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The Great Code: The Bible and Literature Hardcover – 1982

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About the Author

Northrop Frye (1912-1991) was professor emeritus at Victoria College, University of Toronto, and the author of many books on literary theory and criticism.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 261 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich; 1st edition (1982)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 015136902X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151369027
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #561,187 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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84 of 89 people found the following review helpful By Arch Llewellyn on December 30, 2002
Format: Paperback
"The Great Code" reflects a lifetime's thinking about the patterns and meanings of the Bible, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a page that doesn't contain some nugget of insight--my copy's covered in Papermate blue! Frye's central point is that the Bible's best read as a complex ecology of types: the accounts of Jesus in the Gospels, for instance, have less to do with his actual deeds and words, however much our modern idea of history would like them to, than squaring his life with Old Testament 'anticipations.' In Frye's view, Jesus scarcely sneezes without invoking a line from the Old Testament, a fact that points to the essentally literary organization of the Bible. That's not to say the Bible's "merely" literature--on the contrary, Frye wants to show how it expands our sense of what literature and myth really mean. Meanwhile, he injects on the sly an attractive theology of his own. Literature like the Bible provides the types for us--the chain of typological anticipations doesn't culminate in Israel or Jesus or Revelation, but continues into our own lives, waking us up to our radical freedom.
My major disappointment with the book is that it grandly ignores Jacques Derrida and the deconstructionist critique of Frye's assumptions about the relationship between language and life, Word and presence. He mentions Derrida in the intro (the book appeared in 1981) and hints at a counterargument, but I would have liked to see him follow through, since their brand of criticism aims squarely at Frye's type of reading. Those with a more historical interest in the Bible will also balk at Frye's acceptance of the book as a unity, endorsing the misreading that turned the rich and varied texts of the Hebrew Torah into a vast typological waiting room for the Christian Messiah.
Still, this is a powerful interpretation that anyone with an interest in myth and religion should greatly enjoy.
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44 of 49 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 13, 2001
Format: Paperback
I can't let the only other reviewer of this book stand unchallenged. Frye's magnum opus asks the delicious question, "What if the Bible, given all its historicial oddities, nonetheless stood as a unity, God-given or otherwise?" To this, Frye gives overwhelming response. The story of Israel, rising and falling; the story of humanity, rising and falling; the story of Christ, rising and falling with us, and rising again--this is the story most worth telling. Frye knows (almost) everything (the parenthesis is not because I know something Frye doesn't but because, of course, God knows things Frye didn't). The most extraordinary book, for those with the patience to read it. Worthy of all seekers, with the mind to mind it.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By jay vincent on June 18, 2006
Format: Paperback
Intellectual "tour de force" by the greatest critic of our time:take the time to read, study, and enjoy.

This great text is an all-time classic that will appeal to the scholar and the layperson alike.

Frye is an amazing syncretist. I have never read any author other than Frye who can slip in and out of various disciplines so easily,and all the while weaving a "seamless web" of an argument that is logically structured and beautifully written. I realize that some statements in the text may offend conservative readers, but overall, the book is neutral regarding any matter of systemic doctrine or denominationally specific exegetical concerns. If anything, Frye's text offers the highest praise for the Bible

by showing how the language and imagery of the KJV penetrates all aspects of western literary and intellectual culture.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Certain Bibliophile on March 17, 2011
Format: Paperback
"The Great Code" really re-configured the way that I conceive of the Bible as a literary document. After two centuries of historical criticism (or narrative criticism as it's called when applied to the Bible), it is refreshing to see a whole new interpretive methodology which looks inward at the Bible, instead of trying to test its significance by how well it correlates to something outside of itself. And that is the central thesis to Frye's argument - that the Bible is a unified mythology, replete with its own literary devices, that hardly needs confirmation from history or archaeology to successfully tell the story (mythos) that it tells. Because of this, the book has been the target of a number of appropriate historicist critiques, all claiming that one can't cut wholly separate the work of literature from its social and cultural context. Although these criticisms aren't all fair themselves, as Frye even considers the structure of certain metaphors (like the ubiquitous flood myth) modulate themselves repeatedly via literary transmission into new texts.

The first part of the book consists of a highly condensed theory of language which Frye employs in the second half. I found this part just as useful, yet often elided in critical reviews. According to Frye, his own ideas are highly influenced by Vico's "Scienza Nuova" which posits the idea of a cyclical theory of language wherein each human epoch uses language in a unique, irreducible way.
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