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After Long Exile, 'Bible' Returns to Core

By Jenifer L. Steinhardt, Crimson Staff Writer

The Bible is back.

For the first time since the spring of 1999, Starr Professor of Classical, Modern Jewish and Hebrew Literature James L. Kugel is offering Literature and Arts C-37: “The Bible and Its Interpreters.”

Before Kugel stopped teaching the class due to personal health concerns four years ago, the core had become so popular that its enrollment reached nearly 900 students—larger than this fall’s biggest class, Social Analysis 10: “Principles of Economics,”

“Bible” made a brief return in the spring of 2001, taught by Professor of the Hebrew Bible Gary A. Anderson.

But at 1 p.m. yesterday, Kugel—who has been teaching at Harvard since 1982—returned to the stage with an introductory lecture on biblical interpretation to several hundred students in Sanders Theater.

“I never really intended for it to be gone,” Kugel said. “Two years ago I hadn’t been well and it just seemed like an awful lot. Teaching a big core course is a pretty demanding undertaking.”

When Kugel, director of the Harvard Center for Jewish Studies and a member of the Harvard Divinity School faculty, first started teaching “Bible” about 20 years ago, the number of students enrolled totaled about 50, he said.

“Every year it sort of doubled,” Kugel said.

But after its four-year hiatus, Kugel expects enrollment to be significantly lower than it had been when he left.

“Four years is really an eternity as far as undergraduates are concerned. There’s probably nobody around now who was here when I last taught it, “ he said. “I have to start building it up again.”

William B. Most ’05, who shopped the class yesterday, said that as a biology concentrator, the course would add variety to his schedule.

“I personally find it interesting because I would like to know more about the

Bible—the comprehensive way of looking at the text and the way its been interpreted over time,” Most said.

And Kugel told students that prior theological study was hardly a prerequisite to the class.

“You don’t need to even have opened a bible to take it,” he told the students in Sanders Theater.

Kugel said that the class—which focuses on the text and different interpretations of the Hebrew bible—will be very similar to when he last taught it in 1999.

—Staff writer Jenifer L. Steinhardt can be reached at

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