Week 1: Modern Bible Scholarship: The Hebrew Bible
1. Jewish Study Bible, Genesis chapters 1-3, Proverbs 8 (esp v22-31).
Start with a quick read-through. Exactly where is the break between the two creation stories? For the first story, what’s the big picture? (Example: God creates the cosmos in six days. There is some sort of pattern involved. At the end, he creates man and woman in his image. Then he rests.) What’s the big picture for the second story?
Read the stories again focusing on the differences between them, both in style and in factual detail. List the distinct inconsistencies. (We’ll focus later on why these “discrepancies” didn’t bother the final redactor.) Which story was written earlier?
Finally, if you’re so inclined, read the annotations by Harvard’s Jon Levenson.
Proverbs 8 contains the most important example in the Hebrew Bible of an important conceptual technique called hypostasis in which an important divine attribute is personified. We’ll see a second important hypostasis using the Greek word Logos when we get to the Gospel of John.
2. Christine Hayes on Evil in Genesis 2. (link)
This excerpt from Lecture 3 of Hayes’s online Hebrew Bible course provides her views on the nature of evil as represented in the second creation story. Do you agree? What assertion is most easily challenged? In 2008, evangelist Rick Warren interviewed Obama and McCain asking each “Does evil exist? If so, should we ignore it, contain it, or defeat it?” How would you respond? What definition of “evil” would you propose? Here’s a newspaper column on the interview: link.
3. The Documentary Hypothesis Summarized. (link)
At one time the Wikipedia entry was well-done; no longer. So, I’ve collected some material from various online sources. The idea of four major and several minor sources for the Torah is no longer controversial but the details are widely disputed as one would expect of conclusions based on conjectures (we simply have no hard evidence). Here’s another short summary with dates which I consider more likely (link).
4. JSB, Genesis chapters 6-8; Richard Friedman, “Who Wrote the Flood Story?” (link)
We read the story of the flood because it’s a superb example of the conflation of sources (and another example of indifference to inconsistency).
First, note carefully the fragment contained in 6:1-4. It’s too lacking in context to be a source of confident interpretation (which hasn’t stopped many Christian exegetes) but it’s conclusive evidence that at one time a continuum between the divine and the earthly allowed this kind of procreative interaction.
Then read the flood story (6:5 through 8) in the JSB with an eye out for duplicate descriptions of the same thing; they’re not easy to find but it helps to know that they’re there somewhere.
Finally, read Friedman’s short piece on the Documentary Hypothesis with the Flood Story as the example. Be certain to “launch interactive” by clicking on the brown box; a similar presentation is here.
5. The Overview Timeline. (link)
I hope that you’ve already spent some time mastering the eras and their precipitating events. We’ll review them quickly and relate them to some other things which occurred elsewhere. On a hardcopy of the timeline, place these people/events in their chronological positions: 1) the battle of Troy; 2) Homer; 3) the first written versions of Homer (representing the earliest use of Greek as a written language); 4) Plato; 5) the golden age in Athens; 6) Aristotle.
6. JSB, Stephen Geller, “The Religion of the Bible” (19 pages), JSB 2nd ed pp. 1978-1997; JSB 1st ed pp. 2021-2040.
Struggle with that first paragraph until you “get it”! Note that NJPS refers to the translation in the JSB. This is dense material but extremely carefully written and enormously informative. Don’t worry about the details but try to identify the many “blockbuster” sentences which provide a summary. Actually making your own outline would be a very effective way to come to grips with the content.
7. JSB, Oded Lipschits, “History of Israel in the Biblical Period” (12 pages), JSB 2nd ed (only) pp. 2107-2119.
Unfortunately, this essay is new in the second edition and the online edition remains the first edition. If you’re using the first edition, just sigh!
8. The Six Retrojections.
We’ll briefly review six common but misleading retrojections which are guaranteed to obscure your understanding of our subject: religion as belief; the divine realm as transcendent; evil as an independent force; the afterlife as just deserts; soul/body dualism; and salvation as redemption from sinful embodiment. These are all very late ideas (none before 200 BCE) which Christian interpreters found useful to retroject into the biblical text and, having grown up with these notions, we find it difficult to exclude them when trying to discern the original meaning of the text.
9. (optional) PBS Nova program “The Bible’s Buried Secrets”. (link).
You can either watch the program as broadcast (2 hours) or read the transcript (45 minutes) [click on the Transcript link; if the text is too small, enlarge it with Command-+ on Mac or Control-+ on Windows.]. See if you can identify problematic statements such as that Abraham was the first monotheist — clearly contradicted later.
There’s a lot of terrific material in the transcript once it gets going and you’ll have an excellent overview of several important issues we’ll cover later in the course.