RELI 30153: How to Read the Bible:

Story and Politics in Judges and Ruth

Tuesday 2:00-4:45, Beasley Hall 204

Prerequisites: Religion 1003, 1013, or by instructor's permission

UCR: Critical Inquiry (CI)

Professor David Gunn

Beasley Hall 207 or 221; tel: 257-7441; email:

Class web site:

Course Description

This course explores distinctive characteristics of ancient Hebrew narrative and investigates why readers produce very different interpretations of biblical stories. In particular it asks how gender affects the reading of narratives of violence. That question will involve asking further questions about what counts as violence. Taking the books of Judges and Ruth as our base we look at how these narratives have been interpreted over the centuries, we examine whether men and women have differed in the way they see and understand violence in the texts, and we ask how we might interpret these stories and communicate our interpretations in today's world.

The class will tackle these issues inductively: that is, questions and potential answers will arise out of a close reading of the selected texts and the ensuing discussion rather than through set lectures on particular topics. Students will be expected to contribute actively to this process through critical thinking and discussion in and out of the class, regular assigned reading (biblical text and secondary sources), research on certain issues/topics, and construction of a learning workshop with a small team of fellow students. They will keep a web-based journal and write two short papers.

Course objectives

The course is designed to help students:

Course assessment Required reading/viewing

Listed in the Schedule, below, under each topic. (There may be some additional material occasionally.)

The required textbooks are:

David M. Gunn and Danna Nolan Fewell, Narrative in the Hebrew Bible (Oxford University Press, 1993)

Gale A. Yee, ed., Judges and Method: New Approaches to Biblical Studies (Fortress Press, 1995)

Biblical passages listed under Schedule. For this purpose each student should have a Bible (preferably Revised Standard Version, New Revised Standard Version, TANAKH, or Authorised [King James] Version) and bring this Bible to each class.

Directions for obtaining other required reading will be given in class. Additional readings include:

T. K. Beal and D. M. Gunn, "Judges, Book of," in John H. Hayes, ed., Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999) vol. I, pp. 637-647.

T. K. Beal, K. A. Keefer, and T. Linafelt, "Literary Theory, Literary Criticism, and the Bible," in John H. Hayes, ed., Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation (Abingdon Press, 1999) vol. II, pp. 79-84

Katheryn Pfisterer Darr, "' More than Seven Sons': Critical, Rabbinical, and Feminist Perspectives on Ruth," in Far More Precious than Jewels: Perspectives on Biblical Women (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1991) pp. 55-84

Danna Nolan Fewell, "Judges," in Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe, eds., The Women's Bible Commentary (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992) pp. 67-77

Amy-Jill Levine, "Ruth," in Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe, eds., The Women's Bible Commentary (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992) pp. 78-84

Susan Niditch, “Samson As Culture Hero, Trickster, and Bandit: The Empowerment of the Weak.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 52 (1990) pp. 608-24.

V. C. Phillips, "Feminist Interpretation," in John H. Hayes, ed., Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation (Abingdon Press, 1999) vol. I, pp. 388-398

Phyllis Trible, "A Human Comedy," in God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality (Fortress Press, 1978) pp. 166-199

Judith Romney Wegner, "Chattel or Person?" in Chattel or Person? The Status of Women in the Mishnah (Oxford University Press, 1988) pp. 10-19


January 16 Introduction to the Course

Ruth 1

January 23 Ruth and Naomi ~ 1

Ruth 1 and Genesis 38

Read: Narrative, ch. 1:1-12 and ch. 2:34-45; Trible, "A Human Comedy" (pp. 166-175)

January 30 Ruth and Naomi ~ 2

Ruth 2

Read: Narrative, ch. 3:46-63; Trible, "A Human Comedy" (pp. 175-181)

February 6 "A Lapful of Grain"

Ruth 1-4

Read: Darr, "More Than Seven Sons" (pp. 55-84)

February 13 Ruth and Naomi ~ 3

Ruth 3 and Genesis 29-30

Read: Trible, "A Human Comedy" (pp. 181-187); Wegner, "Chattel or Person" (pp. 10-19)

February 20 Ruth and Naomi ~ 4

Ruth 4

Read: Trible, "A Human Comedy" (pp. 188-196); Narrative, ch. 3:75-89; Levine, "Ruth" (pp. 78-84)

February 26Midterm assignment, due noon.

February 27 Review

Read: Narrative, ch. 9:189-194; Phillips, "Feminist Interpretation" (pp. 388-398); Beal et al., "Literary Theory, Literary Criticism, and the Bible" (pp. 79-85)

March 6 Achsah and the Story of Conquest

Judges 1-3

Read: Narrative, ch.7:155-163; Judges and Method, ch. 6:119-142 (Fewell, "Deconstructive Criticism")

March 13 Deborah and Jael

Judges 4-5

Read: Judges and Method, ch 4:65-88 (Exum, "Feminist Criticism")

March 20 Spring Break

March 27 Gideon and Abimelech

Judges 6-9

Read: Beal and Gunn, "The Book of Judges"; Judges and Method, ch. 3:45-63 (Steinberg, "Social Scientific Criticism")

April 3 Jephthah's Daughter

Judges 10-12

Read: Narrative, ch. 5:101-121

April 10 Samson and Delilah

Judges 13-16

Read: Narrative, ch.3:63-75; Niditch, "Samson as Culture Hero" (pp. 608-624)

April 17 The Levite's Woman

Judges 17-21

Read: Fewell, "Judges" (Pp. 67-77)

April 24 Workshops

May 1 Workshops

May 7 Critical review, due noon