The Hebrew Bible


(Before you start each new assignment, I strongly recommend you read through the orange "notes from class" from the previous class.)

Study Genesis 1-2 and Proverbs 8.

As you go, create for yourself a list of the most important ideas you find in these texts concerning not only creation, but also the other main topics of our course:

Background reading (essential for honors students):  Coward, Scripture in the World Religions, 1-10.

Remember to also complete the next assignment on the New Testament for this class.

(For class notes see below under New Testament.)


The New Testament


Study John 1:1-18 and Colossians 1:1-23.

On your list of ideas from the Hebrew Bible about creation, the human condition, and salvation, note which ones also appear in these New Testament passages.  What new ideas do these New Testament passages suggest on these subjects?

Background reading (essential for honors students):  Coward, Scripture in the World Religions, 34-50.

Notes from class

Our initial attempt to fit details from several texts together to form a coherent model of creation ran into the difficulty of how to fit in the intermediate figure(s) of Wisdom, the Word, and Christ.  The parallels between these three figures are fascinating; indeed they may all be the same figure, and we could perhaps have come up with an interpretation that fit them all together. But instead we switched to another project:  we asked ourselves, what if these texts aren't all trying to present a single model of creation; what if they have different purposes?  We ended up with the theory that Proverbs 8, John 1, and Colossians 1 all retell Genesis 1 at least partly for the purpose of presenting their own views of salvation (or of how to gain "life"):

This analysis of why each text retells Gen 1 fits with something Coward said:  Jews view the Writings and Prophets and the Oral Torah as explanations of the written Torah, and Christians view the New Testament as functioning similarly, explaining the Hebrew scriptures.  We have certainly seen that to be true:  Proverbs (one of the Writings), John, and Colossians each provides a kind of commentary on Genesis, even rewriting it in a sense - not replacing it, but putting a new spin on it, and using it as a springboard for a new idea.

The Qur'an


Study chapter/sura 10 (Jonah), verses 1-39, of the Qur'an.  (That is, Q 10:1-39.)  Also read Q 13 (entire), Q 21:30-40, and Q 41:9-12. 

What seems to be the purpose of telling about creation in these texts?  Do their views of creation, the human condition, and salvation differ significantly from those of Genesis, Proverbs, John, or Colossians?

Background reading (essential for honors students):  Coward, Scripture in the World Religions, 81-94.

Notes from first part of class

First, we took an important step on the question of the purpose, value, and pitfalls of comparison:

Second, we confirmed that our Qur'anic passages, like Proverbs and John and Colossians, deliberately retell the story of creation (more or less as it is in Genesis, but in less detail) for the purpose of communicating a certain vision of salvation.

(Notes on the Vedas are below.)



Study Rig Veda 10.90, 1.154, 10.129 (in Textual Sources for the Study of Hinduism, pp. 27-28 and 33, sections,, and 2.3.1).

Jot down for yourself some major parallels (if any) to the Biblical and Qur'anic creation narratives, as well as differences that seem important to you.

Background reading (essential for honors students):  Coward, Scripture in the World Religions, 105-111.

Notes from second part of class

The Rig Veda (RV) presents creation in terms that are murky and sometimes deliberatly inconclusive.  Some details, however, recall aspects of creation from our Biblical books:

We decided, however, that these Rig Vedic passages do not explicitly indicate a view of salvation.  In that respect they are more like Genesis 1-2 than like Proverbs or John or Colossians or the Qur'an.  Nevertheless, just as we were able to imagine that Genesis 1-2 might be interpreted as the basis for the view that salvation depends on one's genealogy, so here we were able to see some potential seeds for two views of salvation that we expect to see developed in later Hindu texts:

Overall, like Genesis, RV is more clearly intended to explain why the world is the way it is (e.g. marriage in Genesis, social castes in RV 10.90) than to lay out a path to salvation.



Study Brahmanda Purana (in Textual Sources for the Study of Hinduism, pp. 65-68).  Continue to note any parallels you can find to texts already studied, as well as major differences.

Background reading (essential for honors students):  Coward, Scripture in the World Religions, 111-122.

Notes from class

At our first level of analysis - the content of our texts - we made a few minor notes about creation in this Purana:

This last point led us to our main accomplishment, which was at our second level of analysis - the form and function of scriptures.  We constructed the hypothesis that each religious community can be placed on a spectrum between two views of language and scripture:

This contrast between two views of language and scripture not only contributes to our project of figuring out how scriptures function within their religious communities; it is also important for our third level of analysis - our analysis of how we analyze our texts.  It serves as yet another warning of the limitations of our type of study:  by looking for ideas about creation and the human condition and salvation in translated texts, we are assuming the second, informative view of language and scripture, and we may be completely missing what some religious people (especially many Hindus and Muslims) think is the whole point of their scriptures.  This is also a warning about the limitations of Religious Studies as a field, because it has a long tradition of studying religions mainly the way we are doing it - through the comparative study of scriptures.


The Pali Canon


Study Warren, Buddhism in Translations, 161-170.  This selection of short texts requires us to step back and reconsider the entire notion of creation, and even of existence.  Can you come up with a succinct way to compare this doctrine of existence with our prior explanations of the world's existence? 

Background reading (essential for honors students):  Coward, Scripture in the World Religions, 138-151.

Today let's try to sum up the principal models of creation, the human condition, and salvation that we have encountered so far.

Notes from class

When we came down from our grand (and important) theorizing about views of language and scripture, we had just enough time to note some dramatic differences in how these Buddhist sutras tell about "creation":


















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