act the same as one in a passage of the Bible, or would say kind of the same thing as one in the Bible. But, unless you really know that thing verse by verse, which requires a life-time of reading it through (like the protestants sometimes really do), you're not going to get that unless you have read that bit recently. But that is the same with implicit references to other non-Bible books: I recently discovered references in Jane Eyre to Defoe's Moll Flanders. If I hadn't read Defoe, I wouldn't have realised, and certainly not what Bront was possibly trying to tell in that.

    But if you do come across something strange, then look it up on the internet, there is bound to be an article on it.

    Be honest with yourself: what is the chance that, upon reading the thing once, you will remember an obscure line about water in Psalm umph? No chance. You'll be lucky if you remember the whole gospel. Not to speak about the whole OT and the prophets (tedious is the word). Most writers rejoyce in taking references from the most obscure books at that: Esther, Ezra,... They leave more known ones like Mozes and Jacob out of the limelight.

    Just be on your guard and look it up on the internet if it is suspect. And you'll see directly where it comes from.

    And that comes from a Catholic (so not an atheist whatsoever).

    You could also watch things like The Ten Commandments of course, that makes the thing a little less unbearable.
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    Card-carrying Medievalist Lokasenna's Avatar
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    If you're going to be a serious student of literature, you're going to have to read the Bible cover-to-cover at least once; the King James version of the Bible is one of the most influential books in history, and has coloured the vast majority of western literature since it appeared, and even medievalists like myself keep going back to the Douay-Rheims version of the Bible.

    In terms of remembering, however, there are certain books of the Bible that are more often referenced than others, namely:

    Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Job, Psalms, Isaiah, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Revelation.

    If you are principally familiar with those ones, then you'll get 95% of the references. And, if all else fails, there's always Google...
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    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    The Bible is about as dry and boring and tedious as any other central classic tome such as Milton, The Divine Comedy, The Odyssey, The Shanameh, The Mahabharata, or the plays of Shakespeare. In other words... it is not dry and boring in the least. One might suggest that the problem lies with the reader or the reader's expectation rather than in the work itself. Certainly the Bible is a unique situation within literature in that it is not essentially one book but a collection of books or writings by various authors. These have been edited, interpolated, and at time scrambled. There are sections that are undeniably dry: inclusions of endless chronologies, additions of Hebrew law, etc... However, there are also an endless array of brilliant narratives, poetry, visionary prose, etc... Genesis and the creation story, Adam and Eve, Noah's Ark, Exodus and the legend of Moses and the Hebrews in Egypt, Job, the David story, the Lamentations, the Sermon of the Mount, the Song of Songs, Revelations... these are certainly some of the central works of Western literature.

    I agree with Neely that considering the impact of the Bible upon Western literature (as well as art and music) it might do well to read the entire book through at least once. The Bible, I would suggest, is certainly best read with the accompaniment of a good literary commentary... and one might surely approach the work one section at a time. Of course one can get by without reading it... by referring to any number of reference books or Google... but then I would suggest that it is just as possible to get by without ever reading any of the Greek legends, Epic poems, or plays or any of Shakespeare's writings... but I would wonder why anyone with a serious interest in literature would wish to take such a course.
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    Medtner:

    kiki1982 has the right idea. Looking references up as you go along is not a bad strategy. The internet (reliable sites) will save you a lot of time. Also, owning your own Bible will do you wonders. I've also noticed that many authors, past and present, reference many of the same people/characters/events of the Old and New Testaments. A nice short cut approach would be to look up the most notable names in the Bible:

    Old Testament
    Adam and Eve
    Cain and Abel
    Job
    Lot
    Noah
    Abraham
    Moses
    David
    Solomon
    Samson and Delilah
    David and Goliath
    Jonah

    New Testament
    John the Baptist
    Lazarus
    Jesus
    Judas
    Peter
    Virgin Mary

    Hope this helps.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lokasenna View Post
    If you're going to be a serious student of literature, you're going to have to read the Bible cover-to-cover at least once...
    Who made you God to say what a 'serious student' of literature should or should not read? Does your rule apply to Indian students? In practice you are wrong, of course, even for Western students. Very few institutions demand that their literature students should read the bible cover-to-cover. Or do you have some other definition of 'serious student'? Perhaps: "Those who follow Lokasenna's rules."?

    St Luke - I think the Bible has many more boring parts than the other classics you mention. I've spent the last year reading, or trying to read, the major classics. I'm reading the Divine Comedy (Mandelbaum translation), at the moment, and am finding it very interesting. There are some boring bits, but not that many. The descriptions of Hell more than make up for the (thankfully short!) lists of Italian nobodies that Dante dwells upon, here and there. It's *much* more interesting than the Bible. Shakespeare is even more interesting. There is hardly a boring paragraph in his masterpieces. I recently read Rieu's translation of the Odyssey, and that was very interesting. The Iliad was more problematic, but I did manage to complete it. The Bible is the only work I stopped reading because it was just too boring/hard/dry/painful.

    Then again, the great poets make parts of the Bible sound very interesting, so one always starts thinking, "I should read the Bible". So I sought out abridgements -- but even they became too boring to suffer. I've now given up, and read works I actually find interesting. If they mention biblical stories then I make sure they have good footnotes. I sometimes use 'the net', but there's a lot of tedious stuff out there to wade through, on this subject in partuicular. I keep on meaning to buy a Bible dictionary. Could anyone recommend a good one? The Penguin looks a possibility...

    To answer St Luke's question -- one should read Shakespeare, the Greeks and Dante if, perhaps after some considerable effort, you find them to be of overwhelming aesthetic value. I gave up reading the complete Bible even after putting much more effort into trying to read it than into reading Shakespeare, Homer and Dante, It is of insufficient aesthetic value, for me. I now view it as being a bit like Holinshed -- a nice source book for Shakespeare and others, but why on Earth would anyone read it now?

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by mal4mac View Post
    Who made you God to say what a 'serious student' of literature should or should not read? Does your rule apply to Indian students? In practice you are wrong, of course, even for Western students. Very few institutions demand that their literature students should read the bible cover-to-cover. Or do you have some other definition of 'serious student'? Perhaps: "Those who follow Lokasenna's rules."?

    St Luke - I think the Bible has many more boring parts than the other classics you mention. I've spent the last year reading, or trying to read, the major classics. I'm reading the Divine Comedy (Mandelbaum translation), at the moment, and am finding it very interesting. There are some boring bits, but not that many. The descriptions of Hell more than make up for the (thankfully short!) lists of Italian nobodies that Dante dwells upon, here and there. It's *much* more interesting than the Bible. Shakespeare is even more interesting. There is hardly a boring paragraph in his masterpieces. I recently read Rieu's translation of the Odyssey, and that was very interesting. The Iliad was more problematic, but I did manage to complete it. The Bible is the only work I stopped reading because it was just too boring/hard/dry/painful.

    Then again, the great poets make parts of the Bible sound very interesting, so one always starts thinking, "I should read the Bible". So I sought out abridgements -- but even they became too boring to suffer. I've now given up, and read works I actually find interesting. If they mention biblical stories then I make sure they have good footnotes. I sometimes use 'the net', but there's a lot of tedious stuff out there to wade through, on this subject in partuicular. I keep on meaning to buy a Bible dictionary. Could anyone recommend a good one? The Penguin looks a possibility...

    To answer St Luke's question -- one should read Shakespeare, the Greeks and Dante if, perhaps after some considerable effort, you find them to be of overwhelming aesthetic value. I gave up reading the complete Bible even after putting much more effort into trying to read it than into reading Shakespeare, Homer and Dante, It is of insufficient aesthetic value, for me. I now view it as being a bit like Holinshed -- a nice source book for Shakespeare and others, but why on Earth would anyone read it now?
    You do realize that this is of course merely your opinion. I found the Bible very interesting and entertaining when I read it, with the exception of most the parts St. Luke already indicated.

    And at the end of the day it really does help you understand other literature.

    As far as serious literature students, I remember reading an essay a few years ago in Theory's Empire anthology bemoaning the state of literary studies because students can go on and on about racial subtext, clandestine gender issues, and post-colonial theory, but cannot recognize the most basic of Biblical allusions in texts anymore.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Medtner View Post
    Hello,

    I suppose this question applies to all the arts, but I'll make it specific for literature. I was wondering what the best way is to understand Biblical references in literature.

    I don't really have much knowledge of the Bible, should i just read it from cover to cover? Or maybe this isn't necessary?

    Thanks or your time.
    I noticed some biblical references in H.P Lovecraft's stories. If you think about it, the Bible was more popular in the past and it would probably enhance any literature. That book though seems to make some people uncomfortable, so if you can read it than you are fortunate.

    Lovecraft uses the theme of paganism related to human transformation and devil worship, etc. Say you were to try to understand what paganism was. One way to do it would be to compare it to Christianity or another religion. Otherwise what is paganism by itself? There is also philosophy, but religion is useful along with philosophy in the same way. These days you can just watch television and not worry about any of these things.

  11. #11
    www.markbastable.co.uk MarkBastable's Avatar
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    I think it depends what you mean by 'references'. If you're a native speaker of any language predominant in a country that's been Christian for a few hundred years, the chances are you already make loads of Biblical references, whether you realise it or not. They're part of the idiom of most European languages, wherever in the world those languages are spoken.

    But if you're talking about allusions to Biblical events and the recycling of Bibilical phraseology, then the Bible is only one of hundreds of books - or, to be more accurate, only sixty-six of hundreds of books - that tend to crop up in other books.

    So then you're talking about the Bible as part of a literary and historical canon that informs the culture - which probably means that you should not dismiss it, nor that you should read it from Once Upon a Time to Happy Ever After - but a general familiarity with it would help.

    Alternatively, you could back-engineer your knowledge of the Bible. Every time you come across a Biblical reference, read that bit of the original. Pretty soon you'll know all the parts that tend to get referred to.
    Last edited by MarkBastable; 01-30-2010 at 04:33 AM.

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    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    ...you could back-engineer your knowledge of the Bible. Every time you come across a Biblical reference, read that bit of the original...

    The problem with this approach is that you are assuming that the reader will recognize when and where a Biblical reference is being made. Literature is full of references to other works of literature. Certain works of literature (the Bible, the Greek plays/poems, Don Quixote, Dante's Comedia, Shakespeare, the Arthurian legends, etc...) are far more referenced than others.
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    www.markbastable.co.uk MarkBastable's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stlukesguild View Post
    ...you could back-engineer your knowledge of the Bible. Every time you come across a Biblical reference, read that bit of the original...

    The problem with this approach is that you are assuming that the reader will recognize when and where a Biblical reference is being made. Literature is full of references to other works of literature. Certain works of literature (the Bible, the Greek plays/poems, Don Quixote, Dante's Comedia, Shakespeare, the Arthurian legends, etc...) are far more referenced than others.
    ..which is why I said, the Bible is only one of hundreds of books...that tend to crop up in other books.

    Even so, if you googled every reference you didn't recognise, you'd know within about five seconds which were biblical. On top of which, you'd find out a lot of other stuff you didn't know too.

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    Registered User kiki1982's Avatar
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    That is what I do. To me, call it fatalistic if you want, it is impossible to learn that bible as well as Bront knew for example. She had been brought up with it and makes references to the most obscure things in it. What is the chance that I will be able to catch up on 30 years of only that? Maybe in 30 years then?

    Most explicit references just scream the concept reference, so if you look all up, you do get mot of those.
    Implicit is more difficult, but even after 3 reads you can't get all implici ones.

    That said, though, there is no harm in reading, but I wouldn't deem it actually essential (unless I was a scholar).
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    Quote Originally Posted by MarkBastable View Post
    ... Every time you come across a Biblical reference, read that bit of the original. Pretty soon you'll know all the parts that tend to get referred to.
    St Luke made a good point about implicit references, but Mark might have been referring to explicit references? In that case, I think good footnotes are better. References often direct you to very tedious, very long passages in the Bible. I've found it far better to read the summaries in, say, Bate & Rasmussen's RSC Shakespeare or Mandelbaum's Dante. Also, the notes in these excellent versions explain implicit references.
    Last edited by mal4mac; 01-30-2010 at 07:13 AM.

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