Book Review: How to Read the Bible as Literature by Leland Ryken

Ryken here offers a very succinct, though not especially engaging, introduction to reading the Bible as literature. His approach to this introduction is thematic, with chapters about, for example, the parables of Jesus, the use of satire in the Bible, and biblical poetry, among other subjects. The final chapter, explaining the literary unity of the Bible, is also very good.

A particularly positive aspect of this book is that through introducing the Bible as literature Ryken provides a book that is a sound introduction to both the Bible and to literature more generally. Because the Bible is such a tremendous compendium of types of literature and, in some sense, the source of nearly every Western story of the past thousand years and more, any exploration of the Bible as literature necessarily is an introduction to Western literature more generally. As a result, even if you are not interested in the Bible in particular, this book is a very worthwhile resource on the centerpiece and source of so much of the Western literary tradition.

The downside of this book is its style. Ryken opts for a very straightforward approach that sometimes seems more like one is reading the outline of a book than a book itself. While this style choice makes this book quite succinct, it also makes it quite dry. My recommendation, for the sake of avoiding tedium as well as because it completes the picture, is to read relevant biblical texts alongside each of the chapters of this book.

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