Genesis syllabus


An introduction to historical, textual, source, and redaction criticism of the book of Genesis and to exegesis as science and ideology. Texts, history, and iconography of neighboring traditions (Mesopotamian, Ugaritic, Egyptian, Greek) are also studied when appropriate.


HIS-44: Introductions to the Cultures of the Ancient Near; Biblical narratives (Lit 80a), or some basis in Hebrew or Greek, would be helpful. Or talk to the instructor.


  • Week 1:
    Introduction to historical and exegetical methods. Presentation of the documentary hypothesis, source criticism, historical criticism, literary criticism. When was this text really written, and how would one know it? On-going discussion at every stage of the course of the history of Israel-Judah in the 8th-5th c. BC, as likely background for the writing of Genesis.
    Creation of the world, Gen 1.1-2.3; Mesopotamian Epic of Creation.
    Creation of man and woman, Gen 2.4-3.24. Parallels in other myths.
  • Week 2:
    Cain and Abel, Gen 4.1-16; interpretations by Philo and early Church exegetes.
    The invention of culture and pre-flood generations (4.17-6.8): birth of evil in myth.
    The flood, 6.9-9.29. Noah in subsequent literature. Comparison to Enoch and Jubilees.
  • Week 3:
    The Tower of Babel, 10.1 to 11.26. Historicity of flood stories? Interpretation by Philo and allegorization.
    Abraham cycle (11.27 to 25.18): The call to Abraham and Abraham-Sarah in Egypt, 12.1-13.1. Meaning of biblical geography in the historical context of late, 7th c. BC Judah.
    Abraham and Lot, the four kings, the covenant: 13.2 to 15.21.
  • Week 4:
    Hagar and Ishmael, 16.1-16.
    Covenant with Abraham, 17.1-27.
    The guests of Abraham and Lot, 18.1-33: hospitality of Abraham in other texts and iconography.
  • Week 5:
    The destruction of Sodom and the story of Lot, 19.1 to 19.38.
    Abraham and Abimelech; Birth of Isaac and expulsion (sacrifice) of Hagar and Ishmael, 20.1 to 21.21.
    The `aqedah or binding of Isaac, 22.1-19.
  • Week 6:
    Death of Sarah and Abraham buys a burial site for her, 23.1-20.
    The story of Rebekah, 24.1-67 (developed type-scene at a well).
    The birth of Esau and Jacob, 25.19-34;
  • Week 7:
    The blessing of Jacob, 25.19-34;
    Jacob’s fleeing, and vision at Bethel, 27.46 to 28.22.
    His marriages and children, 29.1 to 30.24
  • Week 8:
    Jacob the trickster and Laban, 30.25-43, and his flight again, 31.1-54.
    Jacob prepares to meet Esau, and the struggle with the angel, 32.1-33.
    The rape of Dinah and relationship with Canaanites, 34.1-21. References to other violent scenes in the Bible. Read Trible and others.
  • Week 9:
    The story of Joseph (37.1 to 50.26). Short story or didactic tale?
    Joseph sold and taken to Egypt, 37.1-36;
    Judah and Tamar, 38.1-39: holyness and prostitution.
  • Week 10:
    Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, 39.1-23; compare the Egyptian Tale of two brothers.
    Joseph as interpreter of dreams for prisoners and Pharaoh, 40.1 to 41.57.

Books at the local bookstore

  1. Required:
    1. Robert Alter. Genesis
    2. Claus Westermann. Genesis: an introduction
    3. Amos Finkelstein and N. Silberman. The Bible unearthed
  2. Recommended:
    1. Coogan (and others). The New Oxford Annotated Bible

On Reserve at UCSC McHenry

  • R. Brown et al. eds. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990.
  • N. Cohn. Cosmos, Chaos and the World to Come. 1993.
  • I. Finkelstein and N. Silberman. The Bible unearthed : archaeology’s new vision of ancient Israel and the origin of its sacred texts. Free Press, New York, 2001.
  • H. Gunkel. Genesis. 1902.
  • R. Hendel. The Text of Genesis 1-11. Textual Studies and Critical Edition. New York: Oxford UP, 1998.
  • J. Pritchard. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Princeton, 1969.
  • E.A. Speiser. Genesis. New York: Doubleday, 1964.
  • C. Westermann. Genesis: an introduction. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992.
  • C. Westermann. Genesis 1-11; Genesis 12-36; Genesis 37-50. (3 volumes) Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984-86.

Evaluation of students

  1. Weekly discussions of historical background of short passages chosen from among those studied in class (20%).
  2. Two shorter, five-page, papers on pre-arranged topics.
  3. A longer paper (8-10 pages) on a topic chosen by the student from a list of topics given by the instructor (15 + 15 + 30% = 60%).
  4. Participation in discussions (20%).

Revised 09/26/2008 (gh); and again 5 March 2015 (gh);



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Gildas Hamel

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