Excerpt from Idiosyncratic Appreciation

            English literature is generally written within the religious context of Christianity. This is true even when the writer concerned, for example Virginia Woolf, is herself agnostic or atheist. The imagery and anecdotes of the bible have entered into the English language and the culture of  English-speakers and so influence them even when they lack religious belief. Of course, literature in English in the twentieth century may often reflect a cultural background which is not Christian but Hindu or Buddhist - although even when the writer comes from a background outside the British Isles, such as the Caribbean or Africa, he or she may still be culturally Christian. Many American writers are Jewish but Judaism, the religion of the Jews, and Christianity, the religion of the followers of Christ, are overlapping monotheistic religions which share the Old Testament of the bible as a sacred scripture. Islam, the remaining great monotheistic religion, also has some links with Judaism and Christianity because of the Old Testament.
            This introduction to Christianity is naturally particularly concerned with what appears as allusions in English literature. Possibly the most frequent allusion in the Old Testament is to the events in the garden of Eden and the fall of man when the devil or Satan in the form of a serpent tempted Eve, the first woman, to eat the apple, the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge. She in turn tempted Adam, the first man, they made love and sin entered the world. The pair was ejected from the paradise that was Eden and our imperfect human condition thus came about. From these accounts come the common (but not universal) and unfortunate Christian association of sex with sin. They have been variously elaborated upon and interpreted. One great English poet, John Milton, in his epic Paradise Lost has Adam and Eve making love innocently before the fall and more consciously and lustfully after it. Andrew Marvell, on the other hand, in his poem The Garden appears to wonder why, if having two sexes and the sex act causes so much trouble, man and God bothered with the whole system in the first place.
            The Old Testament contains other foundation myths such as the flood and Noah’s ark which contained representatives of all creatures that existed so that the world could be restocked when the waters retreated. The Old Testament also describes the adventures of the Jews, their move to and return from Egypt, their reconquest of Canaan or the promised land (modern Israel and Palestine), and much subsequent military history in which the Jews slaughtered their neighbours or were conquered by powerful empires. In addition, there are stories like those of Job and Jonah, who was swallowed by a whale, the sort of account that fascinated the little Jane in Jane Eyre, as well as the moralizing or celebratory psalms which bored her. There are  sensual passages as in the Song of Solomon although these have been presented by theologians as an elaborate allegory. More importantly, the Old Testament also contains the law of Moses and other doctrine, the foundation of Judaism, a morality harder in tone than that of Christ and the New Testament which (in the Christian view) superseded it. All in all, the Old Testament contains a rich variety of theme, subject matter and literary form.

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