English 130: Scriptural and Doctrinal Backgrounds

Fall Semester, 2001

David Mycoff
Office: Jensen 208
Office Phone: extension 3127
Home Phone: 296-1142
Email: dmycoff@warren-wilson.edu
Website: http://www.warren-wilson.edu/~dmycoff/

 Required Texts

·         The Holy Bible, King James Version.

·         John B. Gabel, et al., The Bible as Literature: An Introduction. 4th edition. NY and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

·         Flannery O'Connor, Three By Flannery O'Connor. NY: Signet, 1983.

·         John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus. 2nd edition. Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Eerdmans, 1994.

     Students must also have available for their use a copy of a modern English translation of the Bible.

 Basic Course Requirements

·        Class attendance and punctual completion of assigned readings

·        Three 4-5 page papers

·         Midterm Test

·         Final Exam

·         Weekly Short Writings (see below)


     I use numerical grades and a weighted arithmetic mean. The following are letter and numerical grade equivalents: 90-100 = A; 80-89 = B; 70-79 = C; 60-69 = D; below 60 = F.

Weights of Assignments

·        Paper 1 = 2

·        Paper 2 = 2

·        Paper 3 = 2

·        Composite Grade for Weekly Short Writings = 2

·         Midterm = 1

·         Final = 1

Overview of the Course

     This course combines an abbreviated Bible as Literature course with an even more abbreviated introduction to some of the issues of Christian doctrine that have been especially influential in world literature. We will study and discuss selections from the Bible and selected issues of Christian thought. I must stress the word selections--I have had to be very selective in both the scriptural and the doctrinal portions of our syllabus, omitting much important and interesting material because of time limits. In particular, I have had to be distressingly selective in the doctrinal component of the course: our studies must necessarily focus on the confessional or denominational traditions that have had the widest influence on literature. I give the most attention to Roman Catholic (especially pre-Tridentine Roman Catholic) thought, Lutheran and Anglican thought, and the thought of Protestant denominations in the Reformed tradition (especially the Calvinist tradition). I have been able to include little of what is unique to the Eastern Orthodox traditions, to Dissenting or Pentecostal Protestantism outside of the established Reformed Churches, to Unitarianism, Anabaptism (apart from the general Mennonite influence on the political theology of John Howard Yoder), or to Quaker tradition, let alone to the Eastern Nestorians, the Old Catholics, the Uniates, Waldensians, or many other groups that have been defined, at one time or another, as heretical by religious establishments that made their judgments "stick" historically. Much that we do study is, of course, common to all or to most of what has been accepted historically as Christianity in one form or another. I stress that my selections reflect my judgment of the relative degree of influence that ideas characteristic of various traditions have had on literature. My selections do not reflect a considered judgment of the truth or validity of what is included or what is omitted, and if they did, we would have a considerably different syllabus indeed. Throughout the syllabus, I have scattered various works of literature to be read in conjunction with our scriptural readings or doctrinal materials. These literary works bear a variety of different relationships to the scriptural and doctrinal matters: some of this literature clearly locates itself within a particular creed; some clearly contests or reacts against a particular creed; some uses scriptural or doctrinal elements as points of departure or as metaphorical idiom for an original exploration of some aspect of life or thought, an aspect which may or may not be specifically "religious" as "religious" is understood by most people in our culture today; some seems to speak out of the same kinds of human experiences and concerns that the biblical or doctrinal materials address but makes little explicit reference to those materials; and some bears a most problematic relationship to scripture and doctrine. My object is to introduce students to some of the many ways that a knowledge of scripture and doctrine can help them read, appreciate, and interpret literature.

     In conjunction with our study of literature, scripture, and doctrine, I will often bring to class reproductions of works of visual art or recordings of pieces of music for discussion. Unfortunately, space in the syllabus is so limited that we can do little more with visual art and music than suggest how a familiarity with scripture and doctrine can increase our understanding and appreciation. I encourage students to explore this issue independently in one of their three papers, however.

      As the remarks above imply, this course is in no sense an equivalent or substitute for a course in Hebrew Scripture and New Testament studies such as might be offered in the Department of Religion. We will give only the most limited attention to the kinds of historical, archaeological, and linguistic contexts that are central to the academic study of scripture within the discipline of religious studies. Nor will we attempt to distinguish between true and false Christianity as one might do in the context of studies for the ministry or in a forthrightly confessional approach to religion. These kinds of study are important, but they are not within the purview of this course. I am insisting that students read the Bible in the King James version because among all the English translations it is the one that has had by far the most influence on literature, music, and art. Critical Biblical scholarship today does not accept the King James version as a particularly accurate rendering of the original texts insofar as it is possible to reconstruct the original texts. From time-to-time, I will assign parallel readings in a modern translation, and I encourage students to make a regular habit of reading assignments in both the King James version and a modern version.

     Students who possess religious commitments of their own may find themselves challenged by some of the ideas or approaches that they encounter in this course. But they will also have the particular kind of insight into how religious ideas can help to illuminate personal experience, and that insight is most useful in developing critical understanding of unfamiliar notions and perspectives. Students who have developed their own hostilities, or problems, or "allergies" to religion (or to a particular religion) will likewise be challenged by some of the ideas or approaches that they encounter in this course. But they will also have the particular kind of insight into how religious ideas can interfere with and confuse one's understanding of personal experience, and that insight is also most useful in developing critical understanding of unfamiliar notions and perspectives. In short, one need not have a particular religious commitment or any religious commitment at all to learn well and to do well in this course. One does need, however, to be curious about how human beings have thought about human life and represented and developed their thought in the complex symbolic systems that we call religions--in the case of this course, religions broadly within Judaism or Christianity. The only attitude likely to be completely a hindrance in the course is the indifference that deals with such matters dismissively. We are dealing with scripture and doctrine as cultural history and literary influence. This approach requires imaginative openness to different ways of understanding human nature and experience. Dogmatisms of belief and dogmatisms of unbelief are equally a hindrance to such imaginative exploration. Since to understand is not necessarily to agree or endorse, one's integrity is not threatened or compromised by such exploration. I would not urge you to be relativists, but I would urge you to become widely knowledgeable about the diversity of faith comprehended in the materials we will study.

      Students in this course are often curious about what, if any, are my religious backgrounds and commitments. To save you speculation, I will briefly summarize where I am on these matters, though I hope that such knowledge will not (beyond the amenities of common courtesy, perhaps) at all influence your expression of your own views in the course. Briefly then, I am a confessing and, I hope in some measure, a practicing Christian. My family background includes Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, Baptists, agnostics, one atheist, one person raised in the Church of the Brethren, and one Buddhist. I am currently most active in a church that adheres to an Anglican-Episcopalian tradition, though I feel much ambivalence about that tradition. I believe that New Testament nonviolence is a fundamental article of Christian faith. I do not believe, however, that doctrinal statements-words about God-are an ultimate object of religious faith, obedience, or love. The object of these is not a verbal construct but a living presence. But the verbal constructs are extremely important in understanding the cultural significance of religions, and these constructs comprise the major focus of this course.

 Paper Topics

You will write three papers in this course, each one 4-5 pages. Each paper must develop a version of a different type of paper, drawn from the five types listed below.

·        Biblical retelling. Adopt the persona of a figure in a Bible narrative and retell the story from the point of view of that figure. If you wish, you may write your retelling as a letter or series of letters, diary entries, a dialogue, or other such device. Example: retell the Samson story from Dalila's point of view.

·         Literary analysis. Apply some variety of literary analysis (e.g., character study, structural analysis) to one of the O'Connor stories in our anthology not read for class (or other literary work chosen in consultation with me).

·         Analysis of music or visual art in comparison with scriptural / doctrinal sources or models. In consultation with me, select a piece of serious music or visual art that in some way employs or addresses Biblical subjects or doctrinal questions and discuss how the piece does so. Usually, the most rewarding music or art for this kind of paper does not directly adopt and endorse its scriptural / doctrinal references.

·         Mini-research paper. In consultation with me, write a short research paper on an appropriately focused and narrowed topic that allows you to explore some subject dealing with doctrine or the Bible as literature

·        . Sustained theological reflection. A formal paper, not a series of journal entries, though keeping a journal would be a good way to begin developing thoughts for such a paper. Your own treatment of a theological question. You would need to develop a basic sense of the question by undertaking, in consultation with me, some research into other treatments of it.

 Paper Deadlines

     You will set your own paper deadlines within the guidelines listed below. By the end of the second week of classes, you will inform me in writing what your self-set deadlines are. Guidelines: At least one paper will be submitted in term one (before Fall break) and one in term two (after Fall break) and before the final week of classes.. The remaining paper may be submitted in either term, before the final week of classes.

Short Weekly Writing Assignments

 DESCRIPTION OF ASSIGNMENT. For all but three of the sixteen weeks that make up our semester, you have a weekly assignment involving short readings and a short, informal essay responding to those readings. Below is the schedule of the assigned readings and the date when the paper is due. These assignments are in addition to the assignments listed in the Syllabus of Daily Assignments. The readings involve short passages from various parts of the Bible. For these assignments, I prefer that you read a modern translation, or a modern translation in conjunction with the KJV. (Note that this instruction is different from what I require for the daily assignments, for which unless otherwise noted, you are to read the KJV.) The short papers (about two-pages typed, which amounts to 500 words or so) are to respond to the readings in some way. As long as the paper is recognizably a response to the particular readings for the week, you can write what you want. These short papers are not necessarily supposed to be literary analyses, for example. You don't even necessarily need to develop completely only one idea, or to give the ideas you discuss the kind of thorough and connected development that you would in a formal paper. I do expect complete sentences and correct grammar. These are not to be free-writings or fragmentary journal entries.

 PURPOSES OF THE ASSIGNMENT. There are three main purposes for this assignment.  First, the assignment is meant to give you a somewhat wider exposure to the diversity and variety of the Bible than you can acquire through the more systematic reading that we do for the daily assignments. We have so little time and must be so selective regarding what we can focus on systematically for class that you will have too narrow a sense of the Bible without wider reading. I have selected the short passages mainly to provide something of that wider exposure. The disadvantage, of course, is that you will be reading the passages out of context, and context makes huge differences in how one perceives a piece of writing. But perhaps the context we get from the daily assignments will somewhat offset this disadvantage. Second, the assignment is meant to give you some opportunity to focus a bit on what you specifically want to look at, rather than on what the flow of class discussion leads to or on what the expressed overall purposes of the course lead us to concentrate on. Third, the assignment is meant to give you practice in writing. Though the essays are informal and you have much choice regarding their content and structure, I do require them to be grammatically correct.

 GRADING. You will receive one composite grade for these weekly short writing assignments. This composite grade will be determined as follows. You will receive a grade of "Satisfactory" for each short writing that you submit that is on time, grammatically correct, and recognizably a response to the reading assigned. There are a total of thirteen such papers assigned. If you receive a "Satisfactory" for all thirteen papers, you will receive a 99 as your composite grade. If you receive twelve "Satisfactory" grades, your composite grade will be 85; if eleven, 80; if ten, 75; if nine, 70; if eight, 65; if seven 64; if six, 63; if five, 62; if four, 60; if three or less, 59. I might or might not comment on these essays, but comments other than those that address grammar or whether or not your writing recognizably responds to the readings will not be correlated with the grade on the essay -- they will just be sharing responses.



Paper due on Monday, Sept. 3.

 Readings: Isaiah 58; 3-12. Micah 6: 6-8.


 Paper due on Monday, Sept. 10.

 Readings: Isaiah 9: 2-7.  Zechariah 9: 9-12.  Deuteronomy 30: 11-14.


 Paper due on Monday, Sept. 17.

 Readings: 1 Corinthians 13: 1-13. 1 Corinthians 15: 35-58.


Paper due on Monday, Sept. 24.

 Readings: Ecclesiastes 3: 1-22. Romans 12: 9-21.


 Paper due on Monday, Oct. 1.

 Readings: Ephesians 6: 10-17. Romans 8: 18-39.


 Paper due on Monday, Oct. 8.

 Readings: Matthew 5: 1-48.


Paper due on Monday, Oct. 15.

 Readings: Matthew 6: 1-34. Matthew 7: 1-12. Matthew 20: 17-34.


No short writing assigned this week.


 . Paper due on Monday, Nov. 5.

 Readings: Matthew 26: 36-54. Mark 10: 17-31.


  Paper due on Monday, Nov. 12.

 Readings: First Letter of John 3:11-4.21.


 No short writing assigned this week.


Paper due by Monday, Nov. 26.

 Readings:  Colossians 3:12-17.


Paper due on Monday, Dec. 3.

 Readings:  Leviticus 25: 1-55.


 Paper due on Monday, Dec. 10.

 Readings:  Revelation 21: 1-5.  Revelation 22: 1-5.


Paper due on Monday, Dec. 17.

Readings: Philippians 4:4-8.


No short writing assigned this week.


ENGLISH 130, Scriptural and Doctrinal Backgrounds. Fall, 2001.

Syllabus of Daily Assignments


Aug. 27 M. Introduction to the course

29 W. Epistle of St. James (read in both KJV and a modern translation).

 31 F. Gabel, The Bible as Literature, Appendix II, “Writing in Biblical Times,” pp. 317-324; Chp. XVI, “The Text of the Bible,” pp. 256-268.


 Sept. 3 M.  Gabel, Chp. XVII, “Translating the Bible,” pp. 269-290; Chp. VI, “The Formation of the Canon,” pp. 87-100.

5 W. Gabel, Chp. I, “The Bible as Literature,” pp. 1-13; Chp. 2, “Literary Forms and Strategies in the Bible,” pp. 14-39.


  10 M. Gabel, Chp. III, “Ancient Near Eastern Literature and the Bible,” pp. 40-57; Chp. XIV, The Gospels,” pp. 213-232.

 12 W. Gospel of St. Luke, 1-12. Visual art: Five representations of the Annunciation (Rogier van der Weyden, Biblia Pauperum , William Congdon, Paul Woelfel, Edward Meli), A Mughal Madonna and Child, Five representations of the Flight into Egypt (anon. Coptic, anon. Byzantine, anon. Modern Egyptian, Sadao Watanabe, Francis Sekitoleko.

 14 F. Luke 13-24. O'Connor: "The Comforts of Home," pp. 351-370. Visual art: William H. Johnson - "Jesus and the Three Marys," "Mount Calvary," "Lamentation," Rouault, "The Abandoned," Aaron Douglas, "Crucifixion," Masaccio, "Expulsion from the Garden," Piero della Francesca, "Nativity," Robert L. Thompson, "Expulsion and Nativity."


 17 M. Luke, continued. Gabel, Chp. V, The Physical Setting of the Bible,” pp. 70-86; Chp. VII, "The Composition of the Pentateuch," pp. 101-115.

 19 W. Genesis: 1.1- 11.32. Qur'an, Surah 2, verses 29-38, accessible at http://cwis.usc.edu/dept/MSA/quran/002.qmt.html. (This is a three-text translation, with Yusufali, Pickthal, and Shakir printed verse-by-verse, one above the other. You will need to scroll down to line 002.029.) Judith Wright," Eve to Her Daughters"; A. D. Hope, "Imperial Adam"; Edwin Muir, "Adam's Dream"; John Hollander, "Adam's Task." Music: "Vayimalet Kayin." Visual art: Pieter Brueghel, "Tower of Babel. Return to top of daily assignments.


 24 M. Genesis: 12.1-36.43. Visual art: Gauguin, "The Vision After the Sermon"; William H. Johnson, "Climbing Jacob's Ladder."

 26 W. Genesis: 37.1-50.26. Qur'an, Surah 12 , accessible at http://cwis.usc.edu/dept/MSA/quran/012.qmt.html. (This is a three-text translation, with Yusufali, Pickthal, and Shakir printed verse-by-verse, one above the other.) Music: "Greenfields," selections from Hayden, The Creation. Visual art: Chagall paintings on Biblical themes.

 28 F. Exodus 1-15. Gabel, Chp. IV, “The Bible and History,” pp. 59-69.


Oct. 1 M. Ex:odus 20; 32-35. In-class summary of the rest of the Moses story.

3 W. O'Connor: "A View of the Woods," pp. 307-326; "Everything That Rises Must Converge," pp. 271-285.


8 M. Judges 13-16. Ruth (all). Music: selections from Saint-Saens, Samson et Dalila.

 10 W. Esther (all, plus "apocryphal" additions at http://www.hti.umich.edu/bin/rsv-idx?type=DIV1&byte=3888691); Judith (all--you can access a copy of this "apocryphal" book at http://www.hti.umich.edu/bin/rsv-idx?type=DIV1&byte=3825845.)

12 F. Job (all)


 15 M. Job, continued. Music: selections from Vaughan Williams, Job: A Masque for Dancing. Visual art: Blake's illustrations of Job.

17 W. Midterm Test.



29 M. Song of Solomon (all). Music: Palestrina, selections from Motecta ex cantica canticorum ; Billings, "Richmond"; Thomson, Five Phrases from the Song of Songs. The following Psalms: 8, 13, 19, 22, 24, 42, 84, 91, 102, 103.

 31 W. The following Psalms: 115, 124, 127, 130, 133, 137, 139. Music: selected psalm settings; selections from Stravinsky, Symphony of Psalms.

 Nov. 2 F. Gabel, Chp. VIII, "The Prophetic Writings," pp. 116-127. Isaiah: 1.1-12.6; 32.1-33.24.


 5 Nov. M. Isaiah : 40.1-52.15.

 7 W. Isaiah : 53.1-66.24.


12 M. Gabel, Chp. X, "The Apocalyptic Literature," pp. 146-161. Daniel (all) and the "apocryphal" continuations, accessible at http://www.hti.umich.edu/bin/rsv-idx?type=DIV1&byte=4202366 and http://www.hti.umich.edu/bin/rsv-idx?type=DIV1&byte=4210813. Music: selections from Walton, Belshazzar's Feast; selections from Floyd, Susanna.

14 W. Gabel, Chp. XII, “The Hellenistic Background of the New Testament,” pp. 179-194. The Gospel of John: 1.1 - 10.42. Visual art: Iris Hahs-Hoffstetter, "And We Beheld His Glory."

16 F. John: 11.1 - 21.25. Music: King, "If anyone has"; Tavener, "The Incarnation."


 19 M. John, continued. Colossians 1:9-20. Hebrews 1:1-14. In-class lecture / discussion: Christology/ Trinitarian Theologies / Incarnationalism. O'Connor: "Greenleaf," pp. 286-306.



 26 M. Gabel, Chp. XV, "Acts and the Letters," pp. 233-254. Acts: 1-2; 6-9. 24. 

28 W. Epistle to the Romans.

30 F. Epistle to the Romans, continued. Review Epistle of James. First  Epistle of John. In-class lecture / discussion: Creation and Fall / Original and Volitional Sin / Bondage and Freedom of the Will / Atonement / Grace and Justification / Election and Predestination.


 Dec. 3 M. Discussion continued. O'Connor: "Revelation," pp. 405-424; "The Lame Shall Enter First," pp. 371-404. Music: selections from Weil, The Seven Deadly Sins.

 5 W.  Sacramental Theologies.  Herbert: "Easter I and II," "Love III," "The Call," "Antiphon I: 'Let all the world.'" Music: Vaughan Williams, Five Mystical Songs.


 10 M. John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, pp. 1-59.

 12 W. Yoder, pp. 60-111.

14 F.  Yoder, pp. 112-193.


17 M. Yoder, pp. 193-247.

19 W. Final Exam