Posts Tagged ‘Junior Year’

Fall 2009: Survey of Early and Medieval Christian History

May 5, 2010

The last class I took in Fall 2009 long term was Early to Medieval Christian History (CH1100).  Princeton Theological Seminary requires 12 credit hours (or 4 3 credit courses) in Christian history in order to graduate with a M.Div.  One course is required in each of the following categories: Early & Medieval Christian History, Reformation History, Modern History and Mission, Ecumenics, History of Religions, or Sociology of Religion. It should be said that not all history classes offered meet these requirements so you’ll want to pay close attention to the Course Schedule as it specifically indicates which ones do meet the requirements.

The plenary (lecture) portion of this class met twice a week for an hour.  There was an hour designated for precepts to meet.  The course was taught by Professor Kathleen McVey and though at first I thought I would not like her lecture style, she is a wonderful person and I grew to appreciate her.

The course syllabus spelled out that it “is designed to give you an overview of the history of the Christian movement from its beginnings through the mid 15th c.   It covers and integrates major aspects of the church’s institutional history and doctrinal development with its cultural and geographical diversity.”  There were two main texts used in this course:   Dale T. Irvin and Scott Sunquist, History of the World Christian Movement, volume I and John Coakley and Andrea Sterk, Readings in World Christian History, Vol I: Earliest Christianity to 1453. There were also various essays made available on Blackboard.  We also read portions of Augustine’s Confessions and The Rule of St. Benedict in its entirety.  The lecture schedule was as follows:

Sept. 22 Introductions to Survey of Early and Medieval Church History and to CH 1100

Sept. 24 Biblical Religion in a Culturally Diverse World

Sept. 29 Persecutions, Apologists, and Martyrs

Oct 1 Orthodoxy and Heresy

Oct. 6 Origen of Alexandria and the Interpretation of Scripture

Oct. 8 The Constantinian Transformation

Oct. 13 Trinitarian Disputes (4th c.)

Oct. 15 Christological Controversies (5th c. onward)

Oct. 20 Augustine

Oct. 22 Mothers and Fathers of the Desert

Oct. 26 – Oct. 30: Reading Week

Nov. 3 Benedict’s Rule and Western Monasticism

Nov. 5 Mid-Term Examination

Nov. 10 Byzantium, Iconoclasm and the Conversion of the Slavs

Nov. 12 Islam and the Initial Christian Response

Nov. 17 Medieval Western Christianity and the Problem of Violence

Nov. 19 Christians of Mideast, Asia, Africa

Dec. 1 Mysticism

Dec. 3 Scholasticism and Thomas Aquinas

Dec. 8 Late Medieval Trends

The precept periods were reserved for discussion of the primary source materials from that weeks reading as well as discussion of papers.  There were two 5 page papers due during the semester that are “designed to help you analyze primary sources from church history.”  The papers were organized in three sections: context, main issues, and reaction.  In order to spread out the topics (and the grading) there were three cycles.  So basically there was a sign up sheet and you signed up for a cycle and wrote your two papers at the same time as everyone else in that cycle.  These papers were 40% of the final grade.  I wrote my papers on Origen on biblical interpretation as presented in a portion of his On First Principles and St. John of Damascus On the Divine Images.  The other topics were: The Rule of Benedict, Urban II’s “Speech at the Council of Clermont,” The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity, and Augustine’s Confessions. I will post my papers separately following this post.

The mid-term exam was 20% of the grade and the final exam was cumulative and as such was worth 40%.  Both the midterm and final were difficult but fair.

I learned a tremendous amount in this class.  While quite a few of my peers have commented that they find it ridiculous to have to take so many history courses, I do not feel the same way.  Let me confess though, that I do not like history courses.  I find it very difficult to learn pieces of a story and then put them all together and it is difficult for me to organize information in history classes.  That said, though I don’t remember much from the history classes I took in middle or high school, one of my teachers, Mr. Taylor, had a quote on his wall that I will never forget: “Those who forget the past are doomed to relive it.” – George Satayana

As I read for this class and listened to lecture, it was amazing to me the various ways that I could see the ancient debates we discussed playing out in present day.  I will say, however, that as a survey class, this course is not for the faint at heart.  It is a tremendous amount of information and it is hard to gauge how much depth to attempt with such a large breadth of information.  I do not regret taking it by any means, but I do not intend to take any additional survey courses if I can help it.


Fall 2009: NT Exegesis

March 3, 2010

For my second installation of talking about classes I will talk about New Testament Exegesis.  These posts are long, but hopefully they will be helpful to some even if they are boring to others.  In addition, my hope is always that conversations will be sparked so feel free to comment!

Having taken Greek in the Summer, I took Introduction to New Testament Exegesis (NT3400) in Fall 2009.  The objective of this course was:

“…to become more skilled and sensitive interpreters of Scripture, able to draw on a variety of critical tools and methods. With that larger objective in view, the course will work toward the following:

  1. Consolidation and enhancement of skill in Greek translation.
  2. Introduction to the theory and practice of biblical exegesis.
  3. Exploration of the place of biblical exegesis in Christian faith and life.

This class met three times a week and was taught by Dr. Beverly Gaventa.  We focused on 1st Thessalonians and Luke translating four passages in each book.  There were about 25 people which was apparently smaller than usual for this class.  The first class meeting was spent going over our translations in small groups of about 7 or  people.  The idea behind this was that everyone would come to class having translated the passage and ready to discuss translation difficulties in the group as well as check your work against that of your peers.  There was a Teaching Fellow for this course, a Ph.D candidate who has finished her course work and is now writing her dissertation.  Both she and Dr. Gaventa offered their expertise and assistance, but this time was predominantly students reading through their translations together and discussion the implications of various points of the passage.

In the second class session of the week, Dr. Gaventa led the class through the passage and we further delved into the difficulties of the passage as well as text criticism and other points of interest within the passage.  Thursdays were lecture days which were spent discussing translation in general.  Hearing the New Testament by Joel B. Green was required reading in support of these lectures.  The texts we used for this course were:

  • The primary text for this course is the Greek New Testament (the 27th ed. of Nestle-Aland)
  • a Greek-English lexicon, preferably the Danker, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature.
  • Green, Joel B., ed. Hearing the New Testament: Strategies for Interpretation.
  • van Voorst, Robert. Building Your New Testament Greek Vocabulary.

There were two papers required for this class and four “Exegetical Appetizers.”  Of the four passages for each book, you had to pick two and write a one page “appetizer” about the passage.  This was not a reflection paper in the sense that we were to write about what we felt about the passage, but rather a critical reflection covering the initial stages of our exegesis process for the passage.  One of these (for each book) would eventually turn into the midterm paper (in this case 1 Thessalonians) or the final paper (Luke).  These papers were to be 7-9 pages.  The schedule went something like this:

  • What is Exegesis?  (No, It’s Not Done with Mirrors)
  • 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12
  • Text Criticism (What Text are We Reading?)
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12
  • Analysis of Words and Grammar
  • Thessalonians 4:13-18
  • Historical-cultural Conventions, Part I.
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28
  • Putting It All Together
  • Luke 3:1-6
  • Historical-cultural Conventions, Part II.
  • Luke 7:11-17
  • Narrative Analysis
  • Luke 13:10-17
  • Extending the Conversation: Commentaries and Beyond
  • Luke 19:1-10
  • Exegesis in the Pulpit
  • Luke 20:20-26

This was my favorite class of the semester.   I very much appreciated Dr. Gaventa’s approach to exegesis.  While I was introduced to Gordon Fee’s book on NT Exegesis in a Biblical Hermeneutics course I took prior to coming to PTS, Dr. Gaventa did not seem to be interested in teaching us “the” way nor did she demand “a” way.  This is definitely not to say that the standards were low or that it was a free for all.  Quite to the contrary, Dr. Gaventa is known for being a tough grader.  What I am trying to get across is that it seems to me that Dr. Gaventa set out to teach us how to engage with the text critically.  She endeavored to help us acknowledge the assumptions we bring to the Bible when we read it.

I think I finally caught on when Dr. Gaventa handed out a sheet of paper with a small paragraph on it.  It was in English and it was incomplete.  It seemed as though it was taken out of the middle of something larger…as if the beginning and end were lopped off.  The paragraph was about a husband and wife who brought their child to be baptized.  We were asked to read through this paragraph and identify the things that would need further explanation is someone not familiar with church/baptism/etc. were to read this.  And the paragraph practically lit up in front of me.  It was as if every word in the paragraph needed explanation!  The paragraph starts with, “Sometimes the speaking requires art.”  What speaking isthe author referring to and what is meant by “art”?  A little bit farther on, the father of the child states, “I’m not sure I believe.”  “Believe in what?” I asked myself.

All the sudden the questions she asked us as we painstakingly went through the passage verse by verse as a class were not as intimidating.  I emphasize “as” of course because exegesis is not a task to be taken lightly.  But starting wasn’t as hard any more and that made all the difference.  In our syllabus, Dr. Gaventa wrote “Since exegesis is not a spectator sport, it is expected that students will come to class having completed the work assigned and prepared to enter into discussion.”  I learned a lot in this class and I am tremendously thankful I took it my first semester.  And I am grateful that she did not try to cram exegesis in any specific box but rather encouraged each of us to personalize our methods.  As a result, the skills I have learned will not be easily forgotten.  Surprisingly I wanted to take another exegesis class when the semester was over.  : )

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.




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.


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.


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.

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.