What is the most significant source behind Western art, especially its literature? As 2011 closes the 400th anniversary of the “King James” Authorized Version of the Bible, various writers have seen fit to mark the event with an essay. Marilynne Robinson’s essay in the New York Times,brings a novelist’s sensibility to this question.
A number of the great works of Western literature address themselves very directly to questions that arise within Christianity. 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. How is the violence and corruption of a beloved city to be understood as part of an eternal cosmic order? What would be the consequences for the story of the expulsion from Eden, if the fall were understood as divine providence? What if Job’s challenge to God’s justice had not been overawed and silenced by the wild glory of creation?
Just as Robinson sees things in family relationships that others miss, she sees the Bible’s appearance in great novels where the rest of us might not.