ENG 333: Bible as Literature

“It is those who would look through the text, who, disconcertingly, see least; those who would look at it and study the detailed patterning of its surface as an artifact, who discover most.” Stephen Prickett

“The Bible has had a literary influence . . . not because it has been considered literature, but because it has been considered the report of the Word of God.” T. S. Eliot

“From the beginning the word and the world together shape, as shaped syllables in the mouth, a poem to the beloved, an invitation to unbroken communion with the Other.” David Lyle Jeffrey

“It is by words and the defeat of words,
Down sudden vistas of the vain attempt,
That for a flying moment one may see
By what cross-purposes the world is dreamt.”
Richard Wilbur

Course Objectives

I have two goals for this course: first, to learn how to read the Bible with attention to its literary, verbal qualities, and second, to consider how the Bible’s self-understanding of language might shape our reading of all literature. As you can see from our reading schedule below, we’ll be reading the Bible with the help of both scholars and literary artists, and these two perspectives will hopefully complement each other. While this will be a demanding course and may stretch your view of language and divine revelation, I think that by learning to attend to the “detailed patterning” of biblical language, we will discover great riches of meaning.

Course Documents

Please upload your pre-class reflections to the appropriate folder here. In order to upload files, you’ll need to select “Join folder to receive updates” on the right side of the screen. You can also find all of the assigned essays, stories, and poems in this folder.

Grading Breakdown:

Course Grading Scale: A 100-93; A- 92-90; B+ 89-87; B 86-83; B- 82-80; . . . F 59-0.


  • The Bible. I recommend either the KJV, RSV, or ESV. The Blue Letter Bible allows you to follow the original languages, which will be important for close analysis.
  • The Art of Biblical Narrative, by Robert Alter. ISBN: 978-0-465-02255-7 (ABN)
  • The Art of Biblical Poetry, by Robert Alter. ISBN: 978-0-465-02256-4 (ABP)

Course Calendar

Course meets MWF from 8:55-9:55 in SDH 209

If you need to join class via Zoom due to COVID-19 quarantine, you may use this link to do so. Let me know if you need to participate via Zoom as I won’t set up Zoom unless it is necessary.

This schedule is subject to change.

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

  • Monday 2/22: Genesis 30-39; ABN Chapter 5
  • Wednesday 2/24: no class
  • Friday 2/26: Genesis 40-50; ABN Chapter 8

Week 6

Week 7

  • Monday 3/15: I Sam. 21-31; ABN Chapter 4
  • Wednesday 3/17: Focus 
  • Friday 3/19: II Sam 1II Sam. 6; ABN Chapter 6

Week 8

Week 9

Week 10

  • Monday 4/5: Easter Monday 
  • Wednesday 4/7: Job 1-3; Elizabeth Sewell, “Job“; Gerard Manly Hopkins, “Thou art indeed just, Lord”; ABP 3
  • Friday 4/9: Job 4-14; ABP 4

Week 11

Week 12

Week 13

Week 14

Week 15

  • Monday 5/10: David Jeffrey, People of the BookEpilogue”; Richard Wilbur, “An Event
  • Friday 5/14: Final Exam 1:00-3:00