English 360: The Bible as Literature

Michael Bryson
ST 832


COURSE DESCRIPTION: God is a serious problem. For many centuries, passionately argumentative people disagreed with each other about how to understand and come to terms with the problem they called “God” (by the different names of El, or Elohim, or Shaddai, or Yahweh). The arguments and counterarguments these people often lived and died over are recorded in what is perhaps the Western world's greatest anthology—the collection of books known as the Bible. This course is intended to familiarize literary students with what is arguably the most influential text in Western culture. No previous acquaintance with the Bible is presupposed. We will consider such questions as the historical situation of the Bible's writers, the changing representation of God as a literary character, and the Greek “New Testament” as a radical reinterpretation of the "Old Testament" (otherwise known as the Hebrew Bible). The individual books we will focus on include Genesis, Exodus, Judges, Ruth, selected Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Job, Amos, Hosea, Jonah, and Isaiah; the Gospel according to Matthew, the epistles Galatians, Ephesians and 1-3 John, as well as Revelation.

EVALUATION METHOD: There will be three essay exams. In the range of 6-8 pages, these will be responses to essay questions (three or four), and will require you to present an analysis to test accurate knowledge of the readings and material presented in discussions. These essays will not require outside sources (other than lecture material and the course textbook), but will require you to read the Bible texts closely, and cite evidence from the texts (using MLA citation) to back up your arguments 

Selections from The Bible, New Revised Standard Version
Selections from The Bible: A Literary and Historical Introduction, Bart Erhman

Weekly Preview

Week 1 (8/25)
1) Introductions. What is the Bible? Historical/cultural background of the Bible--Erhman 2-8, 47-55
2) Creations--Genesis 1-3; Erhman, 31-38

Week 2 (9/1)
Labor Day--Off


Week 3 (9/8)

Three recurring themes: the rival brothers, the God who repents, the covenant--Genesis 3-18; Three more themes: the trickster, the barren woman, the sacrifice--Genesis 19-36

Week 4 (9/15)
Joseph and his brothers--Genesis 37-50

Week 5 (9/22)

God the liberator and God the hardener of hearts--Exodus 1-19; Psalm 78; Erhman 59-65
Voice versus vision, or the problem of representing God (I)--Exodus 20-40

Week 6 (9/29)
War, Male Heroism and Women as Chattel in Israel--Judges 1-18; Erhman 92-98

Week 7 (10/6)

War, Male Heroism and Women as Chattel in Israel--Judges 19-21; Female Heroism in Israel?--Ruth; Erhman, 177-179

Exam 1 (due 10/20)

Week 8 (10/13)
The Deuteronomic Theory of History and the role of Prophecy--Isaiah 1-39; Erhman 121-127

Week 9 (10/20)

The Deuteronomic Theory of History and the role of Prophecy--Amos, Hosea, Erhman, 117-121, 133-134

Week 10 (10/27)
1) The Critique of Prophecy, and the problem of representing God (II)--Job 1; Erhman 195-202

Week 11 (11/3) The Critique of Prophecy and the problem of representing God (III)--Jonah; Erhman, 181-184
2) Poems of Worship and Praise--Psalms 1, 2, 8, 13, 14, 19, 22, 23, 24, 29, 36, 42, 45, 50, 51, 63, 72,  82,   93, 104, 121, 126, 127, 137, 139, 148, 149, 150; Erhman 168-173

Week 12 (11/10)
1) Traditional wisdom vs. radical dissent, or the sage and the skeptic--Proverbs 1-9; Book of Ecclesiastes; Erhman 192-195, 203-205

Exam 2 (due 11/24)

Week 13 (11/17)
2) How the Hebrew Bible became the Old Testament--Isaiah 40-66 and Matthew 1-2; Erhman,
150-155, 254-259

Week 14 (11/24)

1) The argument for Jesus as the Hebrew Messiah--Matthew 3-20; On the dying and rising God--Matthew 21-28;
2) The Epistles, or Letters to the Early Christians--Galatians, Ephesians, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John; Erman, 316,-338-340, 363-364

Week 15 (12/1)
The Apocalypse, or the End of the World as We Know It--Revelation (The Apocalyse of John); Erman, 367-372

Exam 3 (Due 11:59:59 PM, 12/17 via email attachment)

The Humanist (Re)Turn 
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