ENG 270 The King James Bible

Patricia Skarda, T Th 1:00 PM-2:50 PM

Since the seventeenth century when the King James Version (1611) was made available to those who could read its sonorous phrases, the Bible has contributed much to the taste in literature for all writers and readers. The seventeenth-century prose of the King James Bible is the most eloquent, though far from the most accurate, biblical translation into English. Appreciating its beauty makes it possible to understand its influence on literature in English. The King James Version of the Bible is not only the great source book of spiritual experience of English-speaking peoples, but it is also a treasury of plain, pungent words and muscular phrases, beautiful in themselves and with long and enduring associations. If you want to be a good writer and a good reader of poetry and fiction, you need to read the Bible, for it is a seamless web of myth and metaphor, regardless of its authority. We'll appreciate the King James Version along with the NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) so that no nuance will be lost.

This course is designed to teach students to appreciate biblical literature (both narratives and poetry) as literary wholes, complete with internal dynamics, ironies and paradoxes, interaction among characters and scenes, thematic and imagistic patterns, and formal structures. The use of the Bible by poets and novelists includes allegory, allusion, narrative patterning, parody, and critical comment. Just as creation stories begin a text replete with murder, flood, curses, witches, prophets, kings, and Christ figures, many works of literature have their source in the Bible and many are dependent on understanding biblical sources for their full meaning.

Our mutual task will be to find and analyze distinctions between and likenesses among biblical narratives and short stories and novels, to recognize the Bible as literature, and to identify the various uses of biblical modes, figures, ideas, and echoes in English and American literature. As Alfred, Lord Tennyson put it over 100 years ago: "Bible reading is an education in itself." And when once read, many works of literature are illuminated by a familiarity with the Bible.

The class will have a substantial component in the Botanic Gardens at Smith, where many plants, trees, and flowers in Scripture will be identified (perhaps planted) in themselves before analyzing the symbolic and metaphorical use of particular species of flora.

Course requirements include at least two papers, an oral presentation (alone or with others), and a final examination, along with regular and informed participation in lively class discussions. In addition to selections from the Bible, the course will include plays, short stories, novels, and some poetry.