Introduction to the Bible in the Humanities and the Arts
Gordon Teskey, Harvard University
Class time: T/Th 10am - 12:30pm
Classroom: 0D at Polo Didattico San Basilio
An introduction to the historical and anthropological contexts from which the biblical writings emerged and also to the internal structure of the Bible, which William Blake called “the great code of art.” Attention will be given to the emergence from ancient Hebrew writings of what we call “Judaism” and to the later appropriation of the Hebrew Scriptures by radicalized, Greek-speaking Jews, who called themselves “Christians.” Themes of the course include the invention of the concept of God, the invention of the related concept of history, the invention of the concept of the city (or rather, of two cities, that of the devil and that of God), and the three-way struggle between Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Bible underlies the arts in European history, from the medieval cathedrals to Raphael and Michelangelo’s paintings, Shakespeare’s plays and Milton’s epic poems, Bach’s cantatas and masses and, in the twentieth century, the art of Anselm Kiefer and the popular music of Leonard Cohen and Bob Marley. The principal aim of the course is to read through the Bible, learning its principal divisions, its organizing images, its chief characters and stories, and its strange ideas about history, sin, faith, salvation, uncleanness, the fall of kingdoms and the end of the world.
About two-thirds of the Authorized Version (King James) of 1611 will be read. The course does not count for the English concentration pre-1800 requirement. Note that this is not a course on “the Bible as literature” but rather on the Bible for literature and the arts. While there is writing of high aesthetic value in the Bible, the Bible in itself is both more and less than art. Quite apart from its significance as providing the foundational texts of three of the world’s major religions, the Bible is the fundamental document of western culture and the most widely disseminated book in the world. It is impossible to know much about the arts in the west without knowing the Bible.
Formal Requirements: None
The Bible, Authorized King James Version, with Apocrypha, Oxford World’s Classics, introduction and notes by Robert Carroll and Stephen Prickett (Oxford University Press, 1997).
- Classwork (20%)
- Essay or Creative Project (20%)
- Two tests (60%)
Office location and contact information:
Office hours can be made on appointment during the classtime. The tutorial for this class will be held on Thursdays (starting from July 1) at 4pm in 0D at Polo Didattico San Basilio.