Biblical literature displays a rigorous economy of style. It is, especially, in its narrative mode, extraordinarily understated. Readers are given a bare minimum of information, and linguistic ornamentation for its own sake is noticeably lacking. “Biblical literature and the Western literary tradition” compares extracts from the Bible with Homer’s Iliad and considers what it is that makes biblical poetry “poetry”. It would be a mistake to take the Bible’s economy of style as an indicator of its simplicity or primitiveness as a work of literature. In fact, it is in no small part this terseness that lends biblical narrative its distinctive complexity as literature.