To what extent can we sustain a literary reading of the bible?Put in another way , where do we draw the line betwen a literary investigation of the bible and a religious, moralistic and doctrinal appreciation of biblical text?
For teaching purposes, both the books of Job and Esther can prove very useful. The narrative in both is excellent, plus they give students an opportunity to see certain devices in action: foreshadowing, imagery, and symbolism, to name a few. Job's struggle is nothing short of "The Grapes of Wrath," while Esther's story could be compared with any number of female literary characters.
Without the Bible's source as literature, how many works would fall flat in the absence of a "Christ-figure" or someone with a "Messiah complex?" As a cultural icon, the Bible itself sheds light on other literary works that derive ideas from it. It is possible to separate faith from academics for the purpose of analysis and discussion, and when the Bible comes to the classroom, there is an ethical need to do exactly that.
I have to disagree that one cannot be well-read and not familiar with the Bible. I've never read the Bible the entire way through and I'm not extremely familiar with all parts of it. I am familiar with quite a few psalms, famous stories, and books, however.
I could hardly be called very knowledgeable about the Bible or a Bible scholar; however, I am very well-read. I agree that the Bible is a piece of literature, but I do not agree that all must be familiar with it to be well-read.
Even a grocery list can be read as literature. Every book of the Bible, regardless of its ease in reading, is literature and has had an enormous impact on other writings. One can not be well-read and not be familiar with the Bible. There are just way too many biblical allusions that must be understood when reading literature and recognizing the Christ figures, etc. All of it can be appreciated as literature without worrying about whether or not it is accurate or factual.
You can find nearly all types of literature in the Bible, and whether you believe in the Bible as truth or not, you cannot deny the influence the Bible has had on writing. The Bible is one of the oldest narratives in the world history. The story of Abraham is at least as old as the Gilgamesh. The Bible has great examples of the writing of history, straightforward narrative, poetry, wisdom literature (Proverbs is an example of a common type of ancient literature). The stories of creation are a type of mythology and you can find interspersed within Old Testament narrative beast fables and many other elements of ancient literature. In the New Testament we see examples of biography, hagiography, history, and letter writing (again a common form of ancient writing). The Bible also contains nearly all of the universal themes used by classic authors. It tells stories of love, hope, betrayal, and death. One interesting biblical element I noticed recently was in Julius Caesar. There are some pretty close parallels between the death of Brutus in the play and the death of Saul in I Samuel.
The Bible or parts of it was used as an example by many Medieval writers. Bede consiously tried to emulate Acts when he wrote his Ecclesiastical History of Britian. Nearly all of the classic authors of Western Civilization through the early 20th century would have been familiar with Biblical content and style.
This is a very tricky topic to address. I think there can be ways to examine the Bible from a literary perspective (certain books) if we look at examples of figurative language, for instance. There are other literary elements we could locate in the Bible. I agree with linda-allen that there are certain types of stories in the Bible that are typical of any type of fiction, not just "Christian" fiction, actually.
I think some books of the Bible are difficult to read as literature, such as the prophetic books and probably all of the New Testament. Except for the action/adventure stories in the book of Acts, I can't see a way to separate the text from the religious message. However, even though they do celebrate the glory of God, some of the Old Testament books can be read in the same way as "Christian fiction" is read today. For instance, the book of Ruth is a love story. The book of Esther is an adventure. The book of Judges is a collection of action stories. Even the books of Genesis and Exodus can be read as hero stories.
Think of a children's Bible. The text is usually presented as "Bible stories" and not as the Bible text. You can appreciate the stories without bringing in any particular doctrine.
The story of David's arrival at the Battle between the Philistines' and Saul's army reminds me of the first chapter of The Red Badge of Courage, and I wonder if David might have been inspiration for Henry.