This course introduces students to the development of Jewish and Christian biblical interpretation by focusing on ancient, medieval, and modern interpretations of the Song of Songs. Students will encounter a variety of important interpreters in English translation, guided by appropriate secondary materials. The course will touch on issues of gender and religious language, on allegory and interpretation, on mystical and feminist readings of scripture, and on the interplay of the ascetic and the erotic in religion.
This course has no prerequisites. The readings will be made available in English. The class will utilize a combination of lecture, discussion, student presentations, reports, close reading, and a research paper. Participants in the seminar will be encouraged to do original research in the primary sources (in English translation).
The Song of Songs (also known as the Song of Solomon or as Canticles) is part of the Hebrew Bible. The book appears to be a collection of poetry on the theme of human love. Its evocative, enigmatic, and often frankly erotic poetry raises significant issues of interpretation. No other book of the Hebrew Bible has provoked such a wide variety of interpretations among its readers. Studying the developing interpretations of the Song of Songs gives one an unusual opportunity to examine the history of significant ideas in Western culture. It was "the most frequently interpreted book of medieval Christianity" and it inspired many medieval Jewish commentaries as well. There has been a rebirth of interest in the Song during the last two decades, especially among feminist circles, because it provides alternative ways of looking at scripture.
The instructor’s annotated bibliography of useful books related to the Song of Songs is available online in PennTags: (http://tags.library.upenn.edu/project/7230).
Each participant will need a Bible in modern English (including both the Jewish and Christian Scriptures). The Revised Standard Version (RSV), New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), and New International Version (NIV) are particularly useful translations — especially in editions that include annotations, cross-references, and other help for participants.
In addition, each participant will need access to the following recommended textbooks:
E. Ann Matter, The Voice of My Beloved: The Song of Songs in Western Medieval Christianity (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990)
The anthology of photocopied readings for the class.
Most of the above books will be available in the Rosengarten Reserve area in Van Pelt Library. Those who wish to purchase any of them will find them at the Penn Book Center (at 130 South 34th Street). All of these books (in various editions) are also available used and new from Amazon.com.
The instructor will make several readings available in class, especially those that are out of print or difficult to obtain. In addition, several other useful books have been placed on reserve in Van Pelt Library.
The requirements for the course include regular participation in class, up to three class presentations, and a research paper on a topic chosen by the participant with the approval of the instructor. Participants may expect to read 100 to 150 pages per week in preparation for class discussions. Work will be graded as follows:
|30% of grade: class participation and class presentations|
|30% of grade: weekly assignments|
|40% of grade: research paper|
This class puts a high premium on independent work and on cooperative effort. Consultation and collaboration are encouraged. Plagiarism and cheating will not be tolerated.
This class schedule is tentative and may be adjusted, based on the interests and abilities of the students and the rate at which we progress. The latest class schedule (with a list of assigned readings) will be available on the course website. Please check there each week for updates.
|9/3/13||Introit: Theme and Variations — an introduction to the subject and the course|
|9/10/13||Contemporary Scholarly Approaches to the Biblical Text|
|9/17/13||Exegetical Study of the Biblical Text|
|9/24/13||The Earliest Interpretations: Old Greek translation, Dramatic Rubrics, Rabbinic Sages|
|10/1/13||Origen: Virtuoso of Christian Interpretation|
|10/8/13||Early Medieval Jewish Readings: Targum and Midrash|
|10/15/13||Medieval Jewish Commentary: Rashi, Ibn Ezra|
|10/22/13||Jewish Mysticism: Shi`ur Qoma, Kabbala, Zohar|
|10/29/13||Patristic Commentary: Theodore of Mopsuestia, Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory the Great|
|11/5/13||Medieval Christian Commentary: Glossa Ordinaria, Bernard of Clairveaux, Nicholas of Lyra, Alan of Lille, medieval manuscript illustrations|
|11/12/13||Vernacular Variations: Mechtild of Magdeburg, John of the Cross, Teresa of Ávila, late medieval and Renaissance music|
|11/19/13||Modern Jewish Interpretations|
|11/26/13||Modern Christian Interpretations|
|12/10/13||Coda: Participants' Presentations on Final Project|
|12/17/13||Finale: (date of final exam: all work due)|
|Class sessions:||Tuesday evenings from 6:00 to 8:40 p.m.|
|Instructor:||Jay C. Treat, Ph.D.|
|Course Website:||Canvas site TBA|
|Office:||Williams Hall, room 433|
|Office telephone:||215-573-3171 between 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM weekdays|
|Office hours:||Monday-Friday, 9:00–5:00, preferably by appointment|
|Tentative Syllabus:||available online in Courses inTouch|