Writing & Creating 1

RELI 25  Writing & Creating Assignment 1:  Close Reading Analysis

Choose a passage of 10-25 verses (1-2 paragaphs) from any one of the primary sources we have read so far in class.  Do not use the opening of the Gospel of Mark, which I will use as an example.  Write a close reading analysis of your passage.

The purpose of this assignment is to practice analyzing and interpreting.  Quotations are evidence, but what you intend for the reader to understand from them is never self-evident.  You must explain to the reader your interpretation of any passage that you quote.  A close reading is an opportunity to focus only on this particular skill, which you will need to incorporate into your next two Writing & Creating Assignments.  Also, each passage we have read is very rich.  It can be fun to explore all the different ideas within and possible interpretations of just one passage.

Begin your assignment with an analysis of the passage you have chosen.  Go through line by line.  Your overall assignment is to examine what this passage means, especially in its context as an ancient piece of literature with a particular audience of people living in that time and place.

Consider the following questions and prompts in writing your paper.  (You do not need to answer all of them; these are provided to get you started.)

  • Look closely at the language, allusions, and theme(s) of the passage.
    • you might note the repetition of certain words and the importance that those repeated words hold for the passage
    • you might notice words that aren’t repeated but seem nonetheless important – why?
    • Is there striking symbolism or metaphors; how are they working?
    • Is there an important tone to the style; what is it and why is it important?
  • Comment on the significance of your selected excerpt in its larger textual context.  Ask: what is the passage’s relationship to the passages directly before and after it?  does the passage begin the text or end the text?  does it come at a key moment in the narrative?  Write about how this placement affects the meaning of the text.
  • Consider how the excerpt relates to other themes in the larger text (such as Judaism, what it means for Jesus to be the messiah, secrecy, discipleship, etc.)
  • Compare and contrast this passage to other passages either in other parts of your text or in other texts we have read.
  • What is the connection between the passage and biblical quotes inside the passage?  What do the quotes do?  (The Harper Collins Study Bible will tell you where in the Hebrew Bible/Christian Old Testament the quotes come from.)  Remember:  sometimes our authors misquote the scriptures or diverge from what other ancient Jews might have said about that scripture passage.
  • How does your interpretation of the passage engage with Ehrman’s arguments or the arguments in the JANT articles and other articles we have read?  How might these articles’/books’ analyses of your text or ancient society help your interpretations?  Pay special attention to Levine’s article on misconceptions about Judaism.
  • Is your passage represented in art?  Spend a paragraph examining the representation of your text in a piece of art or a clip of film.  Be sure you post the art plus a citation or provide a link. You might not have permission to post an image of an artwork; check to see if the owner of the art (such as a museum or library) or the owner of a photograph (such as a photographer) has given permission for reposting.  Be sure to give credit.  Consider:  what aspects of the passage does this piece of art emphasize, or change, or distort?  What does it leave out?  How does it represent what is happening in a unique way?
  • If you already know of a way your passage has appeared or been interpreted in popular culture or elsewhere on the internet, you may use a small paragraph to analyze this usage.  Introduce and link to this other source, and examine how this other source has interpreted or used your passage. Look at how the passage is being used:  explore the source’s interests, agendas, focus, emphases.  Consider how this interpretation is or is not consistent with its historical context, and whether or why that consistency matters.


Do not do additional research besides the links and art/popular culture mentioned on this assignment page.  This assignment is to work on your skills of close reading and analysis; it is not to show me how well you can browse the internet for what other people say about your passage.


This paper is not about personal feelings or personal opinions regarding the passage.  It is a critical analysis.  (So the paper expresses your opinion to the extent it is an interpretation, but it is an interpretation that is grounded in analysis.  It is a series of miniature reasoned arguments, not an emotional response.)


A close reading is primarily an exercise on the details of a passage, so you will want to avoid generalized statements about Christianity or the New Testament.  Avoid summarizing the passage or quoting at length from the passage.  Instead link to your passage elsewhere online. Bible.oremus.org has a “quicklink” feature; look at the bottom  if you search for a passage on their siteYou will want to quote individual words or phrases to help locate your points.


This paper is a close analysis, not an overarching argumentative paper.  The paper does not need a thesis, an introduction, or a conclusion.  Just jump right into the analysis!  The paper should be organized with coherent paragraphs, however.


Provide only the background information your reader needs to understand your points; you do not need an entire paragraph regurgitating background from Ehrman. (Consider linking to a reliable source, like a relevant page on the textbook companion site, instead.)


The mechanics:

  • Use only the NRSV translation
  • Provide the citation of your passage at the top of your post, in the title or subtitle
  • Somewhere in the post link to the full passage.  Tip: you can search for your passage at bible.oremus.org.  (Use the New Revised Standard Version, but not the “Anglicized” one).  When it shows you the results, scroll to the bottom and click on the “Quicklink” option.
  • The assignment should be minimum 800 words.  Try not to go over 1000-1200
  • Since your reader knows the passage about which you are writing, you do not need to continue to provide a citation throughout the paper when you analyze your passage.
  • If you refer to or quote other passages in your Gospel, the New Testament, or the Christian Old Testament, then please provide a citation in parenthesis (e.g., Mark 3:2).  Tip:  link to it using the bible.oremus.org Quicklinks.
  • See above about no additional research on your passage.  Use only the course materials.  If you want to, you can link to this assignment so that people know what you’re writing in response to.
  • If you discuss any other source from our class, please provide a parenthetical citation of the author and page #; consider linking to its page on Amazon or the publisher’s page.


The assignment will be graded using the rubric on the syllabus with these additions:

  • This assignment does not require a thesis.
  • Visual appeal online will be a small consideration; I will be looking to see if the paragraph structure, links, images, layout help make your points clear or whether they inhibit the reader.  You do NOT need to get fancy and will not get extra credit for lots of formatting, colors, art, etc.



Deadline A:  February 14 10 am.  Publish your page or post to your site; mark visibility as “Private” on the right menu; click on “Request Feedback” under the “Writing Helper”  feature under the content of your page/post on the edit page. Enter cschroeder@pacific.edu, and it will send me an email telling me your work is ready for review!  I will put comments and a grade right there in WordPress for you to see; I will copy them to Sakai, as well.  You will get your grade and comments by Deadline B.  You have until Deadline C to revise and republish your work (visibility private, public, or password-protected – your choice).

Deadline B:  Tuesday February 18 10 am.  Publish your page (Visibility private, public, or password protected – your choice).  Click on “Request Feedback” under the “Writing Helper”  feature under the content of your page/post on the edit page so I know you’ve posted.  I will provide a grade and comments on Sakai. You will not have time to revise and resubmit, but the comments will be helpful for your next assignment.

Deadline C:  Friday February 21 10 am.  If you have not published your work, this is your last chance. Also final deadline for Deadline A resubmits.  Publish your page with Visibility private, public, or password protected – your choice).

Good luck and enjoy!!!!!



Close Reading Analysis Handout by Caroline T. Schroeder is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

Material developed using prior work by Harry Elam and Michele Elam.

2 thoughts on “Writing & Creating 1

  1. Pingback: Writing & Creating Assignment 1 now available | New Testament and Christian Origins, Spring 2014

  2. Pingback: Jesus as Demon Fighter in Mark: Sample Close Reading | New Testament and Christian Origins, Spring 2014

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *