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Thread: Biblical References

  1. #16
    rat in a strange garret Whifflingpin'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... "

    "Who made you God to say what a 'serious student' of literature should or should not read?"

    " it is impossible to learn that bible as well as Brontė knew for example. She had been brought up with it and makes references to the most obscure things in it. "

    Obviously Lokasenna meant "serious student of Western Literature." A working knowledge of the Bible was a given for western writers until recently, and would have been assumed for readers too.

    Not all parts of the Bible would have been equally familiar. The Brontes' readers would, in good measure, have been churchgoers, hearing Sunday by Sunday portions of the Bible read out as prescribed in the Book of Common Prayer. That would make a good starting point for any serious student of English literature, at least. Those passages, the portions of the Epistles and Gospels selected for Sundays and holy days, are possibly the least dull and would certainly have been the most familiar. After that, the psalms, which were read through or sung at least once each year. Read a psalm, out loud, using the King James version, every day. Then you'll know whence come the rhythms and cadences of five hundred years of English literature.
    Voices mysterious far and near,
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  2. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Whifflingpin View Post
    A working knowledge of the Bible was a given for western writers until recently, and would have been assumed for readers too.

    Not all parts of the Bible would have been equally familiar. The Brontes' readers would, in good measure, have been churchgoers, hearing Sunday by Sunday portions of the Bible read out as prescribed in the Book of Common Prayer. That would make a good starting point for any serious student of English literature, at least. Those passages, the portions of the Epistles and Gospels selected for Sundays and holy days, are possibly the least dull and would certainly have been the most familiar. After that, the psalms, which were read through or sung at least once each year. Read a psalm, out loud, using the King James version, every day. Then you'll know whence come the rhythms and cadences of five hundred years of English literature.
    What do you mean by 'a working knowledge'? Are you saying all serious Western writers have read the Bible cover to cover? I doubt it. Given that priests and vicars in literature are so often presented as idiots and dullards, I think we can assume the average 'church portions' were pretty dull fare.

    So I'll be avoiding them.

    There are some pretty dull scholars as well, so you have to be careful, but you can usually find versions of the classics with reasonably interesting notes. Just because a great writer had to suffer through a thousand boring sermons doesn't mean that we have to go through the same experience to appreciate him/her.

  3. #18
    rat in a strange garret Whifflingpin's Avatar
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    "What do you mean by 'a working knowledge'? Are you saying all serious Western writers have read the Bible cover to cover?"

    I wasn't saying that, quite the contrary in fact - not that reading the Bible from cover to cover is particularly arduous, even including the less exciting parts. But regular church or chapel going was the norm, whether you like it or not. Regular readings from the Bible were part of the shared experience, and part of the underlying pattern of life, for writers and readers alike in the English speaking world from the mid-sixteenth century to the mid-twentieth century - four centuries, not five as I originally wrote.

    "I think we can assume the average 'church portions' were pretty dull fare.
    So I'll be avoiding them."
    That's your choice, but I was really addressing the original poster (who has gone very quiet.) As a start to recognising and understanding the infinity of biblical references in Western literature, it would make more sense to read the most influential parts of the book, rather than attempting to read it right through it. There are parts that were, through the Book of Common Prayer, appointed to be read, at their set times, year after year. Those are the parts which, in my opinion, were most likely to be known to most writers and their readers.
    Voices mysterious far and near,
    Sound of the wind and sound of the sea,
    Are calling and whispering in my ear,
    Whifflingpin! Why stayest thou here?

  4. #19
    Card-carrying Medievalist Lokasenna's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Whifflingpin View Post
    Obviously Lokasenna meant "serious student of Western Literature." A working knowledge of the Bible was a given for western writers until recently, and would have been assumed for readers too.
    Absolutely - looking for Biblical influences in The Tale of Genji would, for example, be pretty stupid.

    @mal4mac
    I'm not suggesting that all western writers have read the Bible cover to cover - such a suggestion is very obviously ludicrous. However, the intellectual weight of the Bible has hung behind Western literature for almost the entirety of its history, and certainly since art made the transition from an oral medium to a written one. Unless a western writer is working completely outside the context of his society and cultural heritage, then he's going to be aware of Biblical issues and archetypes... the intellectual effect of Christianity is far too inherently woven into our cultural identity for it to be any other way, and that, at least, is what I mean by a working knowledge. As it so happens, I have read the Bible cover-to-cover a few times, but my memory certainly isn't good enough to remember everything - however, even before I read it, certain passages and allusions in other pieces of literature would resonate distantly with something in my mind, and upon further examination I would discover a biblical parrallel; that inital sense of there being some textual link is what I would think of as 'working knowledge' in practise.
    "I should only believe in a God that would know how to dance. And when I saw my devil, I found him serious, thorough, profound, solemn: he was the spirit of gravity- through him all things fall. Not by wrath, but by laughter, do we slay. Come, let us slay the spirit of gravity!" - Nietzsche

  5. #20
    Vincit Qui Se Vincit Virgil's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mal4mac View Post
    What do you mean by 'a working knowledge'? Are you saying all serious Western writers have read the Bible cover to cover? I doubt it.
    I would say that you're wrong. Until say the mid 20th century, it was the norm for eveyrone to have read the bible. That was what was used in most schoolrooms and in most cases was the only book people owned.
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  6. #21
    Neo-Scriblerus Modest Proposal's Avatar
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    Honestly, if you don't want to read and study the traditional Bible, I see two fun/informative options.

    1. Buy a Bible as literature text. This will read more like literature and give a lot of information on the Bible's place in the development of story telling.

    2. Always buy books-replete-with-references in heavily foot-noted editions.

  7. #22
    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    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.

    Again... you don't always know that something even is an allusion or a reference. Obviously if you are reading a poem like The Wasteland... or Geoffrey Hill's Triumph of Love (which I'm currently working through) you may know enough to check any reference to an unknown person or place or any foreign phrase... but many other allusions can get by you (not that this is horrible or that you cannot appreciate a work unless you get each and every allusion). Still, one suspects that Faulkner assumes you recognize that "the sound and the fury" is a Shakespearean quotation and that T.S. Eliot clearly assumes that when he speaks of the crowd passing over the London Bridge with the phrase "I had not thought death had undone so many" or begins the poem with the lines "April is the cruelest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land..." he assumes that you recognize the allusions to Dante, Chaucer, and Whitman. Here is where I agree that good critical commentary or footnotes are far more useful that consulting Google. Google is great... but only if you recognize when something is an allusion.
    Last edited by stlukesguild; 01-31-2010 at 01:21 AM.
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  8. #23
    www.markbastable.co.uk MarkBastable's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stlukesguild View Post
    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.

    Again... you don't always know that something even is an allusion or a reference. Obviously if you are reading a poem like The Wasteland... or Geoffrey Hill's Triumph of Love (which I'm currently working through) you may know enough to check any reference to an unknown person or place or any foreign phrase... but many other allusions can get by you (not that this is horrible or that you cannot appreciate a work unless you get each and every allusion). Still, one suspects that Faulkner assumes you recognize that "the sound and the fury" is a Shakespearean quotation and that T.S. Eliot clearly assumes that when he speaks of the crowd passing over the London Bridge with the phrase "I had not thought death had undone so many" or begins the poem with the lines "April is the cruelest month, breeding..." that you recognize the allusions to Dante, Chaucer, and Whitman. Here is where good critical commentary is far more useful that consulting Google. Google is great... but only if you recognize when something is an allusion.
    Lilacs out of the dead land..." he
    Gosh, you sure have read a whole heap of big books, haven't you?

  9. #24
    Neo-Scriblerus Modest Proposal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MarkBastable View Post
    Gosh, you sure have read a whole heap of big books, haven't you?
    I hope, though I doubt, that you are not being snide.

    There is of course a certain amount of academic arrogance in the world that is annoying, but I believe without a doubt that the world is far better for the knowledgeable despite this aspect. And for the record, I don't think StLukes was trying to beat you over the head with his knowledge. Rather he was doing exactly what I and so many others are thankful for, that is: giving a thoughtful, backed and informed opinion.

    There are enough uninformed, rude, immature etc. opinions on the internet. I don't think we should despise the few thoughtful ones just because someone thinks they may POSSIBLY be flaunting their expertise.

  10. #25
    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    Exactly... when I want to brow-beat you with arrogance and my stellar academic acumen I will begin citing Tang and Sung poets, as well as unknown Canadian writers, and quoting Leopardi in Italian.

    By the way... its true... I probably have read well more than my share of books... but Eliot, Faulkner, Dante, Chaucer, Dante, Whitman and the Bible...? These would all seem to be standard reading for most Western students of literature. Its not exactly like I was citing William of Ockham, Martin Heidegger, O.V. de L. Milosz, and the Codex Sinaiticus



    (Seriously, JBI, I've begun reading that volume of P.K. Page's poetry and I must admit she has quite rapidly seduced me. I'll certainly be on the lookout for more.)
    Last edited by stlukesguild; 01-31-2010 at 01:43 AM.
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  11. #26
    Alea iacta est. mortalterror's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MarkBastable View Post
    Gosh, you sure have read a whole heap of big books, haven't you?
    Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets. She crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates: in the city she uttereth her words, saying, "How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge?" -Proverbs 1: 20-22
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  12. #27
    Neo-Scriblerus Modest Proposal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mortalterror View Post
    Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets. She crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates: in the city she uttereth her words, saying, "How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge?" -Proverbs 1: 20-22
    No one lays the smack down like Solomon.

  13. #28
    Johnny One Shot Basil's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stlukesguild View Post
    Still, one suspects that Faulkner assumes you recognize that "the sound and the fury" is a Shakespearean quotation...
    Even more to the point, as far as this thread is concerned, Faulkner assumes the reader is aware of the basic facts concerning the life of Jesus: Most of the action in The Sound and the Fury takes place during Holy Week, and there are numerous references and allusions to biblical events in the novel. Of course, you don't have to know all the references to appreciate the book, but having a working knowledge of the Bible would probably give you a better understanding of Faulkner's work.

    I seem to remember Faulkner once saying he preferred the Old Testament to the New Testament because the Old Testament was the one with all the "stories."
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    Quote Originally Posted by Whifflingpin View Post
    I wasn't saying that, quite the contrary in fact - not that reading the Bible from cover to cover is particularly arduous, even including the less exciting parts.
    I found it more arduous than any other book I've tried to read, and that includes the most advanced physics texts I tackled in my degrees. Dante, Shakespeare and Homer were far less arduous. Kant was almost as arduous, but at least I finished his first critique.

    I also thought "it would make more sense to read the most influential parts of the book, rather than attempting to read it right through." But I couldn't find a good abridgement or guide to the parts worth reading. I get the impression that Biblical scholarship is far behind that of Shakespearean scholarship, at least in attempts to make it accessible to the common reader. I have not found any equivalent to Bate & Rasmussen, or even to the "Wordsworth classics" notes producers. Christianity has aways had a tendency to 'keep its secrets', to keep the Bible as a closed book that can only be interpreted by a priesthood. That's partly how the Bishops keep their power, why they still get a vote in the British parliament even though nobody votes for them!

    Quote Originally Posted by Whifflingpin View Post
    There are parts that were, through the Book of Common Prayer, appointed to be read, at their set times, year after year. Those are the parts which, in my opinion, were most likely to be known to most writers and their readers.
    I've never seen any serious critic refer to the Book of Common prayer as a great work of literature, or even as a useful guide.

    Quote Originally Posted by Modest Proposal View Post
    Honestly, if you don't want to read and study the traditional Bible, I see two fun/informative options.

    1. Buy a Bible as literature text. This will read more like literature and give a lot of information on the Bible's place in the development of story telling.

    2. Always buy books-replete-with-references in heavily foot-noted editions.
    Neither of these have been fun options for me! Books with light footnotes have been fun - think RSC Shakespeare, or "Wordsworth Classics" Joyce. Which Bible as literature text would you recommend?

  15. #30
    rat in a strange garret Whifflingpin's Avatar
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    "I've never seen any serious critic refer to the Book of Common prayer as a great work of literature, or even as a useful guide."

    The Book of Common Prayer is one of the masterpieces of the English language. Personally, I'd judge the seriousness of any critic on whether he recognised that fact or not, if I had any interest in judging literary critics.

    But I was not offering the Book of Common Prayer for its literary qualities, only that it points to those parts of the Bible that people would have been most familiar with, and hence it is possibly the best "guide to the parts worth reading" if the aim is to recognize biblical allusions. I mentioned the Epistles and Gospels used in the Communion service, but, probably for most of the period the table of Old and New Testament lessons appointed to be read at Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer would be more relevant.
    Voices mysterious far and near,
    Sound of the wind and sound of the sea,
    Are calling and whispering in my ear,
    Whifflingpin! Why stayest thou here?

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