Strange Stories of the Bible
A poet’s guide for peculiar stories about the human condition.
With Pádraig Ó Tuama
Why did the writers who wrote texts that we now call biblical write those stories? What did they know about the human condition? What were their artistic interests?
While we have smartphones and kettles now, coffee pots and podcasts, those stories depict very familiar aspects of human behaviour: jealousies, rivalries, rages, desires, ambitions, schemes, travels, courage, challenges, archetypes, addictions, misunderstandings and machinations. They understood that in the face of incertitude, there are lonely decisions to be made.
One way of looking at Noah, for instance, is as a misanthrope who couldn’t face change; another way is to see the lonely burden of leadership. And Tamar, sister-in-law of the technicoloured Joseph, knew that the binary between revenge and survival is sometimes non-existent.
For this series of explorations of strange stories, join me for a class in reading the bible as literature. For Autumn 2023, we will take five stories of the bible:
- Noah, addiction, and the loneliness of leadership
- Isaac, trauma and the obsession with legacy
- Ruth, the border crossing judge
- Mary of Bethlehem and her strange son
- Judas, the political strategist
Whether you know these stories well or are coming to them fresh, this series of five classes will open new literary doors into these archetypal stories. This class is not affiliated with, nor does it presume, any religious commitment. It is not an invitation to go into spirituality or prayer or religious membership. This series simply explores the brilliance — and sometimes brutality — of this world literature. Each class will take a close reading of a text, and then explore that through literary analysis, contemporary poetry, questions for self reflection and art.
Classes will be from 5pm-7pm Eastern Time (10pm-12am GMT; 2pm-4pm Pacific Time), on the following Sundays: October 8, 15, 22, 29 and November 5, 2023. The classes will be via a Zoom seminar, and can be streamed live, or viewed later. Chat will be open during the class, but participants’ cameras will not be on. Questions will be shared via a moderator. If you miss a class, you can catch up; classes will be recorded.
Virtual Classes with Pádraig Ó Tuama
(5 Zoom classes to attend in person or watch later)
Oct 8, 15, 22, 29 and Nov 5, 2023
5pm-7pm Eastern Time
(10pm-12am GMT, 2pm-4pm PT)
Ó Tuama has become a shepherd in the shambolic tradition of contemporary spirituality, treating poetry as a form of agnostic prayer. “My interest in prayer is where it comes from, not where it’s going,” he told me. “The heart, rather than God.” Poetry, for him, is the language the heart speaks not when it reaches for some externalized divinity but when it seeks to understand itself.Eliza Griswold, The New Yorker, December 2022
Pádraig Ó Tuama
Pádraig Ó Tuama is a poet, conflict mediator and theologian from Ireland.
He holds degrees (BA Div and MTh) in theology, with a focus on literary readings of religious texts; and a PhD in Creative Writing and Theology from the University of Glasgow. He lives between Belfast and New York, and travels widely giving retreats and lectures.
He presents Poetry Unbound with On Being Studios, which has amassed over ten million downloads since 2020. Poetry Unbound; 50 Poems to Open Your World was released by Canongate Books in late 2022. Profiled in The New Yorker, with poems in Poetry ireland, the New England Review, the Harvard Review and more, his latest collection of poetry is Feed the Beast.