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The Oxford Study Bible Study Bible supplemented with commentary from scholars of various religions.

Literary Forms of the Bible

Leander E. Keck

Gene M. Tucker

The Bible can be read from many perspectives. From a historical view, one can read it to learn about the past; from the standpoint of religion, one can read it to clarify or strengthen faith; from a literary angle, one can appreciate its poetry, its narrative style, and its use of imagery. Another kind of concern is developed here—an attempt to acquaint the reader with the many literary forms which the Bible represents.

Awareness of literary form is fundamental to understanding. In reading poetry we do not look for the same thing that we look for in reading novels; legal contracts use language different from that which is used in short stories. Moreover, because in a typical biblical book various kinds of material stand side by side, the reader must know what the natural unit is. Furthermore, later use frequently obscured the original shape of the material; but awareness of the form can help the student distinguish earlier from later layers. The Bible is such a rich and diverse book that only a general sketch, with a few examples, can be undertaken here, with the hope that the reader will be encouraged to pursue the study of literary form independently.

In terms of literary form, the Bible as a whole ought not to be taken for granted. We shall therefore begin by noting its structure and history. From there we shall look at the kinds of books in the Bible, then at the kinds of literary forms within the individual books. Finally, we shall reflect on the value of pursuing this kind of analysis.

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Oxford University Press

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