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Lesson 1: «The Bible As Literature».


1. Compare «Genesis» with the «Creation Hymn» from the «Rig Veda», the earliest sacred text of Hinduism, compiled about 1400 B.C. Is the latter pure speculation or a faithful recording of events? Is it a detailed description or mere hints and suggestions? Are natural powers personified? What does Creation begin withCompare the subjects, the manner, and the tone of the two pieces of writing.

1) There was neither non-existence nor existence then; there was neither the realm of space nor the sky which is beyond. What stirred? Where? In whose protection? Was there water, bottomlessly deep?

2) There was neither death nor immortality then. There was no distinguishing sign of night nor of day. That one breathed, windless, by its own impulse. Other than that there was nothing beyond.

3) Darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning; there was no distinguishing sign, all this was water. The life force that was covered with emptiness, that one arose through the power of heat.

4) Desire came upon that one in the beginning; that was the first seed of mind. Poets seeking in their heart with wisdom found the bond of existence in non-existence.

5) Their cord was extended across. Was there below? Was there above? There were seed-placers; there were powers. There was impulse beneath; there was giving-forth above.

6) Who really knows? Who will here proclaim it? Whence was it produced? Whence is this creation? The gods came afterwards, with the creation of this universe. Who then knows whence it has arisen?

7) Whence this creation has arisen – perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not – the one who looks down on it, in the highest heaven, only he knows – or perhaps he does not know.


2. Try to give a literary translation of the above piece into Russian.


3. A paradox, as you well know, is a statement that seems to be contradictory but that may in fact be true. Explain what the poet means when he speaks of finding «the bond of existence in non-existence».


4. According to Ecclesiastes 1:3, «The height of heaven, the breadth of the earth, the abyss, and wisdom – who can search them out?" ? Do you think the question(s) raised in the Hymn can be answered? Why yes or why not? Can the inexpressible be expressed at all or is language limited in its capacities?


5. The Upanishads are the final stage in the development of the sacred books called the Vedas. They emphasize that there is a single principle underlying all existence. This underlying reality, Brahman [-a:-], is more of an abstract concept than a personal divinity. An important theme of the Upanishads is the identification of the atman, or soul, of a person, with Brahman. By means of meditation we can discover our connection with ultimate reality. Brahman is neither a god nor an object of worship. It is the subject of meditation («tapas»), a kind of prayerlike thought that focuses the mind on what is most real.

Read the following passage and consider the progression of things on which the young man is told to meditate by his father. Why are they mentioned in this particular order? Use the technique of narrative description («not this, not that») to define the essence of underlying reality of an individual person. What single quality – memory? intelligence? etc. – gives a person his/her identity?


Once Bhrigu Varuni went to his father Varuna and said: «Father, explain to me the mystery of Brahman.»

Then his father spoke to him of the food of the earth, of the breath of life, of the one who sees, of the one who hears, of the mind that knows, and of the one who speaks. And he further said to him: «Seek to know him from whom all beings have come, by whom they all live, and unto whom they all return. He is Brahman.»

So Bhrigu went and practiced tapas, spiritual prayer. Then he thought that Brahman was the food of the earth: for from the earth all beings have come, by food of the earth they all live, and unto the earth they all return.

After this he went again to his father Varuna and said: «Father, explain further to me the mystery of Brahman.» To him his father answered «Seek to know Brahman by tapas, by prayer, because Brahman is prayer.»

So Bhrigu went and practices tapas, spiritual prayer. Then he thought that Brahman was life: for from life all beings have come, by life they all live, and unto life they all return.

After this he went again to his father Varuna and said: «Father, explain further to me the mystery of Brahman.» To him his father answered: «Seek to know Brahman by tapas, by prayer, because Brahman is prayer.»

So Bhrigu went and practiced tapas, spiritual prayer. Then he thought that Brahman was the mind: for from mind all beings have come, by mind they all live, and unto mind they all return.

After this he went again to his father Varuna and said: «Father, explain further to me the mystery of Brahman.» To him his father answered «Seek to know Brahman by tapas, by prayer, because Brahman is prayer.»

So Bhrigu went and practiced tapas, spiritual prayer. Then he thought that Brahman was reason: for from reason all beings have come, by reason they all live, and unto reason they all return.

He went again to his father, asked the same question, and received the same answer.

So Bhrigu went and practiced tapas, spiritual prayer. And then he saw that Brahman is joy: for from joy all beings have come, by joy they all live, and unto joy they all return.

This was the vision of Bhgiru Varuni which came from the Highest: and he who sees this vision lives in the Highest.


6. See if you can find the picture of the Lithuanian painter Ciurlyonis «Pasaulio Sutverimas» – «Creation of the World». Which of the three literary pieces does it best correspond to?


Lesson 2. Searching Reading. (THE BIBLE: «Exodus»; and «1 Samuel», or «The First Book of Kings»). Target skills: compiling encyclopedia entries, analyzing biblical texts as mainly as information for area studies in a temporal perspective.

1. Reproduce the following encyclopedia entry adding a few facts you find worth mentioning.

Saul: in the Old Testament, the first king of Israel. He was anointed by Samuel and warred successfully against the neighbouring Ammonites and Philistines, but fell from God’s favour in his battle against the Ammalekites. He became jealous and suspicious of David and turned against him. After being wounded in a battle with the Philistines, in which his three sons died, he committed suicide.

2. Compose a similar entry for David.

3. Compose 2-3 sets of key-phrases that might be used to characterize some of the personages of «Exodus» and «1 Samuel»: Moses, Samuel, Absalom, Amnon, Bathsheba, Uriah, Jonathan, etc. For instance, for David they may go as follows: «shepherd’s son, anointed, Goliath: one-on-one fight, with a sling for all his weapon, Saul: jealous of his prowess, scheming to murder; going into exile… etc.

4. Read the following information, choose one of the episodes and provide additional information using the Bible. Supply short quotations where necessary.

The land of Israel in ancient times was a bridge between two great civilizations, Egypt and Mesopotamia. It was crossed by travellers, traders, soldiers, priests, and princes. This narrow strip of land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River was dwarfed by the powerful empires that it linked. It had a small population and few natural resources. Its people never stood out among the greatest builders or warriors of the ancient world. But their way of life produced three great religions: the Jewish, the Christian and the Muslim.

The Hebrews first appear in history in 1800 B. C. At that time, they were a nomadic people. They wandered with their herds from one desert oasis to another in the Near East. Attracted by the fertile lands close to the Mediterranean Sea, they began to settle in the coastal region then known as Canaan. There they organized themselves into 12 tribes. In the 17th century B. C., Canaan suffered a long drought. Many Hebrews began moving into Egypt as far as the Nile Delta. The Egyptians did not usually welcome foreigners. The war they had been leading against the Hyksos, who had ruled Egypt for 150 years, made Egyptians hostile to strangers. Those foreigners who had not fled the country were made slaves and were forced to do hard labour for the pharaohs. The Hebrews were among those who felt the whip of Egyptian taskmasters. Late in the 13th century, a group of Hebrews planned an escape from Egypt, with Moses for their chosen leader. They escaped to the Sinai Desert, across the Red Sea. While they were struggling to survive in the desert, they received the Ten Commandments from Moses and pledged to obey them. The Ten Commandments affirmed the Hebrews commitment to monotheism. They thought of the Commandments as a covenant, or binding agreement, between them and their Lord.

When the Hebrew tribes finally united, it was to resist an unusually strong group of invaders, who swept into the Near East from the Aegean Sea, - the Philistines. Much later, the Romans called this region Palestine. The invaders were tough, and had the advantage of using iron weapons. In this situation, they chose a king to rule them. The Bible says that the Hebrews were warned against such a move by the prophet Samuel. Their first king Saul had, at first, no palace, no court, and no capital city. Yet he formed large armies and drove the Philistines back to their coastal cities. Later two opponents, Samuel and David, weakened his position. Slaying Goliath made David a great hero. At first, Saul showed his admiration for David by giving him his daughter Michal in marriage. But, growing suspicious, he drove David away from his court and then sent men to kill him.

Having found shelter in the hills of Judah, a favourite hiding place for rebels and outlaws, he formed a private army and formally challenged Saul. Sensing that Saul’s power was slipping, the Philistines decided to attack him. Rather than let the Philistines capture him, Saul fell on his sword.

David was made king about 1000 B. C. He threw out the Philistines, subdued the regions around Israel, and, in time, ruled a great empire. He seized the hill town Jebus, which was more or less central to the 12 tribes, and made it his capital, which came to be known Jerusalem, the City of David. He arranged to have the sacred Ark of the Covenant brought to Jerusalem. But the Hebrews paid a high price for their new monarchy. David’s building programs, his large army, and lavish court cost a lot. It was necessary to tax people heavily. The government also introduced forced labour. Towards the end of David’s reign, David’s favourite son, Absalom, led one of a series of uprisings. The rebellion was crushed and Absalom was put to death by one of David’s generals. Before David died, he made his son Solomon his successor. With the death Of Solomon, about 928 B. C., the people began to separate into tribes again. The northern tribes called their new state the kingdom of Israel. The southern Hebrews called theirs the kingdom of Judah. The two kingdoms would never unite again.

5. Answer the following questions. Provide quotations, if necessary.

· How did the Hebrews manage to flee from Egypt, according to the Bible?

· What are the Ten Commandments?

· Is it possible that Moses’ monotheism was influenced by the pharaoh, Akhenaten?

· Where was the Promised Land (Use a map)? What nations did Hebrews wage war against?

· Why does David occupy a very special place both in history and in the Bible?


6. Look at some pictures by famous painters (to be shown in class). Speak of the event they recall and of the general impression they produce on the viewer.

Date: 2015-01-29; view: 1115

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