Craig White's Literature Courses

Terms / Themes


“Typology” is a form of literary analysis with roots in scriptural interpretation that we are using loosely as a way of connecting the Exodus Story to the story of the Pilgrims.

Typology has deep roots in Judeo-Christian theology, particularly the efforts of theologians to reconcile the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Characters and events of the Old Testament appeared as predictions or previews of those in the New Testament.

For example, when a whale swallows the prophet Jonah in the Old Testament’s Book of Jonah, Jonah lying in the belly of the whale for three days becomes a “type” or prefiguring of Jesus lying in the tomb for three days. The four major Old Testament prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel anticipate the four Gospel authors Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. In Romans 5:14, the Apostle Paul compares the first man, Adam, from the Old Testament, to Jesus: “Adam . . . was a type of the one who was to come.”

In a freer usage of the concept, literary scholars have investigated how literature and cultures may manifest similar typologies. These patterns may be conscious or unconscious. When unconscious, they expose how much texts can inform, structure, or explain social or cultural patterns.

In early American literature, scholars have applied typology to Puritan texts like William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation (1600s) or Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana (1702). In this latter book early Puritan leaders are directly compared to figures from the Bible, usually in a careful, deferential manner.  (See example on p. 1 of Mather comparing Bradford to Moses.)

Our course’s parallel between the Exodus story in the Bible and the Pilgrims’ migration from Europe to America uses typology to expose how the Pilgrims consciously or unconsciously modeled their ideals, reactions, and behavior during their journey on a biblical model.