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Two worlds meet

04 January 2013

The Bible and Literature (SCM Core Text)
Alison Jack
SCM Text £30
Church Times Bookshop £27
(Use code CT719) 

THE author writes that the aim of this book is "to read biblical and literary texts fruitfully alongside one another". She explores two academic worlds that are marked by variety, contradiction, and insight, and shows how they can be complementary rather than separated. Literary theory may assist our reading of scripture, and the biblical text can illuminate writing outside itself.

Her method is to explain some current theories and to apply each of them to a biblical passage and to one or more literary texts that were influenced by it. Intertextuality, reader-response criticism, and feminist readings are some of the ideas considered. She uses biblical passages from the King James Version, as the one that is still most widely familiar, and that was the only English translation known to most of the creative writers who are discussed. She recognises its intrinsic literary quality, and the varieties of narrative, history, belief, and poetry which can relate it to other writings.

This book is presented as an introduction to comparative study for students of both disciplines. Some of it may be hard going at first for those better acquainted with the Bible than with literature, but each chapter leads the reader on from the familiar to the new, and ends with questions for discussion and a short reading-list on the topic just covered. The author is a Church of Scotland minister, and an academic well acquainted with the needs and

problems of students. Like a good teacher, she makes no assumptions about the previous knowledge of readers, and expects only a willingness to learn.

The price is high for a paperback particularly intended for students. It is regrettable that a Christian publisher should use BCE and CE for dating (the Church Times leaves the choice to the individual reviewer). But this book is a welcome addition to the growing interest in inter-disciplinary studies.

Raymond Chapman is Emeritus Professor of English in the University of London

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