Literature of Ancient Israel: New Section Begins

Got a new class starting this morning, “Literature of Ancient Israel.” What would you like to say to anyone beginning their study of the Hebrew Bible?

These folks aren’t M.Divs or undergraduates, but rather masters students in varying degree programs more or less comprising “lay pastoral studies”: pastoral counseling, pastoral studies, religious ed, social justice, spiritual direction.

If there is one “big idea” animating the syllabus (besides the standard thing of distinguishing evidence-based inquiry from devotional or apologetic reading), it is the several theological tensions and disputes preserved in our canon. Only in its genuine, disconcerting diversity can the Bible be big enough to address the multidimensional array of pathetic (or delightful, for that matter) circumstances we creatures continue to find ourselves inhabiting.

The course is fully online, and even our weekly plenary sessions don’t begin right away, so no suit-and-tie get-up for me today. (Of course I suit up to teach. Why, what do you do?) I will have the pleasure of offering them a weekly asynchronous “televised address,” as well as a weekly synchronous hour, so there will still be the occasional need to become presentable.

Unlike some online conversations my students have had before, these folks are holding their discourse behind closed doors. Wish ’em luck. Anything you think they should have on their minds as they dig into the literature of Ancient Israel?

4 Responses

  1. I always point out to students (particularly Christian students) that the Hebrew narrative rarely tells us who or what is right or wrong in a given circumstance. Instead it conveys its message through the story. Was Rebekah wrong to help Jacob usurp his brother since God had told her that the younger should rule over the elder? The text doesn’t comment explicitly, but we can discern through the narrative that it was *not* the correct course of action.

  2. Brooke, what textbook(s) are you using? Thanks!

    • Hi Karyn,
      I’m using Michael D. Coogan, _A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament: the Hebrew Bible in Context_. It’s a revision of his previous, _The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures_.

      Coogan offers plenty of ANE parallels, and is quite good at bracketing his own theology/ies (whatever they are) about the history of the people Israel and about the biblical canon itself.

      Their Bible is the HarperCollins NRSV Study Bible.

  3. I was surprised to find how helpful Karel van der Toorn’s discussion of biblical “books” and “authors” proved in his book, Scribal Cultures and the Making of the Hebrew Bible.. I think even beginners could benefit from reading his first chapter. The way he frames his second chapter might be uncomfortable for some, depending on their background, but the overall material would certainly be worth addressing.

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