nl en

The Holy Book: its changing status in the early modern and modern era


Admission requirements

Students should preferably have knowledge on a BA level of Christianity.


Ever since the time of Spinoza modern biblical criticism has been a major topic of debate in religious and scholarly circles, closely related to the wider debate about the relationship between religion and science. Modern methods of approaching the Bible as they emerged since the Renaissance profoundly affected traditional views on the status of the Holy Book, raising the fundamental question to what extent the Bible was still to be regarded as ‘holy’. No wonder that modern biblical criticism is considered as a significant factor in developments leading up to secular society – and is still a much-debated issue. In this course we shall analyze a select number of debates concerning various aspects of modern criticism from the 17th century onwards up till the 20th century.

Research questions: Which factors were at play in the changing views on the Bible in the early modern and modern era? What was the (confessional, disciplinary, social, cultural) background of the participants in the debates? Which arguments were advanced by traditionalist and modern believers? What can be said about continuity and discontinuity between early modern and modern debates?

Course objectives

This course will provide understanding of the impact of profound changes resulting from novel approaches to the Bible in the early modern and modern centuries. The comparative and contextual perspectives will be helpful to grasp significant dimensions of the debates, including the arguments of the various participants, from ultra-conservative to radically modern.

After successfully completing this course,

  • students have become familiar with the most important historical as well as current debates on the status of the Bible;

  • students know how to put those debates in religious, historical, and cultural contexts; and

  • students can investigate those debates in the context of independent research projects.

    Transferable skills After successfully completing this course,

  • students have refined their research skills, including their skills at formulating an independent research problem with only minimal supervision;

  • students have refined their cooperation skills, including their skills at giving and receiving good quality peer feedback, and at preparing class discussions in groups;

  • students have refined their skills at writing well-argued, academic papers; and

  • students have refined their skills at oral discussion in English.

    Career Skills development

  • Critical analysis and evaluation of academic articles and the presuppositions of their authors.

  • Professional presentations including use of powerpoint, developing communication skills to present complicated concepts relating to the theme of the course.

  • Developing a research question and hypothesis relating to a topic on the theme of the course.


The MA seminar will be given in Semester 1, weekly. Timetable
The Weekly Schedule may be found on blackboard by the end of August 2018.

Mode of instruction

  • close reading of primary sources

  • analysis of ideas and their historical roots

  • common study of secondary literature

  • presentations by lecturers

  • presentations of topics related to and elaborating upon the assigned weekly reading by students (20 minutes)

  • class discussion: questions for class discussion based on each of the readings to be submitted by students weekly to the lecturers and presenters.

Course Load

Total course load: 5 EC = 140 hours

  • Hours spent on attending the weekly seminar: 2 hours per week x 13 weeks: 36 hours.

  • Time for reading assignments: 2 hours per week x 13 weeks: 36 hours.

  • Time to prepare the oral presentation and to write the end term paper: 68 hours.

Assessment method

The assessment will be based on the following 3 components:

A. Practical exercises
Practical exercise 1: presence and class participation
Practical exercise 2: presentation
Practical exercise 3: outline of paper

Practical exercises are evaluated as either satisfactory or unsatisfactory and do not form part of the weighted average for the final grade. However, failure to receive a passing grade for the exercise(s) will mean automatic exclusion from the grade-determining elements.
N.B. For these exercises no resits are possible.

B. Questions to be submitted relating to the required reading 30%
Deadlines for submitting assignments, including the weekly assignments, need to be strictly kept. If not, this will affect the grade.

C. Final paper 70%
The endtermpaper needs to be the result of independent work. The topic of the paper needs to be chosen in close consultation with the supervisors.

Please note the following:

Class attendance is compulsory. Students who are absent more than twice, or attend classes only partially will automatically fail this MA-seminar. The validity of any absence related excuses – to be sent in writing to the instructors - will be assessed by the instructors.

The final mark for the MA-Seminar is established by the weighted average of the grades for the questions and final paper.

In order to pass, the grades received for the questions and final paper must be a minimum of a 5,0 for each component and no less than a 6,0 for the average.

If the endterm paper is insufficient, students are allowed to submit one revised version of their paper within 2 weeks after having received their grades.

If a student requests an exam review (first sit or resit) within 30 days after publication of the exam results, such a review will be organized.


Blackboard will be used for: notifications, weekly schedule, reading assignments, uploading assignments.

Reading list

  • Baird, William, History of New Testament Research - vol 1: From Deism to Tübingen; vol 2: From Jonathan Edwards to Rudolph Bultmann (Minneapolis 1992 – 2003)

  • Gogarty, Gerald P., American Catholic Biblical Scholarship: A History from the Early Republic to Vatican II (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989)

  • Legaspi, Michael C., The Death of Scripture and the Rise of Biblical Studies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010)

  • Marchand, Suzanne L., German Orientalism in the Age of Empire: Religion, Race, and Scholarship (Washington / New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009)

  • Priest, Robert D., The Gospel According to Renan: Reading, Writing, and Religion in Nineteenth-Century France (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015)

  • Rogerson, John William, Old Testament Criticism in de Nineteenth Century: England and Germany (1984)

  • Schweitzer, Albert, The Quest of the Historical Jesus, ed. John Bowden (London: SCM Press, 2000; English translation of: Geschichte der Leben-Jesu-Forschung, Tübingen 1906/1913)

  • Sheehan, Jonathan, The Enlightenment Bible (Princeton 2005)

  • Vries, Simon John de, Bible and Theology in The Netherlands. Dutch Old Testament Criticism under Modernist and Conservative Auspices 1850 to World War I (Wageningen: H. Veenman & Zonen, 1968)
    Please note the following:

  • This is a preliminary list. The definitive reading list will be put on Blackboard in August 2017.

  • From these works only a selection of chapters needs to be read; these chapters will be indicated on the definitive reading list.


Students are required to register through uSis

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs


Dr. J.W. Buisman


Academic Integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. If you submit any work with your name affixed to it, it is assumed to be your own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations).