The Bible has played a formative and diverse part in English literature over many centuries. Its stories, its politics, its poetic forms, its theological and philosophical demands have been encountered in numerous ways, such that every era has in effect reinvented the Bible. Its language, and the way in which the idioms of its translation have seeped into the marrow of English, render it an essential part of literary history. It is a text that has no proprietor, and no equal as a work of public property, liable to both revolutionary and conservative appropriations. It has provided and continues to provide an unfathomably wide range of religious and spiritual visions. It has been both lauded and, at times, detested, but has at no point been other than central to western and world culture.
This module will explore these, and other difficult and fascinating questions in relation to a rich range of literary, historical, and theoretical works. It will give you a solid grasp of a range of biblical texts – Genesis, Judges, Samuel, Job, the Gospels and others - looked at in parallel with works which re-imagine, re-write and re-focus the original text (authors such as Milton, Blake, Atwood, Heller, Hurston, Coetzee) and a range of critical and theological theory. It will look at key moments in its diverse reception history from the early to the modern period and explore ways in which writers and artists have engaged with the Bible on the level of story, hermeneutics and poetics. Aside from its integration into works of literature, the module will also consider the poetics of the biblical text itself – whose stories are ubiquitous and so well-known as to exist almost at the level of folk-tale – looking at the ‘literary’ nature of the text, as well as a range of feminist, postcolonial and postmodern hermeneutic approaches.
Module will run
Autumn Term 2020-21
The aims of this module are:
to introduce students to key debates about the relationship between the Bible and Literature across a broad historical span
to encourage students to relate theological-philosophical, historiographical, and theoretical debates on the Bible to the individual literary texts
to enable students to develop skills in close reading and argumentation in relation to a clearly defined thematic focus
to enable students to develop skills in group work in relation to a clearly defined thematic focus
Module learning outcomes
The key aim of this module is to gain a substantial knowledge of the Bible as literary text and its influence in literature, from a variety of perspectives. Students will be asked to develop their skills of literary application and the connections between disparate texts. By the end of the module, students should be able to demonstrate:
knowledge of the major genres of biblical literature;
knowledge of a series of literary reconstructions of, responses to and meditations on the Bible;
knowledge of the cultures of the Bible, the poetics of the Bible and the practices of literary appropriation;
skills in close reading and the detailed comparison of poems with their literary models, and analytic skills in marshalling and presenting arguments.
% of module mark
Essay/coursework Essay 3000 words
Special assessment rules
Additional assessment information
You will be given the opportunity to hand in a 1000 word formative essay in the term in which the module is taught (usually in the week 7 seminar). Material from this essay may be re-visited in your summative essay and it is therefore an early chance to work through material that might be used in assessed work. This essay will be submitted in hard copy and your tutor will annotate it and return it two weeks later (usually in your week 9 seminar). Summary feedback will be uploaded to your eVision account. All students will have the opportunity to give an in-class individual presentation during a seminar in weeks 2-9.
% of module mark
Essay/coursework Essay 3000 words
You will receive feedback on all assessed work within the University deadline, and will often receive it more quickly. The purpose of feedback is to inform your future work; it is designed to help you to improve your work, and the Department also offers you help in learning from your feedback. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further you can discuss it with your tutor or your supervisor, during their Open Office Hours
For more information about the feedback you will receive for your work, see the department's Guide to Assessment
The reading list will vary from year to year; you are expected to have a hard copy of the King James Bible, also known as Authorised version (or AV), but NOT the ‘New KJV’ (‘NKJB’ or ‘NKJV’). Typically, we will look at Genesis, Exodus, Samuel, Book of Job, Song of Songs, some of the prophets, the Gospel of Luke, Revelation. You will be told what books to read alongside this, but in recent years we have looked at
Naguib Mahouz, Children of the Alley (Anchor, 1997)
Joseph Heller, God Knows (Prentice Hall, 1997)
Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale (Vintage, 1996)
J.M. Coetzee, The Childhood of Jesus (Vintage, 2014)
Cormac McCarthy, The Road (Picador, 2010)
Allen Ginsburg, Howl, Kaddish and other poems (Penguin, 2009)
Elizabeth Smart, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept (Fourth Estate, 2015)
Zora Neale Hurston, Moses, Man of the Mountain (Harper Perennial, 2009)
John Milton’s Samson Agonistes, in The Complete Shorter Poems ed. John Cary (Longman, 2006).