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Chapter 1: The Bible as Literature and as History

Chapter 2: A Brief History of Biblical Interpretation

Chapter 3: Prehistory: Creation and Ancestral Legends

Chapter 4: The Exodus Tradition

Chapter 5: Conquest and Monarchy

Chapter 6: The Prophets

Chapter 7: Songs and Wisdom Literature

Chapter 8: Postexilic Writings

Chapter 9: Late Second Temple Judaism

Chapter 10: Jesus of Nazareth

Chapter 11: The Gospels

Chapter 12: Acts of the Apostles

Chapter 13: The Pauline Epistles

Chapter 14: Epistles and Revelation

Chapter 1: The Bible as Literature and as History

Terms to know: devotional approach, deflationary approach, academic approach, Tanak, Torah, Neviim, Kethuvim, Old Testament, New Testament, canonization, empirical historical method

1.

Contrast the devotional, deflationary, and academic approaches to the Bible. What characteristics make each approach distinct from the other two?

2.

Many people think that taking a devotional approach to the Bible necessarily means reading the Bible literally, but this is not the case. Explain how one might approach the Bible devotionally without reading the Bible literally.

3.

In what ways can the academic approach to the Bible be valuable to persons of faith?

4.

What is the difference between synchronic questions and diachronic questions?

5.

What does it mean to say that canonization was an informal process rather than a formal process? When did the different parts of the Bible achieve canonical status?

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Chapter 2: A Brief History of Biblical Interpretation

Terms to know: targum, midrash, Mishnah, allegorical interpretation, typological interpretation

1.

Cite some examples of biblical passages that are themselves interpretations of other biblical passages.

2.

What does it mean to interpret scriptures allegorically? Why, in particular, did Philo of Alexandria seek allegorical interpretations of the Jewish scriptures?

3.

What does it mean to interpret scriptures typologically? Why, in particular, did the Fathers of the Church seek typological interpretations of the Jewish scriptures?

4.

How were medieval interpretations of the Bible motivated by medieval thinkers' belief in the unity of truth?

5.

Explain the contribution of Johann Semler to the history of biblical interpretation. How might the distinction that he introduced help one to answer questions 2 and 3 under Chapter 1 (above)?

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Chapter 3: Prehistory: Creation and Ancestral Legends

Terms to know: Documentary Hypothesis, Elohim, theophany, myth, legend, etiology, anachronism

1.

Explain the differences between the first and second creation stories in Genesis. To which sources do scholars attribute these stories, and why?

2.

What does the first creation story mean when it says that God created humankind "in his image"? What is significant about the fact that Genesis 1:27 refers to the image of God twice and then uses the phrase "male and female" in the very same sentence?

3.

Can what the Bible says about creation be reconciled with what science tells us about the history of the universe and the solar system, the evolution of life on earth, and so on? Could one regard both the Bible and science as asserting something true? If so, how?

4.

What do scholars mean when they assert that the stories of Israel's ancestors are legends? What evidence suggests that those stories might date to pre-Israelite times?

5.

What are we to make of the story of Jacob? Why do you think God chose to favor him, given the rather unflattering portrait we are given of him as a young man? What do you think the authors of this story may have hoped to achieve by constructing it as they did?

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Chapter 4: The Exodus Tradition

Terms to know: YHWH, Merneptah Stele, Hyksos, covenant, vassal treaty, Decalogue, lex talionis

1.

Read Exodus 4:24-26. Who, exactly, did the Lord try to kill—Moses or Moses' son Gershom? If it was Moses, why would the Lord try to kill the very man whom the Lord has just chosen to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt? If it was Gershom, why would the Lord want to kill the (presumably innocent) child of a Hebrew? What purpose might the authors of the exodus tradition have had in including this rather bizarre story?

2.

What do you think the name YHWH means? Why would the Lord pick such an unusual name?

3.

What is the Merneptah Stele? What date does it suggest for the exodus, and how does it do so?

4.

Explain the basic parts of a vassal treaty, and give examples of how the Sinai Covenant can be said to contain elements corresponding to those parts.

5.

Is the lex talionis just? Can the Decalogue's prohibition of murder be reconciled with the command to put murderers to death? How might such laws have prevented the emergence of blood feuds?

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Chapter 5: Conquest and Monarchy

Terms to know: Deuteronomic History, Conquest Hypothesis, Peaceful Infiltration Hypothesis, Social Revolution Hypothesis, Davidic Covenant, United Kingdom, Divided Kingdom

1.

In what sense may the books of Joshua and Judges be said to paint different pictures of Israel's occupation of Canaan? Explain the three leading historical hypotheses regarding the occupation; which book supports which hypothesis, and why?

2.

The Lord of the Deuteronomic History commands the Israelites to kill every man, woman, and child in the Canaanite cities they attack (see Deut 20:16-18; Josh 6:21, 8:1-2; 1 Sam 15:3). This command was a herem (ban) on all things and persons which were part of a foreign god's qadesh (holiness); because that which was holy to one god (such as Baal) could not be considered holy to another god (such as YHWH), it had to be destroyed for the sake of purity. (Evidence suggests that such bans were not strictly applied.) Is such a herem consistent with the Decalogue's prohibition of murder? If the ban was not strictly applied, why did the Deuteronomist emphasize the idea?

3.

How do the stories about Saul suggest that the Deuteronomic Historian may have blended two distinct accounts of the founding of the Israelite monarch?

4.

In what way are the Deuteronomic History's accounts of the northern and southern kings formulaic? How are the formulas for northern and southern kings similar, and how are they different? Why do scholars suspect that this account may be a compilation of works produced in two different periods?

5.

A problematic tension exists between the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam 7:1-16) and the subsequent events that the Deuteronomic History recounts—namely, the division of Israel into two kingdoms and the ultimate collapse of both of those kingdoms. What is this tension? From the academic perspective, is there anything about the Deuteronomic History to suggests that the writing and editing of that history was influenced by the authors' reflections on this tension?

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Chapter 6: The Prophets

Terms to know: Former Prophets, Latter Prophets, Major Prophets, Minor Prophets, covenant lawsuit, eschatological, day of the Lord, theodicy, Babylonian Exile

1.

Distinguish the Former Prophets from the Latter Prophets. What are the basic themes that run throughout the Latter Prophets?

2.

Read 2 Kings 2:23-25. How does this story make you feel about the prophet Elisha? About prophets in general? Why do you think the Deuteronomic Historian included it?

3.

What is the difference between practical polytheism, practical monotheism, theoretical polytheism, and theoretical monotheism? Why did the prophet known as Second Isaiah feel the need to emphasize theoretical monotheism?

4.

From the academic standpoint, what connections can be drawn between the fall of Jerusalem and the Babylonian Exile, on the one hand, and the emerging stress on personal morality and individual responsibility in such prophets as Jeremiah and Ezekiel, on the other?

5.

Supposing, as many scholars do, that the book of Jonah is not an account of historical events but rather an allegory or a moral tale, what meaning do you think the author hoped to convey to his or her fellow Jews? What, especially, is the significance of (a) Jonah’s failed efforts to avoid his task (1:3-2:10); (b) his response to the Lord’s decision regarding Nineveh (4:1-5); and (c) the Lord's comment about the bush (4:6-11)?

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Chapter 7: Songs and Wisdom Literature

Terms to know: Tehillim, lament, hymn, enthronement psalm, liturgical psalm, wisdom psalm, acrostic, wasf, Qoheleth

1.

Consider the various attitudes taken toward the Lord in the different types of psalms. What does the existence of these various attitudes and their celebration in song tell us about the Yahwist faith?

2.

Why was there a long period of disagreement about whether the Song of Songs should be included in the Hebrew canon? What considerations finally led to its canonization?

3.

Contrast the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. In what important ways are they similar? In what significant ways do they differ?

4.

Are the Qoheleth's cynical views compatible with the Jewish faith in YHWH? If so, how? If not, why do you think Ecclesiastes was admitted to the Hebrew canon?

5.

Read Job 42:7. What, exactly, have Job's friends done to evoke God's anger? Why do some interpreters see this verse as evidence of a dark message in the book of Job, namely, that we human beings are not as important or as valuable as we typically think we are?

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Chapter 8: Postexilic Writings

Terms to know: Restoration, Zoroastrianism, Chronicler's History, festival scroll, Purim, Ptolemies, Seleucids, apocalyptic literature

1.

In what significant ways did the experience of the Babylonian Exile change the way that Jews understood their own faith? What evidence of such changes do we find in the Chronicler's History?

2.

Is Nehemiah justified in telling his neighboring vassal kings that they have "no claim or historic right in Jerusalem" (Neh 2:20)? Why or why not? What are the implications of your answer for contemporary debates about the fate of Jerusalem?

3.

Why do you think that intermarriage was regarded as such a serious problem during the Restoration? On which side of the debate about intermarriage do you think the author of the book of Ruth comes down, and why?

4.

Why do most scholars regard the book of Esther as a fictional short story rather than an historical narrative? Why do some scholars suspect that its origin may lie in a Babylonian custom?

5.

What do scholars take to be the purpose of apocalyptic literature? Explain how the apocalyptic visions of Daniel 11 can be interpreted as referring to historical events of the Hellenistic period

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Chapter 9: Late Second Temple Judaism

Terms to know: Apocrypha, Hasmonaean Dynasty, Hanukkah, Jewish War, sect, Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots, Sicarii, Dead Sea Scrolls, Septuagint

1.

What was the Hasmonaean Dynasty? How did it come to be? What brought it to an end?

2.

Explain the distinctive characteristics of the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Essenes, the Zealots, and the Sicarii.

3.

Why does Lawrence Schiffman believe that the Qumran community was founded by Sadducees? Why do most other scholars believe that the Qumranites were actually Essenes?

4.

Having surveyed both the tumultuous events of the second temple period and the Jewish sects that emerged in that period, why do you think that the Pharisaic sect was the only one to have a lasting legacy? What was it about their approach to the Jewish faith that made the Pharisees better suited for survival than the other Jewish sects?

5.

What is the Septuagint? How does it relate to the differences in content that exist between the Hebrew Tanak and the Christian Old Testament?

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Chapter 10: Jesus of Nazareth

Terms to know: Jesus of history, Christ of faith, Christ Event, authenticating criteria, kingdom of God, messiah, Son of God, Son of Man

1.

What do scholars mean when they distinguish the Jesus of history from the Christ of faith? What is the value in trying to understand the former independently of the latter?

2.

What can be asserted about the life of the historical Jesus based solely on extrabiblical sources?

3.

Why do scholars searching for information about the historical Jesus feel the need to apply authenticating criteria to biblical passages about Jesus? How does each different criterion indicate whether a given passage about Jesus is more or less likely to be historically accurate?

4.

Considering what we have learned about the second temple period, why do you think that it was in this period that the concepts of messiah and Son of Man took on eschatological features? What sort of things were going on in the second temple period that would have made such features appealing?

5.

Given our understanding of Jewish sectarianism in the second temple period, why might the application to Jesus of titles like messiah or Son of Man by his disciples have brought Jesus into conflict with the Sanhedrin? Why might it have brought him into conflict with the Roman prefect?

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Chapter 11: The Gospels

Terms to know: gospel, synoptic problem, Four Source Hypothesis, messianic secret, Christology, logos

1.

What is the synoptic problem, and how does the Four Source Hypothesis attempt to solve that problem? What are the four sources it posits, and why does it posit each one?

2.

Why does Mark's Jesus wish to conceal his identity? Consider this question in two ways. First, suppose that the messianic secret traces to the historical Jesus. Why do you think he would have wished to keep his identity a secret? What purposes would such an effort serve? Second, suppose that the messianic secret is a stylistic interpretation of the meaning of Jesus' ministry on the part of the author of the Gospel of Mark. What ideas might that author have hoped to convey through such a stylistic device?

3.

Read Matthew's parables of the kingdom (13:36-52). In what sense might these passages be regarded as eschatological? How were such parables meant to help people understand the kingdom of God?

4.

Explain the philosophical and theological background of the Greek term logos. How is this term used to establish the identity of Jesus in the prologue to the Gospel of John (John 1:1-18)? What sort of Christology does this usage represent, and why?

5.

As we have seen, John's Christology portrays Jesus as having been fully aware of his nature and destiny. This portrayal would later lead to serious concerns among Christian theologians. Suppose that, as Christians believe, Jesus was the messiah whose death and resurrection made eternal life possible for all people. On this supposition, why does it matter how much Jesus understood about his own nature and destiny? Why might John's characterization of Jesus as a consciously divine being cause problems for Christian theologians?

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Chapter 12: Acts of the Apostles

Terms to know: Luke-Acts, kerygmatic speech, apologetic speech, apostle, the Twelve, Hellenists, Hebrews, Jerusalem Conference

1.

Explain why biblical scholars are convinced that the same author wrote both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles.

2.

Read the speech of Stephen at 7:2-53. Is this speech kerygmatic, apologetic, or both? Give reasons in support of your answer.

3.

Read Paul's speech to the Athenians at 17:16-34. Is this speech kerygmatic, apologetic, or both? Give reasons in support of your answer.

4.

What differentiated the two groups that the book of Acts refers to as Hebrews and Hellenists? How does Acts link the differences between these groups to the first persecution of Christians?

5.

What events and issues brought about the Jerusalem Conference? How were the decisions that were made at that conference crucial to the future of Christianity?

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Chapter 13: The Pauline Epistles

Terms to know: authenticity, apostolic authority, parousia, Judaizers, justification through faith, Jewish Question, Gnosticism, Koiné

1.

Explain the difference between authorship and authority. In what sense might a letter be authentically Pauline in terms of apostolic authority even if it is not authentically Pauline in terms of authorship?

2.

Explain why scholars believe that 1 and 2 Corinthians are actually as many as five distinct letters (or partial letters) that were later combined by an editor into their present form. What prompted the various letters, and what did each letter address?

3.

Consider the issues that arise in trying to date the epistle to the Galatians. Do you think that the events described at Gal 2:11-14 are likely to have happened after the Jerusalem Conference? Why or why not?

4.

What concern among first-century Jewish Christians do scholars refer to as the Jewish Question? What answer to this question does Paul give in his letter to the Romans?

5.

Explain why some scholars doubt that the letters to the Colossians and the Ephesians were actually written by Paul.

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Chapter 14: Epistles and Revelation

Terms to know: Platonic forms, Melchizedek, catholic, Docetism, imperial cult, menorah, Har Megiddo

1.

How does the letter to the Hebrews attempt to establish the superiority of Christianity to Judaism? For whom was this letter probably intended, and why?

2.

Why do many scholars doubt that the letters of James and Jude were actually written by brothers of Jesus?

3.

From the academic standpoint, why do you think that the author of the Johannine Epistles regarded Docetism as such a threat to Christian orthodoxy? In other words, given our understanding of the theology of the early Christian church, why would the Docetists' denial of the doctrine of the incarnation have been so unbearable?

4.

What was the Roman emperor cult? Explain how the symbols used in the book of Revelation support the view that Revelation was written at a time when Christians were being persecuted for their failure to participate in this practice.

5.

The Book of Revelation assured Christians that the defeat of their enemies and the end of their sufferings were coming soon (1:1, 3; 22:10). But the cataclysmic fall of "Babylon" (= Rome) and the establishment of a new world order promised by the book of Revelation did not, in fact, come soon; Rome would continue to rule the Mediterranean world for centuries. Given this fact, answer the following question from the academic perspective: Why did the book of Revelation eventually achieve canonical status?

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