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Thread: Biblical References

  1. #31
    Registered User kiki1982's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mal4mac View Post
    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!

    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.
    There was at least one critic I have read who had a look at Jane Eyre and the references to The Book of Common Prayer... Other than that I haven't seen it so far, but then again, I was obsessed with the former and I haven't read so much about one book in particular since.

    As for 'secrets', you could say that of the Catholic Church, although their theology or interpretation is not at all secret, although it is considered as a science that is taught at uni. The faculty now mainly contains lay people instead of priests and nuns (professors are even laymen). That said, though, theology is so vast and intricate that it is almost impossible to learn it without a proper book on it (like it is difficult to get any philosopher without works on the particular text and the general philosophy of the philosopher and his use of wording). Do physicists have secrets? I do not see people claiming that. Yet, not everyone knows how electricity works. Not everyone knows how The Holy Trinity (to take a Catholic example) works, yet you can find a theological explanation anywhere on the net if you want, just like the explanation about electricity, in the short and mor complex version. You can find even whole books on both.

    As for protestants: they make a point of studying the bible themselves, daily, or at least that was the set-up. I don't suppose they all do it now, although there are bound to be some diehards still doing it. Where the Catholic Church kept the thing in Latin (unreadable for most people), the protestants translated it into the people's language in order to offer them the chance of studying themselves and they dragged their children to Sunday school to make sure they got the message of the stories, as did the Catholics with the Cathecism.

    Whether that is good or not is not the point we are discussing. Fact is that the bible in itself is very flowery and contains a lot of old symbolism, like Medieval literature (not the same kind, but it is comparable in its mainly symbolica manner of writing). It cannot be just read and understood like a normal book. I mean, there might be people who believe that Moses heard a voice in the bush on Sinai (?) and then that God came down in a dark cloud; or that when Jesus died on Golgotha, God made it dark (it was probably a sun-eclips that lasted for a few seconds and not hours and hours on end) but is that really true?

    But fact is that most people who wrote classics either went to church every Sunday (or even every day) or at least had read the bible (certainly in protestant countries) or the Gospel. They either loathed it and crusaded against it, or they really believed and made a point of proving it. It all depends on what experiences one has had with it.

    Now may I ask, what is wrong with reading one psalm at the time? I haven't done it, only for Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, but that wasn't that bad. A few pages are not 300 pages of the Book of Kings or Chronicles! Or those few paragraphs of Joshua... Really, if you read it in little bits as you go along, it really isn't that bad.

    Though I grant you the fact that it is pretty tedious to read it all in one go.
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  2. #32
    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    mac I'm tempted to suggest that its all you... an aversion to Christianity that you can't get around? Seriously, the Bible should probably not be read as a single unified book... and you might do well to recognize that the separation of the work into books (Genesis, Exodus, etc...) does not always follow the actual separations between sections and authors. The work was highly edited and additions were interpolated where various religious figures felt the text was lacking). Nevertheless, I have not found the work grossly difficult whether reading in the King James Version or another translation of a given book or section. Again, good commentary is a plus and can steer you away from long lists of heredity (who begat whom) or stiff passages of Hebrew law, and focus your attention upon the key narratives and upon the visionary prose and poetry.

    The Psalms have been touted as a good starting point, but I'll state that even in the time of the KJV it was recognized that the translation was lacking as poetry (with the exception of the marvelous 23rd Psalm), and was essentially English prose. You might wish to check into the translation of the Psalms by the Hebrew scholar, Robert Alter (and trust me Biblical scholarship is in no way lacking in comparison to Shakespeare) or you might check into The Poet's Book of Psalms, edited by Laurence Wieder in which the editor chose what he found to be the strongest translation (as poetry) of each Psalm and drew from English writers ranging from Chaucer, Milton, Christopher Smart, Sir Philip Sidney (and his wife), to Coleridge and more contemporary poets.

    By a similar token you might look at the Song of Songs (or the Song of Solomon). This book is translated marvelously in the KJV and it stands as no more difficult than the lyrical poetry of Theocritus (or other Greek lyrical poets... who most certainly influenced this work according to the latest scholarship). For a version complete with solid scholarly notes (including an afterword by Robert Alter) you might look for Chana and Ariel Bloch's translation of The Song of Songs.

    Stephen Mitchell offers a wonderful translation of one of the greatest books of the Bible... indeed, of the whole of literature, The Book of Job. Again, the KJV is unsurpassed in many ways, but Mitchell offers some intriguing insights... connections with Kafka and certain works of Asian literature. He also draws attention to the sections of the work that were added later by Hebrew religious figures who found the work to be blasphemous.

    There are endless other brilliant sections of the Bible, and other narratives worthy of consideration. I quite enjoyed Robert Alter's Five Books of Moses, and The David Story which focus mostly on the key narratives from the Hebrew Bible (the Prophets are beast of another sort altogether). Richard Elliott Friedman's The Hidden Book in the Bible suggests a single extended narrative with a single author that has been fragmented and collaged over any number of books. His concept builds upon the so-called "documentary hypothesis" which is explored by your critical idol, Harold Bloom, in The Book of J. What you might find is that a great majority of Biblical scholars focus upon a given book or collection of books as opposed to the Bible as a whole for the very reason that they recognize that the Bible is not a single book, but rather a collection of books.
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  3. #33
    Neo-Scriblerus Modest Proposal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mal4mac View Post
    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?
    Oxford has a very interesting one and if you are at the university there are almost always these classes available.

    And in regards to your previous post, I always heard of the Book of Common Prayer regarded as one of the masterpieces of English. If you are interested in works and authors influenced by it, check out some of the great 19th century Americans. Emerson and Thoreau were HUGELY influenced by it.

    Think of Thoreau's language in 'Walden' in relation to 'The Book of Common Prayer's' famous style. "We have left undone the things we aught to have done and have done the things we aught not to have done."

  4. #34
    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    Fact is that the bible in itself is very flowery and contains a lot of old symbolism...

    Flowery?

    At the beginning of God's creating of the Heavens and the Earth,
    When the Earth was wild and waste,
    Darkness over the face of the Ocean,
    Rushing spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters-
    God said: Let there be light! And there was light.
    God saw the light: that it was good.
    God separated the light from the darkness.
    God called the light: Day! and the darkness he called: Night!
    There was setting, there was dawning: one day.


    -tr. Robert Alter

    A great deal of the narratives of the Bible read as simple fables... folk tales... far from being "flowery"... although one might make such as assumption from the language of the King James Version. Many other sections of the Bible employ the simple language of parable. Certainly there is metaphor and symbol... especially in the "prophetic" books such as Isaiah or Revelations, where the intention is to veil the prophesy in a visionary language, but much of the Bible is easily read (although it has often been complicated over time through interpretations which seek to suggest something that was not there).
    Beware of the man with just one book. -Ovid
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  5. #35
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    Quote Originally Posted by kiki1982 View Post

    Now may I ask, what is wrong with reading one psalm at the time? I haven't done it, only for Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, but that wasn't that bad. A few pages are not 300 pages of the Book of Kings or Chronicles! Or those few paragraphs of Joshua... Really, if you read it in little bits as you go along, it really isn't that bad.

    Though I grant you the fact that it is pretty tedious to read it all in one go.
    That's what I do! Dante is very good for this -- a canto a day. Same with Shakespeare - an act a day. But, surely, you need to look forward to your daily encounter? If, as with the Bible, everyday becomes a boring grind, then why go on? Maybe the psalms are better. Maybe not. I haven't found a trusty guide to tell me what to read and what to avoid. So it's easier just to avoid the whole thing, there's plenty good stuff to read...

  6. #36
    www.markbastable.co.uk MarkBastable's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Modest Proposal View Post
    I hope, though I doubt, that you are not being snide.

    No - as you suspect, I was being snide. Which doesn't mean, incidentally, that I'm not well-read.

    Quote Originally Posted by mal4mac View Post
    That's what I do! Dante is very good for this -- a canto a day. Same with Shakespeare - an act a day. But, surely, you need to look forward to your daily encounter? If, as with the Bible, everyday becomes a boring grind, then why go on? Maybe the psalms are better. Maybe not. I haven't found a trusty guide to tell me what to read and what to avoid. So it's easier just to avoid the whole thing, there's plenty good stuff to read...
    I don't think anyone's saying that you should read the Bible or the Book of Common Prayer if you've given them a go and you can't get on with them. I think what's exercising people is your insistence that no-one need read them, and that no-one worth reading has been influenced by them.

    It's pretty inescapable - and I say this as a happy atheist who's very familiar with the Bible - that those two books have had more influence on Western literature than any other two books we could argue for. So, for the student of literature, the question is not whether they are enjoyable, or easy, or well-written or good or bad or set in an annoying font - it's just that they are so intrinsic to the canon that they're unavoidable.

    And, of course, they wouldn't be that intrinsic if they had nothing going for them at all.
    Last edited by MarkBastable; 01-31-2010 at 02:16 PM.

  7. #37
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  8. #38
    Alea iacta est. mortalterror's Avatar
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    I took to reading the Bible last night. Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon come right after each other, in that order, and are all delights to read with a great deal of variety.

    Though I never tire of Job, I'd rather read Hafiz's Divan than the Song of Solomon, which is not to say that I did not like them. Proverbs got a little repetitive; so I'd rather have a book of aphorisms like Confucius' Analects or The Maxims of La Rochefoucauld. If Job is the best book of the Old Testament, then Revelations is probably the high point of The New, and I don't know where I would find anything to take it's place in secular literature. You could probably replace much of Genesis with choice parts of Ovid's Metamorphoses and The Epic of Gilgamesh.

    I don't know that a person necessarily has to read all four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The plot remains much the same from book to book, but the character of Jesus is altered from the perspective of each narrator. One is the story of a god on earth while another is very nearly a man. It's very Rashomon, with it's shifting perspectives. I don't know which I'd say is the best, but you get something different out of each of them.
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  9. #39
    Registered User kiki1982's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mortalterror View Post
    I don't know that a person necessarily has to read all four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The plot remains much the same from book to book, but the character of Jesus is altered from the perspective of each narrator. One is the story of a god on earth while another is very nearly a man. It's very Rashomon, with it's shifting perspectives. I don't know which I'd say is the best, but you get something different out of each of them.
    The three evangelists Mark, Luke and Matthew all copied from each other, or more to the point from the oldest which was written by Mark. Mark turns out to be more natural (although medieval 'translations' have actually made it more holy). If I remember rightly from the useful RE classes I have had, there was a doctor among them. I think it was Luke, but I'm not sure. He tends to dwell on how Jesus actually cured the lepres/the blind/... or on the moment. It is pretty ineresting. Mark hadn't known Jesus himself, but wrote down the stories of witnesses and one man in particular. The rest came longer after those witnesses.

    John was the only one who wrote really his own gospel and it is totally different. He was also the latest, so by then the myth of holy Jesus was really spread, where the other three still wrote about someone more human.
    One has to laugh before being happy, because otherwise one risks to die before having laughed.

    "Je crains [...] que l'âme ne se vide à ces passe-temps vains, et que le fin du fin ne soit la fin des fins." (Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Acte III, Scène VII)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Modest Proposal View Post
    Oxford has a very interesting one and if you are at the university there are almost always these classes available.

    And in regards to your previous post, I always heard of the Book of Common Prayer regarded as one of the masterpieces of English. If you are interested in works and authors influenced by it, check out some of the great 19th century Americans. Emerson and Thoreau were HUGELY influenced by it.

    Think of Thoreau's language in 'Walden' in relation to 'The Book of Common Prayer's' famous style. "We have left undone the things we aught to have done and have done the things we aught not to have done."
    Which Oxford? The Oxford Classics KJV is just the boring old KJV. I actually bought this, but gave somehere around numbers. The Annotated Oxford goes into too much detail. So not only do you get the boring parts of the Bible you get them explained in boring detail as well! Is there a Biblical equivalent of the RSC Shakespeare?

    Could anyone recommend a good annotated version with light, useful notes? I have W.H. Stevenson's "King James Bible: A Selection", and "Testament" by Philip Law. But both had flaws that led me to give up. Law's abridgement was bearable until about half way through "David". I got lost in the desert.

    The problem I had with Stevenson was not really Stevenson but the KJV. I was forever encountering passages I could not understand, and started looking up modern translations on the Web. This made progress very slow so I just decided to switch to a modern trsnalation (Law). But then I lost the beauty of the language! And I ran into the sand in David. Then I decided Shakespeare, Homer & Dante were more beautiful, and much easier to understand, so I gave up on the Bible.

    I have read Thoreau (Walden) and Emerson is on my list. Maybe reading these authors will inspire me to take *another* look.

  11. #41
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    Quote Originally Posted by MarkBastable View Post
    I don't think anyone's saying that you should read the Bible or the Book of Common Prayer if you've given them a go and you can't get on with them. I think what's exercising people is your insistence that no-one need read them, and that no-one worth reading has been influenced by them.

    It's pretty inescapable - and I say this as a happy atheist who's very familiar with the Bible - that those two books have had more influence on Western literature than any other two books we could argue for. So, for the student of literature, the question is not whether they are enjoyable, or easy, or well-written or good or bad or set in an annoying font - it's just that they are so intrinsic to the canon that they're unavoidable.

    And, of course, they wouldn't be that intrinsic if they had nothing going for them at all.
    Someone certainly did say I should read the Bible, at least implicitly! Read the thread from the beginning. I like to think I'm a "reasonably" serious student of literature, so for someone to say I'm not serious because I haven't read the Bible is rather insulting. Tackling Shakespeare's complete works & Dante seems fairly serious to me. Of course, I'm not a "serious specialised scholar" in these areas, but I think I'm a "serious common reader", and I think a common reader can be a serious student of literature.

    I agree that many of the characters and concepts form the Bible are unavoidable, but you can learn about them from footnotes. Don't most literature students do this anyway? Obviously many of the ideas in the Bible are important to understanding our culture, but do you have to gain an understanding of them through reading the Bible?

    As a physics graduate I know, through experience, that "serious students of physics" do not have to read a word of Newton's Principia. But Newton's ideas are central to an understanding of physics, and are a totally unavoidable element in any serious course of physics. So if physics students don't have to read Newton why should literature students have to read the Bible?

  12. #42
    Registered User kiki1982's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mal4mac View Post
    As a physics graduate I know, through experience, that "serious students of physics" do not have to read a word of Newton's Principia. But Newton's ideas are central to an understanding of physics, and are a totally unavoidable element in any serious course of physics. So if physics students don't have to read Newton why should literature students have to read the Bible?
    Because Newton's principles are absolute, like Physics is absolute. They have been improved, but still they stand. And if they are improved, it is because they are proven to be (partly) wrong.

    Literature is not an exact science, so Physics and Literature are not comparable. Physics is about absolute ideas, Literature is about feelings mainly. Footnotes help, but they only explain where the allusion comes from, they do not tell you what feeling there is amongst the original text the author who alluded to it obviously pairs up with his own story.

    Essentially, Newton's works were proof for what he thought, through experiments and the like. Still, only his theory (that he or others have proven) actually is the important bit. The rest is ballast, useless to read because the same theory does not have to be proven twenty times over or as many times as students maybe want to read it. It stands, full stop. It is right.

    Literature is not about having a theory and then proving it after which it is true and considered clearly 'the right way'. It is about a certain way of reading something and understanding it in that light. That is why 19th century books, and Shakespeare and more of them are still being interpreted in new lights. Physics cannot be interpreted in the feminist light .

    What does this have to do with the bible? The bible also conveys feelings. Mostly though, the stories should be read, but also seen in the light of the day the author is writing in. Explanation that people got about it, or how people thought about it.

    And yes, there is so much more to read, but five minutes I don't find that bad.
    One has to laugh before being happy, because otherwise one risks to die before having laughed.

    "Je crains [...] que l'âme ne se vide à ces passe-temps vains, et que le fin du fin ne soit la fin des fins." (Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Acte III, Scène VII)

  13. #43
    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    Actually DeQuincy deals directly with this question... using Newton's Principia as an example of the difference between literature and other forms of writing in his essay The Literature of Knowledge and the Literature of Power.
    Beware of the man with just one book. -Ovid
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  14. #44
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    Quote Originally Posted by kiki1982 View Post
    Literature is about feelings mainly. Footnotes help, but they only explain where the allusion comes from, they do not tell you what feeling there is amongst the original text the author who alluded to it obviously pairs up with his own story.
    Good point. I'm caught in a vicious circle really:

    1. I read quotes from the KJV Job & Ecclesiastes that reach the emotional/intellectual heights that footnotes can never reach and decide I must read the whole KJV Bible to encounter more of this kind of thing. Then I remember the many previous attempts that failed, and resist for a while, until eventually, having built up another head of steam, and having forgotten the pain, I:
    2. Read the Bible and give up well before Job & Ecclesiastes because the emotions I'm feeling are extreme boredom and excessive confusion.
    3. Back to 1.

    Maybe I need to learn how to skip?

  15. #45
    Registered User kiki1982's Avatar
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    And why not read Ecclesiastes and Job on its own? Those books are not in chronological order, you know. They don't have a plot.

    They are seperate entities, so no problem doing that.

    I guess in my time of (forced church-going, I have had enugh of the gospel (although recently I read The Sermon on the Mount several times concerning The Count of Monte Cristo), also The Song of Songs because I encountered it when going through Proverbs in search of a quote for something. I read the Book of Esther a while back for Jane Eyre.

    I have read Cain and Abel (very short) for info on Byron's Cain. It didn't help much, but in the end I have read it. Joshua. Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit (the rest I knew already properly).

    A part of Leviticus concerning 'an eye for an eye' also for Monte Cristo, as well as the part where Moses comes from the mountain of Sinai as the jews are honouring the golden calf.

    They all only take five minutes. Why should one read that thing all in one go? Just read the bit that concerns you. Unless you really need to know everything, but who says that?
    One has to laugh before being happy, because otherwise one risks to die before having laughed.

    "Je crains [...] que l'âme ne se vide à ces passe-temps vains, et que le fin du fin ne soit la fin des fins." (Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Acte III, Scène VII)

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