Academic Programs 
      

Hebrew Bible Survey II (SC-520)
Fall 2004

An introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures, this course will apply historical-critical methods of study to develop a framework for understanding the origins of the texts and the relationship of the texts to one another. Attention will be given to contemporary theories of biblical interpretation. Survey II will examine the prophetic corpus, poetry wisdom and the rest of “the writings” in the Hebrew Bible.

 

Meeting Day, Time and Dates: 
Thursdays from 7 p.m. to 9:20 p.m.  

John Ahn  
Adjunct Professor of Hebrew Bible


Contact Information:

phone: 
(860) 509-9500
email:  john.ahn@yale.edu


Course Syllabus

Course Goals:

1)   To provide you with a working knowledge of the contents of the Prophets and Writings of the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible).

2)   To bring to attention the origins, development, and refinement of ancient Israel’s faith.

3)   To aid you in reflecting on ways in which the biblical material may be appropriated by Christian (and other religious) communities in contemporary settings.

Requirements & Grades:

1)   A midterm examination to be given on October 28, 2004. The 60 minutes exam will consist of short-answers and one essay (20%).

2)   An exegesis paper (topic will be assigned) due on December 2, 2004. The paper will be 6 to 8 pages in length (typed, double spaced, proofread, and submitted electronically as an attachment file). Paper that is turned in late without a valid excuse will not be eligible for an “A” (30%).

3)   Two hours final examination will be given in class on December 16, 2004 (40%).

4)    Weekly discussion participation (10%).

5)    There will be a make-up class on December 23, 2004. Students are expected to attend this session. Final Exam will be returned on this day.

Reading Assignments and General Study Guide:

Students are expected to come to class prepared. On page three and follow, reading assignments with general study guide is provided. It is not accidental that the Bible is listed first in each week’s assignment. Students are expected to become familiar with the biblical text in addition to the scholarly problem and hermeneutical issues that will be presented and discussed in light of the secondary readings. In this course, please use the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). The study guide is exactly a study guide. It is being furnished so that you have some idea of what to look for in your readings. You will find that the guideline may function as a spring board to other issues. You should not attempt to pedantically answer each inquiry. Rather, keep the broader strokes in mind as you read and digest.  

Required books:

  • The New Oxford Annotated Bible. NRSV. Third Edition. Ed. Michael Coogan. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
  • Blenkinsopp, Joseph, A History of Prophecy in Israel Revised and Enlarged. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1996.
  • Childs, Brevard, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979.
  • Collins, John J. Introduction to the Hebrew Bible. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.

Recommended books (Portions or chapters of each book will be employed.)

  • Crenshaw, James L. Old Testament Wisdom: An Introduction. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1998.
  • Mays, James. Psalms. Interpretation. Louisville: John Knox. 1994.
  • Smith-Christopher, Daniel L. A Biblical Theology of Exile. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002.
    •   

September 16               Review of form, tradition, redaction criticisms, Dt, and Dtr

Amos, Hosea

September 23               First Isaiah 1-39

September 30               Micah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk

October 7                    Jeremiah, Lamentations

October 14                  Ezekiel, Obadiah

October 21                  Second Isaiah (Chap 40-55) & Third Isaiah (Chap 56-66)

October 28                  Midterm Examination

Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, and Joel

November 4                 Ezra, Nehemiah, (skim Chronicles)

November 11               Psalms and Song of Song 

November 18               (No Class—SBL Annual Meeting: see Dec 23)—Email paper abstract to john.ahn@yale.edu (cc: yourself and johnahn123@msn.com) by 7:00 PM (no exceptions/excuses)

November 25               (No Class: Thanksgiving)

December 2                 Paper due  

                                    Wisdom Literature: Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes 

December 9                 Daniel, Ruth, Jonah, Esther

December 16               Final Exam

December 23               Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books

   

September 16: Review of Critical Approaches; Amos & Hosea

Discussion: Amos 5  

Required Reading

Bible:    Amos, Hosea
Collins, 283-306
Childs, 305-310, 395-410
Blenkinsopp, 1-90

Supplementary Reading

Robert Wilson, Prophecy and Society (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980), 135-225, 253-270.

John Barton, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Biblical Interpretation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 212-225.

Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol 2 (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), 3-49. 

General Study Guide

Content and Arrangement: Make some effort to lay out the structure or outline of Amos and Hosea. Note that in some cases the prophetic oracles have clear relationships to each other and at other times not.

Socio-History and Literary Analysis: Be able to characterize the historical context and the character of Israelite society in the eighth century BCE in the Northern Kingdom of Israel when Amos and Hosea prophesied. What is a prophetic oracle? What are some of the types of prophetic oracles that one finds in Hosea and Amos? What are some cases or examples of prophetic oracles in each book? What parallel themes rise to the surface?

Interpretation: How would you characterize Amos’ critique of Israelite society? In Hosea 1-3 the marriage of Hosea to his wife become the vehicle for the Lord’s speaking about the relation of the Lord to Israel. What is it about marriage that makes it useful for this purpose? What problems does it create?

Some Basic Questions for Discussion: Amos 5 is a collection of typical prophetic oracles of pre-exilic Israel. Divide it up into the different oracles. What are the grounds for separating them? How are they connected together in literary ways in a single chapter? Are some of the oracles more closely related to each other? From your reading and your analysis of the chapter what types of prophetic oracles are discernable? Judgment speech is one the basic forms of prophetic speech. How would you describe it and what is its purpose? Are there any judgment speeches here? Focus particularly to verses 7, 10-11. What features of the text suggest that these verses should be looked at together? What do you learn from this unit and the rest of the chapter about the relationship between justice and the worship of God? How are verses 8-9 different from the rest of the chapter? Can you find other pericopes in Amos like vv. 8-9? What do they seek to express?

 

September 23: First Isaiah (Isaiah of Jerusalem)

Discussion: Isaiah 6-8   

Required Reading:

Bible: Isaiah 1-39
Blenkinsopp, History of Prophecy, 91-110
Collins, 307-321
Childs, 311-338

Supplemental Reading:

Roy Melugin and Marvin A. Sweeney, eds., New Visions of Isaiah (JSOTSup 214; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996).

Christopher R. Seitz, ed., Reading and Preaching the Book of Isaiah (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988).

Wilson, Prophecy and Prophecy, 226-231, 270-274.

General Study Guide:

Content: Become familiar with the canonical shape of Isaiah 1-39. Be on the lookout for repetitive themes within First Isaiah and if time permits, briefly skim Micah. What does Isaiah preach? What images and themes are employed to generate his message?

Socio-History and Literary Analysis: What chief nations and leaders are represented during the years of Isaiah? What is the political relationship between Judah and Israel’s interaction with them and with each other? What were features of the internal political, social, economic, and religious scenes in Judah? On the literary side, be able to recognize the many genres of prophetic oracles including biography, autobiography, general history, call narrative, legal-lawsuit (rîb), oracles of judgment, and oracles of salvation.   

Interpretation: God as ruler of all nations is a central theme in Isaiah of Jerusalem. Identify a variety of passages and ways in which this pervasive theme is developed. How may such a theme be appropriated today without falling into a sort of “divine puppeteer” view of God? What kind of “political” advice does Isaiah give to Judah’s rulers? What are his theological grounds for his advice? What are the problems (then and now) that rulers face in considering the advice of religious spokespersons?

Some Basic Questions for Discussion:  The memoirs of Isaiah, in chapters 6-8, contain personal history. Moreover, in chapters 7, 9, 11, are “messianic oracles.” In light of Christianity and the New Testament, how does our historical study enrich the text in its original meaning? What problems remain if we limit the text in its historical setting without a hermeneutical move?  

 

September 30: Micah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk

Discussion: Micah 6

Required Reading:

Bible: Micah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk
Blenkinsopp, 91-96, 111-129
Collins, 324-327
Childs, 428-462

Supplemental Reading:

Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets (New York: Harper, 1960), 27-97.
J.J.M. Roberts, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah. (OTL; Louisville: Westminster, 1991).

General Study Guide:

Content and Arrangement: In comparison to the book of Hosea, Micah is well preserved, though there are textual problems and some inconsistencies. There are two major blocks of material in Micah—1:2 to 5:15 and 6:1 to 7:20.  The first three chapters are thought to be genuine whereas the remaining portions are understood as later expansions. However, this is not completely upheld. Chapters 4-7 are likely to have come from the eight century prophet. Micah and Isaiah should be read in light of each other since they are contemporaries. Nahum is filled with vivid images of the Lord’s judgment. The Lord is ‘slow to anger but great in power’ (1:3) and ‘a stronghold in a day of trouble’ (1.7) describes the Assyrian context. Habakkuk is a contemporary of Nahum with equal voice of destruction and anguish. Habakkuk 3 is associated with the giving of the Torah at Sinai (Jewish tradition), chapters 1-2 are seen in a commentary at Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls) and 2.4b is associated with the Pauline theology of ‘justification by faith’ (Rom 1.17). Zephaniah reflects the tradition of Isaiah of Jerusalem (day of the Lord). Condemnation of religious and political leadership is disseminated.   

Socio-History and Literary Analysis: Micah, Nahum, and Zephaniah reflect the 8th century Assyrians whereas Habakkuk depicts the Babylonians in the 6th century BCE. Like Amos, Micah dissociates himself from the guild of prophets. The genre of legal disputation has high forensic quality. Nahum 2 is addressed to Nineveh, capital of the Assyria. Chapter 3 is a taunt song pronounced against the Babylonians. In Nahum’s genealogy, he relates that his father was a Cushite, an Ethiopian. Zephaniah has classic stereotypical oracles against Judah (1:1 to 2:3), oracles against the nations (2:4 to 3:8), and oracles of salvation (3:9-20). In Habakkuk, there is no superscription. However, the historical setting appears to be the Battle at Carchemish. Habakkuk’s prophetic and psalmic combination has projected the notion that Habakkuk was a cultic prophet who recited versions of his text in temple worship while other scholars have noted that those cultic elements are later redactions.

Interpretation: Habakkuk and Zephaniah share a message of hope and waiting for Yahweh in face of prevailing disillusionment. Nahum is exceptional for lack of criticism of his people. Micah has theological parallels with both Isaiah of Jerusalem and Amos.

Some Basic Questions for Discussion: As each book is unique, how are these minor prophets read as a whole? What are some cohesive themes that pull them together? What are distinctive theological features about each book? What are the threads that keep them together?

 

October 7: Jeremiah, Lamentation

Discussion: Jeremiah 20

Required Reading:

Bible: Jeremiah, Lamentation
Blenkinsopp, 129-165
Collins, 334-352
Childs, 339-354

Supplemental Reading:

Daniel L. Smith-Christopher, A Biblical Theology of Exile (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002)

Patrick Miller, “The Book of Jeremiah” NIB 7:555-1072.

Carolyn Sharp, Prophecy and Ideology in Jeremiah: Struggles for Authority in the Deutero Jeremianic Prose (London: T & T Clark, 2003). 

General Study Guide:

Content and Arrangement: Be able to describe the canonical shape of the book of Jeremiah

Socio-History and Literary Analysis: What is the political situation in the ancient Near East and what is the Southern Kingdom of Judah’s place during the time of Jeremiah? What were some features of the internal religious and political dynamics in Judah? On the literary side, there are several genres in the book of Jeremiah—generally labeled “A” poetic oracles, “B” prose narrative about Jeremiah and “C” redactional Deuteronomic homily. 

Interpretation: The laments found in Jeremiah are unique and share common features with lament psalms. In order to gain an appreciation for the stereotypical feature of this genre, reading Jeremiah’s confessions (11:18-12”6; 15:10-21; 17:14-18; 18:18-23) as well as small sampling of individual lament psalms (Pss 3; 6; 13; 31) is a good beginning.

Some Basic Questions for Discussion: What features do you notice in Jeremiah 20:7-13 that appear frequently as seen in other oracles? How you do understand the shift in mood between vv10 and 11? There is much debate about whether v 13 belongs to this lament, or whether the lament ends with v 12. What reasons can you suggest on each side of this debate? Although the lament uses much traditional language, we know enough about Jeremiah’s ministry to suggest circumstances that might give rise to such a compliant. How would you characterize his problem(s) based on this lament? The accusation against God in verse 7 is harsh. Intertextually speaking, where in the Bible have you seen similar accusations? What do you think about the appropriateness of this kind of accusation? Equally, if not more, are the prayers for God to bring vengeance upon the petitioner’s enemies. How can people of faith deal responsibly with these prayers?

 

October 14: Ezekiel, Obadiah

Discussion: Ezekiel 16

Required Reading:

Bible: Ezekiel, Obadiah
Blenkinsopp, 165-180
Collins, 353-377
Childs, 355-372

Supplemental Reading:

Michael Fishbane, “Sin and Judgment in the Prophecies of Ezekiel” in Interpreting the Prophets (eds. James Luther Mays and Paul J. Achtemeier; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987), 170-187.

Carol A. Newsom, “A Maker of Metaphors: Ezekiel’s Oracles against Tyre” in Interpreting the Prophets, 188-199.

Moshe Greenberg, “The Design and Themes of Ezekiel’s Program of Restoration” in Interpreting the Prophets, 215-236.

General Study Guide:

Content and Arrangement: be able to describe the canonical shape of the book of Ezekiel and its major motifs. 

Socio-History and Literary Analysis: What problems in the book of Ezekiel make it difficult to know where he prophesied? The book is highly structured, however, and we are able to date most of Ezekiel’s prophecies from internal sources (fifteen in all). In addition to the opening vision, symbolic acts, oracles of judgment, and oracles of restoration, images of sexual promiscuity is used to allegorize Israel’s infidelity (Ch 16 and 23) . Political friction is relayed in terms of a riddle or māšāl (Ch 17 and 19). The single chapter of the book of Obadiah consists of two parts: vv. 1-14 (against Edom) and vv 15-21 (prediction of judgment on all the nations followed by restoration of Judah). Obadiah has overtones with Nahum in that prophet does not criticize Israel of Judah.

Interpretation: How does Ezekiel’s call vision connect in imagery to his visions of the departure and return of God’s glory from Jerusalem? What is the theological significance of the divine Glory in Ezekiel? (See chapters 1, 10, 43.) Other chapters for special attention include 18 (so-called ‘individual responsibility chapter’), 36 (‘new heart’ compared Jeremiah’s new covenant) and 37 (‘dry bones’).

Some Basic Questions for Discussion: The influence of the P writer is seen in the book of Ezekiel. Like the Holiness Code in Leviticus, there is no differentiation between moral and ritual laws. Holiness is central in Ezekiel. The state of being holy call into account much of Ezekiel’s action, even the most bizarre and eccentric acts which may be reckon with Ezekiel’s zeal for the glory of God.

 

October 21: Second Isaiah (Chapters 40-55) and Third Isaiah (56-66)

Discussion: Servant Songs (Isaiah 52:13-53:12)  

Required Reading:

Bible: Isaiah 55-66
Blenkinsopp, 181-193
Collins, 379-400
Childs, 321-338

Supplemental Reading:

Brevard Childs, Isaiah (OTL; Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.

Roy Melugin and Marvin A. Sweeney, eds., New Visions of Isaiah (JSOTSS 214; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996).

H.G.M. Williamson, The Book Called Isaiah: Deutro-Isaiah’s Role in Composition and Redaction (Oxford: Clarendon, 1994).

Christopher R. Seitz, Zion’s Final Destiny (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1991).

Paul D. Hanson, Isaiah 40-66 (IBC; Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995). 

General Study Guide:

Content and Arrangement: The composition and the layers of redaction in the book of Isaiah are as complex as it gets.  Chapter 40-55 comes from the Babylonian period while chapters 56-66 is ground during the Persian or post-exilic setting. Even if First Isaiah is said to have authored 1-39, and Third Isaiah 56-66, chapter 35 is the work of Second Isaiah and chapters 60-62 is relatively that of Second Isaiah. See if you can discern larger blocks of material that comprise Isaiah 40-55. What similar motifs from First Isaiah resurface in Second and Third Isaiah?

Socio-History and Literary Analysis: In addition to the soci-historical and literary history of the book of Isaiah, the so called “servant songs” (42:104; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; and 52:13-53:12) are often regarded as a separate literary block incorporated into the message of this prophet during the time of forced migrations (exile). What data has lead classical and modern interpreters to view this material in such fashion?

Interpretation: How does the message of Second Isaiah differ from First Isaiah? How does Third Isaiah differ from Second? How would you express the view that God gave this prophecy? Why do you think these chapters are drawn upon so much by New Testament authors? With respect to Third Isaiah, there are constant echoes of indictment of those who control the rebuilt temple and those who are guilty of socio-economic oppression and outright bloodshed. Does this remind you of any particular timeframe? 

Some Basic Questions for Discussion: Isaiah 52:13 to 53:12 deal with the figure that is simply called “my servant.” Work out the movement of this poem. How does it begin and end? What dramatic character does it relay? What is going on in the drama? Who are the actors? Who speaks and what do they say? What is the relationship between the servant and those who speak? What does it mean to relay that the servant suffers? How does the New Testament speak and take up this text?

 

October 28: Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, and Joel

Discussion: Malachi 2.17-3.5  

Required Reading:

Bible: Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, and Joel
Blenkinsopp, 194-245
Collins, 401-424
Childs, 463-498, 385-394 

Supplemental Reading:

David Peterson, Haggai and Zechariah 1-8 (OTL; Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1985).

David Peterson, Zechariah 9-14 and Malachi (OTL; Louisville: Westminster Press, 1995).

Paul R. House, The Unity of the Twelve (JSOTSup 97; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1990).

Paul L. Redditt and Aaron Schart eds., Thematic Threads in the Book of the Twelve (BZAW 325; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2003).

General Study Guide:

Content and Arrangement: The chronological information in the four oracles of the book of Haggai places the Sitz im Leben (Setting in Life) precisely between mid-August and mid December or 520 BCE, the early reign of Darius I or Darius the Great. The sequence of sermons moves from Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, the governor of Judah to Joshua the high priest, and beginning of the reconstruction of the second temple. Zechariah has eight visions and prophetic oracles. Zech 1-8 begins with the date of Oct/Nov 520 BCE disseminating hierocracy. Chapters 9-14, however, is less cohesive and shows the disillusionment of the post-exilic world (proto-apocalyptic such as Joel 2.28-3.21; Isa 24-27). Zechariah and Haggai shared the same mission of advancing the cause to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Malachi is not the last book to be written, though it is the last prophetic book in the Hebrew canon. As the temple is functional again, it is natural to assume that the setting is after the time of Haggai and Zechariah (1-8). The issues of intermarriage, (and turmoil regarding temple sacrifice) also seen in Nehemiah (445 BCE), is a major concern. Hence, the setting is assigned to the reign of Artaxerxes I (465 -424 BCE). Joel’s setting on the other hand is much more problematic, 800 to 300 BCE. The metaphor of an invading army—of locust may be the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, or Greeks.    

Socio-History and Literary Analysis: Because of the book of Ezra (5.1; 6:14-15), which deals with the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple during the periods of Darius and Artaxerxes, the postexilic context of  our minor prophets relating the precise dates of our postexilic prophetic scene generates conflicting results. It is safe to assume that a Priestly redaction, as in the book of Ezekiel, is at work. The theme of restoration, rebuilding the temple, and its role with apocalyptic notions are visible. 

Interpretation and Basic Questions for Discussion: The motif and repetition of the “Day of the LORD” has eschatological implications. As dismay and unrest dominated the initial stage of the post exilic life, the plight of rebuilding and re-reestablishing a community which started with nothing in Babylon and made it into something is now forced to repeat this same feat all over again; this time, back in Judah, under ruined conditions. The struggles and outbursts of elders, priests, and people to join in fasting, prayer, and repentance are seen all over again. However, is there anything different? Lastly, the Book of the Twelve receives emphasis (from OT perspective) because they lead to the NT whereas in the HB, it leads to the Writings. What do you make of this and how the Twelve is to be read?  

 

November 4: Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles

Discussion: Ezra 9

Required Reading:

Bible: Ezra, Nehemiah, (skim 1 & 2 Chronicles)
Collins, 427-460
Childs, 624-655

Supplemental Reading:

Ralph W. Klein, “Ezra-Nehemiah, Books of.” ABD 2:731-42

Christine Hayes, “Intermarriage and Impurity in Ancient Jewish Sources” HTR 92 (1999): 3-36.

Sarah Japhet, I and II Chronicles (OTL; Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993)

General Study Guide:

Content and Arrangement: First, Ezra-Nehemiah was counted as a single book until the Greek LXX and Jerome’s Vulgate. Ezra 1-6 (4:8-6:18 in Aramaic) relays the return from Babylon and the rebuilding of the temple; 7-10 is the collection of the memoirs of Ezra whereas Nehemiah 1.1 to 7:73a and 11-13 are the memoirs of Nehemiah. I and II Chronicles may be divided into three parts: 1-9 Introduction; Chapters 10 to 2 Chron 9 that of David and Solomon, and 2 Chron 10-36 as the providential or revisionist history of Judah.    

Socio-History and Literary Analysis: With the decree of Cyrus the King of Persia, (Cyrus Cylinder), conquered peoples in Babylon (now Persia) were permitted to return home. One section of the Cylinder says: “I returned to (these) sacred cities on the other side of the Tigris, the sanctuaries of which have been in ruins for a long time, the images which (used) to live therein and established for them permanent sanctuaries. I (also) gathered all their (former) inhabitants and returned (to them) their habitations.” Against this background, the return to Judah was in three stages, comparable to the three exiles. As noted, in the original Hebrew, Ezra-Nehemiah was considered one book. This scroll was the first part of the larger historical work which includes 1 and 2 Chronicles (also one book in Hebrew).  As JEP were central in laying out Genesis to Numbers, and Dt and Dtr for Deuteronomy to 2 Kings, the third and final section of biblical history is the work of the Ezra-Nehemiah-1 &2 Chronicles (Chronicler’s History ‘CH’)                       

Interpretation: The religious reform in Ezra 7-10 and the rebuilding of the wall in Nehemiah 1-6 show both religious and political restoration. What is remarkable within this community is notion of confession of guilt in light of having heard the Mosaic law. As the call for repentance was issued for intermarriage in Nehemiah 8-12, the Levites admonish the people not to weep and lament, but rather to put away sorrow and be joyful. There is joy in the law under theocracy.  

Some Basic Questions for Discussion: In modern times, the notion of ethnic purity or cleansing has lead to terrible wars (Africa, Bosnia). In Ezra-Nehemiah’s time, ethnic purity was a major issue. This was fueled by religious purity and call to separate with non Judean women. Modernity is critical and objects to such norms. Before we are critical defend and build a case for Ezra 9. 

 

November 11: Psalms and Song of Songs

Discussion: Ps 137 & Song of Songs

Required Reading:

Bible: Psalms & Song of Songs
Collins, 461-486
Childs, 504-525, 569-579

Supplemental Reading:

James May, Psalms (IBC; Louisville: John Knox Press, 1994).

Hermann Gunkel, An Introduction to the Psalms (Complete by Joachim Begrich; Trans. J.D. Nogalski; Macon, Ga: Mercer University Press, 1998).  

Patrick Miller, Interpreting the Psalms (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986).

Roland E. Murphy, Songs of Songs (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990).

Marvin H. Pope, Song of Songs (AB; New York: Doubleday, 1977).

General Study Guide: 

Content and Arrangement: The book of Psalms is divided into five books Pss 1-41; 42-72; 73-89; 90-106; 107-150 reflecting the Pentateuch. Each book begins with a doxology. Traditionally, the Psalms are attributed to David. However, this is a late editorial addition. Within the collection of psalms are those attributed to Asaph (50, 73-83), Korah (42, 44-49, 84-85, 87-88), Heman (88), Ethan (89), Moses (90), Jeduthun—one of David’s musicians (39,62, 77). The Gattung or form of each psalm has played an important role in identifying its original Sitz im Leben (setting/situation in life). Song of Songs is erotic poetry. Because the language was so powerful, Rabbis as well as Christian interpreters have by-passed the literal message and opted to allegorize the contents as “love poem between God and Israel or Christ and his Church.”

Socio-History and Literary Analysis: With the works of H. Gunkel and S. Mowinckel, the study of psalms took a radical shift. In general, the title of the book of Psalms in Hebrew is tehillîm, songs of praise. Although there are many other genres within the collection of psalms, the nomenclature is appropriate. It is Israel’s confession of praise through joy, pain, revenge, and even lament. The hymns, Yahweh’s enthronement, communal complaint songs, royal psalms, individual complaint songs, individual thanksgiving songs, blessing and curse, pilgrimage song, victory songs, prophetic psalms, wisdom psalms, mixtures of genres are literary genres modern scholars have identified. The canonicity of Song of Songs was debated heavily. The literary structure is that of the beloved and lover.  

Interpretation: Bonhoeffer once asked how can the words of men to God ever be considered God’s words to men. The psalms continue to impact modern readers and religious communities across time and space. Responses in the psalms may be understood as God’s response to particular situations, petitions, prayers, requests, and hence, Jewish and Christian communities have accepted the psalms as a witness of faith.    

Some Basic Questions for Discussion: Carefully read and re-read Ps 137. Read the larger context of Psalms 135-138. Why does Ps 137 fall between thanksgiving and Hallelujah psalms? Deduce the historicity and form(s) of the psalm. For Song of Songs, be prepared to have an open mind about this book. 

 

December 2: Wisdom Literature: Proverbs, Job, Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes)

Discussion: Wisdom Literature

Required Reading:

Bible: Proverbs, Job, Qoheleth
Collins, 487-528
Childs, 526-559, 580-589

Supplemental Reading:

James Crenshaw, Old Testament Wisdom: An Introduction (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998).

C.L.Seow, Ecclesiastes (AB; New York: Doubleday, 1997).

General Study Guide:

Content and Arrangement: One goal of wisdom was the formation of character. Another was to establish sagacious rulers. Without reference to God or the Torah, instructions are said to have been set in a family context. Moreover, the focus is on individuals rather than the society at large. Wisdom literature in the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) is presented by Proverbs, Job, Qoheleth, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Wisdom of Solomon, and some Psalms.   

Socio-History and Literary Analysis: Without references to Israel’s salvation history, heilsgeschichte, Wisdom literature is secular, international, and non religious in scope. Proverbial sayings and narratives of Egypt and Mesopotamia parallel Israelite Wisdom literature. The movement of the canonical Wisdom—Proverbs, Job and Qoheleth is a theological movement from the right to the left. The composition and literary structure of Proverbs is straightforward. Job begins with a prologue and concludes with an epilogue. In between are discourses by Job, Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Elihu. Attempts at finding a literary structure for Qoheleth have been difficult.       

Interpretation: The concept of Lady Wisdom is hypostatized in Prov 8, Job 29 and Sir 26. As we distinguish Wisdom literature from other sections of the OT (HB), this genre and its theology balances the overall androcentric and dominant Deuteronomic or Prophetic literature. A major problem however, in the classical study of Old Testament theology has been what is Wisdom’s role in synchronic theology of the Old Testament?

Some Basic Questions for Discussion: As you read Proverbs, Job, and Qoheleth, you will notice that Proverbs relate proper decorum. Job deals with the problem of theodicy, and Qoheleth with “existentialism.”  Begin to move away from past means of classifying and identifying Wisdom literature. Pay close attention to the final redactions of each book. What common grounds do you notice? What is one theme that can be employed to identify or classify Wisdom literature in its most practical sense?   

 

December 9: Daniel, 1-2 Maccabees, Ruth, Jonah, Esther

Discussion: Daniel & Ruth

Required Reading:

Bible: Daniel, skim 1-2 Maccabees, Ruth, Jonah, Esther
Collins, 553-579, 529-551
Childs, 608-623, 560-568, 417-427,598-607

Supplemental Reading:

Robert R. Wilson, “From Prophecy to Apocalyptic: Reflections on the Shape of Israelite Religion” Semeia 21 (1988): 79-95.

John J. Collins, The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism, Volume1: The Origins of Apocalypticism in Judaism and Christianity (New York: Continuum, 1998).  

John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination (2nd ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998).

General Study Guide:

Content and Arrangement: The book of Daniel is written in Hebrew (1 and 8-12) and Aramaic (2:4b-7:28). The Aramaic section circulated independently and the first vision in chapter 7 was composed in Aramaic. The remaining portions were added in Hebrew for patriotic flavor. Daniel 1-6 is labeled the court tales. Chapters 7-12 are the visions. Stories in the books of Ruth, Jonah, Esther, Tobit, and Judith are considered short stories or novella set in a time of crisis. 

Socio-History and Literary Analysis: The narratives in the book of Daniel are a product of the Hellenistic period with retrospective settings in the Babylonian and Persian periods. The novella or short stories of the OT are further found in Gen 24, 38, 37 + 39-50; Judges 3.12-30; 4; 2 Samuel 9-20 and 1 Kings 1-2; Job 1-2; 42:7-17; Daniel 1-6. The historical settings of the short stories are problematic: Ruth in the time of the Judges, Jonah in Assyria, and Esther in the Persian period. Ruth and Jonah were established to counterbalance the book of Ezra Nehemiah. It should be noted that many of these short stories feature women (Deborah, Jael, Esther, Ruth, Judith, Susanna) who combine heroism and faith. The stories move from isolation, barrenness, and hopelessness to joy, hope, fertility and renewal.    

Interpretation: In the first half of Daniel, the lifestyle for the Diaspora is central. As acculturation and assimilation is called for, the ideal of not foregoing God and faith is of essence. In the second half of Daniel, the role of wise man, the mantic dream interpreter is a better description of Daniel in contrast to a prophet. Ruth is said to be a charming, lovely, ‘human comedy’ (though this description may be slightly outdated) as is Jonah—a satire, anti-prophetic material. Esther has parallels with Joseph and Daniel. Most controversial in the book of Esther is the absence of the Deity. The fantasy-like volition of utter violence for enemies of the Jews is also problematic since the Jews were saved from violence.     

Some Basic Questions for Discussion: Culture is formative and transforms certain religious traditions. In our biblical narratives, how dominant are cultural norms? Culture gives birth to values and ethos. Compare the actions of those in Daniel 1-6 with Ruth and Naomi. What parallel features do you notice?

 

December 23: Deuterocanonical Books (Apocrypha)—Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Baruch

Discussion: Canon

Required Reading:

Bible: Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Baruch
Essays in the New Oxford: 3-10 Apocrypha; Canon 453-460;
Collins, 581-598

Supplemental Reading:

David deSilva, Introducing the Apocrypha (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002).

General Study Guide:

Content and Arrangement: The key difference between the Hebrew/Protestant and Roman Catholic/Greek Orthodox canon is the inclusion of the Apocrypha. Towards the end of the 4th century, Pope Damasus commissioned Jerome to translate a Latin version of the Hebrew Scripture. After completion of the Hebrew canon, Jerome translated the apocryphal books calling to attention their distinction in his preface. As subsequent copies of were made during the medieval period, Jerome’s preface was not copied and little distinction between the two were made. In 1546, the Council of Trent authorized that the canon of the Old Testament to include the Apocrypha. Thus, in the Roman Catholic Church, Tobit and Judith come after Nehemiah, Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus come after the Song of Solomon (Songs), Baruch (with the Letter of Jeremiah as chapter 6) comes after Lamentations; and 1 and 2 Maccabees concludes the OT. (See Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical Books [3 Apocrypha 10 Apocrypha] and [453-460 essays]).      

Socio-History and Literary Analysis: Wisdom of Ben Sira (Ecclesiasticus) or Sirach in Greek from the Hellenistic period deal with filial piety, friendship, treatment of children and slaves. Ben Sira’s tirade against women is visible, as are the notions of law, and the interpretation of Genesis and theodicy are major themes. Wisdom of Solomon was composed in Greek in Alexandria. The author was educated and relays the immortality of the soul. The book of wisdom is found in 6:12-11.1. The book of history is found in 11-19. Lastly, the book of Wisdom reflects ethnic tension which existed in first century CE in Alexandria. Baruch reflects the importance the Law-Torah.   

Interpretation: Wisdom became the new intellectual means of understanding the traditional world which was dominated by the Law. In the past it was God’s law that pervaded creation, but a shift in creation is seen by wisdom’s dominance (a borrowing from the Hellenistic world). Natural theology found in Proverbs reaches new heights.

Some Basic Questions for Discussion: Does the addition of the Apocrypha help or take away from the riches of the canon? Why did the Reformers reject the Apocrypha? Why is it that in most sermons strays away from the Deuterocanonical?

 

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