“The supreme role of epic lies in its capacity to focus a society’s self-awareness in a more comprehensive way than is possible in a single drama, or even in a novel on any scale less than War and Peace.” –Hugh Richmond, The Christian Revolutionary: John Milton
Do you like a “long read?” Then you’ll love the epics of the Bible. They are what literary scholars call an encyclopedic form, meaning that they are comprised of many individual units. Noted literary critic Northrop Frye called the epic genre “the story of all things.”
While an epic is built around a hero who performs a great feat — a Moses or David — it is also the panoramic story of a nation. In the Bible’s epics, the hero’s life is intertwined with the destiny of the nation as a whole, including its conflicts, wars, and dominion. Events occur on a cosmic stage that is alive with supernatural events. Unlike a typical hero story, the scope is enormous.
There are two unmistakable epics in the Bible — the Exodus from Egypt and the story of David. The following readings encapsulate the cores of both epics:
- The Epic of the Exodus: Exodus 1-20; Numbers 10-17; Numbers 20-24: Deuteronomy 32-34
- The epic story of David: 1 Samuel 16-17; 2 Samuel 5-19
Along with these two full-fledged epics, we find epic-like stories throughout the Bible, particularly in Genesis and Old Testament historical chronicles. While these are better approached as hero stories, they do share the wide scope of epics.
Additionally, it is possible to view the Bible as a whole as an epic. The book encompasses the history of all people and nations, from the creation of the world to the end of time. True to epic form, supernatural characters and marvelous events occur throughout the Bible.