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Leland Ryken on the Hero Story in the Bible

Leland Ryken, professor emeritus of English at Wheaton College, has written extensively on the literary features of the Bible. His books—including Words of Delight and Ryken’s Bible Handbook—served as a helpful introduction to viewing the storyline of the Bible. Moreover, his writing has made me regret not paying more attention in my high school English classes!

In 2014 Ryken released A Complete Handbook of Literary Forms in the Bible. This book serves as a helpful reference guide to all the literary forms used within the Bible.

As I was referring to the Handbook recently for an upcoming lesson series, I stumbled upon Ryken’s definition for Hero Story, which he defines as

a story built around a protagonist whose experience is representative of people generally and who is either wholly or largely ideal in behavior and character.(100)

Ryken then goes on to provide a very helpful description of hero stories, and how they are used extensively in the Old Testament. He does note that they often reflect the people or culture they belong to, and that the Old Testament heroes differ from other literary heroes because so few are idealized.

The final sentence of this entry is the strongest; in it, Ryken provides a method of reading and interpreting these hero stories:

The simplest interpretive rule is to regard oneself as the observant traveling companion of the hero, experiencing his or her struggles, defeats, and triumphs, and learning important lessons about life and God during the process. (101, emphasis mine)

I love this image: reading the Old Testament stories as an observant traveling companion. That way you get to see firsthand the decisions—both good and bad—the character makes, as well as how he or she interacts and learns from God. Plus, the idea of a traveling companion includes someone connected to the character, and as followers of God we see ourselves as connected to the people of God described in the Old Testament, seeking to carry on their legacy of faith in the 21st century.

Brandon Schmidt

I am Brandon Schmidt: writer, husband, father, brother, reader, and laugher.

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