- Spring 2020
- TR 2:00-3:15pm, Morrison 203.7 (my office)
- Instructor: Alan Jacobs
Robert Louis Stevenson:
The next book, in order of time, to influence me, was the New Testament, and in particular the Gospel according to St. Matthew. I believe it would startle and move any one if they could make a certain effort of imagination and read it freshly like a book, not droningly and dully like a portion of the Bible. Any one would then be able to see in it those truths which we are all courteously supposed to know and all modestly refrain from applying. But upon this subject it is perhaps better to be silent.
In this class we are going to try to read the New Testament. You may use any translation you wish to use; however, I do have a single requirement: that the text you use does not have verse numbers, but instead presents an unbroken text (or a text broken only by chapter divisions). I do not know of any "reader’s edition" — as these kinds of Bible are called — that has any notes or commentary, but just in case: Please do not use any edition of the Bible that contains notes or commentary, aside from brief technical notes about the biblical text.
I myself will be using, and would prefer you to use, the ESV Reader’s Bible. But you might also use the Biblica New Testament, or some version — there are several — of the NKJV Reader’s Bible. And if you’re really serious you could try the gorgeous Bibliotecha multi-volume edition. For one of our readings, the Gospel of Mark, you will use a translation that I’ll hand out to you.
This will be your only text for our course.
- Come to class ready to engage! We are a small group and will be able to have meaningful conversations.
- Each day that we meet you will bring me two 4x6 index cards. One of them should refer to a passage from our reading that has struck you as particularly interesting, or confusing, or moving, or challenging to you as a reader, with a brief explanation of your reaction. The other index card should feature two questions concerning issues from the reading that you would like us to explore. (There can be overlap between the two cards.) During the course of the semester I will collect, read, and reflect on the cards you submit. I will also let you know if I think your submissions are insufficiently thoughtful, or insufficiently attentive to the details of the text. You may only submit cards when you come to class, and you will need to submit a full deck of 52 cards to get full credit for the assignment. These cards will collectively count for half of your grade.
- At the end of the term I will return your cards to you, and ask you to read through them, reflect on them, and then write a final project, an essay of around 3000 words that will assess your journey as a reader through the texts we will have read. You will be free to make this reflection as personal or as scholarly as you prefer. I will assist you in shaping the essay, since it is an unusual assignment. This will serve as your final exam, and will count for the other half of your grade.
- Further policies may be found here.
1.14: Introduction to course
1.16: The First Letter to the Thessalonians※
1.21: The Letter to the Galatians
1.23: The First Letter to the Corinthians※
1.28: The Letter to Philemon
1.30: The Letter to the Philippians※
2.4: The Second Letter to the Corinthians
2.6: The Letter to the Romans, Chapters 1-8※
2.11: The Letter to the Romans, Chapters 9-16
2.13: The Gospel of Mark (in the translation of Reynolds Price, which I will hand out)※
2.18: Continued discussion of Mark2.20: The Letter of James; the Letter to the Colossians ※
2.25: The Gospel of Matthew, Chapters 1-18
2.27: The Gospel of Matthew, Chapters 19-28※
3.3: The Letter to the Hebrews
3.5: Continued discussion of Matthew and Hebrews
3.17: The Letter to the Ephesians
3.19: The Letter to Jude; the First and Second Letters of Peter※
3.24: The First and Second Letters to Timothy; the Letter to Titus; The Second Letter to the Thessalonians
3.26: The Gospel of Luke, Chapters 1-16※
3.31: The Gospel of Luke, Chapters 17-24
4.2: The Acts of the Apostles, Chapters 1-15※
4.7: The Acts of the Apostles, Chapters 16-28
4.9: The Gospel of John, Chapters 1-12※
4.14: The Gospel of John, Chapters 13-21
4.16: The Revelation to John, Chapters 1-13※
4.21: Diadeloso (N.B.: This is not one of the books of the Bible)
4.23: The Revelation to John, Chapters 14-21※
4.28: 1, 2, and 3 John
4.30: Conclusion to course
5.7: Final project due
From Kierkegaard’s Journals:
The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in this world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.
I open the New Testament and read: ‘If you want to be perfect, then sell all your goods and give to the poor and come follow me.’ Good God, if we were to actually do this, all the capitalists, the officeholders, and the entrepreneurs, the whole society in fact, would be almost beggars! We would be sunk if it were not for Christian scholarship! Praise be to everyone who works to consolidate the reputation of Christian scholarship, which helps to restrain the New Testament, this confounded book which would one, two, three, run us all down if it got loose (that is, if Christian scholarship did not restrain it).