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The Bible as Literary Influence: References and Allusion

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  • 0:02 The Bible and Literature
  • 0:39 Plots
  • 1:38 Language
  • 2:35 Allusions and References
  • 3:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jacob Erickson

Jacob has his master's in English and has taught multiple levels of literature and composition, including junior high, college, and graduate students.

In this lesson, we'll consider the ways that many writers were influenced by various aspects of the Bible, both in the past and the present. We'll look at the way the Bible influences the stories and languages of writers and some allusions that authors make to the Bible.

The Bible and Literature

It's probably not surprising to anyone that the Bible has a large influence on our society; it is, after all, the most important book for the world's largest religion. However, it's fairly easy and common to overlook the influence that this book has had on a huge amount of our culture's literature. In fact, the Bible has influenced not only writers of the past but also many famous writers of recent decades.

In this lesson, we'll look at the way that the Bible has influenced writers by looking at the plots, language, and biblical allusions found in a variety of literature from the past and the present.

Plots

Perhaps the most obvious way that the Bible has inspired writers can be seen in the ways that works of literature actually retell stories found in the Bible. John Milton's Paradise Lost, for example, retells the biblical fall of man in a long, epic poem, including Satan's rebellion against God and Adam and Eve's expulsion from Eden.

Similarly, John Steinbeck's East of Eden is roughly structured around the biblical story of Cain and Abel. Another example can be seen in C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Following the biblical story of God as the all-powerful savior, Lewis uses the Bible to create parts of his plot, especially with the return of King Aslan, which parallels Jesus's return.

Other writers take images in the Bible and expand on them or use them as a setting, such as Dante, who used the Bible's description of the afterlife to create an epic 3-volume poem that explores Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, titled the Divine Comedy.

Language

While plots taken from the Bible are fairly easy to spot, a close look at the language of literature also reveals many works have been influenced by the Bible, particularly by the language found in the King James Version. The King James Bible was compiled in the early 1600s and essentially became the standard Bible for the next 400 years. As a result, the language used in the King James Version became some of the most common in English and particularly common in English writing.

T. S. Eliot, for example, was clearly inspired by the Bible and praised the linguistic style of the King James Version. William Faulkner's language in novels, such as As I Lay Dying, can also be connected back to the Bible. Similarly, Flannery O'Connor has received critical attention for the biblical language she uses in her short stories and novels. And the language of the Bible continues to influence contemporary writing as well, such as Cormac McCarthy.

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