H-105. The Bible and Histories of Reading

Peter Stallybrass

Assisted by Lynne Farrington

“I came away with a broader understanding of how the biblical texts have been transmitted and used over time and place.” —2017 student

Course Length: 30 hours
Course Week: 11–16 June 2023
Format: in person, University of Pennsylvania Libraries in Philadelphia, PA
Fee: $1,395

In this course, we will be drawing on the extensive materials at Penn to explore how “the bible” was constituted through a variety of material forms for liturgical use, devotional practices, scholarly exegesis, the education of children, and as a literary resource. One question will be to what extent “the bible” was a post-Reformation invention, given that it was not particularly useful for liturgical practices in the Middle Ages. We will focus on Genesis, the Psalms, and the Gospels from the Middle Ages onwards, focusing on English translations from Wycliffe to the Brick Testament (made out of Lego).  No language skills are required, but you may find some online resources for the Latin Bible useful (e.g., http://www.latinvulgate.com and http://medievalist.net/search.htm).

Special topics will include: the bible as scrolls and as codex; the invention of the pocket bible; the development of biblical reference systems; the dissemination of the scriptures through a range of “non-biblical” forms (books of hours; children’s primers; sermons; anthologies; commonplace books); printing and publishing the bible (including in North America); “illustrations” as counter-texts; commentary and exegesis.

We will pay particular attention to typological reading (for which a good starting point is George Herbert’s “The Bunch of Grapes” in a modern annotated edition). To what extent does typology challenge dominant modern notions of reading, usually based upon the reading of novels? To what extent was the book-form (first mentioned by Martial in the 1st century CE and thus virtually coterminous with Christianity) ideally suited for discontinuous reading, whether through the collation of the “same” passage in the four gospels or through the typological collation of Old Testament and New Testament passages? Finally, to what extent was the reading of the bible transformed by post-novel reading practices?

Course History

Peter Stallybrass teaches this course online (22 hours), assisted by Lynne Farrington.
Peter Stallybrass teaches this course in person, assisted by Lynne Farrington.
Peter Stallybrass teaches this course in person.
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Peter Stallybrass

Peter Stallybrass

Peter Stallybrass is Annenberg Professor Emeritus in the Humanities Emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, where he founded and directed the History of Material Texts seminar from 1993 until 2018. Peter has been awarded the Andrew Lang Gold Medal from the University of St. Andrews and four teaching awards from Penn. He has been the Samuel Wannamaker Fellow at the Globe Theatre in London, the Moses Aaron Dropsie Fellow at the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, a Guggenheim Fellow, and he is a member of the American Philosophical Society. He collaborated with Jim Green on curating exhibitions on “Material Texts” and on Benjamin Franklin at the Library Company and the Grolier Club, and on Benjamin Franklin, Writer and Printer (2006). With Heather Wolfe, he curated the exhibition on “Technologies of Writing in the Renaissance” at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Peter’s work focuses on early modern printing and manuscripts and he is at present turning his Rosenbach Lectures in Bibliography on “Printing for Manuscript” into a book to be published by the University of Pennsylvania Press. For his sins, retirement has meant an increase in his teaching load, since he is now teaching a graduate course on “Material Texts” at the Beinecke Library, an undergraduate course on Early Modern Reading and Writing at Penn, as well as working on the Bible for Rare Book School.

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