Fall ...
REL 610
Textual Practices:
The Torah/

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

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. 

The seminar's goals are to have students :

  1. learn to analyze ancient texts in critical and creative ways to evaluate and adjudicate conflicting interpretations;
  2. recognize and appreciate the difficulties and possibilities inherent in undertaking a coherent, disciplined study of a religious text, and to become aware of the diversity of perspectives within that study;
  3. develop an understanding of the Torah/Pentateuch as a key instance in the diversity of human religious phenomena, and achieve a fluency in interpreting and describing it;
  4. 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.

Research Papers: Students must write a substantive and original research paper (ca. 5,000 words) on a subject related to the course topic, presenting the class with a summary during the last class meeting. (The finished research papers are due on or before December 15th.). 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%).

  • 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.
  • Watts, J. W. Reading Law: The Rhetorical Shaping of the Pentateuch. Biblical Seminar 59. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999. 
  • Tanak (New Jewish Publication Society Version)
  • or New Oxford Annotated Bible (New Revised Standard Version) 
Additional readings and a full schedule of readings, will be available on Blackboard. It may be requested in advance from the instructor (see e-mail above).

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