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The Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary of Current English (Sixth Edition) defines criticism as the work or activity of making fair, careful judgements about the good and bad qualities of somebody/something, especially books, music, etc: literary criticism. In our own case, biblical criticism, which is our area of interest, according to the Modern Catholic Encyclopaedia (Ed. Michael Glazier and Monika K. Hellwig, 2004), seeks to establish the best possible text, to understand the style and ways of communication, and to determine the origin and authenticity of the biblical writings. It involves textual, literary and historical methods. In addition, it has seven main branches, viz: textual, source, tradition, redaction, form, literary and historical criticism. However, our main concern here is form criticism.

Form criticism systematically studies literary form in the Bible. Each book of the Bible contains smaller literary forms, like parables, miracle stories, historians preface, hymns, sayings, proverbs, etc. This, in turn, is ultimately and intimately related to the writers message. Thus, one has to identify the forms the author used in order to better appreciate the intended meaning. On this note, Gordon Wenham in the Lion Handbook to the Bible (Ed. David and Pat Alexander, 2000) avers that different writings have different forms, and that the form tells the nature and background or life-setting of the book. As such, the basic method of form criticism is to compare like with like, to determine the characteristic features of a particular type of literature, and then to suggest reasons for these features. In other words, form criticism tries to discover the literary devices employed by the writer in bringing ideas to life, as well as to re-create the historical settings in which these forms originated and disseminated.

Criticism is an indispensable aid to interpreting any piece of literature, the Bible not excluded. Though often speculative and non-conclusive, it has nonetheless made a very positive contribution to the understanding of the Bible. The authors wrote in artistically appealing and memorable literary forms. Now, it behoves the form critic to examine these small units in the biblical book to establish how these forms were employed before they were incorporated into the authors work under review. From the foregoing, therefore, we make bold to affirm unequivocally that the importance of form criticism, and indeed, biblical criticism in toto, in biblical scholarship cannot be over-emphasized.

Form criticism, together with the other aspects of biblical criticism, is faced with the Herculean task of determining the choice, use and meaning of the mode of expression an author applies, as is humanly possible. This is done on the work as a whole (i.e., the larger form or genre) or in parts (smaller forms). It does not merely entail a negative attitude or an unreasonably skeptical stance, but a positive, constructive and systematic means of advancing in knowledge. Like the Cartesian doubt, the form critic questions so as to know more.