New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Volume 5. Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, Editor. Nashville: Abingdon, August 2009. Symbolism (by Daniel Patte)
SYMBOLISM. The Bible is replete with symbolism. For readers and hearers who, through the centuries and today, have perceived these books as religious, and eventually as Scripture, symbolism is one of the most significant features of biblical texts. This symbolism fascinates them all the more that it calls for interpretation. Believers enter this interpretive process by pondering biblical symbolism in their devotional readings, in communal worship services and liturgies, in preparation for sermons. Drawn into this symbolism they bring their lives into it, even as it becomes alive for them. From early centuries, such readings of the biblical symbolism have given rise to midrashic, targumic, pesher-like, typological, allegorical, and mystical interpretations.
Critical biblical scholars are, of course, suspicious of these religious and devotional interpretations. But as they strive to account for biblical symbolism, they find that this dimension of biblical texts is elusive and presents a special challenge for them.