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Select Masterpieces of Biblical Literature   By: (1849-1924)

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The Modern Reader's Bible

A Series of Works from the Sacred Scriptures Presented in Modern Literary Form


Edited, with an Introduction and Notes by


Professor of Literature in English in the University of Chicago

New York The MacMillan Company London: MacMillan & Co., Ltd. 1902

Copyright, 1897, By THe MacMillan Company.

Set up and electrotyped September, 1897. Reprinted December, 1897; August, 1898; February, 1899; August, 1900; July, 1901; April, 1902.

Norwood Press J. S. Cushing & Co. Berwick & Smith Norwood Mass. U.S.A.


That which we call 'The Bible' has the outward appearance of a book: in reality it is what the word 'bible' implies in the original Greek a whole library. More than fifty books, the production of a large number of different authors, representing periods of time extending over many centuries, are all comprehended between the covers of a single volume. There is no greater monument of the power of printing to diffuse thought than this fact, that the whole classic literature of one of the world's greatest peoples can be carried about in the hand or the pocket.

But there is another side to the matter. A high price has been paid for this feat of manufacturing a portable literature: no less a price than the effacement from the books of the Bible of their whole literary structure. Where the literature is dramatic, there are (except in one book) no names of speakers nor divisions of speeches; there are no titles to essays or poems, nor anything to mark where one poem or discourse ends and another begins; not only is there nothing to reflect finer rhythmic distinctions in poetry, but (in King James's version) there is not even a distinction made between poetry and prose. It is as if the whole were printed 'solid,' like a newspaper without the newspaper headings. The most familiar English literature treated in this fashion would lose a great part of its literary interest; the writings of the Hebrews suffer still more through our unfamiliarity with many of the literary forms in which they are cast. Even this statement does not fully represent the injury done to the literature of the Bible by the traditional shape in which it is presented to us. Between the Biblical writers and our own times have intervened ages in which all interest in literary beauty was lost, and philosophic activity took the form of protracted discussions of brief sayings or 'texts.' Accordingly this solidified matter of Hebrew literature has been divided up into single sentences or 'verses,' numbered mechanically one, two, three, etc., and thus the original literary form has still further been obscured. It is not surprising that to most readers the Bible has become, not a literature, but simply a storehouse of pious 'texts.'

If the sacred Scriptures then are to be appreciated as literature, it is necessary to restore their literary form and structure. To do this, with all the assistance that the modern printed page gives to the reader, is the aim of the 'Modern Reader's Bible.' The present volume is intended as an introduction to the series, and, it is hoped, to the literary study of the Bible in general, by Select Masterpieces, illustrating the different types of literature represented in Scripture.

It is natural to enquire, What are the leading literary forms under which the sacred writings may be classified?

A large proportion of the Bible is History: the History of the People of Israel as presented by themselves. How Israel is chosen from all the nations to be the special people of Jehovah; how the invisible Jehovah is at first their only ruler; how gradually the spirit of assimilation to surrounding nations leads to a demand for visible kings. Just as this tendency to secular kingship becomes strong, there comes into prominence an order of 'prophets': the word signifies 'interpreters,' and the prophets are accepted as the interpreters of Jehovah's will to Israel... Continue reading book >>

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