Offered Online, Fall 2020

Course Description

The First Testament of Christian Scripture, also called the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament, is a fundamental part of Christian tradition and durable rule of faith and practice. Students in this course will therefore be introduced to historical and literary data important for understanding the origins of the Hebrew Bible and its subsequent function as Scripture in a variety of cultural and religious contexts. The outlook will be broadly ecumenical, with case studies that exemplify Jewish and Christian interpretation.

The broad sweep of biblical tradition will be presented through a survey of representative books from the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. To help foster an ecumenical outlook, primary readings from the Bible will be supplemented by case studies of classic Jewish and Christian readings of biblical texts. Students will develop their exegetical skills by studying these examples, and so learn to appreciate the diverse literary, canonical, cultural, historical, hermeneutical, and theological elements involved in biblical interpretation. In addition, the course will consider some ways that the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament can feature in the practice of ministry and in the spiritual practice of faith communities.

Requirements: Weekly readings, weekly discussions, a presentation, two short papers.

Download the latest syllabus (Fall 2020, v 3.6).

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Course Objectives

By the end of the course students should be able to: name major Old Testament people and events; locate a few important biblical sites on a map; give key dates for Israel’s history and summarize the succession of superpowers in the ancient Near Eastern political theatre from Egypt to Greece; recognize and cite examples of most genres of biblical literature; understand the general shape of the Masoretic Text tradition and differentiate it from other canonical orders; report on parallel and divergent material across the Law and the Prophets, such as the uses of the Divine Name or the rationales for sabbath observance; classify and begin to evaluate a variety of ancient and modern approaches to the Bible.

Students should also be able to identify settings in which the Scriptures of Israel are read (notably the synagogue, church, and academy), employ terminology appropriate to these communities, recognize where their own biographies place them in relation to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and its uses, and monitor and test their individual attitudes and assumptions. They should be able to extend their awareness of the Bible’s contemporary readers to the Bible’s long history of reception. Finally, students should begin to infer what Jesus meant in speaking of “the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms” (Luke 24:44), and so learn to hear claims about New Testament fulfilment of scripture in light of the unique voice that the Old Testament retains along side of the New in Christian Scripture.

Required Textbooks (Fall 2020)*

The following texts are required. Students are strongly encouraged to purchase their own copies. Library copies that are not reference works will be placed on a 2-hour reserve in the AST Library.

A Bible, either NRSV or NJPS translation
There are many editions, and you may already own one that will serve well. If you want a study Bible, consider the NJPS alternative described below. Its supplementary notes and essays are exceptional. You may also prefer a Bible without all the commentary (as I usually do).
NRSV Study Bible: Michael Coogan, ed. New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha: New Revised Standard Version. 5th ed. Oxford / New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. The NRSV is a standard translation in the academy and in many of the churches affiliated with AST. It features gender inclusive language (though not for God). The notes and essays can be helpful, though they do add considerably to the heft of the volume. This version includes the entire Christian Bible (OT and NT), plus the Apocrypha. It should be useful to you in many other courses at AST.
NRSV Text Only: I find I generally only want the text itself (it’s far more portable, and notes can get in the way). In that case, get a version like this instead.
NJPS Study Bible: Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, eds., The Jewish Study Bible: Second Edition (Oxford / New York: Oxford University Press, 2014). A superb alternative to the NRSV, equally well-regarded in the academy but not well known in the church, the notes and supplementary essays in this study Bible are best in class. The single-column layout is easier to read, too. The main drawback is that it lacks the NT and Apocrypha (for obvious reasons), and so may prove less useful in other courses at AST.
HBFB
Joel Kaminsky and Joel Lohr. The Hebrew Bible for Beginners: A Jewish and Christian Introduction. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. ISBN 978-1426775635
Heschel
Abraham Joshua Heschel. The Sabbath. FSG Classics. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2005. ISBN 978-0374529758
Irenaeus
Irenaeus of Lyon. On the Apostolic Preaching. Translated by John Behr. St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997. ISBN 978-0881411744

Please note that textbook selections for my courses often change with each iteration of the course.

Schmid
Konrad Schmid. A Historical Theology of the Hebrew Bible. Translated by Peter Altmann. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2019. ISBN 978-0802876935
HBFB gives a good overview of critical issues. Schmid gives a more thorough account, and is much more conversant with European scholarship, but is readable and appropriate for introductory purposes.
Making Sense
Margot Northey, Bradford A. Anderson, and Joel N. Lohr. Making Sense in Religious Studies: A Student’s Guide to Research and Writing. 3rd ed. Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press, 2019.
This title is optional but highly recommended. It includes basic advice on things like reading religious texts, writing essays and book reviews, making oral presentations, and learning languages. It should help you master fundamental tasks in nearly any course in religion or theology.
SBLHS2
The SBL Handbook of Style, 2nd Edition, is the definitive style manual for biblical studies and related disciplines.
A blog (sblhs2.com) and free Student Supplement (PDF) should cover the issues most common to term papers. The AST library copy is in the reference section at PN 147 S26 2014.
Serious students of biblical studies will want a copy of their own. Order one from SBL Press or elsewhere online. ISBN 978-1589839649.
See my resources page for further advice on writing, style, and research.

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