Bible and Its Monsters
Dr. John C. Reeves
Office hours: WF 1:00-2:00; or by appointment
“For they say that just as diverse colors existing in a wall decorate this wall, so indeed, diverse monsters embellish this world.” – Pseudo-Albertus Magnus, De secretis mulierum, cited from Mary B. Campbell, The Witness and the Other World: Exotic European Travel Writing, 400-1600 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1988), 78.
“So God created the great sea monsters ….” (Genesis 1:21, Revised Standard Version). A wide-ranging survey of the various freaks, monsters, and theriomorphic fiends which haunt the pages of western Bibles and the hyperactive imaginations of many of its ancient, medieval, and early modern interpreters. Considerable attention will be devoted to isolating and analyzing the category of ‘the monstrous’ and examining the roles it has played in the construction of myths, rituals, institutions, and communities.
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.
The following textbooks are required for this course:
Stephanie Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia (rev. ed.; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).
Hermann Gunkel, Creation and Chaos in the Primeval Era and the Eschaton (trans. K. William Whitney, Jr.; Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 2006).
Sir John Mandeville, The Book of Marvels and Travels (trans. Anthony Bale; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).
Absent your capacity to work directly with the received text, any responsible western language translation of Bible, including the so-called Apocrypha. Web links to the KJV and RSV versions are available on the course website.
Often supplementary readings will be assigned or distributed by the instructor as needed.
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 ancient Near Eastern mythology, Bible, and various ‘wonders’ compilations, as well as Gunkel’s classic study of Urzeit-Endzeit speculation in its entirety.
b. Take-home written exercises. An indeterminate number of written exercises (usually one per week; optimally one per class) will be prepared and submitted for in-class discussion and out-of-class evaluation. These exercises vary in length from less than one (1) to a maximum of five (5) typewritten or electronically printed pages. All of these exercises will be announced and explained by the instructor during the course of or at the conclusion of a class meeting. The instructor’s evaluation of the student’s collective written exercise performance (based on the scale √+ = A-; √ = C+; √- = D) will comprise 50% of the course grade.
c. Final take-home essay. Instead of an in-class three-hour final examination, you will write 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, this essay will be delivered to the instructor on the date and at the time officially mandated for the final examination of this course by the UNC Charlotte administration. We will then spend some time collectively discussing the insights and conclusions generated in these essays. The final essay and your oral participation on that date are 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 usually 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 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.
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 (if so required) 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 are 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 papers (except for 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 who were 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, while regrettable, are unexceptional; three (3) is the limit of tolerability. Each successive absence lowers the Individual Involvement component of your assessment by one letter grade; seven (7) or more earns an automatic F in that component of your final grade. Please note that the instructor does not distinguish ‘excused’ from ‘unexcused’ absences. Unsanctioned late arrivals and early departures will be tallied as absences.
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
1. Monsters and the monstrous
What is a ‘monster’?
Case study #1: Gen 36:24 and its mysterious hayyēmim.
Case study #2: Gen 3:1-24 and its creepy ‘talking’ snake.
Georges Canguilhem, “Monstrosity and the Monstrous,” Diogenes 10 (1962): 27-42.
Rudolf Wittkower, “Marvels of the East: A Study in the History of Monsters,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 5 (1942): 159-97.
Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, “Monster Culture (Seven Theses),” in Monster Theory: Reading Culture (ed. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen; Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), 3-25.
Debra Higgs Strickland, “Introduction: The Future is Necessarily Monstrous,” Different Visions 2 (2010): 1-13.
2. Urzeit creation and its monsters
From reptilian sea to inert body
Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia, 39-153 (Epic of Gilgamesh); 228-77 (Enuma eliš).
Gunkel, Creation and Chaos, xv-xlii; 3-111.
Biblical and parabiblical sources discussed by Gunkel.
Marc Michael Epstein, “Harnessing the Dragon: A Mythos Transformed in Medieval Jewish Literature and Art,” in Laurie L. Patton and Wendy Doniger, eds., Myth and Method (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1996), 352-89.
Michael Fishbane, “The Great Dragon Battle and Talmudic Redaction,” in his The Exegetical Imagination: On Jewish Thought and Theology (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998), 41-55, 192-97.
3. Endzeit creation and its monsters
Loathsome ‘beasts’ spawned from a watery womb
Gunkel, Creation and Chaos, 115-250.
Biblical and parabiblical sources discussed by Gunkel.
Lois Drewer, “Leviathan, Behemoth and Ziz: A Christian Adaptation,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 44 (1981): 148-56.
4. Hybridity and the monstrous
‘There were giants on the earth in those days ….’
Gen 6:1-4; 1 Enoch 6-11; Jubilees 5-10; Midrash of Shemḥazai and ‘Azael.
John C. Reeves, “Giants,” in John J. Collins and Daniel C. Harlow, eds., The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 2010), 676-77.
John C. Reeves, “Re-visioning the Sources of Genesis 1-9” (unpublished).
5. ‘Monstrous’ peoples: Gog and Magog
Ezekiel 38-39; Rev 20:7-10; Syriac Pseudo-Ephrem, ‘Sermon on the End of the World’; Syriac Pseudo-Methodius VIII (unpublished).
Zofia Ameisenowa, “Animal-Headed Gods, Evangelists, Saints and Righteous Men,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 12 (1949): 21-45.
6. Mandeville’s ‘marvels’
Sir John Mandeville, The Book of Marvels and Travels
Old English Liber monstrorum (etext at: http://members.shaw.ca/sylviavolk/Beowulf3.htm)
Old English Wonders of the East (at: http://members.shaw.ca/sylviavolk/Beowulf1.htm)
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 in the following two paragraphs 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).
The bibliographies supplied by articles consulted in the above reference works 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).
Note also the following studies, not all of which are available in Atkins Library:
Stephen T. Asma, On Monsters: An Unnatural History of our Worst Fears (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).
Robert Bartlett, The Natural and the Supernatural in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008). Note especially chapter 3: “Dogs and Dog-heads: The Inhabitants of the World” (pp. 71-110).
Timothy K. Beal, Religion and its Monsters (London & New York: Routledge, 2002).
Bettina Bildhauer and Robert Mills, eds., The Monstrous Middle Ages (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2003).
Jorge Luis Borges, The Book of Imaginary Beings (New York: Dutton, 1969).
Mary B. Campbell, The Witness and the Other World: Exotic European Travel Writing, 400-1600 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988).
Lorraine Daston and Katherine Park, “Monsters: A Case Study,” in idem, Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150-1750 (New York: Zone Books, 1998), 173-214.
Sigmund Freud, “The Uncanny” (1919) = “Das Unheimliche,” Imago 5 (1919): 297-324. Translated by Alix Strachey and published in Sigmund Freud, Collected Papers, Volume IV (repr., London: Hogarth Press, 1957), 368-407; James Strachey, ed., The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (24 vols.; London: The Hogarth Press, 1953-74), 17:217-56; also Philip Rieff, ed., Studies in Parapsychology (New York: Collier, 1963).
John Block Friedman, The Monstrous Races in Medieval Art and Thought (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981).
David D. Gilmore, Monsters: Evil Beings, Mythical Beasts, and All Manner of Imaginary Terrors (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002).
Syrinx von Hees, “The Astonishing: A Critique and Re-reading of ‘Ağā’ib Literature,” Middle Eastern Literatures 8 (2005): 101-120.
Geraldine Heng, Empire of Magic: Medieval Romance and the Politics of Cultural Fantasy (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003).
Marie-Hélène Huet, Monstrous Imagination (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993).
Suzanne Lewis, “Encounters with Monsters at the End of Time: Some Early Medieval Visualizations of Apocalyptic Eschatology,” Different Visions 2 (2010). You can access this article at http://www.differentvisions.org/Issue2PDFs/Lewis.pdf .
H. P. Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in Literature (New York: B. Abramson, 1945).
Asa Simon Mittman and Peter J. Dendle, eds., The Ashgate Research Companion to Monsters and the Monstrous (Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2012).
Marina Münkler, “Experiencing Strangeness: Monstrous Peoples on the Edge of the Earth as Depicted on Medieval Mappae Mundi,” Medieval History Journal 5 (2002): 195-222.
James S. Romm, “Dragons and Gold at the Ends of the Earth: A Folktale Motif Developed by Herodotus,” Marvels & Tales 1 (1997): 45-54.
______, The Edges of the Earth in Ancient Thought: Geography, Exploration, and Fiction (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992).
Walter Stephens, Giants in Those Days: Folklore, Ancient History, and Nationalism (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989).
Debra Higgs Strickland, “Antichrist and the Jews in Medieval Christian Art and Protestant Propaganda,” Studies in Iconography 32 (2011): 1-50.
______, Saracens, Demons, and Jews: Making Monsters in Medieval Art (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003).
Tzvetan Todorov, The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1973).
J. R. R. Tolkien, “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics,” Proceedings of the British Academy (1936). Reprinted in J. R. R. Tolkien and Christopher Tolkien, eds., The Monsters and the Critics, and Other Essays (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1984).
Lisa Verner, The Epistemology of the Monstrous in the Middle Ages (New York: Routledge, 2005).
K. William Whitney, Jr., Two Strange Beasts: Leviathan and Behemoth in Second Temple and Early Rabbinic Judaism (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2006).
David Williams, Deformed Discourse: The Function of the Monster in Mediaeval Thought and Literature (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1996).
Bibliography for Sir John Mandeville
Josephine Waters Bennett, The Rediscovery of Sir John Mandeville (MLA Monograh Series 19; New York: Modern Language Association, 1954).
Benjamin Braude, “Mandeville’s Jews Among Others,” in Pilgrims and Travellers (Studies in Jewish Civilization 7; ed. Bryan F. Le Beau and Menahem Mor; Omaha: Creighton University Press, 1995), 141-68.
______, “The Sons of Noah and the Construction of Ethno-Geographical Identity in the Medieval and Early Modern Periods,” William and Mary Quarterly 54 (1997): 103-42.
Christopher Brooke, “Approaches to Medieval Forgery,” in his Medieval Church and State: Collected Essays (New York: New York University Press, 1972), 100-20.
Gerald L. Bruns, Inventions: Writing, Textuality, and Understanding in Literary History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982).
Charles Burnett and Patrick Gautier Dalché, “Attitudes Towards the Mongols in Medieval Literature: The XXII Kings of Gog and Magog from the Court of Frederick II to Jean de Mandeville,” Viator 22 (1991): 153-67.
Douglas R. Butturff, “Satire in Mandeville’s Travels,” Annuaire Mediaevale 13 (1972): 155-64.
Mary B. Campbell, The Witness and the Other World: Exotic European Travel Writing, 400-1600 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988). See especially Chapter Four (pp. 122-61).
Donald R. Howard, “The World of Mandeville’s Travels,” Yearbook of English Studies 1 (1971): 1-17.
George H. T. Kimble, Geography in the Middle Ages (London: Methuen, 1938).
Malcolm Letts, Sir John Mandeville: The Man and His Book (London: Batchworth Press, 1949).
C. S. Lewis, “The Genesis of a Medieval Book,” in his Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature (ed. Walter Hooper; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1966), 18-40.
Giles Milton, The Riddle and the Knight: In Search of Sir John Mandeville, the World’s Greatest Traveller (London, 1996; repr., New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2001).
C. W. R. D. Moseley, “The Metamorphoses of Sir John Mandeville,” Yearbook of English Studies 4 (1974): 5-25.
Leonardo Olschki, Marco Polo’s Precursors (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1943).
M. C. Seymour, Sir John Mandeville (Aldershot: Variorum, 1993).
Vsevolod Slessarev, Prester John: The Letter and the Legend (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1959).
Christian Zacher, Curiosity and Pilgrimage: The Literature of Discovery in Fourteenth-Century England (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976). See especially his Chapter Six.