Is the Bible “Literature”?

Joshua Paul Smith

Student with pipe / c.1868 A student with a pipe. – Photograph, c.1868 (Bullock Brothers, Royal Leamington). From the private photo album of G.E. Barnes. Archie Miles Collection, Coll. Archiv f.Kunst & Geschichte.

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the application of literary criticism/theory to biblical texts, and was recently challenged with a surprisingly simple question: Is the Bible even literature in the first place?

Postmodern literary critic J. Hillis Miller has expressed his doubts regarding the claim that the Bible constitutes literature. According to Miller, the approach to the Bible as word of God carries an entirely separate set of assumptions that call into question its suitability to be read (and approached critically) as literature:

The reasons to read (or not to read) the story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis are quite different from the reasons to read (or not to read) Dickens, Wordsworth, Shakespeare, or even Dante and Milton…

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