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The Bible as Literature

ENGL 033.401
MWF 12-1

One of the stanzas in W. H. Auden's "Under Which Lyre" offers these commandments as part of a "Hermetic decalogue" to the modern student:


Thou shalt not be on friendly terms With guys in advertising firms, Nor speak with such As read the Bible for its prose, Nor, above all, make love to those, Who wash too much.

Of course, Auden was right. The authors of the Bible would have opened their eyes wide at those who claimed merely to "appreciate" their stories. In this class we will just what he disapproved of-read the Bible "for its prose," in the sense that we will try to understand why these stores have taken hold of the imagination for centuries, always keeping in mind that we might be doing something truant from the point of view of a believer. We will read all of Job and Genesis, parts of Exodus, Judges, Samuel, Kings, all of Proverbs, the Song of Solomon, and Ecclesiastes, many of the Psalms, parts of Isaiah and Jeremiah, and all of the Gospels according to Mark and John. Along the way, we will look at various English poets' use of or reference to the biblical stories: Peele, Shakespeare, Herbert, Marvell, Milton, Keats, Hopkins. No previous knowledge of the Bible necessary. 2 papers, midterm, final. (The midterm and final are identification of passages.) Texts: The Oxford Annotated Bible, ed. May and Metzger; Bible, King James Version.

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