RELN 310: Exploring the Old Testament
Prerequisites: Three hours of religious studies
Credit Hours: (3)
Students utilize the methods which inform the study of the Old Testament to examine various themes that collectively inform Old Testament theology. The themes which formed the ideology of Israelite religion are given special consideration, including the development of the universal God, covenant, and prophetic conceptions of history. In addition, students examine how these ideological themes inform other aspects of the Old Testament, including the text’s presentation of identity, ethnicity, family, gender, the body, power, and the state. Each of these themes is explored within the context of the Old Testament and ancient Israelite society as well as by drawing comparisons with other ancient Near Eastern conceptions, where appropriate.
Detailed Description of Course
Given the unique nature of many students' prior involvement with this set of texts, this course begins by clearly distinguishing the academic study of the Old Testament from the devotional study to which they may be accustomed. The teacher particularly emphasizes the occasional nature of this literature; this collection of books represents the accumulation of documents that were written by different authors under differing conditions and with differing perspectives. Care, therefore, must be exercised so that the layers of history, composition, interpretation, expansion, revision, and collection maintain their integrity both individually and collectively.
Part I: The Law or Pentateuch (Torah)
In this section, students examine the four traditions that many scholars claim coalesce in the Pentateuch, or, the first five books of the Old Testament. These traditions provide the building blocks of an account that stretches from the creation of the world through the Exodus from Egypt by the Israelites to their encampment just before they entered Canaan, to conquer what they called "the promised land." Here students begin to trace the Old Testament development of the monotheistic universal God by examining conceptions of the divine in the various sources that comprise the Pentateuch. Also, students analyze Israelite conceptions of the cosmos and their place in it. Other issues related to identity formation are introduced, including how the Old Testament structures family and how the Old Testament produces an insider versus outsider discourse.
Part II: The Prophets (Nevi'im)
This section of the Old Testament falls into two parts: the Former Prophets, labeled the Deuteronomistic History by many scholars, a group of six books which detail the history of the Israelites from the Conquest to the Exile, and the Latter Prophets, a cluster of fifteen books which record the observations and denouncements of a group of inspired individuals as they live amidst some of the history reported in the Former Prophets. The Former prophets, because they present themselves as history, are carefully examined to uncover actual historical occurances and the theological lenses through which the Old Testament prophets understood historical events. Though the books of the Latter Prophets need diligent attention paid to their contexts, additional consideration must be given to the sort of literature or genre represented here. By examining the Prophets, students continue to trace the development of Israelite identity through the text’s intentional contrasts with Israel’s neighbors. As the Prophets chronicle the rise of Israel from a loose collection of tribes to a Near Eastern monarchy, special attention is given to the concepts of power and the state.
Part III: The Writings (Kethuvim)
The final section of the Old Testament consists of a variety of types of literature: the literature of worship (Psalms); sapiential literature (Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes or Qoheleth); the literature of mourning (Lamentations); edifying literature (Ruth and Esther); the literature of love (Song of Songs); and historical literature (I-II Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah or the Chronicler's History). In addition to the issues considered and techniques of critical study employed to this point, special consideration is given to a comparison of the Deuteronomistic History and the Chronicler's History and to the subject of canonization, i.e., how these books came to be included in the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible, and other books rejected.
Detailed Description of Conduct of Course
The academic study of the Old Testament, which functions as scripture for several major religions, many times ignites conflict so this course necessarily requires that instructor and students engage in discussion and argument. Lecture will be the primary means of presenting the critical issues and focusing the subjects for discussion. Formal and informal writing assignments will assist preparation for and participation in the class sessions. Whether or not a formal research paper is assigned in the class, students will be expected to employ basic research skills, including the use of computer technology, to investigate and gather information on various topics germane to the study of Old Testament. Among the teaching activities students can expect in this course are the following:
• Lecture and discussion led by instructor
• In-class formal or informal debates
• Informal in-class and out-of-class writing assignments
• Small-group discussion
• Written and oral analyses of texts
• Written summaries/evaluations of out-of-class events
• Individual and collaborative research activities involving library and Internet searches
• Individual and group oral presentations
• Attendance and subsequent discussion of artistic presentations which arise from the literature of the Old Testament
4. Goals and Objectives of the Course
Upon successful completion of this course, students should be able to:
• Demonstrate familiarity with the methods employed in the critical study of the Old Testament, especially the difference between exegesis (letting the meaning arise from the text) and eisegesis (imposing meaning upon the text).
• Demonstrate knowledge of the three divisions of the Old Testament and the content of the books which make up those divisions.
• Describe the development of the idea of the universal God, covenant, and the relationship between covenant and history.
• Analyze the formation of Israelite identity and analyze the intersections of identity, power, and the state as presented in the Old Testament.
• Demonstrate a nuanced understanding of the historical context in which the Old Testament developed, including a general familiarity with the cultures of the ancient Near East and the manner in which the religious ideas of these cultures influenced biblical texts.
• Describe the benefits that the study of the Old Testament bestows upon the life and thought of the students.
• Describe the role that scripture or canonical literature plays in a community of faith.
• Analyze the ways in which the Old Testament continues to impact culture.
o Graded and ungraded homework assignments may be used to measure the student's ability to read texts carefully, both the sections from the Old Testament and the supplementary material from the textbook, to identify underlying values and assumptions, to articulate central issues, to analyze and construct reasonable arguments, and to employ thoughtfully basic research methods.
o Journals may be used to measure the development of self-reflection and progress in critical and creative thinking about the ideas, issues, and texts of the course.
o Class discussions, debates, and small group discussion may be used to measure the student's reasoning and oral communication skills as well as the student's ability to work with others in a shared process of inquiry.
o Individual and group oral presentations may be used to measure the student's understanding of particular philosophical positions or issues as well as the student's ability to present reasonable and persuasive arguments.
o Quizzes and objective tests may be used to measure the student's fundamental knowledge of the course material and the student's ability to read carefully and think clearly.
o Essay exams may be used to measure the student's understanding of the nature of the Old Testament and the methods used for its interpretation, knowledge of the course material, ability to enter into the interpretative enterprise, and ability to think and to write clearly.
o Research reports may be used to measure the student's ability to define a problem and to employ appropriate research methods and technologies in order to bring some resolution to the issues involved.
o Term papers may be used to increase and to measure the student's understanding of specific books or interlinked portions of the Old Testament, as well as to measure the student's ability to develop a sustained and reasonable argument, to think and write clearly, and to demonstrate an appreciation of the significance of scripture, notably the Old Testament, to his or her own life and concerns.
Other Course Information
Review and Approval