RELG 203, McGill University, Winter 2015
RPHYS 112, Tue, Thur 4:05–5:25 p.m.

Professor Jeffrey A. Keiser  |
Office and Hours: Birks 021; Tue 2:00 p.m.–3:00 p.m. and Thurs 11:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m.

Teaching Assistants:
Brad Rice  |
(students with last names beginning with H–M)

Pauline Yee  |
(students with last names beginning with N–Z)

Course Description

This course surveys the historical contexts and literary structures of the Bible in its own right as well as the influence of the Bible in literature, art, music, and film. Key persons, stories, and themes from the Bible and its history of interpretation will be studied in relation to ideologies and events that have shaped, and continue to shape, Western culture.

Course Theses

  1. The Bible considered as a whole has a particular literary shape.
  2. The Bible is mythical in terms of its function in culture.
  3. The Bible has undergone a process of secularization.

Course Objectives

Students in this course will:

  1. learn how to interpret the Bible and its manifold cultural representations critically and contextually;
  2. become familiar with persons, events, and trends in the Bible and its history interpretation;
  3. reflect critically on the category of ‘Western Culture’.


  1. Bible

    Reading assignments from the Bible are linked to the e-text of the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), hosted by the Oremus Bible Browser. Many translations of the Bible are also available at,, and, all of which allow side-by-side comparison of multiple translations. You should acquire a printed Bible as well. The best choices for this class are Harold Attridge, et al., eds., The HarperCollins Study Bible, Student Edition, (San Francisco, Calif.: HarperOne, 2006) and Michael Coogan, et al., eds., The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha, College Edition (4th ed.; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010). Both of these editions use the NRSV. Other acceptable choices include the following:

    • New American Bible (NAB)
    • New American Standard Bible (NASB)
    • New English Bible (NEB)
    • New English Translation (NET)
    • New Jerusalem Bible (NJB)
    • Revised Standard Version (RSV)
    • TANAKH or Jewish Study Bible (NJPS). These two versions contain the Hebrew Bible only, so you will need to acquire one of the above translations for the New Testament
    • Traduction oecuménique de la Bible (TOB)

    You may use the King James Version (KJV) as a companion to one of the versions listed above if you have a special interest in English literature. The KJV is an outdated and inaccurate translation by today’s standards, but it remains the most influential translation of the Bible into English.

    Paraphrases or primarily “dynamic/functional equivalency” translations such as the Contemporary English Version (CEV), the Good News Bible (GNB), the Living Bible (LB), The Message, the New Living Translation (NLT), The Voice, and Todays English Version (TEV) are not adequate for this course. Please speak with the instructor if you are unsure whether your version is acceptable.

    Bibles can be purchased at the Canadian Bible Society (located in the Cathedral Mall between St. Catherine and Maisonneuve) or generally at any bookstore.

  2. Other Required Readings

    In addition to the assigned texts from the Bible, other required readings are listed for some lectures. These readings are accessible through links on the course schedule.

    NOTE: You will be responsible for reading all of the texts assigned for each lecture prior to class, so organize your time accordingly and come prepared.

Course Requirements

Attendance is mandatory. Your comprehension and critical engagement with the assigned readings and lectures will be evaluated, so come prepared. Your grade in the course will be based on the following elements:

  1. Thinking Pieces:  Over the semester you must complete five (5) Thinking Pieces. These are short assignments that encourage critical engagement with the assigned readings and other course materials. Thinking pieces should not exceed two pages (approximately 500 words) of typed, double-spaced text in 12-point Times New Roman or an equivalent font. If you consult outside sources, you must cite them in the body of your paper using the author-date system, e.g. (Maritain 74–75). Give full bibliographic information in a List of Works Cited at the end of your paper. Consult the essays and papers page of the Faculty of Religious Studies for examples of author-date citations and corresponding entries in reference lists.

    Unless otherwise instructed, you must upload each thinking piece to MyCourses prior to the beginning of class on the day it is due. Each piece will be given a score of 0–5 points. Late assignments will be reduced by one point for each day they are late. You may consult the grading rubric for these assignments by clicking on the “Rubrics” link on MyCourses.

  2. Midterm:  A midterm exam will be administered in class on Thursday, March 10. Additional details will be released later in the course.

    You are responsible to attend class on the day of the exam. In case of an emergency, appropriate documentation explaining your absence must be submitted to the instructor. If the absence is officially excused, an alternative test will be administered at a mutually-agreeable time. Otherwise the absence will be regarded as unexcused and the mark entered as a zero.

  3. Final Exam:  A centrally scheduled final exam will be administered on Tuesday, April 19 at 2:00 p.m. Consult the exams page regularly for the updates concerning the location of the exam. The final will be cumulative, but weighted toward the second half of the course.

    You are responsible to arrive on time at the correct location on the day of the exam. University regulations prevent instructors from making alternative arrangements for centrally-administered final examinations.

Summary of Course Requirements

  1. Thinking Pieces (5 x 10%): 50%
  2. Midterm Exam: 20%
  3. Final Exam: 30%

Academic Integrity

McGill University values academic integrity. Therefore, all students must understand the meaning and consequences of cheating, plagiarism and other academic offences under the Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures (see for more information).

L’université McGill attache une haute importance à l’honnêteté académique. Il incombe par conséquent à tous les étudiants de comprendre ce que l’on entend par tricherie, plagiat et autres infractions académiques, ainsi que les conséquences que peuvent avoir de telles actions, selon le Code de conduite de l’étudiant et des procédures disciplinaires (pour de plus amples renseignements, veuillez consulter le site


In accord with McGill University’s Charter of Students’ Rights, students in this course have the right to submit in English or in French any written work that is to be graded.

Conformément à la Charte des droits de l’étudiant de l’Université McGill, chaque étudiant a le droit de soumettre en français ou en anglais tout travail écrit devant être noté.

Students with Disabilities

If you have a disability you may wish to speak with the instructor about your situation. It would be helpful if you contact the Office for Students with Disabilities at 514-398-6009 before you do this.

Changes to the Syllabus

The official version of this syllabus will be hosted online. You will receive advance notification of any modifications to the course schedule.

Course schedule

Week 01

Jan. 12: Introduction, Procedures, and Expectations

Jan. 14: What is Western Culture?Slides

Week 02

Jan. 19: What is the Bible? Part 1Slides

Desperate Housewives Opening Credits (yU + co, 2004). Learn more at Artcyclopedia.

Jan. 21: What is the Bible? Part 2Slides

Northrop Frye, “The Shape of the Bible,” pp. 21–29 in Northrop Frye and Jay Macpherson, Biblical and Classical Myths: The Mythological Framework of Western Culture (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004)

Russell T. McCutcheon, “Myth,” pp. 190–208 in eds., Willi Braun and Russell T. McCutcheon, Guide to the Study of Religion (London; New York: Cassell, 2000)

Week 03

Jan. 26: Arguing Over Origins, Part 1: Genesis and EvolutionSlides

HB/OT: Genesis 1:1–2:4a

Ernan McMullin, “Darwin and the Other Christian Tradition,” Zygon 46.2 (2011): 291–316

Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis on the purpose of his organization:

Jan. 28: Arguing Over Origins, Part 2: Genesis and EcologySlides

HB/OT: Genesis 1:1–2:4a

Peter Harrison, “Subduing the Earth: Genesis 1, Early Modern Science, and the Exploitation of Nature,” Journal of Religion 79.1 (1999): 86–109

Clip: U.S. President Barack Obama’s Second Inaugural Address (Washington D.C., January 21, 2013)

Week 04

Feb. 02: The Fall of Adam and the Rise of Eve: Genesis 3 in Feminist and Postfeminist PerspectivesSlides

Thinking Piece: Consider the following print advertisement for GHD hair styling products. Would you characterize this image as a feminist appropriation of Genesis 3? Why or why not?

HB/OT: Genesis 2:4b–4:26

NT: Romans 5:12–21; 1 Timothy 2:12–15

Susan Osborne, “Feminism: A Short History,” pp. 7–36 in idem, Feminism (Harpenden, Herts: Pocket Essentials, 2001)

Anne-Marie Korte, “Paradise Lost, Growth Gained: Eve’s Story Revisited—Genesis 2–4 in a Feminist Theological Perspective,” pp. 140–156 in ed. Bob Becking and Susan Hennecke, Out of Paradise: Eve and Adam and Their Interpreters (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2011)

Feb. 04: Recovering Eden: The Legacy of Paradise in Western CultureSlides

HB/OT: Genesis 2:4b–4:26

Carolyn Merchant, “The Fall from Eden,” pp. 11–33 in idem, Reinventing Eden: The Fate of Nature in Western Culture, 2nd Ed. (New York/London: Routledge, 2013)

Week 05

Feb. 09: The Prehistory of Noah’s FloodSlides

HB/OT: Genesis 5–11

NT: 1 Peter 3:13–22

Adam Ployd, “We’re on a Boat!: The Church as Ark in Early Christianity.”

Feb. 11: The Aftermath of Noah’s FloodSlides

J. David Pleins, “Race, Sex, and the Curse: When Myths Go Wrong,” pp. 129–144 in idem., When the Great Abyss Opened: Classic and Contemporary Readings of Noah’s Flood (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003)

Week 06

Feb. 16: Will the Real Abraham Please Stand Up?Slides

Thinking Piece:  Abraham is often called the father of three faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. What purpose does this characterization serve? Do you think it is an accurate characterization? Defend your answer with reference to the assigned materials for today.

HB/OT: Genesis 12–17

NT: Romans 9–11; Galatians 3–4

Brannon Wheeler, “Abraham and Islam,” Bible Odyssey, n.p.

Jon D. Levenson, “The Idea of Abrahamic Religions: A Qualified Dissent,” Jewish Review of Books 1.1 (Spring 2010)

Feb. 18: Abrahamic Religions and the Binding/Sacrifice of IsaacSlides

NT: Genesis 22:1–19

Watch Author Bruce Feiler discuss his motivation for writing Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths, from a lecture sponsored by the Herman P. and Sophia Taubman Endowed Symposia in Jewish Studies, University of California Santa Barbara, 31 April, 2004.

Week 07

Feb. 23: Sodom and GomorrahSlides

Thinking Piece:  The sin of Sodom is popularly presented as homosexuality or as radical inhospitality. What are the flaws of each viewpoint?

HB/OT: Genesis 18–19;  Judges 19;  Isaiah 1;  Jeremiah 23;  Ezekiel 16

NT: Luke 10:1–12;  2 Peter 1:20–2:14;  Jude 1:1–8

Richard Elliot Friedman and Shawna Dolansky, “Homosexuality,” pp. 1–8 in idem, The Bible Now (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011)

Feb. 25: Exodus and LiberationSlides

HB/OT: Exodus 1–15;  19:1–6;  23:20–24:18;  Numbers 13:1–14:38;  Deuteronomy 34;  Joshua 1:1–16; 11:16–23

Robert Allen Warrior, “A Native American Perspective: Canaanites, Cowboys, and Indians,” pp. 235–241 in ed. R.S. Sugirtharaja, Voices From the Margin: Interpreting the Bible in the Third World, Third Edition (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2006)



Week 08

Mar. 08: The Ten Commandments, the Foundations of Western Law, and the Horned MosesHandout: Which Ten Commandments?  |  Slides

HB/OT: Exodus 19–21; 23:20–24:18; 32–34

NT: 2 Corinthians 3:7–18

Mel Brooks, Dir., “The Old Testament,” History of the World Part 1 (Brooksfilms, 1981)

Mar. 10: MIDTERM

Week 09

Mar. 15: Bon King, Bad KingSlides

HB/OT: Deuteronomy 17:14–20;  1 Samuel 8;  selected passages about King David

Mar. 17: Bon King, Bad King (continued)Slides

HB/OT: Deuteronomy 17:14–20;  1 Samuel 8;  selected passages about the following rulers of Israel and Judah:

1. Solomon

Seinfeld,The Seven,” S07E13 (NBC, February 1, 1996)

2. Josiah

Lost,What Kate Did,” S02E09 (ABC, November 30, 2005)

3. Ahab and Jezebel

Jezebel Stereotype,” Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, Ferris State University

Wyclef Jean, “Jaspora,” Wyclef Jean Presents the Carnival Featuring the Refugee All-Stars (Columbia, 1997). Lyrics and translation are available here (note: you can bypass the sign-up page by entering the following password: showarchive).

Week 10

Mar. 22: By the Waters of Babylon: The Babylonian Exile in History and CultureSlides


1. 2 Kings 24:18-25:21

2. Isaiah 52:13–53:12

George Frideric Handel, “And with his stripes we are healed,” Messiah (Tafelmusik, 2012)

3. Jeremiah 7:1–8:3;  29–31

Rev. Jeremiah Wright, excerpt from “Confusing God and Government,” sermon delivered at Trinity United Church of Christ, Chicago on April 3, 2003

4. Ezekiel 1–4;  8–10;  37;  43:1–5;  47:1–12

Delta Rhythm Boys, “Ezekiel saw de wheel

Delta Rhythm Boys, “Dry Bones,” (Decca, 1939)

5. Psalms 136–137

David W. Stowe, “History, Memory, and Forgetting in Psalm 137,” pp. 137–157 in ed. Mark A. Chancey, Carol Meyers, and Eric M. Meyers, The Bible in the Public Square: It’s Enduring Influence in American Life (Atlanta: SBL, 2014)

Don MacLean, “Waters of Babylon,” American Pie (United Artists Records, 1971)

Mar. 24:Slides

Part I: The Second Temple Period

Matisyahu, “Jerusalem,” Youth (JDub/Epic, 2005)

Part 2: Jesus and Jewish Messianic Expectations

*Thinking Piece:*  This thinking piece has three parts: 1. Read the first-century C.E. Jewish Historian, Josephus, [on the four sects of Judaism]({:class="new-window" target="_blank"}. 2. Imagine that each sect is looking to fill the position of messiah. Write four job descriptions, one for each sect, describing the position. 3. Does Jesus fit any of these descriptions? Why or why not?

NT: Mark 1:1–12; Matthew 1:1–4:11; Luke 1:1–4:12; John 1:1–34

NT: Mark 1:13–14:2; Matthew 13:1–52;  Luke 13:22–16:31;  John 8:12–59

Week 11

Mar. 29: The Last SupperSlides</a>

NT: Kurt Aland, ed., Synopsis of the Four Gospels, 10th Ed. (United Bible Societies, 1993), pp. 277–284

Thinking Piece:  Watch the following clips from Martin Scorcese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and Ron Howard’s The Da Vinci Code (2006), then read the recent Atlantic Monthly article on “The Curious Case of Jesus’s Wife.” Does it matter whether Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married? Why do you think this question continues to draw so much attention?

Martin Scorcese, Dir., The Last Temptation of Christ

Ron Howard, Dir., The Da Vinci Code

Mar. 31: The Last Supper (continued) and The Passion of the ChristSlides

Sophie Arle, “Milan Bans Da Vinci Parody,” The Guardian, Friday, February 25, 2005

HB/OT: Isaiah 52:13–53:12;  Zechariah 12–13

Mel Gibson, Dir., “Gethesemene,” The Passion of the Christ (Icon, 2004).

Mel Gibson, Dir., “Golgotha,” The Passion of the Christ (Icon, 2004)

Week 12

Apr. 05: The Passion of the Christ (continued) Slides

NT: Kurt Aland, ed., Synopsis of the Four Gospels, 10th Ed. (United Bible Societies, 1993), pp. 288–324

This reading places the four gospels’ accounts of the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus in parallel in order to facilitate easy comparison. I recommend that you follow Mark all the way through but glance across from time to time to see how the other gospels handle the story.

Apr. 07: Law and Gospel: The Letters and Legacy of Paul the ApostleSlides

Thinking Piece:  What is ‘justification by faith’ according to the Martin Luther? What kinds of things does he include under the category of ‘works of the law’? Are these the same kinds of things that the Apostle Paul would likely include under this category? What is the point of doing good works, according to Martin Luther?

NT: Read the Apostle Paul’s letters to the Philiippians 2–3 and to the Galatians

Martin Luther, Concerning Christian Liberty (selections)

Alexander Dominitz, Dir., 95 Theses

Week 13

Apr. 12: Law and Gospel (continued); Christ and the Antichrist(s)Slides

Josh Ritter, “Girl in the War,” Animal Years (V2, 2006)

HB/OT: Genesis 3:13–15;  Job 40–41;  Isaiah 26:20–27:1;  51:9–11;  Daniel 9:1–3; 20–27

NT: 2 Thessalonians 2:1–12;  1 John 2:18–22;  Revelation 12–13

Adso of Montier-en-Der, “Letter on the Origin and Time of the Antichrist

Southpark 08.14 “Woodland Critter Christmas” (Dec. 15, 2004)<iframe class="noprint" src="" width="420" height="315"></iframe>

Devil’s Advocate, dir. Taylor Hackford (Warner Bros., 1997)

Roman Polanski, Dir., Rosemary’s Baby, “Denoument” (Paramount, 1968)

Apr. 14: Apocalypse, Then and Now: The End Times in Fact, Fiction, and FilmSlides

Thinking Piece:  Is the book of Revelation about the past, the present, or the future? Defend your answer with discussion of appropriate citations/quotations from the text.

HB/OT: Ezekiel 38–39

NT: Revelation

Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, Left Behind, ch. 1 (Tyndale, 1995)

Barbara Rossing, “The Invention of the Rapture,” pp. 19–46 in idem, The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation (New York: Basic Books, 2004)

Visit The Rapture Index, a self-described “Dow Jones Industrial Average of end time activity.”

Left Behind,Rapture on a Plane</a>.,” dir. Vic Sarin (Cloud Ten, 2000)<iframe class="noprint" src="" width="640" height="480"></iframe>

In Case of Rapture,” Six Feet Under 4.2 (HB/OTO, June 20, 2004)<iframe class="noprint" width="420" height="345" src=""></iframe>

Monster Energy Drink Antichrist<iframe class="noprint" width="420" height="315" src="//" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>