I have been conducting adult-oriented, advanced Bible studies from the viewpoint of the Ancient Hebrews for whom the Bible was first written. Students taking any of these courses will encounter the Bible in the language and context of the ancient cultures from which they arose.
Note: An excellent example of how to think about reading the biblical text this way is given by N.T. Wright here.
The animating principle behind these studies is to foster an appreciation of the biblical texts as literary works not yet fully appreciated((Largely because what we know about the Ancient Hebrews and the cultures surrounding them are still not well understood.)). To this end, over the course of these studies, the participants will be gently exposed to the latest scholarship, including the works of scholars who disagree with one another. For example, serious scholars disagree, sometimes vociferously, on a number of important religious and biblical concepts such as:
- Faith, Justification, and Works in Jesus’s era.
- Genesis 1: Omnipotence, the meaning of time, the image of God, and the purpose of the Sabbath.
- Why and how Christianity adopted the religious practices of Jews of Jesus’s day whereas the Jews rejected those same practices less than 200 years later.
- Genesis 2-3: Interpreting the story of Adam and Eve and the meaning of sin, human sexual nature, marriage, and human flourishing.
- Biblical ethics: how the biblical narratives illustrate the prioritization of moral values and ethical conduct.
- The Hebraic roots of the requirement for blood, including the blood of Jesus.
- The Ten Commandments – values not laws.
- Contemporary Social Issues – What the Bible really says about homosexuality and abortion – It’s not what the most people (pro- or con-) think.
By delving deeply into these, and other topics, we will come to appreciate why Bible study must be an important and ongoing pursuit for people serious about learning what God’s actions in history mean for our lives.
The courses are ecumenical and non-denominational in nature. Doctrine, when presented, is done so within the context of the text and for illustrative purposes only. Indeed, the course is relevant to, and useful for secularists (atheists and agnostics) wishing to know more about the book from which the Christian and Jewish faiths arise.
The Bible Club
(The latest topic for this year’s Bible Club is Family Values)
The Bible Club is a group of people who gather on a more or less regular basis to present and discuss questions they may have encountered in other Bible studies or their own reading. It works like this:
- I’ll send out an assignment to the participants. Usually the assignment is a short passage in the Bible to be read carefully and studied with the help of any number of on-line references (which I will be happy to provide).
- It’s not necessary to stick to the assignment. Come with your own questions or theories and throw ’em out for everyone to chew on (figuratively – see #3, next).
- Our discussion begin over lunch (or sometimes dinner).
- After eating we’ll continue the discussions and then adjourn.
These sessions usually take a couple of hours or more – they’re lots of fun and sometimes extend well beyond the allotted time. Because of this, we’ll do this more or less on a monthly basis here at my house in Missoula. However, during the warmer months (May through October), these sessions will be held at my cabin on Rock Creek weekends beginning at 11:00 AM. That way we can finish up in time to enjoy what the river has to offer. Beginning in June, one of the most productive times to fish is between 3:00 and 5:00 PM.
The Genesis Creation Stories
In the study of the two Genesis creation stories. Both stories are studied as literary, not doctrinal or faith-related works. More specifically, we will approach the Hebrew text as it was originally written – a set of poems and metaphors meant to order the lives of the Ancient Hebrews.
To accomplish this, we will read the stories in English but always referring back to the original Hebrew and, most importantly, the historical, cultural context in which they were written and understood.
This course is also being conducted at the University of Montana’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (MOLLI) this fall, 2017. The course title and description can be downloaded or read online here.
What the Bible Really Says
Many familiar stories and lessons of the Bible are widely misunderstood. Mostly these misunderstandings arise from a lack of knowledge of the ancient cultural contexts and settings in which these stories were told (and meant to be understood). On the other hand, some are simply mistranslations of the ancient biblical languages in which the Bible was originally written. Some examples covered in the study are:
- How the omnipotence and omniscience of God is not what you think.
- The biblical prohibition against coveting does not exist.
- The story of Adam and Eve is about choosing the rigors of mortality over the banality of utopia.
- Under some circumstances, God rewards liars and even encourages lying.
- The Role of women
- Woman as savior of Israel specifically and mankind generally.
- Song of Solomon is not just biblical porn. Rather it elevates and exalts the woman.
For believers, these “misunderstandings” are not designed to challenge the faith. Rather, a right understanding of God’s revealed truths will deepen your faith and prove stimulating to your intellect. I hope to schedule this class for Autumn of 2018.
Biblical Ethics and God’s Moral Values
What is not widely appreciated is that the ethics arising from the Bible’s moral values are not black and white, nor are they particularly well understood. In this course, the participants will study both the ethical prescriptions and narratives that illuminate how God’s expects His people to balance competing moral values.
I am planning on offering this course as a six-part course focused on the Ten Commandments. In this course, we will study the Ten Commandments from its native Hebrew, but will also use the biblical narratives to illustrate and make concrete the values and ethical content of God’s ultimate will for humanity.
We will use Dennis Prager’s, The Ten Commandments – Still The Best Moral Code, as our textbook.
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