Archetypes – an Excerpt from Biblical Interpretation

Cover ArtThe following is an excerpt from Biblical Interpretation, 3rd Edition, by W. Randolph Tate.

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Within literature as a whole, characters, symbols, and themes seem to recur with regularity. For instance, the theme “from rags to riches,” the character of the sassy servant in comedy, or the symbol of the gathering storm are familiar to most readers. One author suggests that archetypes “carry the same or very similar meanings for a large portion of mankind and appeal to what is most elemental in human experience.”

Since archetypes are symbols or images shared by all, their potential for communication is almost infinite. When we encounter an archetype in literature, we are immediately faced with a whole body of meaning which the author does not need to explain… Phrases such as “Israel has played the harlot” or “tell that fox Herod” employ the archetype. These phrases need no explanation because the archetype immediately suggests and organizes the meaning. Archetypes are master images around which meaning is organized.

The Bible is the great storehouse of master images for literature in the Western world. An appreciation of literature outside the Bible is enhanced by a familiarity with the archetypes within the Bible. The primary reason for archetypal studies, however, is that the biblical texts themselves are saturated with these master images. As one author suggests, readers of the Bible can discover as much truth by tracing a master image through the Bible as by tracing some abstract idea.

©2014 by W. Randolph Tate. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.
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