Reading Moses: Life, Law, and Literature
Why do we write the lives of individual people? Why do we write them the way we do? In this course, we’ll consider an individual whose life has been written perhaps more than anyone else’s: Moses. Why was Moses’s life written, and why, in the Bible, was it written in the way that it was?
We’ll begin with the perhaps the earliest biography of Moses as such, Philo of Alexandria’s On the Life of Moses. We’ll then delve into the Bible itself. How does the character of Moses intersect with key leadership roles in ancient Israelite society—king, priest, prophet? Why is Moses regarded as the lawgiver par excellence? As we go, we’ll explore linkages with other forms of ancient biography: how were ancient literary techniques used, and even transformed, in the writing of Moses’s life? We’ll explore, too, the human and mythological dynamics of Moses’s character, and consider how its development is deeply entwined with the formation of the literary corpus of the Pentateuch and prophetic and wisdom literature in the Bible.
Along the way, we’ll tap into the works of more contemporary thinkers, including Thomas Carlyle, Virginia Woolf, and Stefan Zweig, to address questions such as: What is the relationship of biography to history? To literature as a form of art? To ideology and apology? To identity? To truth? What is a work of biography designed to make us think and feel?
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30pm EST
October 20 — November 17, 2020
Class will not meet Tuesday, November 3rd.