Faculty of Arts


Special Topic in Biblical Studies: Sex, Sin, and Sovereignty in I and II Samuel

Please note: this is archived course information from 2018 for THEOLOGY 705.


I and II Samuel is a dramatic and thrilling story of power, kingship, passion and betrayal, which traces the development of the monarchy in ancient Israel. We are introduced to a myriad of complex characters, including the prophet Samuel, his mother Hannah, the tragic King Saul, the much-wronged Bathsheba and, of course, the central character of this narrative, David. Throughout the course, we trace the rise (and fall) of David, Israel's first dynastic king. From his humble origins as a shepherd to his final days of rule over an increasingly precarious kingdom, we follow David's journey through his political, personal and spiritual struggles. We cheer as he conquers that most terrifying Philistine warrior Goliath. We watch, fascinated, as he negotiates a treacherous path around the volatile Saul, who became, at God's insistence, the first (reluctant) monarch of Israel. We mourn with him over the loss of his beloved Jonathan and his troubled son Absolom. We question his increasingly tyrannical rule over Israel. And we look on, aghast, at his disastrous relationship with Bathsheba and the eventual falling apart of his family life, his political power and his relationship with his God.

Throughout this course,we will read the text of I and II Samuel together, examining the stories, plotlines, themes and characters encountered in this biblical text. Through our close reading, we will explore its historical context, literary features, its long history of interpretation and its reception in literature, art, poetry and film. We will pay particular attention to the themes of sin, sexuality and sovereignty, which interweave with each other throughout the narrative, considering their significance within both ancient and contemporary contexts. Our textbook is Robert Alter's marvellous translation and commentary on I and II Samuel, The David Story (W.W. Norton & Co, 1999), which explores the literary techniques used within this text, highlighting its many layers of meaning for audiences throughout history.

Prior study of biblical literature is not required to take this course. Similarly, the course does not require that students approach the biblical texts from any particular ideological or faith-based perspective. All that we do require is that students have a passion for studying wonderful literature and a desire to learn more about the literary techniques and narrative skills of the ancient biblical storytellers.

To complete this course students must enrol in THEOLOGY 705 A and B.

Availability 2018

Not taught in 2018


Coordinator(s) Dr Caroline Blyth


Robert Alter, The David Story (New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 1999).

Recommended Reading

Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative (Basic Books, 2011).


THEOLOGY 705A: 15.0 points

THEOLOGY 705B: 15.0 points



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