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Introduction to the Bible: Historical Context of Ancient Israelite Scripture

ramsa026's picture

Should the Bible be read as a history book?

Why are there TWO creation stories in Genesis?


Did the ancient Israelites always worship one God?


Did David really kill Goliath?


What impact do the Dead Sea Scrolls have on our understanding of the Bible?




Welcome to the exciting world of the Biblical Studies!  New contexts and meanings have been ascribed to the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) as the text has traveled throughout different regions, cultures and eras.  Our goal in this brief introductory course will be to read the Bible within the context of the original setting and culture of its authors (i.e. the ancient Near East).  This will be accomplished by employing the historical-critical method to the text.  By examining several books of the Bible, particularly the Torah (Pentateuch), students will be shown how to read the text closely and think critically about the meaning of a particular text.  This course is intended for anyone interested in learning more about the Bible, in the hope that the academic knowledge that is granted only to “religious studies majors” can be shared with the larger community.


*This course is not a “Bible study group” in the manner that many people are familiar with, concerning contemporary theological approaches to the Bible.  This course will approach the Bible in an academic manner of study.  Students will be presented with material that may or may not conflict with personal belief systems, and therefore must be willing to attempt to understand the information presented.  Students in the class will be expected to respect various manners of biblical interpretation.

*This course is open to ALL students, regardless of religious affiliation.  Though we will be reading the “Hebrew” Bible, this text is central in most denominations of Christianity, Islam and Judaism, and is a great vehicle for the academic study of religion for anyone, including atheists and agnostics.

*Prior knowledge of Hebrew or Greek is certainly NOT NECESSARY, as we will be reading the text in English.

*Please speak up!  Students are certainly encouraged to ask questions in class, but please do keep in mind that adequate time to answer may be an issue.  If the class is under a time constraint, special arrangements may be made with the facilitator outside of class to answer all questions.  


For this course, students must have access to Marc Brettler’s How to Read the Jewish Bible, as this will be our main text.  DON'T WORRY -  it is very inexpensive!  Students must also have a copy of the Bible, which will be used for in-class activities as well as short reading assignments.  Any Bible will do, though I recommend the Jewish Study Bible (see below for reference info), as we will note that the translation of a Bible will greatly affect the message it presents.  Both books can be found at your community or college library or local Borders or Barnes&Noble, though I recommend trying,, or your local HalfPrice Books. Brettler’s text is going for under $5 and the Bible as low as $10!  PLEASE NOTE that Brettler's text is a 2nd edition of his book originally titled How to Read the Bible.  The 1st edition was a hardcover, which is now out of print, but may be found at a used bookstore or online. The books are identical except for a new short preface; either edition is completely acceptable.                                                                                                       

Berlin, Adele and Brettler, Marc Zvi (ed). The Jewish Study Bible: Tanakh TranslationNew

           York: NY: Oxford University Press, Inc, 2004. ISBN: 9780195297546.


Brettler, Marc Zvi. How to Read the Jewish Bible.  New York: NY, Oxford University Press,

           2007.  ISBN: 9780195325225.  (Paperback/white)




Brettler, Marc Zvi. How to Read the Bible. Philadelphia, PA: The Jewish Publication

Society, 2005. ISBN: 9780827607750.  (Hardcover/gold)

Facilitator email(s): 
[email protected]


University of Minnesota - Amundson Hall, Room 158 (East Bank) Minneapolis, MN 55455 MN
United States
Facilitator's experience: 
I am a graduate of the University of Minnesota with a BA in Religious Studies, focusing primarily on the Hebrew Bible. I have also taken several graduate courses on biblical exegesis, and have extensively studied the Dead Sea Scrolls; my senior thesis was in Qumran studies. I have been a frequent lecturer on many biblical studies topics at various venues both inside and outside the Twin Cities, most notably at North Dakota State University in Fargo, ND and the Secular Bible Study of the Twin Cities in NE Minneapolis. I have taught this course through EXCO twice, as well as another on the New Testament.
Facilitator phone number(s): 
Class minimum size: 
Class maximum size: 
Class times: 
Tue, 10/05/2010 (All day) - Tue, 10/26/2010 (All day)
Additional class time information: 
4 Tuesdays, 6:30-8:30 pm
University of Minnesota - Amundson Hall, Room 158 (East Bank) Minneapolis, MN 55455 MN
United States
Additional class location information: 
Please visit to locate Amundson Hall. On the website there is a link at the bottom right-hand corner for maps and directions, where you can select Amundson Hall for a map. I recommend parking in the Washington Ave Parking Ramp, which is located right across Union Street from (to the East of) Amundson Hall. You can also find its exact location on the U of M website.
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