Building Bible: Uncovering Its Blueprints
Dr. John C. Reeves
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Course description: Who or what made Bible? In this course, we will seek out, uncover, and analyze the ‘fingerprints’ left behind by biblical copyists, compilers, and editors. Some of these markers will be blatant and relatively easy to identify, whereas others will be more subtle. This class will be a laboratory wherein we seek to unravel the threads woven by the ancient scribes during their production of the scriptural anthology (library?) we call Bible.
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.
Texts: Web links to many of the primary texts we will read are available on the course website. Other texts will be distributed by the instructor electronically on Canvas as needed.
a. Readings. The nature of this course entails a significant amount of close reading and reflection both within and outside of class. Students are responsible for completing the reading assignments (outlined below or assigned in class) in a timely manner. Every student must read and critically engage substantial portions of Bible, other scriptural and parascriptural works, commentaries, and testimonia which have been englished from texts originally written in Akkadian, Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, Mandaic, Greek, Latin, Coptic, Arabic, Persian, and Ethiopic. Critical engagement with a select set of secondary readings authored by modern theorists, analysts, and historians is also required.
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 (using a scale √+ = A-; √ = C+; √- = D) will comprise 75% of the 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 15% 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 comprises a significant portion of every class meeting. Preparation for every class usually involves the completion of a series of assigned readings and/or 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 (grades for such quizzes are averaged with those of the take-home exercises). The instructor’s assessment of one’s attendance, class preparation, and informed oral contributions will constitute 10% 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.
f. It is the policy of UNC Charlotte for the Spring 2022 semester that as a condition of on-campus enrollment, all students are required to engage in safe behaviors to avoid the spread of COVID-19 in our community. Such behaviors specifically include the requirement that all students properly wear CDC-compliant face coverings in all indoor spaces on campus, including in this classroom, regardless of your vaccination status. Failure to comply with this policy in this classroom may result in dismissal from the current class session. If a student refuses to follow this policy, s/he will be referred to the Office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity for charges under the Code of Student Responsibility.
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, wi-fi, 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) There is no such thing as a ‘make-up pop quiz.’ No exceptions will be considered or granted.
2) Homework exercises fall due on the date announced by the instructor in class. They must be typed and submitted by email to me in either Microsoft Word or Adobe format prior to the start of the class for which they have been assigned. No physical copies of homework will be accepted or returned. 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 (even from those of you who may be physically absent during our discussion); however, ‘early’ submissions (i.e., before the start of class) are always welcome and will receive full credit. These exercises are graded using a scale √+ = A-; √ = C+; √- = D; failure to submit = 0.
3) For accounting purposes, letter grades bear the following values: A=95; A-=92; B=85; C+=78; C=75; D=65; F=30. A paper or written exercise that is not typed automatically receives the grade F, as do any typed papers which violate the required formatting parameters or which the instructor deems physically unacceptable and/or grammatically incomprehensible.
4) Since your diligent physical participation is critical for the success of this course, attendance at class meetings will be monitored by the instructor. One or two absences are regrettable; three absences are the limit of tolerability. Each successive absence lowers this portion of your course assessment by one letter grade; seven (7) or more results in 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.
6) I do not post grades on Canvas or use it for grading. You can easily determine your own course progress (or lack thereof) by paying attention to the number and quality of the grades you earn over the course of the semester and performing the simple arithmetic required (using the equivalency tables listed above) to generate a ‘rough’ grade average.
c. For absences related to COVID-19, please do the following:
- Complete your Niner Health Check (in your email) each morning.
- Do not come to class if you are sick. Please protect your health and the health of others by staying home. Contact your healthcare provider if you believe you are ill.
- If you are sick: If you test positive or are evaluated by a healthcare provider for symptoms of COVID-19, indicate so on your Niner Health Check to alert the University. Submit a copy of your Niner Health Check notification email to your instructors. Upon learning that you have tested positive or have been diagnosed for symptoms of COVID-19, either from your reporting or from Student Health Center testing or diagnosis, representatives from Emergency Management and/or the Student Health Center will follow up with you as necessary, and your instructors will be notified.
- If you have been exposed to COVID-19 positive individuals and/or have been notified to self-quarantine due to such exposure, indicate so on your Niner Health Check to alert the University. Representatives from Emergency Management and/or the Student Health Center will follow up with you as necessary. Submit a copy of your Niner Health Check notification email to your instructors. If you need any additional support verifying your absence(s) after you have communicated with your professors, contact Student Assistance and Support Services.
To return to class after being absent due to a period of self-quarantine, students should submit a copy of their Niner Health Check clearance email to their instructor(s). To return to class after being absent due to a COVID-19 diagnosis, students should submit an online request form to Student Assistance and Support Services (SASS). Supporting documentation can be attached directly to the request form and should be from a student’s health care provider or the Student Health Center, clearly indicating the dates of absences and the date the student is able to return to class. Instructors will be notified of such absences.
If you are absent from class as a result of a COVID-19 diagnosis or quarantine, I will try to help you continue to make progress in the course by providing remote learning resources and/or assignments. Please bear in mind that the final decision for approval of all absences and missed work in this course is determined by the instructor.
d. 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.
e. The standards, requirements, and procedures set forth in this syllabus are subject to modification at any time by the course instructor. Notice of such changes will be by announcement in class, or by email, or by changes to this syllabus posted on the course website at https://pages.charlotte.edu/john-reeves/course-materials/.
ROUGH COURSE OUTLINE
a. scope of ‘Bible’ (Jewish, Christian, Muslim testimonia)
b. what ideological factors seem to be determinative for ‘Bible’?
c. codicological and paratextual elements in ‘Bible’
d. the case of the Chronicler and his sources
e. the case of Ezra-Nehemiah/1 Esdras
II. (De)-Constructing the book of Daniel
III. (De)-Constructing the book of Proverbs
IV. (De)-Constructing the book of Psalms
V. (De)-Constructing different collections of ‘Prophets’
VI. (De)-Constructing the Pentateuch
VII. Concluding remarks: who did all this work, and to what ends?
My own preference is to allow this course extremely wide latitude in terms of the kinds of work we do and the order in which we do it, so do not be surprised if we vary from this ‘construction’ sequence and/or intersperse occasional concerns about who may have been responsible for certain kinds of editorial work or why they may have done the kinds of things we suspect them of doing.
SUPPLEMENTAL BIBLIOGRAPHY FOR RELS 3000
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. Not all of these may be currently available at Atkins Library.
It is often helpful for the student to begin with appropriate articles in the standard Bible dictionaries. The most up to date are Katherine Doob Sakenfeld, ed., The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols.; Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006-09) and The Anchor Bible Dictionary (6 vols.; New York: Doubleday, 1992). Dated but 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 Paul J. Achtemeier, ed., Harper’s Bible Dictionary (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985). Highly recommended are the relevant articles in the new Encyclopaedia Judaica (22 vols.; Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA/Thomson Gale, 2007), the Encyclopaedia of Islam (2d ed.; 11 vols.; Leiden: Brill, 1954-2002), the 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).
A multitude of books have appeared over the course of the past two centuries which address the question of how Bible came into being. A number of these are quite useful and insightful, others much less so due to their lack of historical rigor or blithe acceptance or parroting of uncritical postulates. The discovery and publication of the Dead Sea scrolls should have revolutionized the way people think about and write about the making of Bible, but sadly too many scholars still today remain locked within obsolete and untenable paradigms and models for explaining how Bible acquired its present form(s). During this semester we will read and analyze some selected examples from this literature in order to assist us in our work of (de)-constructing biblical collections, books, and textual assemblages.
 Note well 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 out worthless nonsense.’