The Bible is the predecessor to many of the great works of modern literature, from Milton’s Paradise Lost to Faulkner’s The Sound and The Fury, according to one Pulitzer Prize-winning author.
Marilynne Robinson, whose 2006 novel Gilead won the Pulitzer, wrote in The New York Times on Sunday about research she had conducted about the Bible’s role in contemporary literature.
“The Bible is the model for and subject of more art and thought than those of us who live within its influence, consciously or unconsciously, will ever know,” wrote Robinson, who is a Presbyterian and Calvinist scholar.
Robinson’s argument relies on the theory of “ intertextuality” – the idea that meaning derived from any one book is contingent upon a reader’s understanding of every other book he has read.
If readers glean meaning from a certain text based on the whole catalog of what they’ve read and experienced, it makes sense for the Bible, a consistent best-seller, to relate to so many texts because it is reportedly studied and read more than any other book.
The Bible’s influence endures, Robinson says, because it transcends time and space, and its analysis of the human condition is as relevant now as it was centuries ago.
“A number of the great works of Western literature address themselves very directly to questions that arise within Christianity,” she wrote. “They answer to the same impulse to put flesh on Scripture and doctrine, to test them by means of dramatic imagination, that is visible in the old paintings of the Annunciation or the road to Damascus.”
Simply, Robinson argues that literature is written from the assumption that readers are familiar with the Bible; in literature, it is eternally a reference or a truth, regardless of religious affiliations.
Read Robinson’s piece in The New York Times Sunday Book Review here.