Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Three Ways to Read, Part Two

My senior year of college, I took (because I had to) a literature class called "Heroic Themes". One of the books we read was Ulysses, by James Joyce. I saw later that some organization had put that book on the top of their list of the 100 best novels of all time. Shut up. They have to be kidding.

I remember nothing about this monstrously long novel. Well, except for the fact that my professor came to class every day we discussed it with two equally long reference books that she used to explain the symbolism and so forth. I couldn't quite understand why a piece of writing could be considered so great when it required the help of two extra books to make any sense of it.

I think of that sometimes when I pull out my concordance and commentary to do some intense Bible study. But there is a difference. The Bible is a very unique piece of writing. Living and active, not static and dormant like the stuff I read in lit courses. Like an ogre, it has layers. Like a great poem, you can read the same passage several times and God reveals more truth each time. And you can focus on small sections at a microlevel and find even more.

An example: one time I was studying the second half of Proverbs 31, the "wife of noble character" passage. I wondered what exactly the term "noble" meant in the context. So, I got out my trusty Strong's Exhaustive Concordance and looked it up. The Hebrew word translated "noble character" here is hayil. In other passages, it is translated army, strength, brave warriors, troops, etc.

In other words, a wife of noble character is a warrior wife. Oh, yeah -- that opens up a whole new window on that passage. You see . . . layers.

So, some literature is meant not just to be read but to be studied. Too bad "study" has become such a dirty word anymore. Deep study is what makes one a deep person. And the world has far too many shallow people as it is.

1 comment:

Nancy B said...

Very interesting commentary.