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Course Details

Instructor: Prof. Tyler F. Williams

Office phone/Voice mail: (780) 431-5217



Course Weight: 3 credits (3-0-0)

Office Hours: As posted on office door (My office is in the south-west end of the Administration Building, across from the Admissions Office)

Course Description

An in-depth study of the book of Genesis in English translation, with a focus on the themes, structure, literary artistry, and message of this foundational book of the Bible. Attention will also be paid to critical issues and methods, ancient Near Eastern parallels, and the history of scholarship on the book of Genesis.

Course Objectives

At the successful completion of this course students should have

  1. a thorough grasp of the content, theme, and message of the book of Genesis;
  2. an awareness of issues surrounding the interpretation of the book of Genesis, including an acquaintance with the ancient Near Eastern background to the book;
  3. an awareness of the critical issues that have surrounded the book of Genesis, including historical-critical and more recent literary and ideological (re)readings; and
  4. a commitment to the process of  integrating faith and learning, and a sense of  how the historical, literary, and theological interpretations of the book of Genesis relate to each other, and how they relate to theological reflection and the Christian life.


Student with Disabilities

Students with documented disabilities or other special needs should make these aware to the Student Development department. I am available to discuss appropriate academic accommodations that may be required in this course for student with disabilities or other special needs. Requests for academic accommodations should be made during the first three weeks of the semester, except for unusual circumstances, so arrangements can be made.

Required Texts

The texts for this course are Robert Alter, Genesis: Translation and Commentary (W.W. Norton, 1996; Buy from | Buy from; and Frederick Buechner, The Son of Laughter (New York: Harper Collins, 1993; Buy from | Buy from

Other readings are noted in the schedule

Also, a number of major commentaries on Genesis have been placed on reserve in the Library.


The requirements for the course, including assignments and their weight, are as follows:
  1. Attendance, Preparation, & Participation (5%). The class meets twice a week.  At Taylor University College the expectation is that students will attend and participate in all scheduled classes and discussion groups. Absences are deemed to be exceptions. As per Taylor policy, students are responsible for any and all consequences of missed classes, including any instructions, handouts, notes, announcements of changes in the syllabus, etc., given out or announced in classes for which they are absent (This means that you should ask other students for lecture notes or copies of handouts, etc., rather than the instructor).  In addition, since discussion and interaction is an important part of the learning process, it is important that students show up to class prepared. It is also essential that students respect each other in the classroom. This means that when the instructor is lecturing, or when a student is asking a question, that the rest of the class is quiet and paying attention. Side conversations and other disruptive behaviour will not be tolerated.
  2. Genesis Chapter Summaries (5%).  Chapter summaries of the book of Genesis consisting of one or two brief yet descriptive sentences based on a thorough reading of Genesis in Alter's translation (preferably in one sitting) are due Monday 15 January at the beginning of class. The assignment should be typewritten and formatted according to Taylor’s Guidelines for Research Writing in Religion & Theology (SBL Style), though it need only be single-spaced. These are available for purchase at the Taylor Bookstore and online here.
  3. Reading Reflections/Journal (20%).  Students will submit weekly journals on their readings (1-2 pages each) every Wednesday according to the schedule below. These are to show thoughtful consideration of the readings and questions noted in the schedule below. In addition, you may record questions that arise from the readings, opinions on the readings, striking ideas in the readings, etc. Make sure you write at least one comment or question on each of the readings. Be prepared to raise your questions or discuss your observations in class discussions.
  4. Short Papers (40%). There are two 1000-1300 word papers (ca. 4 typed, double-spaced pages) due throughout the course. The papers are to be typewritten and formatted according to Taylor’s Guidelines for Research Writing in Religion & Theology (SBL Style) with proper footnotes and bibliography (These are available for purchase at the Taylor Bookstore and online here). They must be handed in with a complete “Research Paper Checklist Form” to be handed out in class.  Assignments outside the specified word-range will be penalized. The topics are as follows:
    • Genesis and Creation (20%).  Write a 1000-1300 word paper on the interpretation of the Genesis creation story in the light of ancient and modern ideas of creation.  In your paper you will need to summarize and evaluate the different positions and issues regarding the interpretation of the opening chapters of Genesis, its relationship to modern science (e.g., concordist, non-concordist, etc.), and then defend your own position. Make sure to interact meaningfully and critically with all of the readings, lectures, and presentations (this includes Blocher, Pinnock, Atrahasis, as well class lectures and the presentation by Dr. Lamoureux). Ensure that your papers are balanced and well-reasoned; avoid poor argumentation such as ad hominem (emotion-based), slippery slope (e.g., "if this isn’t literal, then nothing in the Bible is!"), and straw man arguments.  This paper is to be handed in to the instructor with a complete “Research Paper Checklist Form” at the beginning of the class on 14 February.
    • Characterization, Custom, and Theology in Buechner’s The Son of Laughter (20%).  Write a 1000-1300 word critical review of Buechner’s The Son of Laughter based on its rereading of the biblical account of Jacob. You paper should be based on a close reading of both the biblical text (using Alter’s translation and commentary), Buechner, and R. Moberly, “The Religion of the Patriarchs” in The Old Testament of the Old Testament (Fortress, 1992), 79-104; and Ralph Smith, “One and Only God,” in Old Testament Theology (Broadman, 1993), 226-23; as well as an appropriate amount of independent research (at least one critical commentary on Genesis should be consulted and referenced as well as one academic article from a refereed journal or one appropriate dictionary article).

      In particular, the essay should focus on three things: (i) Characterization: how does Buechner’s characterization of Isaac, Jacob, Rebekah, Esau, etc. fit with the biblical account? How does his portrayal mesh with your own preconceived notions of what these characters were like?  (ii) Custom: is Buechner’s portrayal of the period accurate from what we know from those times? In particular, make sure to explore the customs surrounding the swearing of oaths and making covenants. (iii) Theology: What is your evaluation to Buechner’s portrayal of the patriarchs as not believing that their is only one God (monotheism), but only that they were to worship the God of Abraham, or “The Fear of Isaac”? (henotheism).  This paper is to be handed in to the instructor with a complete “Research Paper Checklist Form” at the beginning of the class on 28 March
  5. Comprehensive Final Examination (30%). The final exam will cover all primary and secondary readings and lectures. The final exam is currently scheduled for Monday 16 April, 1:00-3:00 pm. Please consult the most current edition of the Taylor University College Final Examination schedule to confirm the date and time of the examination. Please note that according to College policy “No final examination can be rescheduled except by consent of the Academic Committee” (see the full final examination policy in the Taylor University College Academic Calendar). [Download PDF]


General Guidelines for Assignments

All written assignments are to be submitted in person at the beginning of the class period. No late papers or assignments will be accepted. Assignments and papers should be typed and formatted according to the Society of Biblical Literature writing style as outlined in the Seminary’s Guidelines for Research Writing (SBL). These are available for purchase at the Taylor Bookstore and online here.  For the full stylesheet, please refer to Patrick H. Alexander, et al., ed., The SBL Handbook of Style: For Ancient Near Eastern, Biblical, and Early Christian Studies (Grand Rapids: Hendrickson, 1999) which is in the reference section of the library.

For help with writing research papers in Religion & Theology see Nancy Jean Vyhmeister, Quality Research Papers: For Students of Religion and Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001; Buy from | Buy from This is on reserve in the library and copies are available for purchase in the Taylor Bookstore.

In addition to the guidelines in Guidelines for Research Writing in Religion & Theology (SBL), please note the following:

  • Annotated Bibliographies: For your annotated bibliography each item should have a couple sentences explaining the author’s specific thesis and the evidence garnished to support it. Make sure that you provide evidence that you have read and understood the article or book. In addition, annotations for commentaries should focus on the specific passage or issue you are dealing with, rather than comments on the author’s general approach. 
  • Breadth of Sources: Your bibliography must consist of at least ten items from a variety of secondary sources (commentaries, theological dictionaries, encyclopaedias, specialized books and at least three articles from refereed journals) representing a number of critical perspectives. In addition to these ten sources, a maximum of three internet resources may be used – and they must be cited with full bibliographical details as per College guidelines (you are responsible for the quality of the internet resources you employ, so use them critically). 
  • Research Language.  You should employ acceptable research language for your paper. This means that you should avoid being too informal and should strive to write inclusively. Avoid the use of gender specific language as much as possible. You should not refer to “man” generically (likewise “mankind,” “men,” “he,” and so on). Instead, use terms such as “humankind,” “humanity,” “person,” etc.

Academic Honesty and Integrity

All written work submitted must be your own. If you borrow ideas or distinctive phrases, or include direct quotations in your written assignments, you must acknowledge your source(s) properly by in-text citation or footnote. It is not sufficient only to include books you used in your bibliography. Students guilty of plagiarism will — at the very least — receive a grade of zero (0) for the assignment and will be brought to the attention of the Seminary’s Discipline Committee.  Please see the discussion of plagiarism in Taylor’s Guidelines for Research Writing in Religion & Theology (SBL).


Tyler F. Williams
Chair, Religion & Theology Department; Assistant Professor of Old Testament
Taylor University College; 11525 - 23 Avenue, Edmonton, AB Canada T6J 4T3
Phone: (780) 431-5217 | Fax: (780) 436-9416

Comments concerning these Web pages may be sent to tyler [dot] williams [at]
© 2004-2008 Tyler F. Williams. All Rights Reserved.