Bible and Its Interpreters
Dr. John C. Reeves
204B Macy 21A Cedar (for 2017-18 only)
Office hours: WF by appointment (for 2017-18 only)
An exemplification of the multiple ways ‘Bible’ has been produced, read, and manipulated by biblically allied Near Eastern religious communities up to roughly the end of the first millennium of the Common Era. We will also isolate and discuss the conceptual suppositions which flaw almost all scholarly work published on this topic to date. Within this course special attention will be given to the diverse ways in which Qur’ān participates in a shared ‘biblical’ universe of discourse.
Warning: In this class you will hear or read ideas which may disturb, shock, dismay, or outrage you, and you will be compelled to think using methodological paradigms which you may deem troubling, wrong-headed, blasphemous, or even sacrilegious. If you think you might be uncomfortable in this situation, then this is definitely not the class for you. On the other hand, if you think you can suspend your uncritical attachments to certain notions about scriptures, their meaning, and the circumstances surrounding their production, then you will undoubtedly learn a great deal about the historical and cultural matrices betwixt which Judaism, Christianity, and Islam arose and flourished.
Web links to Bibles and some of the texts we will read are available on the course website. Other texts will be distributed by the instructor either in class or electronically as needed. In addition, the following textbooks are required for this course:
James L. Kugel, The Bible As It Was (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997).
M. A. S. Abdel Haleem, The Qur’an, A New Translation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).
a. Readings. The nature of this course entails a significant amount of close reading and reflection. Students are responsible for anticipating and completing the reading assignments (outlined below) in a timely manner. Every student is expected to read substantial portions of the Tanakh, the Qur’ān, and Kugel’s collection of parascriptural sources in their entirety.
b. Written examinations. Three (3) in-class written examinations to take place February 7, March 14, and April 11. These exams are subjective in format, comprehensive in content, and will draw equally upon assigned readings and class discussion for their content. The numerical average of these three exam grades will comprise 50% of the final course grade.
c. Final take-home essay. Instead of an in-class three-hour final examination, you will prepare a final essay wherein you will be expected to synthesize many of the major issues and themes discussed in class and in the required readings, as well as to demonstrate your knowledge of the specific source materials and facts which pertain to those issues and themes. Once its topic is assigned (on the final class meeting day), this essay will be delivered to the instructor before the date and time officially mandated for the final examination of this course by the UNC Charlotte administration. The final essay is worth 25% of the course grade.
d. Individual involvement. Almost perfect attendance (see below) is an essential requirement for this course. Each class meeting builds upon the knowledge gained during previous meetings. Moreover, in-class discussion and analysis comprise a significant portion of every class meeting. Preparation for every class often involves the completion of a series of assigned readings and/or short written assignment(s). Students are expected to contribute in an informed manner* to the public analysis and discussion of any assigned topic, and the instructor reserves the right to administer occasional unannounced ‘pop-quizzes’ should he deem the situation so warrants. The instructor’s assessment of one’s attendance, apparent class preparation, oral and written contributions, and performance on pop-quizzes will constitute 25% of the final course grade.
e. Zakhor (Remember!): Mastery of the assigned readings and diligent class attendance are necessary prerequisites for the successful completion of this course. Each student is responsible for all lectures, class discussions, assignments, and announcements, whether or not he/she is present when they occur.
*Note Prov 15:28: לב צדיק יהגה לענות ופי רשעים יביע רעות, which I’m inclined to render as ‘the mind of the devoted (student) contemplates before answering, whereas the mouth of the clueless spews forth worthless nonsense.’
a. The grading scale used in this course is as follows:
91-100 A = demonstrable mastery of material; can creatively synthesize
81-90 B = some demonstrable proficiency in control of material & analysis
71-80 C = satisfactory performance of assignments; little or no analysis
61-70 D = inadequate and/or faulty understanding of material
0-60 F = unacceptable work
b. One of the requirements of this course is to complete the work of the course on time. Sometimes there are legitimate reasons for late work—an illness or other emergency. ‘Emergency,’ however, does not include your social involvements, travel plans, job schedule, disk and/or printer failures, the state of your love life, your obligations to other courses, or general malaise over the state of the world. The world has been in a mess as long as anyone can remember, and most of the world’s work is done by people whose lives are a mass of futility and discontent. If you haven’t learned yet, you had better learn now to work under the conditions of the world as it is. Therefore:
1) All examinations will take place only upon their announced dates and times. In other words (and please note well!), there will be NO MAKEUP EXAMS scheduled. All missed exams, quizzes, unwritten reports, and neglected homework exercises will be averaged as a 0 in the computation of the course grade. There is no such thing as a ‘make-up pop quiz.’ No exceptions will be considered or granted.
2) All written exercises are due on the dates scheduled in the syllabus, or on the date announced by the instructor in class (usually, the following class meeting). ‘Late’ submissions of reports (not homework exercises—see below) bear the following penalties: one day late/one letter grade; two days late/two letter grades; three or more days late/F. Please note: these ‘days’ are calendar days, not class meeting days. For accounting purposes, letter grades bear the following values: A=95; A-=92; B=85; C+=78; C=75; D=65; F=30. An untyped submission automatically receives the grade F, as do those typed papers which violate the required parameters or which the instructor deems physically unacceptable and/or grammatically incomprehensible.
3) Homework exercises (if required) are due on the date announced by the instructor in class. Since we will normally discuss these exercises together in class on that date, it would clearly be unfair to those who submitted their work on time for me to accept ‘late’ work from those privy to our in-class discussion. Hence I will not accept ‘late’ homework submissions; however, ‘early’ submissions are always welcome and will receive full credit.
4) Attendance at class meetings will be monitored by the instructor. One or two absences are regrettable; three absences are the limit of tolerability. Four (4) or more absences earns an automatic F for the course. Please note that—with the exception of religious holidays—the instructor does not distinguish ‘excused’ from ‘unexcused’ absences. Unsanctioned late arrivals and early departures will be tallied as absences.
5) Policy regarding Audits: the instructor expects auditors (whether formally enrolled as such or not) to meet the same attendance, preparation, and oral participation standards as those students who are taking the course for credit. The instructor does not expect auditors to prepare and submit any written assignments.
c. Assistance and solicitation of criticism is your right as a member of the class. It is not a privilege to be granted or withheld. Do not hesitate to request it nor wait too late in the course for it to be of help.
Rough Course Outline
- What is ‘Bible’?
a. Versions, canons, etc.
b. Manuscript issues – book culture in antiquity
Required: Kugel, 1-49
- What are ‘interpreters’?
Definitions of terms and types of literature
Required: Kugel, 567-616; Abdel Haleem, ix-xxxvi.
- Revisioning the dichotomy between ‘text’ (‘Bible’) and ‘interpretation’
Required: Kugel, 1-49 (again);
James E. Bowley and John C. Reeves, “Rethinking the Concept of ‘Bible’: Some Theses and Proposals,” Henoch 25 (2003): 3-18.
John C. Reeves, “Problematizing the Bible … Then and Now,” Jewish Quarterly Review 100 (2010): 139-52.
- ‘Interpretation’ exemplified
We will follow the order of sections as presented in Kugel (starting with p. 51) and couple his parascriptural citations with relevant passages from Qur’ān and other pertinent sources. With regard to the former (= Q), note especially the following handy breakdown:
a. Creation of universe: 7:54; 10:3; 11:7; 21:30-33; 25:58-59; 32:4; 50:38; 57:4; cf. 41:9-12
b. The first human couple: Q 2:30-39; 7:11-18; 15:26-43; 17:61-65; 18:50-51; 20:115-26; 38:67-88
c. Their children: Q 5:27-32
d. Noah (43x): Q 71:1-28; cf. 7:59-64; 10:71-73; 11:25-49; 21:76-77; 23:23-30; 26:105-22; 29:14-15; 37:75-82; 54:9-17
e. Destruction of a tower (?): Q 7:65-72; 11:50-60; 26:123-40; 41:15-16; 46:21-25; 51:41-42; 53:50-52; 54:18-21; 69:6-8
f. Abraham (69x): cf. Q 2:135; 3:67; 4:125; 9:114; 11:75; 19:41; 53:37
i. founder of true religion – Q 2:130-40; 3:65-68; 16:120-24
ii. recipient of scriptures – Q 53:36-37; 87:18-19
iii. smashing the idols – Q 6:74-84; 19:41-50; 21:51-73; 26:69-86; 29:16-27; 37:83-98; 43:26-27; 60:4
iv. move to new land – Q 21:71-73
v. testing Abraham – Q 2:124; 2:260
vi. annunciation of Isaac – Q 11:69-74; 15:51-56; 51:24-30
vii. attempted sacrifice of son – Q 37:99-111
viii. establishing sanctuary – Q 14:35-41; 22:26-27; 3:96-97; 2:125-29
g. Lot (27x): Q 11:69-83; 15:57-77; 29:31-35; cf. 7:80-84; 26:160-74; 27:54-58; 37:133-38; 54:33-37
h. Joseph (appears in 3 sūras): Q 12:1-111; cf. 6:84; 40:34
i. Moses (137x):
i. birth of Moses – Q 7:137; 26:57-59; 28:1-13; cf. 20:38-41
ii. Moses in Midian – Q 28:14-28
iii. initial revelations – Q 20:9-24; 27:7-12; 28:29-35; 79:15-19
iv. Moses and Pharaoh – Q 7:103-26; 10:75-83; 17:101-103; 20:49-69; 26:10-51; 79:20-26
v. magical contest – Q 40:23-46
vi. Pharaoh as god – Q 28:36-42; 10:88; 79:24
vii. plagues – Q 7:127-36
viii. exodus from Egypt – Q 26:52-68; 44:17-33
ix. punishment of Pharaoh – Q 10:90-92; 11:96-99; 43:46-56
x. wilderness wanderings – Q 2:47-61 and par.
xi. Sinai – Q 7:142-47 and par.
xii. golden calf – Q 7:148-58; 20:80-98
xiii. water from rock – Q 7:160
xiv. refusal to enter Land – Q 5:20-26
Supplemental Bibliography for RELS 1120
In response to student requests for recommendations regarding useful and enlightening discussions of certain topics, themes, and personalities that are presented in class and/or readings, I offer the following suggestions for further study at the student’s leisure. I confine myself to materials which I myself have used with profit and which are currently available at Atkins Library.
It is often helpful for the student to begin with appropriate articles in the standard Bible dictionaries. The latest and best are Katherine Doob Sakenfeld, ed., The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols.; Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006-2009) and The Anchor Bible Dictionary (6 vols.; New York: Doubleday, 1992). Still reliable are The Interpreters’ Dictionary of the Bible (4 vols.) and its Supplementary Volume (ed. George A. Buttrick; Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962 & 1976), and the Harper’s Bible Dictionary (ed. Paul J. Achtemeier; San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985). Highly recommended are the relevant articles in the Encyclopaedia Judaica (2d ed.; 22 vols.; ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik; Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007) and the Encyclopaedia of Islam (new ed.; 12 vols.; Leiden: Brill, 1960-2002). Note too the Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls (2 vols.; ed. Lawrence H. Schiffman and James C. VanderKam; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); Encyclopaedia of the Qur’ān (6 vols.; ed. Jane Dammen McAuliffe; Leiden: Brill, 2001-06) and The Qur’ān: An Encyclopedia (ed. Oliver Leaman; London and New York: Routledge, 2006).
The bibliographies supplied by articles consulted in the above reference works as well as in the volumes by Kugel and Abdel Haleem should suffice for deeper study. Of well nigh unparalleled importance for the history of traditional scriptural interpretation are the notes volumes for Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews (7 vols.; Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1909-38).