Academic Programs 
      

The Hebrew Prophets: Grounding for Faith and Ministry   (SC-680)
Winter/Spring 2005

More than any other figures in the ancient world, the prophets of Israel helped to define and strengthen the covenantal bond between the people and God. They were not simply seers or social critics; they were extraordinary poets, theologians, and public educators. Their oral exhortations, preserved in written form, continue to inspire and challenge us today. How can the Hebrew prophets, revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, help us forge a common ethical foundation for our personal and public lives? This course will examine various dimensions of Biblical prophecy including: the nature of prophetic revelation, the stylistic forms of Hebrew prophecy, the practical ramifications of prophetic faith, and the criteria for effective prophetic ministry then and now. (Co-sponsored with the Jewish Chautauqua Society) 


Meeting Day, Time and Dates:
 
Tuesdays from 4:30-6:50 p.m.


Yehezkel Landau
Faculty Associate in Interfaith Relations 

Contact Information:
phone: 
(860) 509-9538
email: ylandau@hartsem.edu


Course Syllabus




 

COURSE RATIONALE AND GOALS: 

More than any other figures in the ancient world, the prophets of Israel helped to define and strengthen the covenantal bond between the people and God.  They were not simply seers or social critics; they were extraordinary poets, theologians, and public educators.  Their oral exhortations, preserved in written form, continue to inspire and challenge us today.  How can the Hebrew prophets, revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, help us forge a common ethical foundation for our personal and public lives?  This course will examine various dimensions of Biblical prophecy including:  the nature of prophetic revelation, the stylistic forms of Hebrew prophecy, the social and political context for prophecy, the practical ramifications of prophetic faith, and the criteria for effective prophetic ministry then and now.

The goals of the course are:

  • to help students appreciate how Jews read their own Bible, and how Christian and Muslim approaches to these sacred stories offer complementary insights;

  • to foster a non-doctrinaire approach to texts that accepts multiple readings, is free of preconceptions, and is open to various critical perspectives (e.g. cross-cultural, feminist, interreligious)

  • to explore different pedagogical methods for elucidating Biblical texts, including group discussion, Bibliodrama, imagining alternative narratives, and developing contemporary idioms and media for the prophetic message;

  • to cultivate an awareness of how contemporary the so-called “Old Testament” is, including the prophetic corpus;

  • to relate the prophets’ messages to our own faith struggles of discernment, fidelity, and redemptive transformation, in our personal and public lives;

  • to encourage an interreligious conversation around prophetic texts and the challenges they pose, thereby helping to forge a mutually enriching learning community.


ANTICIPATED LEARNING OUTCOMES:

  • appreciating a Hebrew text in its own linguistic and cultural terms, with awareness of the distortion inherent in any translation;

  • acquiring a basic understanding of the four-level typology of rabbinic exegesis, with special appreciation for the power of midrash (allegorical parable);

  • understanding some central terms and themes in prophetic literature, including covenant and fidelity; justice and lovingkindness; destruction, exile, and return; warning and consolation;

  • appreciating the ethical worldview of the Hebrew prophets, combining national particularism and universal standards of morality;

  • developing a disciplined, critical reading of a sacred story, aware of how it operated in its original historical and cultural context, and how it may still be relevant today;

  • learning to live within the dialectical relationship of text and reader:  the text critiquing the reader’s lifestyle while the reader critiques the text;

  • approaching Scripture as a source of practical wisdom, rather than an anthology of legends or myths;

  • appreciating Scripture as a foundational resource for collective self-understanding through history, and relating this appreciation to our own life journeys within faith communities;

  • cultivating a “dialogue” between ancient texts and their wisdom, on the one hand, and contemporary thinkers and their insights, on the other, with some discernment of how that cross-generational conversation can enrich our own lives.

 

METHODS OF TEACHING AND DISCUSSION:

  • study of specific Biblical texts, with students offering their own questions and interpretations;
  • discussion of assigned readings offering general commentary on prophetic literature;
  • Bibliodrama “enactment” of specific Scriptural passages;
  • discussion of contemporary ramifications of prophetic texts.

Each student will be asked to prepare TWO QUESTIONS for each class session:  one related to the content of the assigned readings, and one related to a contemporary issue or concern suggested by the readings.

 

METHODS OF ASSESSMENT:

Participation in class sessions (20%); seriousness and creativity in preparing questions for class discussion (30%); and grasp of the material, as well as creative thought and cogency of argumentation in a final paper (50%).  The paper should be approximately 15 double-spaced pages in length, plus notes and bibliography, and must be submitted no later than MAY 10, 2005, either by e-mail or to the instructor’s Seminary mail box.  Prior consultation with the course instructor regarding the topic of the final paper is encouraged.

 

SCHEDULE OF CLASS SESSIONS AND READINGS

January 25:   Introduction to Hebrew Prophecy, Rabbinic Exegesis, and       Bibliodrama

Overview of course schedule and requirements; students’ expectations

The Written and Oral Torahs:  Biblical Monologue vs. Talmudic Dialectics

The PaRDes typology of rabbinic Scriptural exegesis (with midrashim on Genesis ch. 37 and Exodus chs. 3 and 14-15)

General themes in prophetic literature; Isaiah chs. 1 and 2 as illustrations

Shared reading of “Bibliodrama:  A Prophetical Advertisement” by Peter A. Pitzele, in THE RECONSTRUCTIONIST, Vol. 62, No. 1, Spring/Fall 1997, pp. 57-64. 

RECOMMENDED READING:  Chapter One, A. “Biblical Narrative” by Joel Rosenberg, in BACK TO THE SOURCES:  READING THE CLASSIC JEWISH TEXTS, ed. by Barry Holtz (New York: Summit Books/Simon and Schuster, 1984), pp. 31-81 (on reserve)

 

February 1:  Elijah and the Prophets of Baal

READINGS:  I Kings 17-19; “Elijah’s Fight Against Baal Worship: The Prophet’s Role in Returning Israel to Its God,” in READING PROPHETIC NARRATIVES by Uriel Simon (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana Univerisity Press, 1997), pp. 155-226 (on reserve)

 

February 8:  Divine Sovereignty, Human Power, and Prophetic Vision

READING:  I Samuel 3:1-21 and 8:1-22; THE PROPHETIC FAITH by Martin Buber (New York:  Macmillan Publishing Company, 1949), chs. 5, 6, and 7

(on reserve)   NOTE:  NO CLASS FEBRUARY 15

 

February 22:  The Prophetic Call, Amos, Hosea

READINGS:  THE PROPHETS by Abraham Joshua Heschel, (New York:  Perennial Classics/HarperCollins Publishers, 2001),  pp. xiii-75; “Hosea 1 and 2:  I Will Espouse You in Justice,” by Rachel Adler, part of ch. 4 (“Justice and Peace Shall Kiss: An Ethics of Sexuality and Relationship”) in ENGENDERING JUDAISM (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1998), pp. 156-167 (on reserve)

 

March 1:  Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, Habakkuk

READING: THE PROPHETS by A. J. Heschel, pp. 76-201.

 

March 8:  History, Chastisement, Justice

READING:  THE PROPHETS by A. J. Heschel, pp. 202-281.

 

March 15:  Divine Pathos: Anger and Mercy

READING:  THE PROPHETS by A. J. Heschel, pp. 285-392.

NOTE:  NO CLASS MARCH 22 (Holy Week/Reading Week)

 

March 29:  Prophetic Experience:  Inspiration, Ecstasy, Madness?

READING:  THE PROPHETS by A. J. Heschel, pp. 393-632.

 

April 5:  Ancient Wisdom, Contemporary Echoes and Applications

READING:  THE HEBREW PROPHETS:  SELECTIONS ANNOTATED AND EXPLAINED by Rabbi Rami Shapiro (Woodstock, VT: Skylight Paths Publishing, 2004).

 

April 12:  Christian Perspectives on the Hebrew Prophets

READINGS:  THE PROPHETIC IMAGINATION, Second Edition, by Walter Brueggemann (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 2001), plus statements by Thomas Merton, Desmond Tutu, and others (on reserve)

 

April 19:  A Post-Holocaust Vision:  Can Dry Bones Live and Experience a Covenant of Peace?

READINGS:  Ezekiel/Yehezkel ch. 37; “From Death to Life” by Andre LaCocque and “Sentinel of Imminence” by Paul Ricoeur, in THINKING BIBLICALLY:  EXEGETICAL AND HERMENEUTICAL STUDIES (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1998), pp. 141-183 (on reserve)

 

April 26:  Muslim Perspectives on the Hebrew Prophets

READINGS:  Selections from PROPHETS IN THE QURAN:  AN INTRODUCTION TO THE QURAN AND MUSLIM EXEGESIS, selected and translated by Brannon M. Wheeler (London and New York:  Continuum, 2002) and from READINGS IN THE QUR’AN, selected and translated by Kenneth Cragg (London: Fount Paperpacks/HarperCollins Publishers, 1995) (on reserve)

 

May 3:  Contemporary Prophetic Voices

READINGS:  Selections from YOU ARE MY WITNESS: THE LIVING WORDS OF RABBI MARSHALL T. MEYER, edited by Jane Isay (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2004); from TESTIMONY: THE WORD MADE FRESH by Daniel Berrigan (Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books, 2004); and from CREDO by William Sloane Coffin (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004).

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