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Indiana University Bloomington
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Course Description

The Agnostic Bible (3 cr.)
Herb Marks
CMLT-C 301 Special Topics in Comparative Literature #30632 / HON-H 303 Interdepartmental Colloquia #15346
TR 5:30-6:45 BH 221

There is arguably no book of world literature that has been more embroidered, distorted, and misread than the Hebrew Bible. As the basis of Christian theology and the ultimate source of Jewish law, it is commended even today as a moral and metaphysical guide, a treasury of dogmatic truth. But there is a significant strain in the Bible--perhaps the predominant strain--that is impatient with piety and suspicious of dogmatic wisdom, particularly the wisdom of those who presume on their knowledge of the uncanny central figure it calls God or Yahweh. Indeed, if one reads against the grain of tradition, the Bible is a book that revels in contradiction, invites questions but frustrates answers, views human morality, like divine “goodness,” with skepticism, and treats its characters, legendary or historical, with irreverent license.

In this course we shall be exploring this skeptical strain in biblical literature, beginning with the books of Ecclesiastes and Job, continuing with parts of the Pentateuch and the Deuteronomistic History, and concluding with the Gospel of Mark. Theoretical questions about the epistemology of reading (how we know what we know) will be a constant focus, but we shall approach them through specific readings and narrowly focused discussion. Secondary texts will include essays on general and special hermeneutics as well as selections from modern biblical scholarship. Students will be asked to write a series of short exercises and two more formal papers. 

Prerequisite: a good background or active interest in literature or philosophy. A prior course on the Bible would be helpful but is not essential.