Introduction to the Bible: Historical Context of Ancient Israelite Scripture

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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 the 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 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. We will also use Marc Brettler’s How to Read the Jewish Bible as our main text.

IMPORTANT CHANGE FOR STUDENTS: Photocopies of chapters will NOT be provided for students, as this would infringe on copyright laws. All students must have a copy of this text also, though it is very inexpensive. Both books can be found at your community or college library or local Borders or Barnes&Noble, though I recommend trying 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. 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 Translation. New
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)

OR 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 - Ford Hall, room 110 Minneapolis, MN
United States
Facilitator's experience: 
I have previously taught this course in the summer of 2009. I also have given numerous lectures on religious topics at North Dakota State University. I am currently a senior honors student at the University of Minnesota and have taken several graduate credits in biblical studies.
Facilitator phone number(s): 
Class minimum size: 
Class maximum size: 
Class times: 
Tue, 02/09/2010 - 18:30 - Tue, 03/02/2010 - 20:30
Additional class time information: 
6:30 - 8:30 PM (4 Tuesdays)
University of Minnesota - Ford Hall, room 110 Minneapolis, MN
United States
44° 58' 47.874" N, 93° 15' 49.8096" W
Additional class location information: 
Please visit to locate Ford Hall. On the website there is a link at the bottom right-hand corner for maps and directions, where you can select Ford Hall for a map. I recommend parking in the Washington Ave Parking Ramp, which is located a short distance (two buildings) behind (East of) Ford Hall. You can also find its exact location on the U of M website.
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