“These stories [in the early chapters of Genesis] have provided a foundation for three of the world’s major religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Furthermore, arguably, these pages also provide the foundations on which Western civilization as we know it today has been built. Indeed, few questions are more fundamental to human existence than Who am I? Where did I come from? What is my place in this world? The earliest chapters of Genesis have oriented hearers and readers for millennia in their attempts to address these concerns.” (Daniel D. Lowery, “Toward A Poetics of Genesis 1-11: Reading Genesis 4:17-22 in Its Near Eastern Context”. Bulletin for Biblical Research Supplements. Eisenbrauns, 2013, p. 1)
The first book of the Jewish and Christian Bible is one of the foundational documents of Western culture, and it is rich in poetry, symbolism and spiritual meanings. But it has also been at the centre of some of the greatest debates in religious history—around creation and evolution, literalism versus symbolism, the nature of God, the originality (or not) of its characters and stories, and its role in shaping our attitudes toward the environment. These are some of the most familiar texts in the Old Testament, and yet they continue to yield fascinating new layers of meaning through the application of ancient and modern methods of study. By drawing upon some of the most insightful interpreters from the early Jewish and Christian traditions (including ancient rabbis and the Fathers of the Church), this course will look at these questions using a “reception history” approach, examining how those writers and commentators can help us—even today—to grasp the beauty, nuance, power, playfulness, and meanings of some of the core texts of the Judæo-Christian tradition.