The marvelous stories of Genesis are a source for spiritual enrichment and inspiration for practitioners of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In this seminar we shall discuss in depth essential religious ideas that these stories yield. Then we shall explore – with respect for religious diversity – how we might use them as the basis for messages that are both intellectually honest and spiritually uplifting. In addition to attaining a thorough knowledge of Genesis’ content, each student will be asked to prepare two pulpit-type messages for the class’ edification and critique.
Genesis is the story of the beginning of the religious traditions which trace their history back to the patriarch Abraham. We shall treat it not as a novel, but as an essential religious text.
Essential to the process is each student’s thorough familiarity with what the text says. To that end a diagnostic quiz on Genesis’ content will be given during the first class session – not for grading purposes but to give each student a sense of the depth of Genesis’ knowledge I feel you should have. To prepare for that quiz it is suggested that each student closely re-read the books fifty chapters as many times as it takes to become thoroughly familiar with it.
It is my hope that much of the class will unfold as a mutually enriching workshop, In addition to the two “major” messages students will regularly prepare and share shorter messages based on the texts as we are studying them. Each of us will bring our own background and priorities to our inquiry and we shall constantly ask ourselves as we encounter the various Genesis stories: “How can the message of this story inform, edify and uplift those with whom I have the privilege of interacting either from the pulpit, in a classroom, or in one on one conversations?”
Our constant premise will be: These are not simply stories that may or may not have actually happened some 4000 years ago. They are stories that underlie the religious thought of the three Abrahamic faiths. They are, when all is said and done, stories about each of us, and our most successful messages will emerge when we help those who choose to listen to us find themselves in the text.
Our goal is ambitious: To open our eyes to the powerful potential of Genesis to inspire our religious outlook and transform the lives of those with whom we interact.
The Class Sessions
What we do and what we accomplish in each individual class session will be fluid. In other words it is not possible to determine ahead of time exactly what we will cover each week. Therefore I have not divided the syllabus into Weekly class sessions. The primary reason for this is that each student will make her/his major presentations on topics of her/his choosing. We want to allow ample time to discuss each presentation. So if more students choose, for example, to preach on some aspect of the Joseph Story, we will naturally allot more time to our encounter with that story. Our goal, though, will be to cover the material listed below.
Please note: Class attendance is an essential requirement of this seminar. No amount of reading you do can make up for the learning opportunity missed through our interpersonal communications and interactions. I cannot consider anyone who misses more than one of our sessions to have been a successful participant in this seminar.
The required reading (with the exception of Steinbeck’s East of Eden , see Cain and Abel below) is by design not very extensive. The reason for that is so that you will read the small amount of material assigned very carefully and closely. It is also my expectation that for each topic students will come prepared to contribute insights from Genesis commentaries or interpretations relevant to their particular religious tradition or outlook.
—Who we are and why we are here —Hopes and Expectations,
An Approach to Scripture: Between Fundamentalism and Fairy Tale
“The Grand Misconception”, a
Revolution in human thought, Jewish Sources.
Reading: Standing at Sinai (SaS) pp.3-4
The Story of Creation, scientific treatise or religious
poem? What lessons does it teach? What is truth?
Reading: Genesis 1:1-2:4; SaS pp.5-13.
--Three attempts to create a just, caring,
Reading: Genesis 2-11; SaS pp. 13-15.
Eden: Traditional Christian view;
traditional Jewish view; a modern
Reading: Genesis 2-3; SaS pp.15-23
—Cain and Abel, offerings that are not
Accepted. What God is; what God is not.
Reading: Genesis 4, SaS, 23-30.
Genesis Rabbah, Chapter 22.
John Steinbeck, East of Eden, (first published) New York, Viking Press, 1952.
Any subsequent edition will do.
Lessons from Noah and the Tower of
Babel. God’s dilemma.
Reading: Genesis 6-11, SaS pp. 30-39.
Documents From Old Testament Times, “The Story of the Flood,” pp.17-26.
—The Covenant with Abraham, Abraham as
Reading: Genesis 12-24, SaS 39-61.
—The Career of Jacob: Is this the One to
Inherit the Covenant?
Reading: Genesis 25:19-Genesis 36,
SaS pp. 61-71.
---The Magnificent Story of Joseph; Setting
the Stage for Redemption.
Reading: Genesis 37-50, SaS pp. 71-81.
Required Texts: Stephen Fuchs, Standing at Sinai which I suggest you read through at the beginning of our studies and then re read in appropriate sections as we progress.
I have also prepared a supplementary packet of Genesis sermons, essays and outlines to which we shall refer from time to time and which I hope you will find helpful.
Suggested Supplementary Jewish Sources for Understanding Genesis
Freedman, Rabbi Dr. H. and Simon, Maurice. Midrash Rabbah, Volumes 1-10.
London: Soncino Press, 1961.
Hertz, Joseph. The Pentateuch and Haftorahs. London: Soncino Press, 1979.
Rosenbaum, Rev. M. and Silbermann, Dr. A.M. Pentateuch with Rashi Commentary, Volumes I-V. New York: Hebrew Publishing Company.
Plaut, Gunther, et al. The Torah: A Modern Commentary. New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1981.
Sarna, Nahum M. The JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1989.
______. The JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus. Philadelphia: The Jewish
Publication Society, 1991.
Speiser, E. A., ed. The Anchor Bible: Genesis. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1964.
Sforno, Obadiah. Commentary On The Torah, Rabbi Nosson Scherman and Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz, eds. Brooklyn, New York: Mesorah Publications, 1989.
Asimov, Isaac. In the Beginning. New York: Crown, 1981.
Barr, James. The Bible in the Modern World. London: SCM Press, 1973.
Encyclopedia Judaica, Volumes 1-16. Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House, Ltd.,
Eskenazi, Tamara Cohen and Andrea Weiss, The Torah: A Women’s Commentary. New York: Union for Reform Judaism Press, 2007
Fokkelman, J.P. “Genesis,” in The Literary Guide to the Bible, ed. Robert Alter and Frank Kermode, eds. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press, 1987.
Ginzburg, Louis. The Legends of the Jews. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1968.
Goldstein, Elyse, ed. The Women’s Torah Commentary. Woodstock, Vermont: Jewish Lights, 2000
Jeansonne, Sharon Pace. The Women of Genesis. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1990.
Kass, Leon R. The Beginning of Wisdom. New York: Free Press, 2003
Kaufmann, Yehezkel. The Religion of Israel. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960.
Knight, Douglas A. “The Ethics of Human Life in the Hebrew Bible.” In Justice and the Holy: Essays in Honor of Walter Harrelson. ed. Douglas A. Knight and Peter J. Paris. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989.
Knight, Douglas A. and Gene M. Tucker, eds. The Hebrew Bible and Its Modern Interpreters. Chico, California: Scholars Press, 1985.
Leibowitz, Nehama. Studies in Bereshit. Jerusalem: World Zionist Organization, 1972.
Lieber, David, et.al. Etz Hayim, Torah Commentary of the Conservative Movement. New York, United Synagogue of America, 2001.
Sarna, Nahum M. Understanding Genesis. New York: McGraw Hill, 1996.
Silver, Abba Hillel. Where Judaism Differed. New York: Macmillan, 1956.
Spiegel, Shalom. The Last Trial. New York: Pantheon Books, 1967.
Thomas, D. Winton, ed. Documents From Old Testament Times. New York: Harper and Row, 1958.
Tribble, Phyllis. God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978.
Zornberg, Avivah Gottlieb. Genesis: The Beginning of Desire. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1995.
In addition much material is available on the internet under the names of the various weekly Torah portions according to the Jewish lectionary. Those names are:
Bereshit, Noach, Lech Lecha, Va-yayra, Chaye Sarah, Toldot, Va-yetze, Va-yishlach, Va-yeshev, Miketz, Va-yigash, Va-yechi. (You may find some variations in spelling of the Hebrew transliterations.) A Google or other search engine inquiry listing any of these names will yield a glut of information about the topics of these individual portions of Genesis. As you are all well aware, though, one must be discerning with the net. Some of the information will be immensely valuable; some will not be valuable at all.
Please note: This is a list of mostly Jewish sources that you may find helpful. It is not intended to be in any way exhaustive. Students are encouraged to use a wide range of commentaries and other supplemental material from their own religious traditions.
Contact: As an adjunct faculty member I do not maintain regular office hours at Hartford Seminary. I am eager, though, to be as accessible as you need me to be. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. I suggest that you send all emails to both addresses- one is at home and one at my synagogue office and I work at both places. My phone number is 233-8215 and my direct extension is 229. You can leave a confidential message on that extension at any time of the day or night if I am not there. If you wish to make an appointment to see me, please call the same number but dial 224 to reach Cheryl Goldberg, our Rabbinical Administrator who keeps my calendar. If she and you can’t work out a convenient time, speak to me personally, and we’ll find an off hours time to have a meeting.
There will be no class on February 25, when I will be out of the country and no class on April 15 which is the seventh day of Passover. Early in the semester I shall discuss how we can compensate for the missed session.
I look forward to an exciting journey of mutual exploration and learning together!
Rabbi Stephen Fuchs