Fall ...
The Torah/ Pentateuch As
A Scripture
(writing intensive)

MW 3:40-5:05 p.m. in HL 504
Instructor: JIM WATTS (Ph.D.)
Office: 505 HL 
Phone: 443-5713 
E-mail: jwwatts@syr.edu

Audience: Students interested in the history of Judaism, Christianity, or religious scriptures generally and wanting to fill Humanities and Writing Intensive core requirements, as well as majors and minors in Religion, Jewish Studies, History, and Literature.

Prerequisites/Co-requisites: None.

Course description: The Torah/Pentateuch (the first five books of Jewish and Christian scriptures) was the first part of the Bible to be regarded as scripture. It has also been central role to modern debates about the nature of scripture. This seminar will investigate how the Pentateuch became the Torah, the first Jewish scripture. It will examine critical issues in the modern study of the Torah/Pentateuch, such as its origins, composition, literary form, and canonization, and also its rhetorical use, performance in various media, and ritual function as a sacred object. The discussions will take up these issues alongside a close reading of the Torah/Pentateuch. 

After taking this course, students will be able to:

  1. analyze ancient texts in critical and creative ways to evaluate and adjudicate conflicting interpretations;
  2. describe orally and in writing the contents and literary form of the Pentateuch and theories of its literary origins and development. performative and iconic dimensions of texts and distinguish them from their semantic dimension;
  3. apply the lessons learned from close reading of the Pentateuch to contemporary religious and cultural issues; 
  4. employ theories of performance and iconicity to conduct research on the uses of the Torah/Pentateuch and Bible in religious communities; 
  5. demonstrate improved analytic abilities to read actively, to think critically, and to write compellingly about religion and culture, textuality and ritual.
  6. understand the role that critical study of the Torah/Pentateuch has played in the development of modern religious thought and academic inquiry.

Course Requirements:

Readings & Discussion: Students are expected to be prepared to discuss in class all the required readings. To facilitate these discussions, every student must write a short (1-3 sentences) comment or question about each of the assigned readings (including student reports) for that day, and hand it in via Blackboard one hour before class.

Reports: Each student will (1) write a 5-8 page (1,500 words) paper analyzing the major interpretive issues in one Pentateuchal text assigned for class discussion and distribute it to the class via e-mail on the Friday before the relevant seminar, and (2) write and distribute in the same way a 5-8 page (1,500 words) report on one book from the list of critical studies or the list of histories of interpretation, describing its significance for interpretation of the Torah/Pentateuch and/or the Bible generally. 

Research Papers: In addition, students may write a substantive and original research paper on a subject related to the course topic, which must be submitted in four stages: (1) a statement of the topic, (2)  a 100 word description including a thesis statement, outline and preliminary bibliography, (3) a class presentation of a summary during the last class meeting, (4) the finished research paper of 3,000 words due on or before December 15th. Or students may choose instead to write two additional 5-8 page reports (for a total of four papers of 1,5000 words each) on an additional text or book (due on the date for that text or book listed below). Unexcused late papers and reports will not be eligible for "A" grades. (Link to more detailed paper instructions.)

The students' work will be evaluated on the basis of class participation (10%) and the daily reading questions or comments (10%), the two shorter papers (20% each), and the final research paper or two additional shorter papers (40%).

Academic Integrity Policy:
Syracuse University’s Academic Integrity Policy holds students accountable for the integrity of the work they submit. Students should be familiar with the policy and know that it is their responsibility to learn about course-specific expectations, as well as about university policy. The university policy governs appropriate citation and use of sources, the integrity of work submitted in exams and assignments, and the veracity of signatures on attendance sheets and other verification of participation in class activities. The policy also prohibits students from submitting the same written work in more than one class without receiving written authorization in advance from both instructors. The presumptive penalty for a first offense by an undergraduate student is course failure, accompanied by a transcript notation indicating that the failure resulted from a violation of Academic Integrity Policy. The standard sanction for a first offense by a graduate student is suspension or expulsion. For more information and the complete policy, see http://academicintegrity.syr.edu/academic-integrity-policy/

Disability-Related Accommodations
If you believe that you need accommodations for a disability, please contact the Office of Disability Services (ODS), http://disabilityservices.syr.edu, located in Room 309 of 804 University Avenue, or call (315) 443-4498, TDD: (315) 443-1371 for an appointment to discuss your needs and the process for requesting accommodations. ODS is responsible for coordinating disability-related accommodations and will issue students with documented Disabilities Accommodation Authorization Letters, as appropriate. Since accommodations may require early planning and generally are not provided retroactively, please contact ODS as soon as possible.

Religious Observances Policy
SU religious observances policy, found at http://supolicies.syr.edu/emp_ben/religious_observance.htm, recognizes the diversity of faiths represented among the campus community and protects the rights of students, faculty, and staff to observe religious holidays according to their tradition. Under the policy, students are provided an opportunity to make up any examination, study, or work requirements that may be missed due to a religious observance provided they notify their instructors before the end of the second week of classes for regular session classes and by the submission deadline for flexibly formatted classes. For fall and spring semesters, an online notification process is available through MySlice/StudentServices/Enrollment/MyReligiousObservances.

  • Blenkinsopp, J. The Pentateuch: an Introduction to the First Five Books of the Bible. ABRL. New York: Doubleday, 1992. 
  • Levenson, Jon D. The Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, and Historical Criticism. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1993.
  • Kaminsky, Joel S. & Joel N. Lohr, The Torah: A Beginner's Guide. Oxford: One World, 2011. (K&L below)
  • Tanak (New Jewish Publication Society Version)
  • or New Oxford Annotated Bible (New Revised Standard Version) 
Additional readings, marked with an asterix (*) below, are available on Blackboard. For further resources relevant to the topic of this course, consult the Bibliography below. 
Topics and Readings
Day Topic Texts
M Aug 27 Introductions

W Aug 29

Ezra: when the Pentateuch became Scripture (Torah) Primary: Nehemiah 8
Secondary: * "Ezra" & K&L, introduction & ch. 1
M Sep 3 Labor Day  No Class
The Rhetoric of Torah
W Sep 5 Rhetoric of Origins: World Primary: Gen 1-11
Secondary: K&L, pp. 65-76

M Sep 10

Rhetoric of Origins: Israel Primary: Gen 12-50; Exod 1-19; Deut 1-11
Secondary: K&L, pp. 76-100
W Sep 12 Rhetoric of Origins: Tabernacle/Temple Primary:  Exod 25-40
Secondary: K&L, pp. 100-109
Book Reports: Damrosch, "Leviticus"

M Sep 17

Rhetoric of Origins: Priests Primary: Lev 1-16; Num 11-20
Secondary: K&L, pp. 124-140
W Sep 19 Rhetoric of Law Primary: Exod 19-24; Lev 17-27; Deut 12-26
Secondary: K&L, pp. 110-123, 141-151

M Sep 24

Rhetoric of Threat and Promise Primary: Lev 26; Deut 27-34
Secondary: K&L, pp. 152-163
The Semantic Dimension of Torah

W Sep 26

After Ezra: Rhetoric of Identity: Hasmoneans, Christians, Rabbis, Samaritans Primary:  Sir ; 1 Macc ; Heb ;
Secondary: * Carr

M Oct 1

After Ezra: Rhetoric of Law: 2T; Rabbinic; Byzantine, Maimonides; Gratian; Ten Commandments Primary:  Chr; Jub; 1QT;

W Oct 3

After Ezra: Rhetoric of Origins 1: ancient interp.; halakhah and Haggadah; typology & allegory Secondary: * Kugel

M Oct 8

After Ezra: Rhetoric of Origins 2: plain meaning (peshat), astronomy & evolution; archeology and the ANE Secondary: * Greenberg, * Finckelstein
W Oct 10 After Ezra: Rhetoric of Origins 3: historical to post-modern criticisms Secondary: Levenson, ch. 1; * Smith

M Oct 15

Before Ezra: Rhetoric of Promise & Threat Primary: review Deut 27-34; * ANE treaties, historical psalms 
Secondary: * Mendenhall

W Oct 17

Before Ezra: Rhetoric of Law Primary: Numbers; * Hammurabi's Code

M Oct 22

Before Ezra: Rhetoric of Origins 4: Aaron and the history of priesthood Primary: review Leviticus
W Oct 24 Before Ezra: Rhetoric of Origins 3: Moses Primary: review Exodus 1-19, Deuteronomy  
Secondary: Levenson, ch. 6

M Oct 29

Before Ezra: Rhetoric of Origins 2: traditions about ancestors Primary:  review Genesis 12-50
Secondary: Levenson, ch. 5
W Oct 31 Before Ezra: Rhetoric of Origins 1: creation & world order Primary: ANE myths & epics,review Genesis 1-11
Secondary: Blenkinsopp, ch. 1
The Performative Dimension of Torah

M Nov 5

After Ezra: Judaism, Hellenism, language (Hebrew) Primary: 2 Maccabees  
Secondary: * Carr, * Sawyer

W Nov 7

After Ezra: Recitation, cantonation, chant, song; lectio divina Primary:  Josephus, Antiquities 16:43; Apion 2:175; Luke 4:16-17; Acts 13:13-15; Theodotus inscription; m. Yoma 7:1; m. Sot. 7:7,8

M Nov 12

After Ezra: art, theater, film (illuminated mss b/w icon & performance) Primary: (web links to manuscripts)  
Secondary: * Brown
W Nov 14 Before Ezra: ancient scribes, ritual Primary: Exod 24; Deut 5, 31; 2 Kgs 22-23; Neh 8
Secondary: * Carr
Nov17-23 Thanksgiving Break No class
The Iconic Dimension of Torah

M Nov 26

After Ezra: Scrolls, Mezuzahs, Bamahs

Primary:  1 Macc 1:56-57; Josephus Ant. 16:164; 20:115; m. Meg. 3.1
Secondary: * Cohn, * Green, *Goldstein

W Nov 28

After Ezra: Translations, Gospels, Oaths, Desecrations Primary: Sira 24:23; Baruch 4:1; Aristeas; Acts 7:53; ’Abot 3:14; 5:6; Gen. Rab. 1:1
Secondary: * Van der Toorn, * Parmenter, * Sabar

M Dec 3

After Ezra: Illuminations, Printing, Mass production, Relic texts

Secondary: * Brown, * Hamel, *Marty, *Stolow

W Dec 5

Before Ezra: Ark, Tablets, Ritual Texts Primary: Exod 24,32; Josh 8; Judg 2-4; Deut 6, 31
Secondary: Egyptian lector priests;
Dec 17 Final Papers Due  

Course Bibliography: Critical Studies, More Studies, Histories of Interpretation, Commentaries,

Critical Studies (possible book reports): 

  • Blum, E. Studien zur Komposition des Pentateuch. BZAW 189. Berlin: de Gruyter, 1990. 
  • Carr, D. M. The Formation of the Hebrew Bible A New Reconstruction. New York: Oxford, 2011.  
  • Carmichael, C. M. The Laws of Deuteronomy. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1974. 
  • Childs, B. S. Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979.
  • Clines, D. J. A. The Theme of the Pentateuch. JSOTSup 10; Sheffield: JSOT, 1978.
  • Crüsemann, Frank. The Torah: Theology and Social History of Old Testament Law. Tr. W. Mahnke. Edinburgh/Minneapolis: Clark/Fortress, 1996. 
  • Friedman, R. E. The Exile and Biblical Narrative: The Formation of the Deuteronomistic and Priestly Works. HSM 22. Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1981. 
  • Knohl, I. The Sanctuary of Silence: the Priestly Torah and the Holiness School. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995. 
  • Levinson, Bernard M. Deuteronomy and the Hermeneutics of Legal Innovation. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
  • Levinson, B. M. (ed.). Theory and Method in Biblical and Cuneiform Law: Revision, Interpolation and Development. JSOTSup 181. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994. 
  • Mann, T. W. The Book of the Torah: the Narrative Integrity of the Pentateuch. Atlanta: John Knox, 1988. 
  • McCarthy, D. J. Treaty and Covenant: A Study in Form in the Ancient Oriental Documents and in the Old Testament. 2nd rev. ed. Rome: Biblical Institute, 1981. 
  • Miles, J. God: A Biography. New York: Knopf, 1995. 
  • Mullen, E. T., Jr. Ethnic Myths and Pentateuchal Foundations: A New Approach to the Formation of the Pentateuch. SBLSS. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1997. 
  • Nohrnberg, J. Like Unto Moses: the Constituting of an Interruption. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995. 
  • Noth, M. A History of Pentateuchal Traditions (originally published 1948). Trans. B. W. Anderson. Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1981. 
  • Olson, D. T. Deuteronomy and the Death of Moses: A Theological Reading. OBT. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994. 
  • Patrick, D. The Rhetoric of Revelation. OBT. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1999. 
  • Paul, S. M. Studies in the Book of the Covenant in the Light of Cuneiform and Biblical Law. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1970. 
  • Perlitt, L. Bundestheologie im Alten Testament. WMANT 36. Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1969. 
  • Polzin, R. Moses and the Deuteronomist: A Literary Study of the Deuteronomic History. New York: Seabury, 1980. 
  • Rad, G. von. ‘The Form-Critical Problem of the Hexateuch.’ The Problem of the Hexateuch and Other Essays. Trans. E. W. Trueman Dicken. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1966. Pp. 1-78. 
  • Rendtorff, R. The Problem of the Process of Transmission in the Pentateuch. Trans. J. J. Scullion. JSOTSup 89. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1990. 
  • Sailhamer, J. H. The Pentateuch as Narrative: a Biblical-Theological Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992. 
  • Schmid, H. H. Der sogennante Jahwist. Zürich: Theologisher Verlag, 1976. 
  • Sharpe, John, and Kimberly Van Kampen, eds. The Bible as Book: The Manuscript Tradition. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press; London: The British Library, 1998.
  • Smend, R. Die Erzählung des Hexateuch auf ihre Quellen untersucht. Berlin: G. Reimer, 1912. 
  • Smith, Mark S. The Pilgrimage Pattern in Exodus. JSOTSup 239. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997.
  • Sternberg, M. The Poetics of Biblical Narrative: Ideological Literature and the Drama of Reading. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1985. 
  • Thompson, T. L. The Origin Tradition of Ancient Israel: I. The Literary Formation of Genesis and Exodus 1-23. JSOTSup 55. Sheffield: JSOT, 1987. 
  • Tigay, J. H. "The Evolution of the Pentateuchal Narratives in the Light of the Evolution of the Gilgamesh Epic," Empirical Models for Biblical Criticism. Ed. J. H. Tigay; Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985. Pp. 21-52.
  • Van Seters, J. Abraham in History and Tradition. New Haven: Yale U.P., 1975. 
  • Van Seters, J. In Search of History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983. 
  • Van Seters, J. The Life of Moses: The Yahwist as Historian in Exodus-Numbers. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1994.
  • Watts, J. W. (ed.). Persia and Torah: the Theory of Imperial Authorization of the Pentateuch. Symposium Series. Atlanta: SBL, 2001. 
  • Weinfeld, M. Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972. 
  • Wellhausen, J. Prolegomena to the History of Israel. Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1973, orig. 1878. 
  • Whybray, R. N. The Making of the Pentateuch: A Methodological Study. JSOTSup 53. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1987. 
Other critical studies (not an option for book reports):
  • Alt, A. ‘The Origins of Israelite Law.’ Essays on Old Testament History and Religion. Trans. R. A. Wilson. Oxford: Blackwell, 1966. Pp. 81-31. [First published, 1934.]
  • Brian Britt, “Moses, Monotheism, and Memory.” Religious Studies Review 26/4 (2000) 313-17. 
  • Brooks, R. Spirit of the Ten Commandments. New York: Harper & Row, 1990.
  • Carr, David M. Writing on the Tablet of the Heart: Origins of Scripture and Literature. New York: Oxford, 2005.
  • Cohn, Yehudah B. Tangled Up In Text: Tefillin and the Ancient World. Providence: Brown Judaic Studies, 2008.
  • Damrosch, D. ‘Leviticus.’ In R. Alter and F. Kermode (eds.). The Literary Guide to the Bible. Cambridge, MA: Belknap/Harvard, 1987. Pp. 66-77.
  • Damrosch, D. The Narrative Covenant: Transformations of Genre in the Growth of Biblical Literature. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987. 
  • Fretheim, T. E. The Pentateuch. Nashville: Abingdon, 1996. 
  • Goldstein, G. M. “Torah Ornaments.” In The Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion. Ed. Werblowsky and Wigoden. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997. 698.
  • Green, William Scott. “Scripture in Classical Judaism.” In The Encyclopedia of Judaism. Ed. J. Neusner, S. Peck and W. S. Green. New York: Continuum/Leiden: Brill, 1999. 1302-1309.
  • Hamel, Christopher de. The Book: A History of the Bible. New York: Phaidon, 2001.
  • Koch, Klaus. ‘P - Kein Redaktor’. Vetus Testamentum 37 (1987), pp. 446-67. 
  • Kraus, F. R. ‘Ein zentrales Problem des altmesopotamischen Rechts: Was ist der Codex Hammu-Rabi?’ Genava 8 (1960) 283-96. 
  • Marty, Martin. “America's Iconic Book,” in Humanizing America's Iconic Book. Ed. Gene M. Tucker and Douglas A. Knight. Chico: Scholars Press, 1982. 1-23.
  • McEvenue, S. E. The Narrative Style of the Priestly Writer. AnBib 50. Rome: Biblical Institute, 1971. 
  • Mendenhall, G. E. ‘Ancient Oriental and Biblical Law.’ In E. F. Campbell, Jr. and D. N. Freedman (eds.), Biblical Archeologist Review 3. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1970. Pp. 1-24. 
  • Mendenhall, G. E. ‘Covenant Forms in Israelite Tradition.’ In E. F. Campbell, Jr. and D. N. Freedman (eds.), Biblical Archeologist Review 3. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1970. Pp. 25-53. 
  • Nasuti, H. P. ‘Identity, Identification, and Imitation: the Narrative Hermeneutics of Biblical Law.’ Journal of Law and Religion 4/1 (1986), pp. 9-23. 
  • Noth, M. A ‘The Laws of the Pentateuch.’ The Laws of the Pentateuch and Other Studies. Trans. D. R. Ap-Thomas. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1967. 
  • Olson, D. T. The Death of the Old and the Birth of the New: The Framework of the Book of Numbers and the Pentateuch. BJS 71. Chico: Scholars Press, 1985. 
  • Patrick, D. Old Testament Law. Atlanta: John Knox, 1985.
  • Parmenter, Dorina Miller. “The Iconic Book: The Image of the Bible in Early Christian Rituals.” Postscripts 2 (2006), 160-189.
  • Parmenter, Dorina Miller. “The Bible as Icon: Myths of the Divine Origins of Scripture,” in Jewish and Christian Scripture as Artifact and Canon (ed. Craig A. Evans and H. Daniel Zacharias; London: T. & T. Clark, 2009), 298-310.
  • Roth, M. T. Law Collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor. WAW 6. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1995.
  • Sabar, Shalom. “Torah and Magic: The Torah Scroll and its Appurtenances as Magical Objects in Traditional Jewish Culture.” European Journal of Jewish Studies 3 (2009), 135-70.
  • Schleicher, Marianne. "Accounts of a Dying Scroll: On Jewish Handling of Sacred Texts in Need of Restoration or Disposal." In Myrvold, Death of Sacred Texts (2010), 11-30.
  • Smith, Jonathan Z. “Religion and the Bible.” Journal of Biblical Literature 128/1 (2009), 5-27.
  • Stolow, Jeremy. Orthodox by Design: Judaism, Print Politics, and teh ArtScroll Revolution. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010.
  • Watts, James W. Ritual and Rhetoric in Leviticus: From Sacrifice to Scripture, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
  • Wellhausen, J. Die Composition des Hexateuchs und der historischen Bücher des Alten Testaments. 4th ed. Berlin: De Gruyter, 1963, orig. 1876-77. 
Histories of Interpretation
  • Harrison, Peter. The Bible, Protestantism, and the Rise of Natural Science. Cambridge: Cambridge U.P., 2001. 
  • Knight, Douglas A. and Gene M. Tucker, eds. The Hebrew Bible and Its Modern Interpreters. Philadelphia: Fortress/Chico: Scholars Press, 1985.
  • Nicholson, Ernest W. The Pentateuch in the Twentieth Century: The Legacy of Julius Wellhausen. Oxford: Clarendon, 1998. 
  • Noll, Mark A. Between Faith and Criticism: Evangelicals, Scholarship, and the Bible in America. Harper & Row, 1986. 
  • Reventlow, Henning Graf. The Authority of the Bible and the Rise of the Modern World. Tr. J. Bowden. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985. 
  • Sperling, S. David. Students of the Covenant: A History of Jewish Biblical Scholarship in North America. Atlanta Scholars Press, 1992. 
  • Sugirtharajah, R.S. The Bible and the Third World: Precolonial, Colonial, and Postcolonial Encounters. Cambridge: Cambridge U.P., 2001.


  • Westermann, Claus. Genesis 1-11, 12-36, 37-50. 3 vols. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984-86. 
  • Gunkel, Hermann. Genesis. 5th ed. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1922. Reprinted and Trans. by M. Biddle. Macon: Mercer University Press, 1997. 
  • Rad, Gerhard von. Genesis. OTL. Philadelphia: Westminster, 
  • Wenham, Gordan. Genesis 1-15, 16-50. WBC 1-2. Dallas: Nelson/Word, 1987. 
  • Childs, B. S. The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary. OTL. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1974. 
  • Houtman, Cornelis. Exodus. 3 vols. HCOT. Kampen: Kok Pharos, 1999.
  • Propp, William E. Exodus 1-18. AB 2. New York: Doubleday, 1999. 
  • Dozeman, Thomas Exodus. The Eerdmans Critical Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009.
  • Milgrom, J. Leviticus 1-16, Leviticus 17-22, Leviticus 23-27. AB 3. New York: Doubleday, 1991, 2000, 2001. 
  • Levine, Baruch. Leviticus/Va-yikra. Philadelphia : Jewish Publication Society, 1989.
  • Hartley, John E. Leviticus. WBC 3. Dallas: Word, 1992.
  • Watts, James W. Leviticus 1-10. HCOT. Leuven: Peeters, forthcoming.
  • Milgrom, Jacob. Numbers/Ba-midbar. Philadelphia : Jewish Publication Society, 1990.
  • Levine, Baruch. Numbers 1-20, Numbers 21-36. AB 4. New York : Doubleday, 1993, 2000.
  • Tigay, Jeffrey. Deuteronomy. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1996.
  • Weinfeld, Moshe. Deuteronomy 1-11. AB . New York: Doubleday, 1991