Scriptures as Literature

How do the various scriptures (from whatever religion) hold up as works of literature? I mean, how good are they as literary works?

I’m a devout believer in the Old and New Testaments as the Word of God, but on a literary basis, I wish they tightened some segments up, and expanded other segments more (a “what became of them” chapter at the end of each book would have been quite welcome!).

Are you saying God needs an editor? I guess all the great ones do…

I’m sure we could debate this, but it seems more a topic better suited to Cafe Society than Great Debates since we are deliberately removing the religious perspective from the discussion.

Over it goes.

[ /Moderating ]

17th century biblical scholars, after centuries of working from Latin translations, turned to the oldest New Testament manuscripts and were dismayed to discover that they were written not in classical literary Greek, but in everyday Koine Greek.

When it comes to the Bible, you really have to take it on a book by book basis. Genesis and Exodus are about as rich as it gets, literarily speaking. The book of Job has often been praised as a brilliant, stand-alone book. Then you have stuff like Psalms, Song of Solomon and Proverbs which are great poetry. The Gospels of the New Testament are far more sophisticated works of literature than they appear at first blush. The Gospel of Mark, in particular, is arranged in complex chiastic structures and use the Hebrew Bible as an allusory hypotext. It’s a very carefully composed and ordered work.

On the other hand, there are also some books of the Bible which are boring and dull and all but unreadable.

Well, it has a lot to do with the translation in many cases.

Compare the Coverdale and King James versions of the Bible. One is considered so-so reading and the other is considered quite good literature for the time. (Even though there is overlap.)

Although part of the Christian Apocrypha, and not considered canon by some denominations, I always thought Judith was a great story. It would make a good movie too, except the director would want to change the end, where the widowed heroine never remarried. Judith has it all, violence, lust, and a strong female lead.

I think it’s safe to say the same can be said for any faith’s scriptures. For example, I like the last few surahs of the Qur’an; however, the longer ones have both some good and and some rather dry sections.

Leviticus, anyone?

Leviticus is also chiastic at points. But if it’s boring to you, remember that it’s a law code, and codes of law aren’t always compelling reading.