Baker Academic

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Bible as Literature: Initial Questions for Study

I am lucky to count poet, scholar, and third baseman par excellence, Aaron Michael Moe as an old friend. Moe, among his many talents, is a seasoned reader of great literature. He has helpfully developed a list of questions that seasoned readers ask as they encounter any text. I think that many of these will benefit university and seminary students as they encounter biblical poems, stories, instructions, etc. 

Here is Moe's list:

Questions Seasoned Readers “Always Already” Ask
Aaron M. Moe, Ph.D. | Literature Courses | Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame | Spring 2015

For behind the formulating question about the limits of a category under discussion is hidden a question which bursts all formulas asunder. 
Martin Buber
Why does the story or poem matter?
Who (or what) tells the story? Why must their body and/or their consciousness tell the story?
What tropes are at work in the text? What does the trope open up? What are the underlying assumptions of the trope? What are the trope’s blindspots? Does the author/poet seem aware of these blindspots? What are the implications of the trope’s (un)examined assumptions?
Where are the meta-passages (stories about theories of storytelling or poems about poetics)? What opens up when we read the author’s/poet’s work on his or her own terms? 
What does the story/poem say—explicitly or implicitly—about language?—about identity?
How does the story/poem contribute to the continuity of and the ruptures within the literary tradition?
What is the form/structure of the text? How does the materiality of that structure play with the content? How is that materiality part of a semiotic process (the process of creating meaning)?
How is Power at work in the text? Who has Power? Who has/finds a voice? Who is silenced?
How does the story or poem reflect the historical milieux of the author? How does the text interpret that milieux? How does it shape our understanding of that milieux? What is missing?
How does the text shape/reflect our understandings of or responses to race, class, gender, sexuality, environments, animals, spirituality, and/or language?
What unexamined ideology animates a character’s belief(s) or action(s)? That is, what “invisible” ideologies linger pre-reflectively below the surface of the text. And then: What unexamined ideology animates one’s response to a character’s beliefs or actions?
Where are the crucial, resonate passages/lines of the text? What reading approach allows one to see these passages as crucial?
Which of the following binaries capture a tension in the text: stability/instability; center/margin; public/private? How does that tension develop?
What/where is the point of entry? What word/concept invites you into this particular world of meanings? If you were to choose a different point of entry, (how) would those meanings change?
What “reality” does the story/poem select?—what realties does the story/poem deflect?
How does the text explore the relationships between language, consciousness, and perception?
Poems and stories are ways-of-being in language, in community, and on the earth. What is compelling about the text’s way-of-being that sets it apart from other works?
What questions emerge as you read? If you choose to explore the text further, where would you go? What questions would you ask?

For more from Dr. Moe, check out his home on the web: You might also be interested in his book: Zoopoetics: Animals and the Making of Poetry.



  1. Thank you for sharing this,
    With your permission, may I use this for a church class, cited, of course?
    I appreciate that the questions are more sophisticated than a lot of bible study material people come into class with.

    1. Erin, feel free. I hope that some of these questions are helpful for you and your church.