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The Bible as Literature

ENGL 033.401
MWF 12

The following is part of a “decalogue” that W. H. Auden offered to the graduating class of 1946 at Harvard:



Thou shalt not do as the dean pleases,

Thou shalt not write thy doctor's thesis

On education.

Thou shalt not worship projects nor

Shalt thou or thine bow down before



Thou shalt not answer questionnaires

Or quizzes upon World-Affairs,

Nor with compliance

Take any test. Thou shalt not sit

With statisticians nor commit

A social science.


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.


In this course, we are going to do exactly what Auden forbade—read the Bible for its prose, always keeping in mind that we are doing something that, in the eyes of the authors of the Bible, is an absurd misreading. We will read the Bible, then, not as a faith text but as a book whose wisdom is as much subject to analysis, discussion, and debate as any other work making an argument. Through close reading, we will analyze the rhetorical means by which the authors of the Bible moved the emotions. In the first three quarters of the semester, we will read the Hebrew Bible as the Hebrew Epic and, in the last quarter of the semester, the New Testament as the Hebrew–Epic-Reconsidered. We will use the only English translation that has achieved the status of “inspired”—the King James Version. Selections from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.




2 short papers, a midterm, a final.

fulfills requirements