Reading the Bible: An Introduction

Reading the Bible: An Introduction

By Richard G. Walsh
Notre Dame, IN: Cross Cultural, 1997. Hardback, 620 pages.

Reading tile Bible is designed as an introductory textbook. The work begins with a ninety-two page discussion of what the Bible is and of various literary-critical approaches to its study, delineating the differences among the various academic approaches.

Walsh's interests are almost entirely literary. His eye is always on the structure of the text, not the cultural context out of which it arose. Literary analysis also takes precedence over theology, which is frequently understood in terms of symbols, motifs, and figures of speech. Or rather, literary analysis becomes theology.

Although the author shows consider, able understanding of the Biblical texts he examines, he is also quite certain that the worldview of the Bible simply does not "fit" with the modern world. Because of this, he describes the Bible as "in decay" in the West, no longer able to supply us with a worldview or "social glue" or even a "vehicle to the sacred." "In sum," he says, "the Bible is an alien myth in the modern West" which may supply certain ethical perspectives and symbols and aesthetic ideas but which no longer can unite society as a whole. It can only supply what he calls "debris," not a unified vision.

Whether the "modern worldview" is as universally accepted and impregnable to criticism as the author suggests, is an open question. In this postmodern, postindustrial age, the modernism the author describes may be also in serious decay and only supply us with "debris" itself. In every age, the Bible has been subject to reevaluation and interpretation. It may appear to us that its message fit easily into the Roman Empire or semi-pagan Medieval European culture, but it did not. In every generation, the Bible has seemed alien. Nevertheless, the great interpreters have always revealed how the Bible still speaks to the new age. Walsh is not interested in that task; his aim is not to revive and resuscitate but to provide postmortem dissection. 

January/February 2000