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English 131: Reading the Bible

June 4 – Kings and Psalms

Posted: June 1st, 2009 by Andrew Thomas Barnaby


1. What are some of the ways in which the narrative of Kings is a continuation of the story begun in 1 and 2 Samuel? Conversely, what are some of the main differences between Samuel and Kings? Feel free to refer both to specific narrative details, and to more abstract literary features like style and motivation.

2. Identify a passage in the reading from Regina Schwartz’s book (assigned for today) that particularly resonates with you. Quote the passage, then explain in a paragraph or two how it helps you to understand (either because you agree with it, or because you take issue with it) some of the reading we’ve done in this part of the course–and ideally some of the reading you are doing in Kings.

Link to Schwartz reading

3. Choose one of the Psalms on the list assigned in today’s reading. Do a short interpretation of it, focussing in particular on themes you’ve encountered in this half of the course.

June 2 – 2 Samuel

Posted: May 31st, 2009 by Andrew Thomas Barnaby


(David and Absolom, by Marc Chagall)

First, and this is not a homework question, but it is something you will need to pay attention to in your reading, the first few chapters of 2 Samuel are rather confusing: basically David is working to consolidate the kingdom, which is divided into the Northern Kingdom of Israel (ruled by Ishbaal) and the Southern Kingdom of Judah (now ruled by David). Outline the events of Chapters 1-4. Who are the key players? (In class, we will want to turn our attention to the politics of those chapters and to David’s role and response to those events.)

1. Chapter 6 contains a brilliant display of the way that dialogue can work in the text. Thinking of Alter’s Chapter 4, briefly characterize both David and Michal based on their actions and especially the dialogue in Chapter 6.

2. Chapter 11 is arguably a turning point in David’s story—why? Read that chapter in the Alter translation (link just below). What is one of the repeated word patterns to which Alter draws our attention?

Chapter 11 – from the Alter translation

3. Briefly describe David’s relationship with his son, Absolon. Remember the way that Alter talked about David in the passages from the Art of Biblical Narrative dealing with the dual introduction of David–the public David and the private David. How do you see that borne out by the events in this book, particularly the events following the Bathsheba incident (and extending into the rest of the book)?

4. Bonus question! Can you discover what it is about the census at the end of 2 Samuel that gets David into trouble? Why would taking a census be such a sin?

June 1 – 1 Samuel

Posted: May 28th, 2009 by Andrew Thomas Barnaby


Here are some homework questions for 1 Samuel (do all the questions for your homework). Enjoy this book–it’s the beginning of an incredible story. Remember that Alter has a great section on the two different introductions we have to David: reread that carefully from The Art of Biblical Narrative (pp. 147-53).

1. In a Jewish Bible, Ruth does not provide a buffer between Judges and Samuel. What is the composite effect that arises from moving directly from Judges into the first story in 1 Samuel. How do you understand this relationship?

2. Pay really close attention to 1 Samuel 8, the people’s clamoring for a king and the anointing of the king that follows. What is Samuel’s and God’s response to the people’s demand for a king? What do you make of Saul as the chosen leader (ideally, you want to draw out certain details in the introduction of Saul and extrapolate a bit into this question)?

3. In class we will discuss the possibility of Saul as a tragic figure. Do some preliminary thinking about this, and maybe a little homework. What are the characteristics of a tragic hero? In what way does Saul fulfill those characteristics? In what way does he complicate that profile?

4. Why do you think the book is called “Samuel” (and not “Saul” or “David”)?

The Birth of Modern Israel

Posted: May 27th, 2009 by Andrew Thomas Barnaby


Jerusalem, Temple Mount / Dome of the Rock

The links below will lead you two truly excellent NPR series of a few years ago on the history and the birth of modern Israel. It is very interesting to listen to these series in the context of the nation-building texts we are reading. If you get a chance (and this is truly optional), I heartily recommend them:

Israel-Palestine Map(s)

The Birth of Modern Israel: an NPR history

The Holy Land: 1098-2003

May 28 – Judges

Posted: May 23rd, 2009 by Andrew Thomas Barnaby


1. There’s a very memorable story in Chapter 4 of Judges involving two women, and one in particular: Jael. Is she a hero in the text? What do you think?

2. Specifically about Judges 11: what are the Biblical echoes or repetitions you detect in this story? What do you do with them? And what do you think of the way Frymer-Kensky interprets this story?

3. And then this question: how does Judges (as a book) function in the Hebrew Bible? What reason would the canonists have for including it?

May 26 – Exodus and Joshua

Posted: May 23rd, 2009 by Andrew Thomas Barnaby


My apologies for being slow to get these questions posted.

1. What do you think of Moses as a leader? Why does God choose him?

2. How do you read all those plagues in Egypt–what is the literary function of that part of the story do you think?

3. Exodus introduces us to a new kind of narrative in the biblical text, a narrative that merges conventional story with normative text, or the law. How would you describe that merging? What is the effect of all that law on the story? On the people? On God for that matter?

4. Okay, the tabernacle….think about what Alter says about repetition and try to make some sense of the function of all that repeated detail. How does it function in this story?

5. In what ways do the first chapters of Joshua repeat some of the motifs you’ve encountered already? What is the significance of those repetitions?

6. What is the Deuteronomist view of war and how does the conquest in Joshua fulfill and/or resist that view?

Homework details

Posted: May 19th, 2009 by Andrew Thomas Barnaby

Just a clarification of what I was groping toward on Monday evening:

Your homework assignments can come to me as electronic Word documents, sent to my email address:


Each homework assignment should be 500-1000 words long. No need to write formally, but please make sure that your prose is coherent and has a point that is readily discernible.

Please make sure the homework is send to me as .doc files, not as .docx files

Please make sure you send your homework in before the class in which it is due (it can be 5 minutes before, or even at the break, but I will need it to show up in my inbox before 7:30 PM on the day it’s due).

Please put “Bible homework” in the subject line of your homework emails.

It is fine to hand homework in as a hard copy if you would prefer.

Also, a note that I would like the midterm take-home essay as a hard copy, brought with you to class on the day of the in-class portion of the midterm.

Homework questions for every class can be found under the “discussions” heading on the blog.

E-reserve reading is now on the blog

Posted: May 18th, 2009 by Andrew Thomas Barnaby

I’ve put all the e-reserve reading for this half of the course (two readings on Judges, one on 2 Samuel and one on Kings) on the blog. You can find them all as downloadable pdf documents under the “readings” heading.

Although you will now not need to go to the library website to find these particular articles, don’t let that discourage you from visiting the reserve pages for ENGS 131 on the library’s site–there’s loads and loads of good stuff on our reserve list for browsing.

E-reserve reading for June 4 (Kings)

Posted: May 18th, 2009 by Andrew Thomas Barnaby

Here is the chapter from Regina Schwartz’s Curse of Cain for June 4.

Please note: you are required to read only pages 39-55.

The Curse of Cain: Possessing the Land

E-reserve reading for June 2 (2 Samuel)

Posted: May 18th, 2009 by Andrew Thomas Barnaby

Here is a downloadable pdf file of Chapter 11 of Alter’s translation of 2 Samuel:

David Story – Chapter 11

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