Archive for February, 2010

Old Testament Paper: Rahab in Joshua 2

February 28, 2010

As I mentioned in my post about my Old Testament class last semester, one of the papers I wrote was on the story of Rahab in Joshua 2.  While I must be honest and say I had to rewrite it and only received a “Satisfactory” which I believe was the equivalent of a B, I post it here for two reasons: 1) it may prove helpful to those who take the class in the future and 2) for those who are interested in reading it just because.  Though I’m not sure how helpful it will be, please feel free to use this for personal or group study.

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RAHAB: PRAGMATIST, TRAITOR, OR PERSON OF FAITH?

INTRODUCTION

Rahab is a minor character in some respects, but as the narrative in Joshua 2 is presented, Israel’s success in acquiring the land of Canaan is largely due to Rahab’s assistance.  What were her motives in assisting the Israelites?  Was she a pragmatist who figured she would rather be on the winning side?  Was she a traitor with a grudge against her government or community?  Or was she a faithful person who made the decision to serve the God of Israel?  This essay will show that Rahab was not just one of these, but rather is a dynamic character who is a pragmatic, traitorous, person of faith.

PRAGMATIC, TRAITOROUS, OR FAITHFUL?

As an author develops a story line characters are developed to serve various purposes throughout their work.  Whether the story of the Israelite spies and their interaction with Rahab is a factual story or not, Rahab does not function as a flat character, but as a dynamic and integral part of the narrative.  In one respect, she is a pragmatist seeking to protect and preserve her life and the lives of her family (Josh 2:12-13).  Since she tells the Israelites, “I know that the Lord has given you the land” (v. 9a) it is a very logical and pragmatic decision to choose the side of the victor who can preserve your life (vv. 12-13).  Rahab is thus the savior of her family and herself.  In this case however, Rahab’s pragmatism is also proves traitorous.  While her family will more than likely be thankful to have their lives spared, when Rahab sent the king’s men away (vv. 4-5), the lives of those in her community were given over in order her family’s safety (vv. 17-20).  From the standpoint of her fellow Canaanites then, Rahab is a traitor who handed them over to the enemy and gave their land to the enemy.  And if hiding the Israelite spies (v. 4) was not enough to prove this, the assistance she provided to help them escape the city (v. 15) as well as her parting words on how to avoid the king’s men (v. 16) surely do.  One wonders if Rahab has some reason to commit treason in this way.

The fact that Rahab sent away the king’s men (v. 4-5) could indicate that she was not happy with the leadership of her country.  Or perhaps the economic situation in place at the time was not beneficial to her.  Even though it is possible that Rahab, and maybe her family, sold flax for a living (v. 6), she was also a prostitute to bring in more money.  While her decision to help the Israelites was most definitely pragmatic, in the eyes of the Canaanites, she a traitor.  However, there is one more layer to Rahab’s dynamic presence in this chapter.  True, her decision was pragmatic and traitorous, but it was also courageous!  It took a great deal of courage and fortitude to assist the Israelites when the king’s men demanded to have the spies handed over to them (v. 3-4).  While it is possible, there is no indication that she was asked, coerced, or forced to lie to the king’s men.  It merely says that she “took the two men [referring to the Israelites] and hid them” (v. 4).  Why would she take such a chance with her life and the lives of those she loved?  One possibility is that the two Israelite spies “offered to allow her family to survive in lieu of payment for her services”[1] as a prostitute.  While Kugel admits that this is a cynical reading of the text, when Rahab says “I have dealt kindly with you” (v. 12), it could be read in this way.  However, since Hebrew word used for “kindness” in this passage (v. 12) is translated from the word hesed, and the Jewish concept of hesed is often translated as “‘steadfast, loving-kindness,’”[2] Kugel’s cynicism does not seem warranted.

Rather than cynicism, it seems Rahab is “celebrated as doing hesed towards Israel.”[3] This, coupled with Rahab’s unequivocal statement of, “The Lord your God is indeed God in heaven above and on earth below” (v. 11), indicates that Rahab is a person of faith.  So while her decision is pragmatic and traitorous, it is her faith in Israel’s God that moves her to lie to the king’s men (v. 4-5).  She “[has] heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea…and what [the Israelites] did to the two kings of the Amorites” (v. 10) and it seems as though this brought her to a place of belief.  So while “there was no courage left in any of [them] because of [the Israelites]” (v.11a, emphasis added), Rahab exhibited great courage in assisting the Israelites.  It seems as though the Canaanites fight to protect their land while Rahab fights to protect God’s people as well as those in her immediate family.  Thus the Canaanites courage is misplaced.

CONCLUSION

In Joshua 2, Rahab is developed as a dynamic character that is integral to the plotline of the story as well as the end result of Israel acquiring the land.  Though there is a sense of pragmatism in her decision, and while her community would deem her a traitor, Rahab is in fact a pragmatic, traitorous, person of faith who courageously and heroically[4] saved who she could while assisting the people of the God.  In this light, it makes sense that Rahab would be honored in Hebrews chapter 11 where it is as a result of her faith that she “did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace” (v. 31).


[1]James L. Kugel, How to Read the Bible (New York: Free Press, 2007), 373.

[2] Walter Brueggemann, Reverberations of Faith (Loiusville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 127.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 193.

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PTS Recommended Reading

February 28, 2010

In my last post, I answered a few questions about seminary experience thus far.  I mentioned a recommended reading list I received prior to arriving at PTS and said I would post it separately.  The list is not very long but considering it is sent out the summer before students are arriving it seems realistic to me.  Of the ones listed, I purchased How to Read the Bible Book by Book prior to my arrival but did not spend much time in it until my Intro to Old Testament Studies class.  I purchased Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer at the campus book store and read it over the summer.  It was a great read and I highly recommend it!

History

Comby, Jean, How to Read Church History, vol. 1, From the Beginnings to the Fifteenth Century (New York: Crossroad, 1985).

Theology
Bruyneel, Sally and Alan G. Padgett, Introducing Christianity (Maryknoll, N.Y.:  Orbis, 2003).

Olson, Roger E., The Story of Christian Theology:  Twenty Centuries of Tradition & Reform (Downers Grove, Ill.:  InterVarsity, 1999).

Bible
Fee, Gordon, How to Read the Bible Book by Book:  A Guided Tour (Grand Rapids, Mich:  Zondervan, 2002)

Practical Theology
Paul Scott Wilson, The Four Pages of a Sermon:  A Guide to Biblical Preaching.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 1999.

Clayborne Carson and Peter Holloran(eds.)  A Knock at Midnight:  Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Grand Central Publishing, 2000.

General Suggestions
Elie Wiesel, Night.  New York:  Hill and Wang, c2006

D. Bonhoeffer’s Life Together.  Minneapolis:  Fortress 1996

Karl Barth Evangelical Theology:  An Introduction.  New York:  Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1963.

So your headed to seminary in the fall…

February 28, 2010

I recently received an e-mail from someone who has recently been accepted to Princeton Theological Seminary.  First and foremost, CONGRATS!  It is an exciting time for sure.  For those of you still waiting to hear about whether or not you have been accepted, remember…it’s a rolling admission so if you haven’t heard yet, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have been declined.  A small disclaimer before I continue, please make sure to check www.ptsem.edu to make sure this information is correct.  Things change and I cannot promise you I will update this information over time.  There is a ‘search’ button at the top right of the main PTS website.

1. Financial- I know PTSEM is generous but of course I still have a heavy financial obligation.  How have you been paying for school, what works, doesn’t re: working, scholarships, etc.

  • Great question.  The institution aid at PTS is generous.  The grants they offer are very helpful.  That said, there is still quite a bit that is left to each student to cover.  I was fortunate enough to receive some scholarship money from my home church and my presbytery and I also applied for the Presbyterian Study Grant which I received as well.  This was immensely helpful and for those who are PC(USA) folks I highly recommend applying.  I  also applied for the federal Work Study which is an option here at PTS.  I work 8-10 hours a week here on campus though there are some off campus jobs as well.  For this year, I had to take out loans to cover the rest.  There is a helpful document on the Financial Aid website that covers “outside sources” for money for theological education so I highly recommend checking that out.  The way they have it set up right now it’s a bit clunky but it is being updated.  The Fund for Theological Education has a great database of scholarships and grants as well as a few they offer themselves.  I am attempting to not take out any loans for the remaining two years of seminary so hopefully that will work out!

2. Residence- Are you living in the dorms or apartments? I wondering if the ‘older’ students are spending their first year on or ‘off’ campus.

  • I am living in the dorms.  A large percentage of the students here have come straight from undergraduate school but there are some 2nd and even 3rd year students who have chosen to live in the dorms.  I graduated with my BA in 2003 so I fall into this category.  That said, the percentage of ‘older’ students is probably higher in the seminary’s apartment style living.  Unfortunately this will not be a viable option for the 2010-2011 academic year due to construction/rebuilding.  More information about that can be found here.  There are some folks who have found accommodations out in town though that seems to be a bit hard to do.  I actually like living on campus.  It is very convenient and a lot of the things in life that can be ‘stressers’ are non-issues (i.e., utility bills!).  One of the biggest downfalls is the lack of kitchen space.  Two of the dorms have a kitchenette (Alexander Hall basement and Brown Hall 1st Floor) but they are very small and you have to lug all your stuff down to cook.  All students who live on campus are required to purchase a meal plan so there isn’t a ton of cooking you would have to do, but none the less the question of meals is sometimes a struggle.   For more info on the food service here at PTS, click here.  Cafeteria style food usually makes it difficult to please everyone but although I am not always thrilled with their menu choices, there is a pretty solid salad bar as well as a sandwich/wrap bar so when all else fails, these are wonderful options.

3. Prepping – I am curious to what things you would do now (in retrospect) to prepare for the PTSEM experience.  I may defer for a year and want to maximize my prep time.

  • This is another great question.  As I see it, there are two sides to this question: logistics/finances and discernment
    • Logistics/Finances: If you have a nice set up where you are now that would allow you to save a lot of money up, deferring might be a good option.  If you have rent, bills, responsibilities that will prevent you from saving a sizable amount of money, I personally don’t think this is a good option.  And some choose to defer because of family dynamics and/or all that would be involved to make the transition to NJ.
    • Discernment: Seminary, and possibly Princeton Theological Seminary in particular, is not easy.  Seminary is not just school for the mind, it’s school for the heart and soul.  It will demand not only mental energy.  It is emotionally challenging and can also cause crisis’ of faith.  This is not to scare people away but just to be honest about the reality that seminary is demanding in ways that other degrees may not be.  Studying law, for instance, will probably not require one to bear their soul and deal with questions of doubt.  In one sense I don’t think it is possible to be fully prepared for seminary.  That said, waiting a year could help one be more prepared.  There was a reading list sent out last year so I will post that separately.

4. Spiritual atmosphere-  I have visited PTSEM but want to know if people are growing, seeking God or is it mainly an academic environment.

  • For me personally the academics are a natural expression of growing and seeking God.  I don’t say that to dodge the question but rather because in one respect it is hard for me to divide the two.  On the other hand, I definitely understand what you are getting at.  With the handful of professors I have had thus far I think it is fair to say that the spiritual atmosphere of the classroom depends specifically on the professor.  That is not to say that some are spiritual and others are not (that is definitely not true) but rather the professors seem to integrate this aspect differently.  Some profs open each class with prayer.  Some do not.  Some find it easy to make integrate more ministry related content into their lectures while others do not.  Because the very nature of seminary is such that our faith will be challenged by at least some of what we learn, the frequency and intensity of wrestling matches with God increase.  This to me is most definitely seeking and growing in the Lord.  To move away from the academic side of the spectrum, the student life opportunities here are quite impressive and provide many different options for personal spiritual growth and formation.  There are numerous student groups that focus on putting faith into action and the chapel office is amazing in what they endeavor to offer students in the way of worship and retreat opportunities not to mention the counseling and spiritual direction opportunities that the Student Health Benefit Plan provides.
  • So that’s the long answer.  : )  The short answer is that yes, I do believe the people here are seeking God and growing in their faith.  : )

5. What other students or professors should I connect with to really maximize my prep time and integrate well before and during my time at PTSEM.

  • SUPER GREAT QUESTION!  : )  Connecting with students and profs is a great idea.  I will tailor the answer via e-mail to the specific person who is asking this, but in general here are my suggestions.
    • To connect with students the best resource is probably Facebook.  : )  I connected with a couple folks through Facebook as well as Twitter before I got here.  One of my friends that I met here decided to search Facebook for folks at PTS that lived in her state.  She sent them messages and connected with a few folks that way.  There are also a few Student Profiles on the website so if any of those folks stick out to you.  If you decide to come to Summer Language before starting in Fall this is also a great place to meet people.  I think info about Summer Language will be posted here soon.
    • As for profs, there is a Faculty Directory with bios of each professor you can look through to find people whose scholarship lines up with your interests.

While this person asked for “the good, bad and the ugly,” I must admit this post is overall pretty positive.  While there are pluses and minuses about every institution (whether higher ed or otherwise) I honestly don’t have much that is bad to say about PTS that is bad.  But I can tell you that I have not sugar coated this post.  So hopefully my experience and commentary is helpful.  Comments can lead to more specific posts so please comment if you’d like to know more about my take on any of this.

Fall 2009: Old Testament

February 26, 2010

Today my friend said she wanted to hear about my classes here at Princeton Theological Seminary.  And so I will blog.  I am actually going to do a series of posts one for each class.  This post will be on Orientation to Old Testament Studies (OT2101).  Here is the intro to the syllabus:

The goal of this course is to orient you to major aspects of the study of the Old Testament.  These aspects include

  • the content of key blocks of OT literature
  • their major theological emphases
  • the historical context in which the OT materials were written
  • methods of approaching the biblical text
  • the place of OT material in Christian faith and life.

My Old Testament class (OT) met for lecture twice a week (which we call ‘plenary’ here at PTS) and had precept (AKA discussion or recitations) once a week.  Lectures were held in a large auditorium and since it is a required class for all entering Juniors that very few can place out of, you are in there with most of your entering class.  Precepts are 8-10 people and while sometimes led by professors, most are led by Ph.D. candidates.  This year the class was taught by Dr. Denis Olson and Dr. Jacqueline Lapsley.  While many here have bachelor’s degrees in religious studies of some sort, my degree was in English (literature) so I have never taken any “survey” type courses in Biblical studies.  I did take Systematic Theology prior to arriving at PTS, but that’s another ball game entirely.  So for me, the biggest benefit of the class was being able to systematically go through the OT.  While I went to church with my grandmother some as a child, I did not come to faith until I was 14.  Being that the OT isn’t preached on as frequently, I had a lot to learn.  In addition, it helped me place well known OT stories into the frame work of the larger narrative.

The texts we used for the class were: How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now by James Kugel (Free Press, 2007) and Getting Involved with God:  Rediscovering the Old Testament by Ellen Davis (Cowley, 2001).  There were also three recommended texts: Walter Brueggemann’s books Reverberations of Faith:  A Theological Handbook of Old Testament Themes (WJK, 2002)  and The Prophetic Imagination, Second edition (Fortress, 2001) as well as How to Read the Bible Book by Book by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart (Zondervan).  This book was on the Recommended Reading List that was sent out prior to arriving at PTS and was a good resource for creating outlines on each book of the OT.  As book outlines were a big part of the mid-term and final exam, this was very helpful.  That said, the PRIMARY text, was the Bible itself.  Here is what the syllabus had to say about that:

It is not accidental that the BIBLE receives primary emphasis in each week’s assignment.  In this course please use the Harper Collins Study Bible edition (the HCSB) as the basic text for your study.  Since we are not working from the original Hebrew, it is important to have a common translational base for our study and discussion together.  The HCSB uses the NRSV as its translation, and also provides you with valuable brief notes on each passage, as well as helpful short introductions to each book of the Bible.

This was refreshing to see because it would not be hard to get wrapped up in all the scholarly dialog and loose focus on the Bible itself.

Aside from the midterm and final exam, two papers were required as well.  They were short papers that were intended to reflect in depth study of the passage itself with minimal (if any) references to secondary sources.  I wrote my papers on the story of Rahab in Joshua 20 and the lament of Jeremiah in Jeremiah 20:7-13.  While half of my classmates wrote on each of these passages with me, the other half wrote on Amos 5 and Daniel 7.  The papers were not easy As but fortunately we were allowed to rewrite the paper so that was nice.  The course went something like this:

  • The OT in the Christian Canon
  • Formation of Genesis-2 Kings
  • Genesis 1-11: The Story of the Beginning
  • Lecture: The Stories of Israel’s Ancestors (Gen. 22 assignment due)
  • Discussion of Genesis 22
  • Exodus from Egypt
  • Covenant and Law
  • The Deuteronomistic History and Settlement
  • Israel and the Nations:  Part 1 and Q & A
  • Lecture: The Emergence of Kingship
  • Royal Theology
  • Prophecy (Amos and Hosea)
  • Isaiah of Jerusalem
  • Jeremiah
  • Isaiah 40-55
  • Lamentations: Suffering, Poetry, and Theology
  • Psalms: Poetry and History of Interpretation
  • Wisdom (Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes)
  • The Book of Job and Its History of Interpretation (Professor Leong Seow)
  • Daniel and Apocalyptic:  Israel and the Nations (Part 2)

My favorite part of this class was when Dr. Seow was a guest lecturer on the history of interpretation of Job.  I don’t think I will ever forget that lecture.  As for the mid-term and final exam, the final was cumulative and they were both very demanding exams.  I was quite drained after studying for and taking these exams.  I do not generally learn well in survey classes since both the professors and students struggle with how deep to go since the breadth of information being covered is so large.  That said, I am definitely grateful to have had the opportunity to take this class.  I learned quite a bit, got to place stories I knew in the larger framework of the OT, and had the opportunity to wrestle with some of the challenges of preaching from the Old Testament.

How much further was God going to stretch me thin?

February 12, 2010

As the waves rhythmically hit the side of my ship rocking me to sleep, I lay in what some would call a bed feeling as though my prayers were hitting the ceiling and falling to the floor with a thud.  I remember wondering, How much further is God going to stretch me thin? and Who am I really? quickly followed by What was I made for? Nearing the end of my time in the Navy, I was also nearing the end of my rope.  Disillusioned with the church, the Christian life as it had been taught to me, and my purpose in life as I understood it, I did not think I could go on.  In a leap of faith, I resigned from the Navy wondering if God was calling me to ministry.  Not knowing what that would look like, and without a job or a plan, I left.  The fog increased since things often get worse before they get better, but then I realized that though I did not, or rather could not, see it at first, God had led me to this place and was in the process of leading the way out.  It has been a long journey thus far, but God has given me quite a few people to help along the way.  While the end of my story has not yet been written, I am currently at seminary and discerning a call into ministry.

[This was written and posted as an entry into a writing contest to win a free Kindle.  The info can be found on Mary DeMuth’s post Win a Kindle! Really!]