The Bible as Literature

Dr. Michael Bryson
McGaw Hall 223


COURSE DESCRIPTION: This course is intended to familiarize literary students with the most influential text in Western culture. No previous acquaintance with the Bible is presupposed. We will consider such questions as the the historical situation of the Bible's writers, the representation of God as a literary character; recurrent images and themes, and the 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 (usually 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  These essays will be worth 90% of the final course grade. The remaining 10% of your grade will be based on participation, as measured by attendance, and informed discussion in class.

Selections from The Bible, New Revised Standard Version
Selections from Understanding the Bible, Stephen L. Harris

Weekly Preview

Week 1
1) Introductions. What is the Bible?
Historical/cultural background of the Bible
2) Creations--Genesis 1-3; Harris, 1-36, 76-91

Week 2
1) 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; Harris, 94-127.
2) Joseph and his brothers--Genesis 37-50

Week 3
1) God the liberator and God the hardener of hearts--Exodus 1-19; Psalm 78; Harris, 129-142
2) Voice versus vision, or the problem of representing God (I)--Exodus 20-40
Exam 1

Week 4
1) War, Male Heroism and Women as Chattel in Israel--Judges 1-18; Harris, 172-178
2) War, Male Heroism and Women as Chattel in Israel--Judges 19-21; Female Heroism in Israel?--Ruth; Harris, 287-290

Week 5
1) The Deuteronomic Theory of History and the role of Prophecy--Isaiah 1-39; Harris 223-229
2) The Deuteronomic Theory of History and the role of Prophecy--Amos, Hosea, Harris, 218-223

Week 6
1) The Critique of Prophecy and the problem of representing God (II)--Job 1-28; Harris 272-282
2) The Critique of Prophecy and the problem of representing God (II)--Job 29-42

Week 7
The Critique of Prophecy and the problem of representing God (III)--Jonah; Harris, 251-252
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; Harris, 255-268
Exam  2

Week 8
1) Traditional wisdom vs. radical dissent, or the sage and the skeptic--Proverbs 1-9; Book of Ecclesiastes; Harris 268-272, 283-285
2) The theory of typology, or how the Hebrew Bible became the Old Testament--Isaiah 40-66 and Matthew 1-2; Harris, 242-246, 248-249

Week 9
1) The argument for Jesus as the Hebrew Messiah--Matthew 3-20; On the dying and rising God--Matthew 21-28; Harris 421-440
The Epistles, or Letters to the Early Christians--Galatians, Ephesians, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John; Harris, 567-569, 585-587

Week 10
1) Memorial Day--No class meeting
2) The Apocalypse, or the End of the World as We Know It--Revelation; Harris, 592-600
Exam 3--Prompts for final paper handed out and discussed. Do not miss class and ask for prompts and discussion via email. The final paper will be due by the end of finals week.