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English 131: Reading the Bible

E-reserve reading for May 28 (Judges)

Posted: May 18th, 2009 by Andrew Thomas Barnaby

Here are the supplementary readings for Judges–click on the link and it will take you to a pdf document:

Frymer-Kensky, Father-Right Awry

Frymer-Kensky, The Bad Old Days

Reading Questions for 5/21 – Genesis 26-50

Posted: May 18th, 2009 by Andrew Thomas Barnaby


If you are going to hand in homework on the 21st, please write thoughtful responses to three of these questions. But do please think about all of them (even if you aren’t planning to hand in writen responses).

1. How would you characterize Jacob and Esau? If you had to cast them for a movie, who would you cast? Why?

2. What do you think happens at the ford of the Jabbok? Who is the man Jacob wrestles with? What are some of the ways you might interpret this story?

3. Chapter 34 is another one of those “interpolated” narratives (like Sodom and Gomorrah). How do you make sense of it in the narrative sweep of this half of Genesis? (Those of you who have read The Red Tent will be very familiar with one particular interpretation of this story.)

4. The note at the bottom of page 55 (that would be my page 55, it’s probably a little earlier in your book) explains that the saga of Joseph and his brothers enacts “a drama of divine providence that ties together all the themes and concerns of Genesis.” How would you define some of those themes and concerns–think in terms of?

5. As should by now be clear to you, one of the things that Robert Alter is most interested in is characterization: how do the narrative strategies of the Hebrew Bible work to further our sense of the characters in the stories, he asks. He, of course, is most interested in the text’s “major” characters, and most of those characters are (arguably) male. But there are a lot of female characters in Genesis as well, and one of the most important is Tamar, from Genesis 38. Drawing on the reading strategies Alter is introducing us to, discuss her character.

Homework Questions

Posted: May 18th, 2009 by Andrew Thomas Barnaby

All the homework questions–which are also always discussion questions for class–can be found under the “Discussion” heading on the blog.

Reading Questions for 5/19 – Genesis 3-25

Posted: May 18th, 2009 by Andrew Thomas Barnaby


Here are some questions for the reading for the first half of Genesis. If you are planning to turn in homework on Tuesay, May 19, I’d like you to answer 3 of the 5 questions.

Remember that you will need to hand in THREE sets of homework questions in this first half of the course, so if you’d like simply to prepare these questions for class discussion (as opposed to handing them in for a grade), then of course you may. This will also give you a chance to get a sense of my expectations for your graded work.

1. I’d like you to note (and ideally look up) any terms in the handout on the Documentary Hypothesis with which you’re unfamiliar. We’ll make a first pass on the terminology issue on Thursday, and that handout is a good place to start.

2. You’ll note, perhaps with surprise, that there are two completely separate accounts of Creation in the first chapters of Genesis. How does the Documentary Hypothesis explain that? How would you characterize each story? And, perhaps more significantly for our discussion, what is the effect of those two stories on you as a reader–how, together, do they mean?

3. You’ll also read the story of Noah and the ark, a story with which you are no doubt already familiar, though you may be reading it here for the first time. Are there things in this story–as it’s told in the Bible–that surprise you? Things that puzzle you? And this is a leading question, but I’ll ask it anyway: is there any disconnect between the story you thought you knew and the story as it’s actually told?

4. With the story of Abram and Sarai we are introduced to the idea of the covenant, the “contract” that is the foundation of Hebrew monotheism. What are the specifics of that covenant? How do you make sense of them (think particularly about the sign of the covenant)–again, this is a question about meaning: how does the covenant “mean”?

5. One of the ways Alter teaches us to read the Hebrew Bible involves thinking about the relationships between stories, the montage effect Alter refers to (see especially pp. 19-20). Put some of Alter’s reading strategies into practice by thinking about the montage effect in Genesis 18 through 21. What happens in those chapters (think in terms of the structure, and in this case it really helps to write out a brief outline of what happens so that you can see that structure on the page)? How does that structure provide a kind of unspoken, unwritten commentary? What, in other words, is the effect of the montage?

[Just a note that you may want to read ahead in Genesis so that the first chapter of the Alter book resonates a little more strongly–but if not, then please make a point of revisiting that first chapter next week when we take up the story of Judah and Tamar (Genesis 38).]


[Marc Chagall’s “Abraham and Sarah” (1956)]

Historical and Literary Time-lines

Posted: May 18th, 2009 by Andrew Thomas Barnaby

Download file

Syllabus Summer 2009

Posted: May 11th, 2009 by Andrew Thomas Barnaby

Download file

Flannery O’Connor: from “Novelist and Believer”

Posted: January 11th, 2006 by Andrew Thomas Barnaby

Download file

The Bible and / as Myth

Posted: January 11th, 2006 by Andrew Thomas Barnaby

Download file

The Bible as Literature: a quick orientation

Posted: January 11th, 2006 by Andrew Thomas Barnaby

Download file

Expelled from Paradise … this means you!

Posted: January 11th, 2006 by Andrew Thomas Barnaby


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