The Bible at the Movies

RELI 30163
UCR: Critical Inquiry (CI)
Professor David Gunn
Beasley Hall 207 or 221; tel. 257-7441;

Prerequisites: Religion 1003, 1013, or by permission

Through examination of biblical texts and movies which draw upon those texts the course explores how the Bible has been interpreted, and its authority used, to promote particular religious, moral, social, and political values in popular culture. In addition, by way of comparison, some attention will given to other visual images, in painting and sculpture, linked to biblical topics.

The nature and varieties of interpretation as a cultural activity ranging beyond the province of biblical specialists will be a focal point of discussion. Students will be encouraged to relate self-critically what they learn about how texts and images function to how they themselves read and visualize the Bible today.

The texts will include some of the best-known biblical stories (including Samson, Moses, David, and Jesus). The movies will be mostly English-language films of the past half-century. The other images will represent a range of periods and styles in European art. The course follows broadly the sequence of Gerald Forshey's account of the films set against their social location, moving from early post-World War II to the present.

The class will tackle the subject inductively for the most part, although there will be some formal presentations on particular topics. Participation in this course requires a commitment to some extensive reading (of Biblical texts as well as secondary literature) and viewing of movies outside class meetings. It will include involvement in a creative project relating to a particular topic as well as willingness to contribute actively - this may take various forms - to regular class sessions.

Course objectives
Course assessment
Required reading/viewing

Course objectives:

The course is designed to help students:

Course assessment: Required reading/viewing:     Laurie Schneider Adams, The Methodologies of Art: An Introduction (1996)
    Alice Bach, ed., Biblical Glamour and Hollywood Glitz (1996)
    Lloyd Baugh, Imaging the Divine: Jesus and Christ-Figures in Film (1997)
    John Berger, Ways of Seeing (1972)
    David Bordwell, Making Meaning: Inference and Rhetoric in the Interpretation of Cinema
    Tim Bywater and Thomas Sobchack, Introduction to Film Criticism (1989) (1989)
    Peter T. Chattaway, "Jesus in the Movies," Bible Review (1998)
    Peter T. Chattaway, "Lights, Camera, Plagues! Moses in the Movies,"Bible Review (1999)
    J. Cheryl Exum, ed., Beyond the Biblical Horizon: The Bible and the Arts (1999)
    David M. Gunn and Danna Nolan Fewell, Narrative in the Hebrew Bible (1993)
    Larry J. Kreitzer, The Old Testament in Fiction and Film (1994)
    Joel W. Martin and Conrad E. Ostwalt Jr., eds.,Screening the Sacred (1995)
    John R. May, New Image of Religious Film (1997)
    Jonathan Magonet, A Rabbi's Bible (1991)
    Margaret R. Miles, Image as Insight (1985)
    Margaret R. Miles, Seeing and Believing: Religion and Values in the Movies (1996)
    James Monaco, How to Read a Film (1981)
    Robert S. Nelson and Richard Shiff, eds., Critical Terms for Art History (1996)
    Bernard Brandon Scott, Hollywood Dreams and Biblical Stories (1994)

Schedule (provisional: reading/viewing in process of revision):

Class 1: Course introduction: Reading and viewing the Bible

Class 2: Samson and Delilah (DeMille, 1949)
    Judges 13-16
    Read: Forshey: Chapters 1, 4, and 5 (pp. 59-65); Berger: Chapter 1
    View: Doré; Corinth

Class 3: The Robe (Koster, 1953)
    Matthew 26-28; Mark 14-16; Luke 22-24; John 18-21
    Read: Forshey: Chapter 3; Eichenberger, "Approaches to Film Criticism" and Hasenberg, "The 'Religious' in Film" (in May 1997);
        Martin, "Introduction: Seeing the Sacred on the Screen" (in Martin 1995)
    View: Spanish baroque; Reni; van Dyck; Bouguereau; Sutherland; Riefenstahl

Class 4: David and Bathsheba (King, 1951)
    2 Samuel 11-12
    Read: Forshey: Chapter 5 (pp. 65-82); Berger: Chapters 2 and 3
    View: Bathsheba: medieval mss, early printed Bibles; Rembrandt; A. Gentileschi

Class 5: The Ten Commandments (DeMille, 1956)
    Exodus (selections)
    Read: Forshey: Chapter 7; Kreitzer, "The Ten Commandments: Some Modern Film Interpretations" (in Kreitzer 1994)
    View: Rembrandt; Poussin; Michelangelo; Doré; Roberts

Class 6: The Bible (selection: Sacrifice of Isaac) (Huston, 1956)
    Genesis 22
    Read: Forshey: Chapter 8; Miles (1996)
    View: Ghiberti; Caravaggio; del Sarto; Hole; Levine

Midterm asignment due

Class 7: Jesus Christ Superstar (Jewison, 1973)
    Gospels (selections)
    Read: Forshey: Chapter 6; Chattaway, "Jesus in the Movies," (1998); Baugh, "The Jesus Musicals:
        Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell (in Baugh 1997)

Class 8: Monty Python's Life of Brian (Jones, 1979)
    Gospels (selections)
    Read: Malone, "Jesus on Our Screens" (in May 1997); Baugh, "The Scandel Films:
        The Life of Brian and The Last Temptation of Christ" (in Baugh 1997)

Class 9: The Last Temptation of Christ (Scorsese, 1988)
    Gospels (selections)
    Read: Forshey: Chapter 9 (pp. 163-182); Miles, "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?" (1996)
    View: Bacon; Koenig; Weight; Sutherland

Class 10:  King David (Beresford, 1985)
    1 & 2 Samuel (selections)
    Read: Magonet, "My Paret in the Fall of 'King David' -- The Bible Goes to the Movies" (1991)
    View: David & Goliath: Donatello; Castagno; Michelangelo; Caravaggio; Bernini

Class 11: Workshop planning

Class 12: The Matrix (Wachowski brothers,1999)
    Revelation (selections)
    Read: Forshey: Chapter 10 (pp. 183-191)

Class 13: Workshops: David (Markowitz, 1997)

Class 14: Workshops: Prince of Egypt (Dreamworks, 1999)

Class 15: Concluding discussion

Critical review due