21L.458 | Spring 2007 | Undergraduate
The Bible


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

“He will be the most expert investigator of the Holy Scriptures who has first read all of them and has some knowledge of them, at least through reading them if not through understanding them.” – St. Augustine. On Christian Doctrine II.8.

“There is no earlier and later in the Torah.” – Rashi. Commentary on Genesis 6:3.

“Though the origin of the words, even as of the miraculous acts, be supernatural – yet the former once uttered – the latter once having taken their place among the phenomena of the senses, the faithful recording of the same does not of itself imply, or seem to require, any supernatural working.” – Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit, Letter 2.

Course Description

The Bible—both Hebrew and New Testament—is a complex and fascinating text, written by many people, in different languages, over a vast period of time, yet it nonetheless displays an overarching—or underlying—unity, which some attribute to divine inspiration and others to the human imagination. Our purpose in this course is to consider the Bible as both a collection of disparate books and as a unified whole. Of course, it is impossible to discuss the Bible without reference to religion, but religion interpretation—whether Jewish or Christian—is not our primary concern. Rather, we will explore the Bible’s literary techniques and its enormous variety of genres-everything from myth to history, from genealogy to poetry, from prophecy to biography-as well as the historical periods that produced and are reflected in it. We will also consider issues arising from the history of the translation of the Bible from its original Hebrew and Greek. Our goal is to understand and appreciate more fully both the richness and the complexity of the biblical texts, as well as the importance of those texts to our culture.

Requirements and Grading

Three essays (25% each) 75%
Attendance, attitude, and participation 25%


There will be three 5-page interpretive essays on suggested topics. I stress interpretive because, for reasons that I am sure you can understand, I cannot comment on personal statements of faith, much as I may respect their honesty. Please talk with me if you feel you will be unable to write about biblical texts from an interpretive or critical point of view.

I will mark late papers down a half grade each day (not class) that they are late, and I will accept no paper more than a week late.


Attendance at all classes (more than 3 unexcused absences will affect your grade). Lateness is a problem; sleeping in class is a major problem. Come to class—with your copy of the Bible—having read the assigned material closely, carefully, and ready to talk.


I will be using the following New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, with Apocrypha:

Metzger, Bruce M., and Roland E. Murphy, eds. The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha: An Ecumenical Study Bible. Revised ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1991. ISBN: 9780195283563.

If you already have a different edition or translation, it’s probably fine; check with me just to be sure. Page references are obviously not an issue. You will regret the lack, however, of the explanatory notes and appended supplementary material in the Oxford edition. For those of you interested in secondary sources, please see a list of particularly illuminating works featured in study materials.

Proper Citation and Plagiarism

Although I just provided you with some excellent secondary sources, you do not have to consult any of outside works for your essays. If you choose to do so, you must, of course, cite them in your essay. Refer to the MLA Handbook for proper format. For your convenience, I am including the department’s statement on plagiarism. Read it and take it to heart:

Plagiarism - use of another’s intellectual work without acknowledgement - is a serious offense. It is the policy of the Literature Faculty that students who plagiarize will receive an F in the subject, and that the instructor will forward the case to the Committee on Discipline. Full acknowledgement for all information obtained from sources outside the classroom must be clearly stated in all written work submitted. All ideas, arguments, and direct phrasings taken from someone else’s work must be identified and properly footnoted. Quotations from other sources must be clearly marked as distinct from the student’s own work. For further guidance on the proper forms of attribution consult the style guides available at the MIT Online Writing and Communication Center and MIT Academic Integrity: Avoiding Plagiarism.


1 Introduction  
Hebrew Bible: Torah
2-5 Genesis  
6-7 Exodus First essay due in Ses #7
8-9 Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy  
Deuteronomic history
10 Samuel  
11 Samuel, Kings  
12-13 Isaiah  
Wisdom literature
14-15 Job  
16 Daniel Second essay due
New testament
17-19 Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke)  
20-21 John  
22 Acts of the Apostles  
23-24 Pauline Epistles (Galatians and Romans)  
25 Revelation Third essay due
Course Info
As Taught In
Spring 2007
Learning Resource Types
notes Lecture Notes
assignment Written Assignments