Religious Studies 2VV3/Comparative Literature 2G03
The Bible as Story
McMaster University, Winter 2004
Lectures – Mondays & Thursdays, 4:30 pm [CNH 102]
Tutorials – (1) Mondays, 1:30 pm [UH 312]; (2) Fridays, 2:30 pm [KTH 105]
Instructor - Dr. Annette Y. Reed
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Phone - 905-525-9140 ext. 24597
Office hours – UH 110; Wednesdays 10:00–11:00 am

Teaching AssistantLily Vuong
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Required Readings | Course Requirements | Schedule of Assignments | Additional Resources

In this course, we will analyze stories from the Hebrew Bible, “Apocrypha,” and New Testament from the perspective of their narrative artistry, approaching biblical literature as literature. On the one hand, we will pursue close readings of primary texts with the aim of opening a window onto the conceptual worlds of biblical authors/redactors and their original readers/hearers. Throughout the long histories of Judaism and Christianity, biblical stories have been told and retold, interpreted and reinterpreted, such that it can prove difficult to extricate them from later traditions about them. A literary approach may help us to encounter these ancient books anew, insofar as it pushes us to be attentive to details such as plot and characterization, alert to what is written no less than what is left unsaid, and attuned to authorial/editorial choices as they shape the experience of the reader.

On the other hand, our focus on biblical narratives will occasion reflection on the formative (and enduring) influence of stories from the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, as well as “Apocrypha,” on the Western literary tradition. Even apart from their privileged place in certain religious contexts, these books have played a key role in shaping modern Western assumptions and expectations about stories and writing, while providing precedents and paradigms for a number of literary genres, tropes, characters, and conventions. Accordingly, this course will involve close readings of selected biblical stories, but also study of the discourse about biblical narrative among modern literary critics.

Required Readings
The following books are required and are available for purchase at Titles.
  • Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha – Students are strongly encouraged to purchase a Study Bible for this course. These handy volumes contain non-denominational English translations (i.e., RSV or NRSV) of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, “Apocrypha”/ deutero-canonical books, and New Testament, together with scholarly commentary, introductory essays, maps, and so on. The HarperCollins Study Bible is also recommended. Multiple copies of both books can be found in the library. If you own a Bible with another translation that you wish to use in the class, please discuss this with the instructor or TA. Note also on-line versions of the Hebrew Bible, Apocryphal/Deutero-Canonical Books, and New Testament: Revised Standard Version (RSV) and New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
  • Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative, New York: Basic Books, 1981.
  • Frank Kermode, The Genesis of Secrecy: On the Interpretation of Narrative, Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1990.

    Course Requirements
  • 5 Tutorial assignments + class attendance and participation = 35% ~ Students will have the choice of completing 5 tutorial assignments out of 9 total. Whereas lectures will focus on the assigned readings from the Hebrew Bible, “Apocrypha”/deutero-canonical books, and New Testament, tutorials will focus on the books by Alter and Kermode (see above). Accordingly, each tutorial assignment will consist of a brief reflection (1–2 pages each; typed) on the topics in the readings assigned for that session; more specific guidelines will be distributed in the first tutorial meetings (i.e., in the week of Jan 12th).
  • Final paper, due MARCH 25, 2004 = 30 % ~ The paper (7–10 pages) will consist of a literary analysis of one biblical story. For more details, see the Paper Instructions and List of Sources.
  • Final exam = 35% ~ The final exam will include a list of short identification questions as well as a synthetic essay. The exam will be based primarily on the Lectures and on the assigned readings from the Hebrew Bible, “Apocrypha”/deutero-canonical books, and New Testament.

    Statement on Academic Dishonesty
    Academic dishonesty consists of misrepresentation by deception or by other fraudulent means and can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notion on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university. It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various kinds of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, specifically Appendix 3.

    The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty: (1) Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one's own or for which other credit has been obtained. (2) Improper collaboration in group work. (3) Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

    Please be aware that Plagiarism includes quoting and paraphrasing other people’s writings or ideas – whether from a book, commentary, website, etc. – without proper citation of the author, book, URL, or so on. I cannot stress this enough: whenever in doubt, always add a citation making explicit reference to where specifically you got your information.

    Schedule of Assignments

    Jan 5, 8: Studying biblical stories and “the Bible” as story; Alter, pp. 1–46
    Lecture-related Resources ~
  • Chart comparing Jewish and Christian biblical canons (RTOT)
  • The Tanakh and its Shape (UPenn)
  • Biblical Criticism (Introductory material from
  • Methods of Biblical Exegesis (Summary based on John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay. Biblical Exegesis: A Beginner's Handbook, Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1987; see esp. sections on Literary Criticism, Redaction Criticism, Form Criticism)
  • Moisés Silva, “Contemporary Theories of Biblical Interpretation” (Excerpt from New Interpreter’s Bible, Nashville: Abingdon, 1994, 1.107-124; see esp. sections on Reader, Author, Language, and Meaning)
    Further reading ~
  • Michael Signer, "How the Bible has been Interpreted in Jewish Tradition" (Excerpt from New Interpreter’s Bible, Nashville: Abingdon, 1994, 1.65-82.)
  • Justo L. González, “How the Bible Has Been Interpreted in Christian Tradition” (Excerpt from in New Interpreter’s Bible, Nashville: Abingdon, 1994, 1.83-106)
  • An Introduction to Biblical Genres and Form Criticism (Felix Just)
  • Canon and Genre of the Books of the Christian Bible (OT and NT) (UPenn)
  • The Postmodern Bible (see esp. sections on Reader-Response Criticism, Structuralist and Narratological Criticism, and Poststructuralist Criticism )

    Jan 12: Genesis 1-10 (The Primeval History)
    Lecture-related Resources ~
  • Handout on the Primeval History (partial; PDF format)
  • Summary of "Documentary Hypothesis" (UPenn)
  • The Example of the Flood (UPenn)
  • Literary history of the Pentateuch (L. Eslinger; abstract of John Barton's entry on "Source Criticism" in The Anchor Bible Dictionary)
  • Thematic Unity of Genesis 1-11 (RTOT)
  • Name of God - Tetragrammaton (UPenn)
    Further reading ~
  • Moses and the Authorship of the Pentateuch (L. Eslinger)

    Jan 15: Genesis 11-36, esp. 12-22, 24 (The Abraham Cycle)
    Lecture-related Resources ~
  • The Abraham Cycle (RTOT)
  • Toledot of Genesis (RTOT)
    Further reading ~
  • The Age of the Patriarchs (ca. 1950-1500 BCE) (JSource)
  • David L. Petersen, “A Thrice-Told Tale: Genre, Theme, and Motif.” Biblical Research 18 (1973): 30-43. (Article on "Wife-Sister Motif" in Genesis 12, 20, 28)

    Tutorial 1 (Jan 16/Jan 19): Alter, pp. 47-62

    Jan 19: Genesis 37-50 (The Story of Joseph)
    Lecture-related Resources ~
  • The Joseph Story (RTOT)
  • Themes of Genesis as a whole (RTOT)
  • Chronology of Israel and Egypt (David Down)

    Jan 22: Exodus, esp. 1-15
    Lecture-related Resources ~
  • Covenant in Genesis and Exodus (RTOT)
  • Exodus as a whole (RTOT)
    Further reading ~
  • Pesach/Passover (Judaism 101)
  • Peter D. Miscall, "Biblical Narratives and Categories of the Fantastic," Semeia: An Experimental Journal for Biblical Criticism, 60 (1992): 39-62 (Article on Exodus 1-15)
  • Lyle Eslinger, "Knowing Yahweh: Exodus 6:3 in the Context of Genesis 1 - Exodus 6:3" (Excerpt from Literary Structure and Rhetorical Strategies in the Hebrew Bible, eds. L. J. de Regt, J. de Waard and J. P. Fokkelman, Van Gorcum/Eisenbrauns: Assen/Winona Lake, 1996)

    Tutorial 2 (Jan 23/Jan 26): Alter, pp. 63-87; *Assignment 1

    Jan 26: Numbers 1-25
    Lecture-related Resources ~
  • Handout on Exodus and Numbers (PDF format)
  • Numbers as a Whole (RTOT)
  • When Memory is Hope: Response to the Exile in "P" (Ralph Klein)
  • Priestly Worldview in Leviticus and Numbers (RTOT)
  • Holiness Continuum (RTOT)
  • Layout of Israelite Camp (RTOT)
    Further reading ~
  • Stages of the Wilderness Journey (RTOT)
  • Egypt and the Wanderings (ca. 1500-1250 BCE)
  • Timeline - Exodus to Conquest (RTOT)

    Jan 29: Ruth + Judges 1-8
    Lecture-related Resources ~
  • Handout on Judges and Ruth (PDF format)
  • Disobediance in the Former Prophets (Bible Shelf)
  • Deuteronomistic Historian (RTOT)
  • Judges of Israel (JSource)
  • What is a Judge? (RTOT)
  • Judges as a Whole (RTOT)
    Further reading ~
  • Timeline: Book of Judges (RTOT)
  • Raphael Shuchat, "The Use of Symbolism and Hidden Meanings in the Book of Ruth" (Excerpt from artle in The Jewish Bible Quarterly 30:2 (2002), p. 118)
  • Semeia 61: Women, War, and Metaphor: Language and Society in the Study of the Hebrew Bible (see esp. Gale A. Yee, "By the Hand of a Woman: The Metaphor of the Woman Warrior in Judges 4")
  • Kenneth M. Craig, Jr., "Bargaining in Tov (Judges 11,4-11): The Many Directions of So-called Direct Speech," Biblica 79 (1998) 76-85
  • The Many Faces of Ruth (Ruth in Jewish and Christian art)
  • Phyllis Trible, "An Unnamed Woman: The Extravagance of Violence: Judges 19:1-30" (Excerpt from Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984): 65-92.)

    Tutorial 3 (Jan 30/Feb 2): Alter, pp. 88-114; *Assignment 2

    Feb 2: 1 Samuel, esp. 1-3, 8-17
    Lecture-related Resources ~
  • Handout on Samuel (PDF format)
  • Samuel as a Whole (RTOT)
  • Saul and David
  • The Monarchy (ca. 1050-920 BCE) (WSU)
  • Kings of Judah (JSource)
    Further reading ~
  • Lyle Eslinger, "Viewpoints and Points of View in 1 Samuel 8-12," Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 26 (1983) 61-76 (PDF)

    Feb 5: Job + Jonah
    Lecture-related Resources ~
  • Handout on Narrative in the Hebrew Bible, Job, and Jonah (PDF format)
  • Jonah (RTOT)
  • Study Notes on Jonah and Hebrew Narrative (Tim Bulkeley)
  • Job as a Whole (RTOT)
  • Exile (597-538 BCE) (WSU)
  • After the Exile (538-332 BCE) (JSource)
    Further reading ~
  • Semeia 19: The Book of Job and Ricoeur's Hermeneutics (see esp. articles on speech and silence in Book of Job)
  • Roger Schlobin, "Prototypic Horror: The Genre of the Book of Job, Semeia 60 (1992) 23-38
  • Cynthia L. Miller, Kenneth M. Craig Jr. and Raymond F. Person Jr., "Conversation Analysis and the Book of Jonah: A Conversation," Journal of Hebrew Scriptures 1 (1997)

    Tutorial 4 (Feb 6/Feb 9): Alter, pp. 131-54; *Assignment 3

    Feb 9: Esther
    Lecture-related Resources ~
  • Handout on Esther (PDF format)
  • Five Scrolls (RTOT)
  • Esther (RTOT)
    Further reading ~
  • Purim (Judaism 101)

    Feb 12: Daniel + additions to Greek version (Susanna; Bel and the Dragon)
    Lecture-related Resources ~
  • Handout on Daniel (PDF format)
  • Heroes (Daniel 1-6) (RTOT)
  • Daniel as a whole (RTOT)
  • The Book of Daniel in Historical Context (AYR)

    Tutorial 5 (Feb 13/Feb 23): Alter, pp. 155-90; *Assignment 4


    Feb 23: Judith
    Lecture-related Resources ~
  • What is the Apocrypha? (UVA)
  • Apocrypha (RTOT)
  • The Book of Judith and Jewish History (AYR)
  • Symbolism in the Book of Judith (AYR)

    Feb 26: Tobit

    Tutorial 6 (Feb 27/Mar 1): Kermode, pp. 1-47; *Assignment 5

    Mar 1: 1 Maccabees; 2 Maccabees
    Lecture-related Resources ~
  • The Maccabees (166-129 BCE) (JSource)
    Further reading ~
  • Hanukkah (Judaism 101)

    Mar 4, 8: Gospel of Mark
    Lecture-related Resources ~
  • Synoptic Gospels Primer (Mahlon Smith)
  • L. Michael White, "What are the Gospels?" (Frontline)
    Further reading ~
  • From Jesus to Christ: The Story of the Storytellers (Frontline)
  • Richard Bauckham, "For Whom Were the Gospels Written?" (from Hervormde Teologiese Studies 55 (1999) 865-882)
  • Comparison Chart of Gospel Authors

    Tutorial 7 (Mar 5/Mar 8): Kermode, pp. 49-74; *Assignment 6

    Mar 11, 15: Gospel of Matthew

    Tutorial 8 (Mar 12/Mar 15): Kermode, pp. 75-100; *Assignment 7

    Mar 18, 22: Gospel of Luke

    Tutorial 9 (Mar 19/Mar 22): Kermode, pp. 101-24; *Assignment 8

    Mar 25: Gospel of John **Final Paper due in class**

    Tutorial 10 (Mar 26/Mar 29): Kermode, pp. 125-45; *Assignment 9

    Mar 29: Acts; Revelation
    Lecture-related Resources ~
  • L. Michael White, "Understanding the Book of Revelation" (Frontline)
    Further reading ~
  • Revelation Resources
  • Frontline: Apocalypse!

    General Resources
  • Printable version of syllabus (updated as of Jan 5) - Rich Text Format; MS-Word; PDF for viewing with Adobe Reader
  • Paper Instructions and List of Sources.
  • Handouts (partial; PDF format) - 1/12; 1/26; 1/29; 2/2; 2/5; 2/9; 2/12
  • Information about Field Trip to see Dead Sea Scroll Exhibit at Museum of Civilization
  • Revised Standard Version (RSV) of Hebrew Bible, "Apocrypha," and New Testament
  • New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of Hebrew Bible, "Apocrypha," and New Testament
  • Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction to the Hebrew Bible (RTOT above; see esp. glossary of terms)
  • iTanakh
  • Dinur Center for Jewish History: Biblical history
  • Navigating the Bible: Reference (Glossary of people and places in the Pentateuch)
  • New Testament Gateway
  • Semeia: An Experimental Journal for Biblical Criticism (Ebind; archive of selected issues)
  • Introduction to Narrative and Narrative Poetics (Tim Bulkeley)
  • From Papyri to King James: The Transmission of the English Bible (University of Michigan)

  • Religious Studies 2VV3/Comparative Literature 2G03 - The Bible as Story - A. Y. Reed - 2004
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    McMaster University | Dept. of Comparative Literature | Dept. of Religious Studies