RELI 4850H Historical Fiction and Biblical Historiography

Instructor: Dr. Shawna Dolansky

Course Format: Synchronous; Real-time, online course where the instructor and; students meet at scheduled days and times.

Course Description and Summary

This seminar is about reconstructing life in the biblical world based on historical research into the social, cultural, religious, political, geographical, and economic context from which biblical texts emerged.  Students will choose a biblical character and then spend the semester learning about his or her historical circumstances toward the production of a short fictional piece describing an event or a short time period in the character’s life.  The piece can take the form of any type of creative writing (e.g. a short story, a day in the life, a diary, poetry) or a graphic novel.  The goal is for the historical fiction to realistically reflect the situated perspective of the character, while students simultaneously reflect on the historiographical process of reconstruction.  Class presentations of research and drafts, and peer feedback are important components of the course.  The final writing assignment will be a concluding reflection on the work and the limitations and rewards of “experiencing” someone else’s life in the context of an ancient culture.

We have four related foci: to reconstruct the historical contexts of biblical texts; to learn the theories and methods of effecting such reconstructions; to reflect on the nature of historiography and its kinship with the writing of historical fiction; and to produce short fictional pieces that provide authentic, accurate, and realistic portraits of fictionalized biblical characters in their ancient contexts.

Course Objectives – students in this course will learn:

  • How to read the Bible from an historical-critical perspective;
  • How to conduct research on ancient cultures, reconciling and interpreting written and material remains;
  • How historians and religionists select evidence, make arguments, and construct their subjects;
  • To appreciate diverse perspectives on Self, Other, the world, history, and religion, and the challenges and limitations inherent in scholarly reconstructions of other cultures.


Students will be assessed by a variety of methods which will include weekly written reflections and annotated bibliography entries to document their ongoing research, active and constructive seminar participation and peer feedback, as well as drafts of their creative piece, reflections on those drafts, and a final lengthy reflection on the work they accomplished.