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
- 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.