2002 MacArthur Fellow
Pulitzer Prize-winning author of God: A Biography
"The Old and New Testaments are in a code of art."
--- William Blake
The bible, Jack Miles argues, serves as the matrix for the creation of vernacular literatures and visual imagery of Europe. However, the former facet of the Bible is not as well understood as its impetus for artistic representations. Miles points out that to a certain extent historical criticism has narrowed the richness of the text's literary value; scholars have placed too much emphasis on authorship, dates, audiences, and circumstances. In underscoring the Bible's literary dimensions, Miles draws out several facets.
First, as a literary vehicle, the organization of the Bible can seem confusing to the modern reader. However, a closer reading with its literary dimensions in mind reveals that the Bible contained myths, legends, histories, prayers, erotic poetry, census information, genealogies, and folklore.
A second literary facet of the Bible that Miles highlights is its fundamentally cryptic characteristics. The Bible represents a great code that is never complete uncoded. Therefore, the Bible has been open to all types of interpretation over the years. Successive generation of interpreters underscore the Bible's plurality. Even today new decipherments of the great code are occurring.
Miles next considers the Bible in terms of authorship, ownership, and copyright. These literary elements were dramatically different at the time of the Bible's production. No direct connection between producer and that which was produced existed. In other words, the text was not considered the property of the author. Rather, translations were taken as originals. With this in mind, different biblical translations, by both Greek and Hebrew speakers, reflected and structured diverging religious traditions. This point emphasizes translation as an interpretive act, and as a result we see the development of the Old Testament, the New Testament, expanded or narrowed versions of prophetic books, etc.
As a final dimension of the Bible, Miles examines the text's materiality. Scrolls provided the original space for Jewish doctrines. The codex may have been a Christian invention, and as a result replaced the scroll in this emerging religious tradition. Codical spaces provided technological advances in terms of economy and convenience. Binding affected the order in which the text was read, and contributed to further religious divergence. The Tanakh's binding, for instance, formed the basis for the Old Testament. Nonetheless, Miles argued that these developments would have been costly and cumbersome at the start.
With all of these myriad literary dimensions in mind, Miles reinforced the point that many scriptures became one Bible and that the change does matter for understanding the trajectory of religious traditions.