2 MapMap depicting important events from the Hebrew Bible, including places, a trail showing the Hebrews’ exodus from Egypt, Abraham’s wanderings, and Jacob’s journey to Canaan (where God gives the land of Canaan to the descendants of Jacob).
3 Genesis “origins” or “beginnings” cosmogony birthright covenant search for homelandillustrations of free willThe first book of the Bible takes its name from the Greek word for “origins” and accounts for the world’s creation and lives of the first humans. Human beings are central in this account of the world’s origin, which differs from Mesopotamian, Greek, and other early cosmogonies (more focused on the birth and lives of the gods). Genesis also accounts for covenants made between Noah and God after the flood, between Abraham and God to establish the nation of Israel, and between God and Jacob to receive blessings for generations. Students may also think about the importance of birthright and patriarchal inheritance—why does the family’s youngest child often use duplicitous tactics to gain inheritance, while the older child loses his lawful right to inherit and or win God’s favor?
4 Adam and EveStudents may examine the creation story by thinking about human behavior and natural environments before and after the fall. Ask students what changed after humans ate the fruit—often, they don’t understand what “knowledge of good and evil” really means, though they may realize that it relates to “desire.” Students often won’t do a close enough reading to see that not only are there two creation stories but also that certain things took place in Eden prior to the fall, including procreation. Sex itself wasn’t considered a sin, but prior to “knowledge of good and evil,” sex existed solely to “be fruitful and multiply.” With the advent of desire arose the notion of sex for pleasure and the fulfillment of desire.The image is from Michelangelo’s fresco in the Sistine Chapel (1509), depicting Adam and Eve at the fall, and their expulsion from Eden by the archangel, Michael.
5 Cain and Abel: First Murder What are early human motives for committing murder, and how did people of that time respond? Cain commits fratricide—how do students feel about this?The image is a painting by Peter Paul Rubens, Cain Slaying Abel (1608–09), housed at the Courtauld Gallery in London. Students may notice the sacrificial offerings present in the foreground and the sacrificial altar in the background.
6 The Biblical FloodThis is an opportunity for students to compare Greek and Sumerian myths—students might look at the Deucalion flood and the flood described in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Why did floods wipe out humanity in those civilizations (i.e., God’s wrath, natural causes), and how were humans repopulated?The image caption reads: This detail from a 16th-century Mogul miniature gives a Moslem interpretation of Noah and the flood. Notice how the cat calmly sits aloof from the rest of the passengers on the ark and seems unconcerned about the activity around it.
7 Babel, a ZigguratMesopotamians built ziggurats as terraced pyramid complexes meant to house gods and (at the shrine) allow priests to serve and placate the gods. Students might compare this ziggurat to the one described in Enuma Elish. In Enuma Elish, the higher gods build a ziggurat in Babylon, which will house gods when they visit Marduk. The gods endeavor in physical labor, using hoes and bricks during two years to create a dwelling for Marduk as a tripartite godhead (Anu-Enlil-Ea).The left image is a reconstruction of a ziggurat at Ur. The right image is a Western rendition of the “Tower of Babel” painted by Marten van Valckenborch (ca. 1600). Students might discuss why Westerners significantly re-envisioned the architectural formation of these historical structures.
8 Abraham and IsaacThe story relates the theme of “fatherhood” and faith in one’s father, which is represented not only in the relationship between Abraham and Isaac but also between Abraham and God. In pagan religions, child sacrifice to one’s gods was common; the expectation for Abraham to sacrifice his son to God is not what should amaze modern readers. God provides a ram exactly as Abraham told Isaac he would but not before Abraham demonstrates his willingness to be completely obedient. This identification of God as one who does not demand human sacrifice and who values human life is significantly different than many ancient religious traditions and is an important facet of the uniqueness of the Hebrew tradition. Notably, Abraham’s faith and obedience in this situation result in a profound blessing from God that passes on to Abraham’s descendants. The potential and extent to which a good man might suffer foreshadows the story of, among others, Job.The image is Rembrandt’s painting, The Sacrifice of Abraham (Genesis 22:10–12), housed in the Hermitage Museum (1635).
9 Jacob’s DreamHow do students respond to the idea that a human being can defeat a divine creature in a wrestling match? Students might think about the Hebrew understanding of angelic creatures, as compared to cultures in which divine and semi-divine persons appear.The image is a watercolor by William Blake, titled Jacob’s Ladder (ca. 1800), housed in the British Museum of London.
10 JosephJoseph’s story raises issues about family dysfunction, jealousy, becoming a leader in a foreign nation, prophecy, and enslavement. Are these themes universal, or do they only seem to appear in certain cultures or historical periods?The image is a painting by Salomon de Bray, Joseph Receives His Father and Brothers in Egypt (1655), private collection.
11 Exodus Hebrews enslaved in Egypt Moses as foremost prophet for the HebrewsTen Commandments and new lawStudents should spend some time reviewing the Ten Commandments, taking note that there are both positive and negative commandments (You shall, you shall not), and that (as the footnote reads), the “you” specifically addresses each individual person rather than a group of people (“you all”). What does each command stand for, and do you believe that following these rules would lead to a peaceful and just society?
12 MosesAccording to Jewish biblical scholarship, Moses spoke with a stutter and was adopted by the Egyptian pharaoh after his Hebrew mother sent him down the river in a basket (Jewish male children were being murdered at the time because a prophecy had been foretold that a Jewish male would be the ruin of Egypt). How does this background affect your ability to understand certain actions and demands made by Moses?The image is Dore’s etching (1866), showing Moses breaking the first set of tablets after returning from Mount Sinai to find his people engaged in idol worship of a golden calf.
13 Job theodicy justice human knowledge Theodicy is the attempt to explain God’s goodness in spite of the fact that evil exists in this world. Much like Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac, Job laments his situation but does not curse God. In God’s testing of Job’s faith and goodness, he must endure evils that are seemingly unwarranted. The deeper point of the text, however, is that despite the simplistic arguments of Job’s friends—that the evil suffer and the good prosper—the justice of God is more inscrutable, and the proper course for a human is not to project one’s conception of justice upon God but to willingly accept that which is ordained. God’s final words to Job emphasize this distinction between limited human knowledge and understanding, and the depth of divine knowledge.The image is from the Book of Job, illuminated manuscript (1300 C.E.). List of Byzantine manuscripts with Cyclic Illustration. Jerusalem: Greek Patriarchal Library.
14 Psalms worship hymns of praise thanksgiving lament imagery musicality Psalms is comprised of 150 songs, to be used in worship. This selection of the Psalms artfully combines aspects of adoration, propitiation, and thanksgiving in prayer. These four aspects inform the motions of prayer throughout the Psalms, with a different emphasis in each. Psalms 8 and 23 are particularly focused on encomium, as they do not request anything of God but praise him and enumerate his works. While all are prayers addressed to God, the Psalms also serve as educative texts that inform the reader about the nature of God and his works. Taken as a whole, the Psalms are not merely prayers of the Hebrew people but are catechetical and apologetic works. Indeed, insofar as they are sincere in their trust in God’s power, the Psalms can also serve as threats to the enemies of the Hebrews, as Psalm 137 warns of the inevitable destruction of Babylon.The image is a book cover, in ivory, of David dictating the Psalms (ca. 10th–11th centuries, C.E.), housed at the Louvre, Department of Decorative Arts. From the Treasury of Saint-Denis, France.
15 Discussion QuestionsDiscuss the distinctions between approaching a text as a religious manifestation of divine revelation and as a literary work of art. Does this change how one reads the text? Does it offer different insights?Students might consider the effect of translation during this discussion. If possible, the professor might provide several translations of a single psalm or biblical passage. In translations of the Tower of Babel, for example, sometimes simple words are confused, such as “valley/plain,” “moving East/ moving West.” How would mistranslating or using different words alter the meaning for these texts, especially if one were an anthropologist or archaeologist trying to learn about this culture?
16 Discussion QuestionsWhat is the difference between the curse given to the first man and the curse given to the first woman? Why are they given different curses, and is this significant? Do the punishments correspond to the distinct manners in which they fell into sin?Students might think about the motives that the man and woman have for eating the fruit. Why is this story only present in the second account of the creation?
17 This concludes the Lecture PowerPoint presentation for The Norton Anthology of World Literature