Religion 101                                                                                                                                                                                                             Winter 2017


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:  History of ideas:  discerning the ideas expressed in the Bible, and how they took form, changed, and often conflicted with each other;  history of religion:  the content and history of biblical religions as they changed over time;  and literary analysis: analyzing literary genres and styles of expression, along with close readings of significant passages.


Texts: The Jewish Study Bible (“JSB” in assignments below)

            Elliott Rabin, Understanding the Hebrew Bible

                                   Course pack [abbreviated as CP]


Course Requirements

*  Four 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 [minimum of 50] will be dropped.  (10%)

*  Seven reading responses (10%)

*  Worksheet in biblical law, due Jan. 18 (1%)

*  Essay test, Feb. 3 (20%) 

*  An essay analyzing a few biblical passages in relation to a speci­fied topic (22%)

*  Final exam (22%)

Attendance of classes and informed discussion of reading assignments (15%). (Missed classes result in a grade of 0 for that day; excused absences: illness and away games with summary of missed work)


* This is a no-laptop course – for the sake of good discussions and "being present" with each other.  Thanks (If you need to use your laptop, please talk with me.)



Meetings and Assignments

 Please bring your bible to each class meeting!  (And the textbook when assigned)


 9         Introduction to the Course: genres, themes, authors, and types of religion


11        Who wrote the Bible?

                        Genesis, chapters 1-3 and 6-8, and Exodus 14

                        JSB 2167-70 on source and redaction criticism, by Marvin Sweeney

Elliott Rabin, Chap. 5: taking the Bible apart, the quest for sources, and putting the Bible together again: pp.111-118 and 138-141


Cultural Origins


13        Creation and Flood in Israel and Babylonia

                        Genesis 1 with JSB commentary

Gen 4-11 with JSB commentary

                        “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?

                        “Story of the Flood”[CP] Compare the Babylonian and biblical versions of the flood story.

                        OMIT: JSB 2141-43 on the ancient Near East, by Jack Sasson

16        Class cancelled.


18*       Law in Israel and Babylonia

                        Exodus 19-23

                        “Law Code of Hammurabi” [CP]

                        *Law worksheet due

JSB 2205-07, “Biblical law in the context of Mesopotamian law,” by Shalom Holtz



Biblical Narrative


20        Mothers and Fathers of Israel

Genesis:  Introduction and chapters 12-22 and 27-50, with commentary by Jon Levenson

                        Rabin, Chapter 2 (pp.19-47)


23        Moses, Exodus, and Wilderness

                        Exodus: Introduction and chapters 1-17 and 32-33 with commentary by Jeffrey Tigay       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?

                        Numbers 12-14 with commentary by Nili Fox

                        Deuteronomy 34 


   25*       Stories of Deliverance.  Theme: women in early narratives

                           Judges 2-5, esp. Deborah (chaps. 4-5)

                           Genesis 16 (Sarai and Hagar), 29-30 (Leah and Rachel), 34 (Dinah), 38 (Tamar)

                           Exodus 1:15-22 (midwives), 15:20-21 (Miriam)

                           Num 27:1-11 (daughters of Z)

                           Judges 11 and 16 (J’s daughter and Delilah)

                           1 Sam 1-2:11 (Hannah)



27        The David Stories, Part 1

                        1 Samuel 16 – 2 Samuel 10

                        Group Projects


30        The David Stories, Part 2

                        2 Samuel 11-22, 1 Kings 1-2:10

                        Group Projects


  1*       The Challenge of Archeology   

                        Rabin, Chap. 4 and pp. 111-118 of Chap. 5

                        JSB 2124-36, “Archeology and the Hebrew Bible,” by Aren Maeir



  3        *Essay Test due


Deuteronomic Thought and Religion


  6        Deuteronomic Thought and Religion

                        Deuteronomy 1-11 and 28-31     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?                 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.

Joshua 24

                        Judges 2:11-21

                        1 Kings 11-13

                        2 Kings 15, 21-23



  8          Covenants                   

Genesis 9, 15, 17

                        Exodus 19 and 23:25-27

                        Deuteronomy 7:12-26

                        2 Samuel 7:8-16

                        1 Kings 8:24-25

                        Psalm 89:20-37

                        Hosea 2:14-23 and 4:1-3 and 2:4-7

            Rabin Chap. 3


10        The Book of the Covenant and Deuteronomic law

                        Exodus 21-23

                        Deuteronomy 12-25

                        JSB 2201-05, “Reading Biblical Law” by Shalom Holtz

                        “Biblical Law” by Edward Greenstein [CP]


13 and 15   Leviticus: law and theology

Leviticus: Introduction and 4-6:7, 11, 15-16, 19-20, and 25, with commentary by Baruch Schwartz

                        JSB 1998-2004, “Concepts of Purity in the Bible” by Jonathan Klawans

                        JSB 2012-18, “The Temple” by Victor Hurowitz

                        Gen. 1 and 9:1-17 and 17

            *Quiz on February 15




17        “Love is strong as death” {A}

Song of Songs, with Introduction and commentary by Elsie Stern

Rabin 219-26


27        The Poetry of Worship {B}

1 Chronicles 16:4-42

Introduction to Psalms by Berlin and Brettler (note the various genres of psalms on 1268)

Psalms 15, 51 (David’s story), 92, 93, 96, 121; reflections on nature: 8, 19, 104

                        Rabin 203-219


  1        “All day long I suffer torment” {A}

                        Psalms 22, 39, 49, 63, 73, 90


Wisdom Writings


  3        Wisdom for Good and Gain  {B}

                        Proverbs 1, 3, 8, 10-21, 30-31, with Introduction and commentary by Michael Fox      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. 31:10-31?  Do any of these characteristics surprise you? 

                        Rabin   175-89


  6        Questioning Wisdom {A}

Ecclesiastes, with commentary and introduction by Peter Machinist (Note the editorial additions of 12:9-4)                  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?  How does the fact of human mortality function in the author’s thoughts?  –  Do these passages support the main ideas in the Book of Proverbs or contradict them?

                        Rabin 194-201


  8        *Paper due; class discussion of themes


10        Discussion of themes in the papers (war and peace, women)

                        Read the Book of Ruth with introduction and commentary by Adele Reinhartz

                        Additional readings to be assigned.


13           Questioning God {B}

Job 3-17, 19, 21, 23-24, 26-27, 29-31 with introduction and commentary by Mayer Gruber

                        Rabin 189-94


15           Questioning Human Understanding {A}

                        Job 38-42:6;  1-2 (prologue), 42:7-17 (epilogue), with commentary by Gruber           


17        Class canceled




20        Amos and Hosea {B}

                        Amos (complete) with introduction and commentary by Ehud ben Zvi    

                        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), 14:2-9, with introduction and commentary by Ehud ben Zvi           

                        Rabin 160-173


22        Isaiah:  vision and justice {A}

                        Isaiah 1, 3, 5-6  with introduction and commentary by Benjamin Sommer                         

                        Micah 6:6-8 (JSB 1203)


24        Isaiah:  history and the future {B}

                        Isaiah 2, 7, 9-11, 28-31 with commentary by Benjamin Sommer 


27        Seventh Century Prophets:  New Questions {A}

                        Habakkuk, with Introduction by Ehud ben Zvi

                        2 Kings 21-24

                        Jeremiah 2-5, 7-9, 12, 26-29, 37-38 with introduction and commentary by Marvin Sweeney.  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?


29        Jeremiah's Torment, Hopes {B}

Jeremiah 1, 14-20, 30-33 with commentary         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?

Numbers 11 (Moses’ complaint)


31        Words of Exile and Restoration {A}

                        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?)



  3        Theme: future king and restoration, incipient Judaism {B}

                        Readings to be assigned


  5        Themes:  God’s gender, God and Nature

                        Deuteronomy 26:5-11 and other readings to be assigned


  7        Review: The main biblical religions: Deuteronomy, Leviticus, wisdom, liturgy, and prophecy.  Relationship to the genres of narrative, law, wisdom, poetry, and prophecy.  Relationship to themes.  Relationship to cultural origins. 

                        “The Religion of the Bible” by Stephen Geller, JSB 1978-1997