Chapter Five: Sub-Genres. A Way of Classifying and Mapping. Chapter Five Outline. Preliminary Considerations Conventions Recognition of Genres Metaphorical Function Objections to Genres Criticism Familiar Sub-Genres Song Allegory Parable Prayer. Preliminary Considerations.
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Chapter Five: Sub-Genres
A Way of Classifying and Mapping
Three Forms of Writing
Biblical writing mixes faith, what people believe, and fact, what actually existed or happened.
This way of reading restores the commonsensical approach taken by most people throughout the course of the Bible’s history—at the basic level, knowing what words mean, seeing how they are used, noticing grammatical connections, and reading words in sequence to reconstruct meaning; beyond this, you will begin to pay attention to overall form and to ask what kind of literature you’re reading.
Readers upon first coming to a text naturally read for a sense of the whole piece as opposed to asking immediately about the authorship, source, dating, and purpose, or even for that matter, studying rhetorical devices such as “extreme” parallelism. Traditional literature courses encourage this close reading, interpretation, and appreciation of an existing text, “reading it” preferred to reading “about it.”
Recognition of Genres
As pointed out in the previous chapter, they argue that genres seem to be reduced to essences derived from a study of other works and that they become the subject of regulations established by critical abstraction.
The literature of “living text,” these critics argue, resists such reductions to classification and types.
The Bible contains many examples of words meant to be sung: victory hymns, victory songs, marching songs, and songs of celebration, music apparently being very important to the people of Israel. Their “lived” songs express joy, relief, praise, thanks, and deliverance; in lifting their hearts and voices outward and upward to their God, they provide a cultural inheritance for the generations that follow them.
These songs evidence many of the common characteristics of poetry:
Fortunately, translations of the Bible generally now inset poetry recognizably from the surrounding prose. This convention may be traced in Hebrew literature to the First and Second Temple Periods (516 BCE to 70 CE), and may have roots in the much earlier Egyptian period. In addition to the “inset” feature, the surrounding prose will often provide an explicit marker of the genre poetry and its mode—whether exhortation, praise, song, performance with a musical instrument, spoken by characters, or inviting audience participation
For example, we find such markers in
The Song of Moses, The Song of Miriam, and the Song of Deborah represent the genre of victory hymn, well known in Egypt and Assyria from the fifteenth to the twelfth century BCE, as well as the device of antiphonal singing or chanting.
Ten preeminent Songs in the History of Israel:
These songs, placed in the context of overall narrative, reflect Israel’s movement forward to the final tenth song celebrating ultimate redemption, global and absolute; annihilating all suffering, jealousy, and hate—a song capturing all of creation’s ultimate striving.
Allegory(Psalms 23, Judges 9.7-15, Judges 9.54, Mark 11.20-25, Romans 9. 4-5, John 15, Song of Solomon; Jer. 2; Isa. 54; Ezek. 16, 23; Hosea)
Allegory may be defined as a continuation of metaphor, where a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable to suggest a resemblance. Through metaphor and allegory, the Bible often expresses abstract or spiritual meaning through concrete or material forms.
From the second century forward, church fathers debated whether the Bible should be read as literal, within a historical context, or symbolic, this resulting in one tradition that reads the Bible almost exclusively as allegory and another that argues the dangers of this allegorization, the debate continuing into the way people today read the Bible. Reading the Bible literally as fact resists full consideration of the complex nature of language as symbol.
Parable(Mark 13.28-31, 3.3-20; 1 Sam. 1; Ezek. 17.1-24)
Prayers in the Bible(Dt. 6.4-9, 11.13-21; Gen. 15.1-6; Gen. 12; Exod. 31.13; Neh. 1, 9; Luke 11. 2-4; Matt. 6.9-13)
Prayer, as genre, should be distinguished from the poetic compositions intended to be sung as a form of worship found in the book of Psalms. Prayer, instead, exists in a continuum between conversation and formalized address. In the individual’s relationship with God, prayer expresses the conviction that God can and will respond.