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How to Read the Bible as Literature Paperback – December 21, 1984

4.1 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

Why the Good Book Is a Great Read If you want to rightly understand the Bible, you must begin by recognizing what it is: a composite of literary styles. It is meant to be read, not just interpreted. The Bible's truths are embedded like jewels in the rich strata of story and poetry, metaphor and proverb, parable and letter, satire and symbolism. Paying attention to the literary form of a passage will help you understand the meaning and truth of that passage. How to Read the Bible as Literature takes you through the various literary forms used by the biblical authors. This book will help you read the Bible with renewed appreciation and excitement and gain a more profound grasp of its truths. Designed for maximum clarity and usefulness, How to Read the Bible as Literature includes * sidebar captions to enhance organization * wide margins ideal for note taking * suggestions for further reading * appendix: 'The Allegorical Nature of the Parables' * indexes of persons and subjects

About the Author

Leland Ryken (PhD, University of Oregon) is professor of English at Wheaton College in Illinois, where he has twice received the "teacher of the year" award.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Zondervan; 1 edition (January 3, 1985)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0310390214
  • ISBN-13: 978-0310390213
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #41,005 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Aaron Culp on August 22, 2006
Format: Paperback
Ryken does well with his introduction to the Bible as literature. This work is clear and tight, the way such a book ought to be. Perhaps its greatest virtue is that it works within the traditional western categories of literature, explaining them all along (for those of us who don't remember everything from our school days!). As such, the ideas and terms will ring familiar, at least faintly, with most of us educated in the States, and it will offer a sound introduction to the Bible as literature.

With this said, though, perhaps the greatest weakness of this book is that same characteristic. Traditional categories are a good place to start, but the reader must, at some point, go beyond these into the more Hebrew-specific realm of reading. The Hebrew Bible/Old Testament truly is, despite some opinion, a masterful work, but to understand it as such one must become familiar with just how it works. Wonderfully, there are writers, such as Robert Alter and Adele Berlin, who have written well on precisely this topic.

In the end, this book is a great place to start. It offers a well-grounded foundation for reading the Bible literarily, and as long as the reader knows its strengths and limitations, it will serve him well.
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Format: Paperback
Ryken's book, written by an Evangelical professor of literature, is an excellent introduction to reading the Bible. It is a short and simple handbook, separated into categories of biblical literature, which will help the reader understand how the different genres (types) of literature in the Bible "work." This is not a book on "interpreting" the Bible, but on "reading" the Bible. Many Christians miss that reading should always precede interpretation.

Reading involves more than words and grammar, we have to learn how genres work. Some genres we have to learn to appreciate (such as how to "read" the poetry of Emerson). Others are written so close to our methods of normal communication they come easily (such as newspapers or popular novels). The Bible contains genre which seems familiar (historical narrative), but some of the narrative leaves the reader with the feeling that she didn't quite "get it." Other genres in the Bible are terribly foreign; Hebrew poetry is dramatically different than English, prophecy is often completely alien to Western readers. By helping us understand how these types of literature communicate their message, Ryken helps us read the Bible in a way which makes it understandable.

I have not yet found an Evangelical book which accomplishes this task better than Ryken's. I heartily commend it.
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As the author notes, the Bible is not a theological outline with proof texts attached. He states that we have been so preoccupied with the hermeneutical question of how to interpret what the Bible says that we have been left impoverished in techniques to describe and interact with the text itself. I have found this to be true in my life. This book brings out the richness of the Bible in introducing its literary forms and allowing the reader to get more out of the Bible as a result. It is a quick and interesting read which I recommend for any one interested in knowing more about this great book.
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Format: Paperback
I teach a college course titled "Bible as Literature," a general education elective course aimed at all majors. I have used "How to Read the Bible as Literature" alongside the NRSV for the past ten years. Too many of the textbooks geared toward such a class begin from the assumption that every reader is an atheist. Dr. Ryken's book, without falling into sectarianism, treats the bible as a sacred text, not simply an artifact. The chapters are simple, straightforward, and clearly organized--exactly what students need for an introductory class.
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Format: Paperback
Leland Ryken, a professor of English at Wheaton College, is the ideal scholar to write about the literary nature of the Bible from an evangelical perspective. Ryken provides a healthy engagement in a topic that has traditionally been influenced by those who hold a liberal view of Scripture. His fairness and levelheadedness is seen throughout the book.

Ryken seeks to provide an introduction to the literary forms of the Bible (9). On a number of occasions he warns his readers, “The one thing the Bible is not is what it is so often thought to be - a theological outline with proof texts attached (9).” Based on Eccl. 12:9-10, Ryken argues, “the Bible is an artistically beautiful as well as a truthful book” and because of this, “it demands a literary approach...(9).”

To prove this thesis, Ryken begins by answering the question: Is the Bible Literature? An important idea in answering this question is first to say that there is more than one hermeneutical approach necessary when reading the Bible (12). Next, he appeals to scholarship, which is more sensitive to the literary nature of the Bible (12). Rather than combating ideas that would suggest the Bible is not literary in nature, Ryken instead seeks to prove his case positively. He does this with “case studies” of texts where he walks the reader through a passage of Scripture to point out how “Everything about [the] passage makes it a piece of literature (15).”

Much of the book is organized around literary genres of the Bible. He begins with the dominant genres, narrative and poetry. With narrative, he gives extensive training in how to read narrative well. For example, he stresses the need to be an “active reader (34).” This means “identifying with characters” and visualizing scenes (34).
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