The newer literary criticism

At the same time as scholars have been advocating readings of the Bible with more commitment - either religious or social - there has also been another turn in biblical studies, which contributes to the sense of ferment in this now very variegated field. This other turn is in a literary direction. "The Bible as Literature" used to be regarded by serious biblical scholars as a dilettante interest, and some students of literature (C. S. Lewis would be an obvious example) agreed, seeing it as an attempt to water down the Bible's religious claim. In any case it tended, in the English-speaking world, to be shorthand for praising the Authorized Version, rather than engaging with biblical criticism. But since the 1980s, secular literary critics have begun to take the Bible in its original languages seriously as great world literature. One of the first was Frank Kermode with The Genesis of Secrecy (1979), a sophisticated study of Mark's Gospel in the light of parallels in English literature, especially in the work of James Joyce. He and Robert Alter, a (Jewish) professor of comparative literature in California, joined forces to produce The Literary Guide to the Bible (1987), in which each biblical book is analyzed in a literary, rather than a theological or conventionally "critical," way. Some of the authors use the techniques of structuralism, which enjoyed a brief vogue in biblical studies in the 1970s, but most engage in what literary critics normally call a "close reading," often with some similarities to redaction criticism.

In Britain the Department of Biblical Studies at Sheffield has been crucial in promoting literary approaches to the Bible. In its publications one often sees that a concern for literary aspects of the biblical text can coexist with, and complement, a religious commitment of a "canonical" or "advocacy" kind. For many students of the Bible a literary reading of the "final form" of the biblical text joins hands with the holistic style of interpretation required by a canonical approach. Evangelical scholars in particular are often attracted by both types of study, which seem to reverse the apparently destructive tendency of the older biblical criticism. It is very likely that all these "post-critical" developments will continue to feed into the now very complex world of biblical studies.

Old Testament Studies Today

Many of the movements discussed above apply in equal measure to both Old and New Testament studies, but there are also some developments specific to each.

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