Religion 101:  An Introduction to the Hebrew Bible

Goals of the course: To gain a familiarity with the general content of the Hebrew Bible and gain experience interpreting specific readings from it;  to understand and be able to apply some of the modern academic approaches to interpreting the Bible;  and to understand the most important ideas and values of Israelite society as these are expressed in the Bible.   

                        Interpretive approach:  Historical:  trying to re-create meanings the text had in its own time and culture;  descriptive:  describing with some objectivity the ideas expressed in the Bible, and how they took form, changed, and often conflicted with each other;  and literary:  analyzing literary genres and styles of expression. 


Texts:            The Jewish Study Bible (="JSB" in assignments below)

            Elliott Rabin, Understanding the Hebrew Bible

                                   Coursepak: readings from  Mesopotamian sources, Exum [CP]


Course Requirements

*  Eight 12-minute quizzes.  Each quiz will cover readings and lectures assigned since the previous quiz, as well as any material discussed in class after the previous quiz.  The lowest quiz grade will be dropped.  Quiz days are marked on the syllabus by aster­isks (17%)

*  Posting questions or comments on Blackboard about the assigned readings (5%)

*  Worksheet in biblical law, due Jan. 30 (1%)

*  Introductions to specific readings (4%)

*  Essay test, Feb. 11 (21%) 

*  An essay analyzing a few biblical passages in relation to a speci­fied topic, due March 24 (21%)

*  Final exam comprising a comprehensive essay ques­tion and a quiz on the last 2 weeks’ readings (21%)

*  Class participation (10%). Unexcused absences and lack of participation lower this grade.


Meetings and Assignments

 Please bring your bible to each class meeting!


 7         Introduction to the Course.


 9         Who wrote the Bible?  Ways of reading the Bible (Elliott Rabin’s view)

Compare Genesis 1-2:3 with Genesis 2:4-3:24;  read Genesis 6-8 for incon­sistencies in time and events (to discuss in class)

Read:  Rabin, Chap. 1


11        Creation in Israel and Babylonia

Be sure to read the notes and commentary in your study bible

which accompany each reading assignment!

                        Read Marc Brettler’s summary of “modern source theories” JSB 3-7

                        Read Gen. 1 with attention to the commentary

                        "The Epic of Creation" [CP]    Compare the Babylonian creation story with that of Genesis 1.  Look at the different purposes for creating human beings.  What do the differences show us about the biblical writer's view of life, the world, divinity?  What do the similarities show us about the Bible and its culture?


* 14        The Flood in Israel and Babylonia;  further origins

                        Genesis 4-11

"The Story of the Flood" [CP]   Compare the Babylonian and biblical versions of the flood story.

16        The Fathers and Mothers of Israel: Abraham and Sarah

                        Levenson, Intro. to Genesis, JSB pp. 8-11;  notice how these theories influence Levenson’s interpretation of the stories of Genesis

                        Genesis 12-26


18        The Later Fathers and Mothers

                        Genesis 27-50             Do the characters of Jacob and Joseph mature in the stories?  How does the writer involve God in Joseph's life?  Explain Gen. 50:20.

                                Rabin, pp. 19-28.  


* 21        Moses and the Exodus

                        Exodus 1-18     What is the story of the Exodus meant to teach?  How does Moses' character contribute to the story?  What does the story show about God and God's relation to the history of nations?  What do the plagues, the Egyptian magicians, and Pharaoh's stub­bornness add?            In the Call of Moses (Ex. 3:1 - 4:17), what do we learn about God from  the name God tells Moses, from the way God reveals this, and from God's concern for the Hebrew slaves?    - How do the songs of Ex. 15:1-18 and 21 portray God?

                                Tigay, Intro. to Exodus, JSB 102-107.  Compare with Levenson.  


23        Theories of Biblical narrative

                        Rabin, pp. 28-47


28        Sinai:  Book of the Covenant

                        Exodus 19-23              How does Ex. 19:3-6 describe the relationship between God and the Israelites? How are the following laws involved in this relationship? -  What do we learn by categorizing the 10 Commandments according to "ethics" and "ritual"?  -  Read each law in the Book of the Covenant (Ex. 20:22-23:33) carefully.  What are the main topics?  Why should God be concerned about these problems?  What do these laws from God imply about God?

                        "The Law Code of Hammurabi" [CP]



                        Rabin, pp. 49-71

                        * Law worksheet due today


* 1         Laws for Holiness

                        Leviticus 4-6:7, 11, 15-16, 19-20, 25, with Introduction by Schwartz, JSB 203-06             What is the purpose of sacrifices?  Why should they have an effect on one's relationship with God?  -                 Why is purity important in Leviticus?  Study 15:31, 11:44, 20:24.               How does Chap. 19, from the "Holiness Code," modify the concept of holiness from its meaning in previous, ritual laws?  That is, what actions are newly considered here pure or impure?  Note how the laws of vss. 11-19 reflect (and interpret) the Ten Commandments. 

                        Klawans, “Concepts of Purity in the Bible” (JSB pp. 2041-47)


  4        Laws, Love, and History

                        Deuteronomy 4-10, 26, 28-30             What motives for obeying God’s commandments appear in 6:4-9. 6:20-25, and 4:6-8?   What are God’s motives for giving the laws in 7:7-8 and 10:12-15? How is the fertility of the land conceived in 26:5-11?  What is the role of sacred history in the Israelites’ relationship with the land?  Notice Deuteronomy’s interpretation of the covenant in 30:15-20.

                        Levinson, Intro. to Deuteronomy, JSB 356-63


  6        The Challenge of Archeology

                        Rabin, Chap. 4, Chap. 5 (only pp. 111-118, 138-141)


* 8         Deliverance.  Deborah: women in the bible

Judges 1-5        the pattern of history in 2:6 – 3:6, Ehud, the story of Deborah/Barak/Jael and esp. the song of Deborah (Chap. 5)                                      

                        Exum, "Mother in Israel" [CP]               What general problem does Exum find in the Bible’s portrayal of women?  When Exum looks more closely at the “mothers” in the Pentateuch and in Judges, what does she discover?  What is the central paradox which she discovers in these stories about mothers?  How, for Exum, do the stories of Deborah and Samson’s mother provide a critique of patriarchal culture? 

                                Amit, Intro. to Judges, JPS 508-10


11        * Midterm Essay due today in class.  Class discussion.


13        King David

                        Deuteronomy 17, Psalm 89

2 Samuel:  5-19           (focus on 13-19) Note the ironies in the story of David and Bathsheba and the role of Nathan the prophet.  What does the story imply about kingship?

Bar-Efrat, Introductions to 1 and 2 Samuel, JSB 558-561, 619


15        Early Prophecy:  "Troublers of Israel"

1 Kings 17-22  Compare and contrast Nathan (story of David and Bathsheba) with Elijah in the story of the Vineyard of Naboth (1 Kings 21).  Define the term "prophet" on the basis of these two stories.  -  How is the contest with the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18 related to rain (hence, fertility)? 

                                Look at the prophetic groups in 1 Samuel 10:5-6 and 19:22‑24.  Define "prophecy" on the basis of just these two stories.  What makes these men special?  -  How do they differ from Elijah and Nathan?

                        Rabin 143-160

                        Zevit, Introduction to 1Kings, JSB 668-71


* 25        Amos and Hosea

                        Amos (complete)           What is Amos’ complaint against the rich and powerful men of Israel?  In 5:21-25, what is wrong with temple ritual?  Didn’t God command sacrifices?  What idea does Amos attack in 3:2 and 9:7-8?  What hope does he attack in 5:18-20?  In Chap. 1, what sorts of behavior does Amos condemn?  Why should he expect foreign nations to know this is wrong?

                                Zvi, Introduction to Amos, JSB 1176-77

                        Hosea: 1-4 and esp. 2:13-23 (expresses hope for a renewed relationship between Israel and God, in the language of courtship, marriage, and fertility), 4:1-3 (lawsuit, Ten Commandments), 11:8-9 (divine compassion), 12:6-11, with Zvi, Introduction to Hosea, JSB 1143-44

                        Rabin 160-173


27        Isaiah:  vision and justice

                        Isaiah 1, 3, 5-6                            Compare the temple speech in Amos 5:21-25 with those in Isaiah 1:10-16 and Micah 6:6‑8.  Using these as examples, what does a "temple speech" in prophetic writings "do"?  -  How is God portrayed in the Song of the Vineyard (5:1-7)?  How is God portrayed in Isaiah’s “call” (Chap. 6)?  What do “holy” and “glory” mean here?  Why the problem of “unclean lips?”

                                Sommer, Introduction to Isaiah, JSB 780-84                         

                        Micah 6:6-8    

29        Isaiah:  history and the future

                        Isaiah 2, 7, 9-11, 28-31           Note the concept of power found in 2:12-17, 10:5-15.  What crime does Isaiah accuse kings of in 7:3-9 and 30:12-18 (see also 28:14-16)?                 Study 2:2-4.  How exactly will peace come about in the future?  Why will nations stop fighting?  What will be the role of the Israelites?  -  Analyze Isaiah 11:1-9.  Main questions:  what will be the characteristics of this special king of the future?  How will his character and actions solve the problems described by Isaiah in his other prophecies to Judah?


* 3         Seventh Century Prophets:  New Questions

                        Habakkuk, with Introduction                 What questions does the prophet ask God in Chap. 1?  Why is the prophet puzzled, what’s the problem?   How does God reply in Chap. 2?                      

                        2 Kings 21-24

                        Jeremiah 2-5, 7-9, 12, 26-29, 37-38     What are the main ideas in Jeremiah's temple speech in 7:1-15 and 7:20?  What have the people done wrong?  -  Why do people react to the speech the way they do in Jeremiah 26:7-11 and 26:24?  What do they think Jeremiah has done?

                                Sweeney, Introduction to Jeremiah, JSB 917-20


  5        Jeremiah's Torment, Hopes

Jeremiah 1, 14-20, 30-33;   Numbers 11 (Moses’ complaint)

                                What exactly are Jeremiah’s complaints in 15:10, 15-21, 18:18-21, and 20:7-18?  Why does he think he has the right to question God?  How does he describe his own inner conflict?  -  In the “new covenant” of 31:31-34 and 32:38-40, what kind of changes will occur, and what problems will be solved?


  7        Words of Exile and Restoration, I

                        Lamentations 1, 2, 5, with Introduction by Grossberg.  In what sense can the Book of Lamentations (only the chapters assigned) be understood as theodicy (an explanation of suffering in relation to a good God)?  ‑- What explanations are given for Jerusalem's defeat?  Do you see any indications of complaint or questioning of God's ways?                                                  

                        Ezekiel: Intro, 18 (what have the Israelites misunderstood about divine punishment, how might this be related to the mood of the exiled Judeans in Babylonia?), and 37

                        Psalm 137


* 10        Words of Exile and Restoration, II

                        Isaiah  40-55 (compare the mood with that in the earlier chapters of the Book of Isaiah which we studied.  Look for a new concept of “universal monotheism,” e.g., 45:5-7, the attack on Babylonian religion, and the call to “proselytize,” e.g., 45:22-23.  Study the “servant poems” in 42:1-7, 49:1-6, 50:4-7, and 53:2-12.  The servant refers to the Israelites – 44:1 and elsewhere – but does he also resemble any biblical figures we have read about?  How might these poems relate to the situation of the Judeans suffering in exile?)


12        “Love is strong as death”

                        Song of Songs, with Introduction by Stern.  Why do you think that the Song of Songs is a favorite book of modern feminists?  Point to two specific passages that support the feminist image of strong assertive womanhood.  -  What emotions do the night scenes of 3:1-4 and 5:2-8 express?  -  How is love described in 8:6-7?  Why should it be compared with death, the grave, and raging flame? 

Rabin 219-26


14        The Poetry of Worship:  Law and Creation

1 Chronicles 16:4-42

                        Psalms:   Intro (note the various categories of psalm), 8, 15, 19, 104 (esp. 19 & 104 for class: what relationship does the author find between God and nature?  the skies in Ps. 19, the round of feedings in 104: 10-24.  What is the author’s attitude toward nature?  Note the new theme of “law” in 19:7-11.)

                        Rabin 203-219;  and Introduction to the Psalms by Berlin and Brettler, JSB 1280-84


* 17        "All day long I suffer torment"

                                                Psalms 22, 49, 63, 73 (esp. 73 for class discussion:  What is the problem for the writer in Psalm 73:1-12?  Compare his description of wicked people in vss. 4-12 with Deuteronomy 6:3 and Proverbs 10:6-7.  What is the theological problem?  What solution does the author find?  What does he gain at the end of the psalm?  Compare the “good” in vs. 1 with the “good” in 28.)


19       Wisdom for Good and Gain 

                        Proverbs 1-15, 30-31, with Introduction by Fox, JSB 1447-49                     What sorts of behavior do the proverbs of Chaps. 10-15 recommend?  How would a wise person behave?  What are the benefits?  What causes the foolish person to suffer?  Why does the author expect us to believe him?  -  Chaps. 1-9 offer a theology connecting this wisdom with God.  Why would “fear of the Lord” lead to wisdom?  Why should wise people “fear the Lord”?  -  What are the main characteristics of the “good wife” in Prov. 31:10-3?  Do any of these characteristics surprise you?  Are these all "patriarchal" features, supporting a patriarchal structure, or can we identify any features of this role that feminists could approve?

                        Rabin   175-89


21        Questioning Wisdom

                        Ecclesiastes, with Introduction by Machinist, JSB 1603-06. Explain Ecclesiastes 1:5 - 11, and compare with the image of nature in Psalm 104.  What does this image of nature in Ecclesiastes convey about human life? -  Consider 3:1 - 9, a cyclical view of human activity.  How does this passage support the idea in 1:2-11?  -  Analyze the main ideas in Ecclesiastes 4:1-3 and 9:11-12.  What does the writer notice in his society and why is he disappointed?  Why should things be different?  -  Do these passages support the main ideas in the Book of Proverbs or contradict them?

Rabin 194-201


24        * Paper due by 2pm.  No class.  


26        Questioning God

                        Job: Intro, 3-13, 21, 31       Analyze the speeches of Eliphaz in Chapters 4-5, Bildad in 8:2-7, Zophar in Chap. 11.  How do they explain Job's suffering?  (There is more than one explanation.) - Of what does Job accuse God in Chapters 9 and 16, 21:7-34?  What are the images that Job uses to describe God?  What is the point of Chap. 31?

Rabin 189-94;  and Introduction by Gruber, JSB 1499-1505


28        Questioning Human Knowledge

                        Job 38-42:6;  1-2 (prologue), 42:7-17 (epilogue)                  What parts of the inanimate world appear in the speech of God, and why these things?  How do the examples of the animals in Chapters 39 and 41 and 40:15-24 serve as a response to Job's questions?  The examples of the ostrich and crocodile seem hardest to explain. -  Compare the satan's accusations against Job (1:9-11) (2:4‑5).  What is the issue?  Compare the satan’s accusation with the theory of reward in the Book of Proverbs.  -  Do the two parts of the Book of Job (the prose prologue/epilogue and the long poetic section in-between) contradict each other? 


March 31, April 1        Apocalyptic:  Seeing the End

                        Daniel              What do the stories of Chaps. 1-6 teach?  How would they refer to the situation of the Jews during the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes?  Who suffers in 11:33-35 and 7:25? -  Who are the “saints of the most High” in Chap. 7?  How is the “one like a human being” related to them?  What does Chap. 7 say about human history?  What does 12:1-3 say about death?  -  What does the book (implicitly) urge its readers to do?  (see Dan. 3:17-18)           

                        Wills, Introduction to Daniel, JSB 1640-42


April 3             Review