Biblical Literature and the Ancient World
Course Description:This course studies Biblical literature in the social, political, and religious context of the ancient Mediterranean world. It begins with a historical overview that is careful to map it onto the "Greeks and Romans" course so that students will be oriented historically and geographically and see the overlap. It traces the history (including prehistory) of ancient Hebrews, the emergence of Christianity, the early relationship between Judaism and Christianity, and the struggle for Christianity to define itself in the Roman Empire before it became for all practical purposes the official religion of the Roman Empire.
Segment 1: Hebrew Scripture: Text and Context
This segment introduces the student to the literature of ancient Judaism, which eventually was collected in the Hebrew Bible. The segment's chronological framework extends from the formation of ancient Israel in the land of Canaan down to the emergence of Hellenistic Judaism in the post-Exilic age. Within that framework, the segment will cover the pre-history of ancient Israel as a people developing among its neighbors in the ancient Near East. Likewise will it consider the pre-literary and literary history of biblical texts. Attention to genre, literary form, and the redaction of biblical texts will comprise the main part of the segment. Consideration of relevant archeological discoveries will show the relationship between material and literary culture in ancient Israel. Towards this end, various literary and historical methods of biblical study will help the student to apprehend the biblical texts themselves, set against the religious, social, and political history of ancient Israel.
Segment 2: New Testament: Text and Context
This segment introduces the student to the literature of early Christianity, which eventually was collected in the New Testament. Restricting itself to the time between 50-110 CE, the chronological framework of the course is co-terminus with the time of the production of New Testament texts. These writings will be examined according to their genre, literary forms, and historical context. To that end, the history of the earliest Christian communities will be recovered from these texts to the extent that that can be reasonably done. For example, the establishment, growth and maintenance of communities of Pauline Christians will be apprehended from a careful chronological examination of Paul's Letters. The Gospels will yield valuable information for understanding the earliest Jesus movement and the handing on of its tradition to the later communities for which those Gospels were composed. The relevant historical context of the Greco-Roman period, as that has affected the formation of earliest Christianity and its literature, will also be considered.
Segment 3: Religions in the Roman Empire (ca. second through the fifth centuries CE)
This segment studies the struggle of early Christians to define themselves and their religion in relation to the Roman Empire, Judaism, and pagan religions. The focus is on particular Christian communities, their differences and commonalities. Emphasis should be on practice, ritual, architecture as much as on texts and the creation of a canon.
The following syllabi may help you learn more about this course (login required):
Spring '14: Jensen J, Karwowski M (file download)
Fall '13: Jensen J, Karwowski M (file download)
Fall '13: Lederman R (file download)
Additional syllabi may be available in prior academic years.
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