The Bible as Scripture and as Literature
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[ 695 The Bible as Scripture and as Literature TSE read his unpublished address before the Women’s Alliance, King’s Chapel (Christian Unitarian), Boston, on 1 Dec 1932. The minister, Rev. John Carroll Perkins, whom TSE knew through the Perkins’s niece Emily Hale, wrote to him on 11 Aug 1932: “Emily Hale tells me that you are good enough to come to the King’s Chapel one day next winter and review with our Women’s Alliance the poetry of the Bible, if that is your subject. Although I am not a member of the Alliance I somehow assume responsibility in the church to be very grateful to you for your generosity.” TSE replied from London on 29 Aug that he “accepted the honour of speaking at King’s Chapel . . . It will be a great pleasure for me, and I hope to prepare a satisfactory address. I look forward to renewing my acquaintance with Mrs. Perkins and yourself during my stay at Harvard.” And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon. Revelation V. iv. I shall not detain you with any account of Bunyan, Abraham Lincoln, or of all the famous men who are said to have been reared in humble circumstances and to have formed their style of writing upon the Bible alone. I will presume you to be familiar with these tales.1 Nor shall I waste your time by generally affirming that the Bible of the Authorised Version is the greatest masterpiece of English literature. As a matter of fact, from the point of view of literature there is no Bible. There is merely a compilation of the records and the literature of the Hebrews up to a certain time; followedbythefourgospels ,somehighlytechnicalanddifficulttheologicaltreatises by a few apostles, and ending up with a magnificent specimen of what is known to scholars as vision literature. There is not even a “Biblical style”; there is only the artificial arrangement of verses which imposes a deceptive uniformity – yet which I, for my part, have no wish to abandon. The fact that the Bible was translated by forty-seven collaborators working at the same time,whentheEnglishlanguagewasinadistinctphasewhichisnotours,also helpstosuggesttheillusionofaBiblicalstyle.Fromthepointofviewofliterature there is a good deal of folk lore, compilations of laws, some of them concerned with sanitation, and of not much greater literary interest than other well-framed legislation, some beautifully written history, some very fine lyric poetry, a very great drama – Job – and a few very great writers such as Isaiah. Lectures in America, 1932-33 696 ] But for my own part I find it very hard to take this point of view. I cannot say, when sitting down to read a part of the Bible, “Now I am going to read the Bible because it is the foundation of our Christian faith,” and the next evening, “Now I am going to have a go at the Bible as literature.” You will observe usually that those who talk about the Bible as literature choose most of their illustrations, unless they be merely of a phrase or two, from the Old Testament. I suspect this to indicate, among other things, that it is easiest to enjoy as “literature” those parts of the Bible in which it is most easy to suspend definitely Christian belief. People do not talk so much about the literary accomplishment of St. Paul, who is, as I have said, not suitable for light reading; and I confess to a feeling of profanation if I hear the Sermon on the Mount spoken of as “great literature.” To me it seems that these are too serious matters. I am not prepared to discuss the literary merits of the discourses of Our Lord, or His felicitous use of homely illustrations in a way suited to the capacity of his hearers. Now this is with me a perfectly distinct feeling; the whole of the Four Gospels are quite definitely dissociated from anything else that has ever been written, copied, typed or printed. I cannot even think of them as a model for writing, except as a model for writing gospels; and none of us, has been called to that high vocation except Mrs. Eddy; and Mrs. Eddy does not strike me as a very happy example of the influence of the Bible upon literature – if there was any influence at all.2 I have said that from the point of view of literature there is no Bible; but also, from...