by AmyBeth Inverness
The Christian Church was central to my upbringing. No one could beat me at Bible trivia. I could recite the Beatitudes and the Ten Commandments (I can’t anymore) the twelve sons of Jacob (still can) and I was pretty good with the books of both the Old and New Testaments. I can still name all the minor prophets, but I have to sing them. (I prove this via Youtube.)
It wasn’t until I was in high school and allowed the indulgence of choosing an English class that went beyond basic grammar and sentence structure that I began to put together the random trivia and assorted stories into some kind of perspective. The class was “The Bible as Literature.”
I had never before realized how much an author’s own society and environment affect their writing. It’s not something that can be avoided, unless the story is reduced to a set of inarguable facts. Even then, a writer might describe something they see in terms they and their contemporaries can understand, even though it is not entirely accurate. We don’t know whether the ladder in Jacob’s vision (Genesis 28:10-17) was a literal ladder, an analogy, or his best description of something else that was beyond his comprehension.
My husband and I read some not-so-ancient fiction out loud to our youngest daughter starting on the day she was born. I’ve always loved L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, but it wasn’t until reading them out loud as an adult that I realized just how different the language is. These books were written in my own language in my own country only a hundred years ago, yet the sound and the flow of the words is markedly different from anything written today.
The stories in the Bible were written not just hundreds but thousands of years ago. It’s not just the flow of words that is vastly different. Rather, it is the very way that ideas are conveyed in those words that has changed across time and cultures.
In my high school English class, one book we read in its entirety was the story of Job. Job is unique in that it isn’t written as a historical account but as a story with God, Satan, and the angels as characters with dialog. This story meant something else to the ancient Hebrews than it means to me. For example, I’m not okay with the idea that all Job’s children died, even if he did end up with more offspring at the end of the story.
The Christian Church is still a large part of my life today, but it’s no longer just a collection of neatly encapsulated narratives to me. I can see the words that ancient peoples were inspired to record, both for their contemporaries and for history. The New Testament’s letters were written specifically to individual churches in various cities. Yes, there are lessons to be learned from them, but the reader must keep in mind who was writing the letter, to whom it was written, and why it was written. Paul wasn’t sitting around thinking “Well, I’d better make darn sure this thing is still relevant two thousand years from now!” He was writing to his fellow Christians in fledgling churches.
Whether studying the Bible from the point of view of a Christian believing it to be the inspired Word of God, from the point of view of a secular scholar who does not believe God exists, or from anywhere in between, the Bible as literature is a varied, epic work. From the straightforward listing of who-begat-whoms (which held extreme importance for the ancient peoples) to the wild visions of Revelation, seeing what our ancestors chose to preserve for posterity and how they chose to present it informs us when we strive to do the same.
A writer by birth, a redhead by choice, and an outcast of Colorado by temporary necessity, AmyBeth Inverness is a creator of Speculative Fiction and Romance. She can usually be found tapping away at her laptop, writing the next novel, or procrastinating by posting a SciFi Question of the Day on Facebook and Google Plus. When she’s not writing she’s kept very busy making aluminum foil hats and raising two energetic kids and many pets with her husband in their New England home. AmyBeth Inverness is a featured writer in Garden Gnome Publications’ Garden of Eden Anthology.