The Bible as a Literary Anthology

The Bible is not one book but an anthology of 66 individual books. The word “Bible” comes from the Greek biblios, which means “little books.”  Together these books make up what we familiarly know as an anthology of separate works composed by multiple authors over many years and even centuries.  Many high school and college literature courses use such anthologies as textbooks.  The overall literary genre of the Bible is an anthology like those textbooks.

            The authorship of the Bible is shrouded in mystery.  What we do know is that some three dozen authors wrote it over a span of approximately 1,500 years.  The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek.  For the most part, it was composed in the Middle Eastern region then called Palestine.   The Bible has a national unity in the sense that virtually all of its authors were Jewish.  In this respect is like an anthology of English or American literature.        

            Again it needs to be said that whenever you can call to mind familiar literary categories like anthology or American literature and then apply them to the Bible, that becomes an important aid to approaching the Bible as literature.  Whenever the Bible reminds us of familiar works or genres of literature, it takes shape in our thinking as being literary in those same ways.

            The individual books of the Bible were gradually collected into one volume, but we know little about the process.  We can infer that many parts of the Bible originally circulated in oral form, but as with Homer’s Odyssey, it is difficult to say when or how these materials were first written down.  The phases through which the parts of the Bible passed were these:  composition (in oral or written form), circulation, collection, and recognition or canonization (acceptance of the collected works as a single sacred book).

            Naturally, given the long span of its composition and its many authors, you may be wondering how the Bible can be said to be one cohesive story. We will look at the question of what unifies this diverse book in the final lesson of the course.  An initial generalization that can be made is that the Bible has a unified religious viewpoint.  God is the same throughout the Bible.  Human nature is the same.  And so forth.