Design Patterns in the Bible

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Tim Mackie of The Bible Project explains design patterns in the Bible in two episodes of the Bible Project podcast. You can listen to them here (part 1) and here (part 2).

The idea of design patterns is quite familiar to me as a software engineer. But the concept is widely useful and being applied in many areas of study these days. Noting patterns in their design deeply aids the study and understanding of the texts of the Bible. It is very helpful, revealing an interplay and awareness of the later texts for the earlier that may just revolutionize your understanding of what the biblical authors intended to say. The closest I’ve heard to this in the past is the concept of types – but types are sort of a really “blunt object” in the wider, more subtle space of design patterns – not that they are unimportant. I highly recommend these two Bible Project talks on design patterns. (And the Bible Project podcast in general…) There is enough in these two talks to get the careful reader started in ruminating over the deeply meaningful common patterns and repeated wordplay between Bible texts. Mackie gives a few links to resources in the show notes, too.

An obstacle, however, is reading the Bible in English translations of the Hebrew or Greek. In the original languages, patterns are more evident and artfully presented. Mackie recommends the NASB translation as being fairly accurate at reproducing “Hebrew in English”, which makes the English horribly awkward reading but nevertheless a good study resource for seeing these patterns. While it is not exactly oriented toward design patterns, I’ve also found Everett Fox’s The Five Books of Moses to be illuminating, particularly when read aloud. His notes are very helpful. The design pattern idea is more tuned in to Robert Alter’s literary analysis than they are tuned to Fox; but I find Fox helpful in detecting patterns – perhaps because Fox is quite gifted at translating the Hebrew of the ancient biblical texts into modern English while retaining much of the artistic and literary integrity of the Hebrew. I’ll have to think about that. Suffice it to say that there is a linguistic barrier to appreciating the fullness of the text of scripture when one reads neither Hebrew nor Greek. Detecting the design of the text and how it relates to other biblical texts is one area where we must do some extra work, at least. And pray.

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