|Folklore yields insight into contemporary and historical realities, and this is nowhere more true than with regard to mythic and profoundly influential cultural patterns of belief and narratology. This course will bring students to a sophisticated awareness of the Judeo-Christian bible as a shaping cultural document that continues to exert a strong and often unexamined influence on all aspects of our behavior, beliefs, literature, and art.
We will read key sections of the Bible—both from the Hebrew and the Christian portions—examining them as a complex tradition of mythic and narrative patterns, heroic images, poetic and legendary modes, and ethical prescriptions that have, from the beginning persisted as orally transmitted materials. This course will bring together readings of the Bible in the Judeo-Christian tradition in connection with apt mythological, folkloristic, and traditional contexts, concepts, and meanings. We will read sections of the Bible that have continuing presence in Western culture and literature, exploring how these are shaped by oral traditions and how they carry ongoing symbolic and narrative meaning. In addition to reading key narrative, lyrical, prophetic, and epistolary sections of the King James English bible, we will take a folkloristic approach in studying these accounts—contextualizing them both in relation to modes of oral creation and dissemination, and in connection with parallels to and adaptations of biblical stories in other cultural forms and traditions. We will consider the Biblical accounts in relation to the mythic context of ancient traditions and peoples in the Middle East as well as the transforming applications of these materials through a variety of religious institutions and practices.
The process of oral tradition and the shaping of individual and collective belief will be part of our discussion as we consider a range of traditional modes evident in the Bible: myth, legend, song, heroic story, didactic expression, jeremiad, and proverbs. We will examine the relationship between traditional forms and oral expression and transmission on the one hand, and traditions of writing and official codification on the other. We will also consider religious belief and unbelief in relation to unexamined shaping patterns of belief and cultural orientation. In addition, questions of context, meaning, translation, syncretic adaptation, personal and collective belief, morality, ritual enactment, and social function will be taken up as students gain a more sophisticated and self-aware understanding of a compilation that stands at the heart of Western culture.
This course is group-satisfying in Arts and Letters: it creates meaningful opportunities for students to understand a work that is at the center of Western culture, literature, and art. In addition, it raises to their awareness profound issues of belief, mythic enactment, morality, and the historical transmission of texts and images. It offers meaningful opportunities for students to engage in modes of inquiry that define the discipline of folklore and its engagement with the study of mythology and religion. Students will apply methodological and theoretical perspectives gained in the course in their interpretations of readings and their own independent investigation of Biblical texts and topics.