This paper will provide an introduction to critical study of Old Testament literature and religion, focusing on the development of monotheism in a predominantly polytheistic setting. Texts for special study will be prescribed by the Faculty Board.
Exodus 1-3; Deuteronomy 5-7; Ruth; Psalms 29,82 & 93; Proverbs 8; Isaiah 44-46; Hosea 1-3
Belief in God as it is presented (‘heard’) in the Old Testament is fundamental to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The aim of the course is to consider aspects of the nature, origins and development of this belief, including its similarities and dissimilarities to other beliefs held in the historical environment of the Old Testament, both in the surrounding nations and in ancient Israel itself. It will involve both the study and comparison of selected texts bearing on this theme from the Old Testament and consideration of archaeological and textual evidence from the ancient Near East. The intention is to be both theological and rooted in the history of religion and literature.
By the end of the course students should have achieved the following learning outcomes: (i) an overall theological grasp of some ways in which belief in God and his relation to the natural world and to humanity are presented in the Old Testament; and (ii) a basic understanding of how changes in this belief can be traced through time and in biblical writings of different periods and contexts. As a means to these goals they will also have learned (iii) to read and appreciate a varied selection of texts from the Old Testament in English.
Form and Conduct of Examination
The examination will consist of a three-hour written paper. The paper will contain passages for comment from the prescribed texts, as well as essay questions. Candidates will be required to answer a gobbet question (requiring comments on four passages from a choice of seven) and three essay questions from a choice of about twelve. Each question will be worth 25% of the total marks. NRSV Bibles will be available for use in the examination, but candidates are not expected to show greater precision in biblical references as a result of the availability of these Bibles.
The lectures (one a week over two terms) will emphasise the historical and comparative aspects of the subject. A basically chronological sequence will be followed and the prescribed texts will be introduced at appropriate points. Evidence from outside the Bible (texts and archaeological finds from Egypt, Syria and Babylonia, as well as Palestine) will be used to raise some currently controversial questions about the uniqueness and origin of monotheism in the Old Testament. It is hoped to arrange a visit to the British Museum at the end of the Michaelmas term to see relevant exhibits, and details of useful websites on the Internet will be made available.
The supervision essays will require students, on the basis of their own reading, to examine the teachings and origins of the set texts in greater detail than is possible in the lectures and to explore for themselves some of the issues which the course raises. The classes in the Easter Term will be based on the lectures and the essay work which students have done and are designed to draw together the (perhaps different) teachings of the set texts on various aspects of belief in God. They will also serve as revision for the examination.
Sample lecture topics
1. Introduction: What is the Old Testament and how is it studied?
2. The Old Testament in its World
3. History from the emergence/arrival of Israel in Canaan to the reign of Solomon: A mixed community and a mixed religion (outlines)
4. The distinctive traditions: The old Exodus faith and Moses (Exodus 1-3 etc.), Yahweh as a warrior, and the ‘god of the fathers’
5. The Jerusalem temple – Canaanite (Ugaritic) religion – the worship of El in Jerusalem
6. Psalms 29, 82 and 93: Yahweh compared to Baal. Baal-worship in Israel.
7. Popular polytheism: Sun-worship and the worship of goddesses in Israel; The evidence of archaeology and Hebrew inscriptions
8. The prophetic backlash in the northern kingdom: Elijah, Jehu, Hosea 1-3
9. Were the reformers using a tradition or creating one?
1. Superpowers of the ancient Near East: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon and Persia
2. Finding the Book of the Law : King Josiah’s reform
3. Deuteronomy’s distinctive theology (Deuteronomy 5-7)
4. Wisdom in the biblical tradition: an alternative worldview?
5. Woman Wisdom and the strange Woman of Proverbs (Proverbs 8 )
6. After the Exile: rethinking the faith (Isaiah 44-46)
7. Women in the biblical world (Ruth and Esther)
8. From polytheism to monotheism? The development of Israelite religion
Easter Term: Classes (recurring theological themes)
1. God, creation/nature and history
2. God and ethics/law
3. God, gods and images/worship
4. God, peoples and politics