H.B. Lit: Deuteronomy

Prof. Mark K. George
Phone: 303-765-3168

Course description (catalogue copy) : The book of Deuteronomy for centuries has been viewed as laying out a political view of Israel’s life together. Josephus, for example, described Deuteronomy as Israel’s politeia or “form of government.” Government certainly is an issue in the book, particularly as it involves the conduct of self and others. More recently, Deuteronomy is understood to play a foundational role in the books of the Former Prophets within the theory of the Deuteronomistic History. This course examines these and other critical issues in the study of Deuteronomy. Prerequisite: TX-Breadth.

Fuller course description for this term: How do we read the Bible differently, and compared to what? These are questions we consider this term, in part because Deuteronomy is a good book with which to ask them. Deuteronomy receives a great deal of scholarly attention, and not without reason. A variety of scholarly issues are debated by those who study this book. Some are canonical. Is Deuteronomy part of the Torah, as tradition holds, or the Deuteronomistic History, as 20 th century scholarship argues? Both? Neither? Either? Does it matter? Other issues are historical in focus. When was it written, where, by whom, for what reason(s), and how much of it can be ascribed to a specific point in history? These are common questions and concerns in “modern” scholarship. A related set of historical questions arose in the 20 th century after scholars recognized similarities and differences between Deuteronomy and ancient Near Eastern international treaty forms, commonly referred to as suzerainty treaties. Written evidence discovered through archaeological work indicates these treaties were used across the ancient Near East from the second millennium into the first, a period in which identifiable imperial powers and relationships formed in this part of the world. Biblical scholars identified a form or structure within this treaty evidence, then identified the same (or similar) form in parts of the Hebrew Bible, especially Deuteronomy. This identification prompted theological questions and claims about the “covenant” between Israel and its deity, YHWH. It also prompted arguments about political subversion of imperial power, because YHWH appears to be the dominant party in Deuteronomy, not a foreign king.

Each of these clusters of issues offer a way of reading Deuteronomy differently from earlier Christian readings of the book. This term we will add another reading to these, involving subjectivity, government (in the sense of conduct), and technology. The subject of Deuteronomy is Israel, something that it creates and defines through a particular system and set of operations. Important to this system is the technology of writing and scrolls (i.e., “books”), the possibilities of which are realized for governing actions and thereby shaping people in distinct ways.

Course Objectives

  1. To increase students’ knowledge of the Book of Deuteronomy and the various interpretive issues it presents, through readings, discussions, and exegetical papers.
  2. To develop and improve exegetical and interpretive skills in reading the Hebrew Bible, through weekly readings of biblical and secondary literature and the exegesis papers.
  3. To improve critical thinking, communication, and writing skills by means of discussions and postings, exegetical papers, and responses.
  4. To advance our ability to interpret biblical materials in light of contemporary issues, using postings and other written work.

Required Books

Foucault, Michel. Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison (New York: Vintage, 1979). The version now available is the 1995 2 nd edition, ISBN 9780679752554 (p).

Tigay, Jeffrey. Deuteronomy . JPS Torah Commentary. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1996. ISBN 9780827603301 (c).

New Revised Standard Version (I recommend the HarperCollins Study Bible if you do not own a print copy of the NRSV). The Student edition is ISBN 9780060786847 (p).

Participation in discussions........................................................................................35%
Wk 1 history response...................................................................................................5%
Exegesis Paper 1...........................................................................................................20%
Exegesis Paper 2...........................................................................................................30%
Responses (5%/per response)....................................................................................10%

Pass/Fail requests must be submitted to the instructor in writing by e-mail no later than Friday, 26 March 2021.

Incomplete grades will be granted only in the rarest of cases and will follow the policy in the online Masters Student Handbook.

Notice: Will all those who plan to graduate this year please send an email to the professor by the end of the first week (that is, by Friday, 26 March 2021) with this information? I believe there are two such students, but my information may be incorrect!

Late work is unacceptable. It adversely affects our collective discussion work by depriving us all of your voice and ideas. The same holds for the exegesis papers because of student responses. For this reason, late contributions to the Tuesday discussion will be graded down one full letter grade if made up within 24 hours. Contributions made later than 24 hours will receive a grade of zero (0). The Thursday discussion is not graded individually but is part of the overall participation grade, so failure to participate or consistently late participation will adversely affect your participation grade. Each paper will be graded down one full letter grade for each 24 hour period it is late, up to a maximum of 48 hours. After that time, a late paper will receive a grade of zero (0). Additionally, because another student’s paper response grade depends on having a paper to read, the student who does not submit a paper will receive a grade of 0 (zero) for the paper response because it prevented the other student from completing that assignment. The upshot is please, please, please submit your papers on time! Everyone is depending on you.

Please review the topics in the "Policies & Services" page listed to the left of this paragraph. Please note that the statements contained in this syllabus regarding Pass/Fail and Incompletes are the policies for this course.

B+.................88–90 (NB: a 90 is a B+)
F.....................59 or below

Please note that an average grade in my courses is a C, as you might expect given the standard grading scale. A B+ extends to 90, making the “B” range a bit wider than usual.

If a student turns in all materials on time and satisfies the basic requirements of the assignment, this is a “C” or pass. With more insight and engagement in the assignment, students earn higher scores and grades. Exceptional performance on assignments earns a score and grade that is exceptional. This schema holds for all graded assignments.

Grading for participation and discussions (T & Th): Your grade for each week’s discussion reflects both your Tuesday posting and subsequent participation in the discussion. Because class is online, the richness (or not) of the course depends on how we engage in discussion. Your Tuesday posting is the primary basis for your weekly participation grade (90%). The remaining 10% will be determined on the basis of your participation in the discussion (although the Thursday grade in Canvas is recorded as “Complete/Incomplete” due to how Canvas works). For Tuesday, I am looking for you to demonstrate you have read the week’s materials, understood them, can engage the ideas expressed in them, and thus are synthesizing them with your own ideas. This does not mean you need to say something about each one each week on Tuesday. If one of the readings (or something in Deuteronomy) captures your thinking and needs to be your focus, go for it. But then, in discussion, see if you can draw other readings into your responses.

If your Tuesday posting consists of a general comment or two about the readings, or your own thoughts and no considered engagement with the readings, will earn you a lower grade than a posting that reflects your reading, thinking, and reflection on our materials. The more you demonstrate your critical understanding and engagement with all the materials, the higher your grade. Please note that you can do this (or something along these lines) as you explain what confuses you and why, or something you don’t understand. When you do these things in a way that also demonstrates how the materials shape your own critical thinking about Deuteronomy, this is “A” level work.

I use the comments feature Canvas provides in the grade book to provide individualized feedback. I suggest ways to improve, as needed. If my comments are not sufficiently specific, or are confusing, or you don’t understand them, or in some other way lead you to want further information, please email me so we can discuss them.

Please note that I rarely assign 100 points to for discussions or assignments. I reserve this score for work I deem exceptional!

Grading for papers: a “C” means you have a thesis or claim I can identify, make an argument or two, meet the minimum requirements in terms of scholarship, only a couple of format and style errors, and thus can do quite a bit more to improve your writing and argumentation. A “B” paper has a clear thesis suitable to the length of the paper and provides several arguments that demonstrate engagement with the biblical text and secondary materials, but has several weaknesses in logic and argument, while formatting, documentation, spelling, and other formal features of the paper are correct. An “A” paper demonstrates outstanding clarity in thesis and argument, engages with the biblical and secondary literature in insightful ways that offer insight to the biblical passage that is thought provoking, and has no formatting, spelling, documentation, or other formal errors.

Grading paper responses: a “C” means you provided a response that didn’t quite identify or rephrase the paper’s thesis and addressed a couple of aspects of the other students’ paper without offering much in the way of suggestions for improvement. A “B means you identified the thesis and generally understood it when you rephrased it in your own words, noted a strength and weakness with a suggestion for how to improve the paper. An “A” means your rephrasing of the paper’s thesis demonstrates you identified it, understand it well, and you provide useful and helpful comments about the paper’s strengths and weaknesses. Please see the “Guidelines for paper respondents” for how to provide a substantive, helpful response.

Guidelines for Respondents to Papers
Adapted from Materials Originally Produced by Dr. Pamela M. Eisenbaum
(Available as a pdf for downloading here.)

The primary objectives of responding to a paper are: 1) to assist the author with constructive criticism so the author might thereby improve the quality of the paper; 2) to articulate issues and questions that will generate discussion (if the paper is being presented to a class) or help the author think further about the arguments made in the paper.

  1. Articulate in your own words what you understand to be the author’s primary thesis in the paper, including what you think its significance is or might be. You should do this in no more than 3–5 sentences. If there is a thesis statement that you wish to highlight by quoting, that is fine, but it is not a substitute for putting it in your own words; you still must interpret that thesis statement. Be sure, however, you can state the page on which you see the author’s thesis statement (if there is one). If the thesis is not clear, articulate what you think is the general topic, and then say you are uncertain what is the central thesis. Do not summarize the contents of the paper.
  2. Identify the strengths of the paper. If it is very well-written and -argued paper and you find yourself listing more than a half dozen, limit yourself to what you see as the most important ones (e.g., ones that get at issues central to the themes and topics of the class, one that you think fulfill the assignment particularly well). If you only can find one strength, then name only one—do not try to force it. For each strength you name, you must give a reason why you think it is a strength. Do not engage in unnecessary or (even worse) insincere flattery.
  3. Identify the weaknesses of the paper. Your focus here should not be on very minor things (e.g., “incorrect spelling of the author’s name in footnote 2”) but on things that characterize the paper or major sections of it (if the author has used inappropriate footnote style or bibliographic citation throughout, that deserves comment). As with Guideline #2, any weakness you name must be backed up with an argument or example explaining why you think it is a weakness.
  4. Wherever possible, make constructive and concrete suggestions about how the paper might be improved. Here you most likely will focus on the paper’s weaknesses, but you need not limit your comments to them. You may also see ways the author can build on the paper’s already existing strengths (e.g., a particular passage, secondary reading, or argument may add subtlety to the author’s arguments).
  5. Highlight anything in the substance of the paper that you find especially compelling, illuminating, or convincing, as well as points of agreement between yourself and the author of the paper.
  6. Articulate points you find unconvincing, strained, obvious, or untrue. As always, you must explain why this is the case. If you cannot say why, don’t mention it.
  7. Articulate questions. Questions may serve different purposes. Here are a few examples:
    1. They may enable the author to see the same issues from a different, perhaps better, perspective, thereby assisting the author in improving the paper.
    2. They may signal to the author certain issues or subtopics either are unclear (i.e., poorly explained or argued in the paper) or that require further elaboration in order to become cogent and persuasive to future readers.
    3. If you are doing the review for the purpose of a class discussion, questions may enable you to generate material for discussion that you think will be of interest to the group.
  8. Do not make generalizations about the person (or even the person’s academic work) drawn from the paper. In other words, you job is to provide a critique of the paper, not the person.
  9. All critical comments—positive and negative—should use language appropriate to an academic context and discourse and be as substantive and specific as possible.
    1. Inappropriate: “Your first example was stupid.”
    2. Appropriate: “Your first example failed adequately to illustrate your point, because…”
  10. Respect the limits articulated for the review, so as to be as effective as possible in relation to the primary objective articulated above.
Mar 22, 2021MonWk 1 - Start Here !due by 06:00PM
Mar 24, 2021WedWk 1: Introduction; "Israel's" Historydue by 05:45AM
Mar 26, 2021FriWk 1 Reminderdue by 05:45AM
Mar 27, 2021SatHistory reflectiondue by 05:45AM
Mar 31, 2021WedWk 2: Let's Talk About YHWHdue by 05:45AM
Apr 02, 2021FriWk 2 Reminderdue by 05:45AM
Apr 07, 2021WedWk 3: Suzerain-Vassal Relations, Hittite Styledue by 05:45AM
Apr 09, 2021FriDeuteronomy Conversation Hourdue by 01:15AM
Apr 09, 2021FriWk 3 reminderdue by 05:45AM
Apr 14, 2021WedWk 4: Suzerain-Vassal Relations, Neo-Assyrian Styledue by 05:45AM
Apr 16, 2021FriDeuteronomy Conversation Hourdue by 01:15AM
Apr 16, 2021FriWk 4 Reminderdue by 05:45AM
Apr 21, 2021WedWk 5: Subversion; Paper #1 duedue by 05:45AM
Apr 23, 2021FriDeuteronomy Conversation Hourdue by 01:15AM
Apr 23, 2021FriWk 5 Reminderdue by 05:45AM
Apr 27, 2021TuePaper #1due by 05:45AM
Apr 28, 2021WedWk 6: Governmentdue by 05:45AM
Apr 30, 2021FriDeuteronomy Conversation Hourdue by 01:15AM
Apr 30, 2021FriResponse #1due by 05:45AM
Apr 30, 2021FriWk 6 Reminderdue by 05:45AM
May 05, 2021WedWk 7: Conduct Becoming Israeldue by 05:45AM
May 07, 2021FriDeuteronomy Conversation Hourdue by 01:15AM
May 07, 2021FriWk 7 Reminderdue by 05:45AM
May 12, 2021WedWk 8: Regimented Behaviordue by 05:45AM
May 14, 2021FriDeuteronomy Conversation Hourdue by 01:15AM
May 14, 2021FriWk 8 Reminderdue by 05:45AM
May 19, 2021WedWk 9: Normalizing Judgments; Paper #2 due (Graduating students)due by 05:45AM
May 21, 2021FriDeuteronomy Conversation Hourdue by 01:15AM
May 21, 2021FriWk 9 Reminderdue by 05:45AM
May 26, 2021WedWk 10: Writing Remains; Paper #2 due (Continuing students)due by 05:45AM
May 28, 2021FriDeuteronomy Conversation Hourdue by 01:15AM
May 28, 2021FriWk 10 Reminderdue by 05:45AM