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ENGL 463: The New Testament as Literature

Course Guide for ENGL 463

The New Testament as Literature

Course Description

This is indeed and in practice a course in English Literature on one portion of the Bible as a literary work, NOT as a specifically religious or theological one. Therefore,

  1.  we are not directly concerned with matters of faith. It would be silly to ignore the fact that the Bible is (and has been) for many people Holy Scripture, but we as a class, whatever our personal beliefs may be, will focus on the literary, such as the narrative qualities of the texts; the uses of symbol, metaphor, repetition; dialogue and type-scenes; historical and cultural context; the relationship of author and audience; and the unity (or lack thereof) of the Bible as a whole.
  2. also, we are not primarily concerned with the New Testament in its original languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek), though it may sometimes be useful to consider them, and it will certainly be necessary to think about matters of translation.

 All this said, to approach the second half of the Bible as literature is, most basically, to ask the same questions concerning Holy Scripture that one would ask of other literary texts: concerning inspiration, genre, theme, structure, plot, protagonists, characters and their motivations, allusions, moral meaning, contemporary relevance, and even title (we will query the drawbacks and benefits of the ascribed titles of “The New Testament” and “The Christian Bible”). It is also to recognize that ancient methods of Biblical interpretation have served as historical models for literary criticism and critical theory. Finally, it lays the foundation to understanding how Biblical allusions in secular texts affect their meaning and connect them inter-textually in what Northrop Frye has called “the great code” of all Western literature.

 Goals of the course include the ability to demonstrate

  1. an understanding of how the English Bible is constructed – authorship;
  2. an appreciation of the literary characteristics of the Christian Bible/New Testament – literacy;
  3. a familiarity with the New Testament stories that have provided the foundation upon which Western civilization has been constructed – reception and influence.