Comparative Literature | The Agnostic Bible
C301 | 15086 | Herbert Marks

Department of Comparative Literature Spring 2007
Topic:  The Agnostic Bible
Prof. Herbert Marks
Wed. 4:00-6:30
Class meets with HON-H303, IBLS- I600, ENG- L470, and fulfills A&H
and Cultural Studies requirements.

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 routinely commended even today as a moral and metaphysical
guide, or as a repository 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
	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 several short exercises and a final paper.
	Prerequisite: a good background or active interest in
literature or philosophy. A prior course on the Bible would be
helpful but is not essential.