Academic Programs 
      

Engaging the Book of Genesis: The Text in the Context of Our Own Lives    (SC-625) 
Winter/Spring 2006

This course will examine the Book of Genesis as a touchstone for understanding “sacred story” as a motif in our own lives. The accounts of Creation, the Garden, Noah and the Flood, the Tower of Babel, the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, and Joseph and his brothers, will be read as guides to our own spiritual struggles. A liberation theology that aims at transforming conflict and forging reconciliation will be developed from the text. The Jewish tradition of midrashic exegesis will be introduced and then illustrated throughout the course.

Meeting Day, Time and Dates:
Wednesdays from 7 p.m. to 9:20 p.m., beginning February 1

Yehezkel Landau
Faculty Associate in Interfaith Relations

Contact Information:
phone: 
(860) 509-9538
email: ylandau@hartsem.edu

 

Course Syllabus


Topics to be covered:

  1. How Jews read the Bible: Introduction to Midrash
  2. The Weekly Torah Portion: Text Incorporated into Liturgy
  3. How Scripture Can Help Redeem our Dysfunctional Relationships
  4. Imitatio Abrahami: Abraham as a Role-Model for Seeking Justice and Peace
  5. Sharing the Blessing: An Inclusive Liberation Theology

Rationale and Goals:

This course will help students understand how Jews relate to the Bible as an Eitz Chayyim (Tree of Life), a holy book that is both ancient and contemporary. Christians and Muslims can benefit from learning how Jews interpret sacred texts, especially since those Biblical texts are considered sacred by the other two traditions, also. In particular, the method of rabbinic exegesis known as midrash can yield extraordinary insights, into how we read a text and how we apply its teachings in our daily lives.

The goals of the course are:

  1. To help students appreciate how Jews read their own Bible; hopefully this will
    foster a non-doctrinaire approach to texts free from preconceptions
  2. To cultivate an awareness of how contemporary the so-called “Old Testament” is
  3. To relate the stories in Genesis to our own faith struggles of discernment and fidelity
  4. To encourage a multi-faith conversation around the issues raised by the text,
    in an atmosphere of mutual respect and enrichment

ANTICIPATED LEARNING OUTCOMES:

  1. Appreciating how any translation is already a distortion of the original text
  2. Developing a basic understanding of the four-level typology of rabbinic exegesis, with special appreciation for the power of midrash
  3. Knowing how the weekly Torah portions are divided up
  4. Approaching Scripture as a source of practical wisdom, not just a collection of myths or fables
  5. Appreciating Scripture as an underpinning for collective self-understanding
    through history, and relating this appreciation to our own life journeys within
    faith communities

METHODS OF DELIVERY AND DISCUSSION: An introductory session on Jewish exegesis of Scripture, with examples of midrash. Following sessions focused on each of the 12 weekly Torah portions that make up the Book of Genesis. Instruction will weave together various interpretations, classical and contemporary, from literal to literary. Students will be encouraged to offer insights from their own readings of the text. Each student will be asked to prepare two questions for each session to share with the class: one question posed by a problem within the text (e.g., a cryptic reference or a detail that is omitted), and one question that relates the text to an issue or challenge that we grapple with today.

METHODS OF ASSESSMENT: Participation in class discussions (20%); seriousness and creativity in developing questions for group consideration (30%); grasp of the material conveyed by the readings and the instructor, as well as creative thinking and interpretation, as demonstrated in a final paper (50%). This paper should be about 15 double-spaced pages in length and should be submitted at the last class on May 10.

SCHEDULE OF CLASS SESSIONS AND READINGS

Note: For each week, read the relevant Biblical portion (indicated in parenthesis) plus the chapter in Avivah Zornberg’s book commenting on that portion. In addition, choose one book from the “Recommended” list and read it before the end of the course. Your final paper should make reference to this second book, as well as any other source material you wish to use.

Feburary 1: Introduction to the Written and Oral Torahs, Jewish exegesis of Scripture,
and the nature and function of midrash.
Recommended readings: BACK TO THE SOURCES: READING THE
CLASSIC JEWISH TEXTS edited by Barry W. Holtz
AN INTRODUCTION TO JEWISH BIBLE COMMENTARY by Rabbi
Bernard M. Casper
TORAH TODAY: A RENEWED ENCOUNTER WITH SCRIPTURE by
Pinchas H. Peli, pp. 3-52

February 8: BERESHIT (Gen. 1:1 to 6:8)
Required reading: GENESIS: THE BEGINNING OF DESIRE by Avivah
Gottlieb Zornberg, pp. xi-36

February 15: NOACH (6:9 to 11:32)
Required reading: Zornberg, pp. 37-71

February 22: LEKH LEKHA (12:1 to 17:27)
Required reading: Zornberg, pp. 72-96

March 1: VAYERA (18:1 to 22:24)
Required reading: Zornberg, pp. 97-122

March 8: CHAYYEI SARAH (23:1 to 25:18)
Required reading: Zornberg, pp. 123-143

March 15: TOLEDOT (25:19 to 28:9)
Required reading: Zornberg, pp. 144-179

March 22: VAYETZE (28:10 to 32:3)
Required reading: Zornberg, pp. 180-215

March 29: VAYISHLACH (32:4 to 36:43)
Required reading: Zornberg, pp. 216-242

April 5: VAYESHEV (37:1 to 40:23)
Required reading: Zornberg, pp. 243-283

April 12: Holy Week/Reading Week—NO CLASS

April 19: Last day of Passover—NO CLASS

April 26: MIKETZ (41:1 to 44:17)
Required reading: Zornberg, pp. 284-313

May 3: VAYIGASH (44:18 to 47:27)
Required reading: Zornberg, pp. 314-351

May 10: VAYECHI (47:28 to 50:26)
Required reading: Zornberg, pp. 352-381

LIST OF RECOMMENDED READINGS (choose one to read):

GENESIS by Bill Moyers

UNDERSTANDING GENESIS by Nahum Sarna

STUDIES IN BERESHIT (GENESIS) by Nehama Leibowitz

THE GENESIS OF PERFECTION: ADAM AND EVE IN JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN IMAGINATION by Gary A. Anderson

READING THE BOOK: MAKING THE BIBLE A TIMELESS TEXT by Burton L.Visotzky

ABRAHAM: A JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF THREE FAITHS by Bruce Feiler

ABRAHAM: A SYMBOL OF HOPE FOR JEWS, CHRISTIANS, AND MUSLIMS By Karl-Josef Kuschel

THE LAST TRIAL--ON THE LEGENDS AND LORE OF THE COMMAND TO ABRAHAM TO OFFER ISAAC AS A SACRIFICE: THE AKEDAH by ShalomSpiegel

THE EXILE OF THE WORD: FROM THE SILENCE OF THE BIBLE TO THE SILENCE OF AUSCHWITZ by Andre Neher

MESSENGERS OF GOD: BIBLICAL PORTRAITS AND LEGENDS by Elie Wiesel

SELF, STRUGGLE, AND CHANGE: FAMILY CONFLICT STORIES IN GENESIS AND THEIR HEALING INSIGHTS FOR OUR LIVES by Norman J. Cohen

OUR FATHERS’ WELLS: A PERSONAL ENCOUNTER WITH THE MYTHS OF GENESIS by Peter Pitzele

THE FIVE BOOKS OF MIRIAM: A WOMAN’S COMMENTARY ON THE TORAH by Ellen Frankel, pp. xv-89

THE GENESIS MEDITATIONS: A SHARED PRACTICE OF PEACE FOR
CHRISTIANS, JEWS, AND MUSLIMS by Neil Douglas-Klotz

 

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