Need help keeping all those covenants straight?

We’ve been talking a lot about the concept of covenant in class and discussing several of the places it pops up in the Hebrew Bible. For anyone having trouble sorting through all this covenant talk, Ted kindly sent me a chart from his NIV Study Bible that includes a breakdown of different covenantal arrangements as they appear in the Hebrew Bible. Check it out here:here!

And don’t freak out if you don’t recognize them all–we haven’t covered all of the different covenant stories in class.

The 2-Pagers

It seems that many of you are planning to get a jump on the 2-page assignments and write in response to either Friday or Monday’s question (your last chance in Section One will be on 2/12). For some of you, this will likely be your first time writing about religious topics in a history class. If you feel like you need some guidance on how to write about religion from a secular disciplinary perspective, I put together a little guide here. Of course, if you have any specific questions or concerns, e-mail me!

If you’re writing a response for Friday, your question is, “Does what we know about the Temple fit with Eliade’s understanding of a sacred space (from the reading last week)?” Basically, what I’m asking you to do here is to test Eliade’s theories of sacred space by applying them to the historical example of the Temple, as described in the Hurowitz reading. Do Eliade’s theories hold up when confronted with a specific example? What does or doesn’t fit? Use examples from the Hurowitz reading to make your case.

If you’re writing a response for Monday, your question is, “How did the Judeans interpret what had happened to them?” I’m asking you to analyze several biblical passages that were written in response to the Babylonians’ destruction of Judah, Jerusalem, and the Temple in 586 BCE. Using the passages from Isaiah, Lamentations, and Ezekiel (there are links on the “Readings” page), describe how the Judeans understood their defeat. Whose fault was it? Why did it happen? You can also consult Ch. 1 of the The Land Called Holy in forming your response.

I’ll give two general recommendations for these assignments. First–always be answering the question. Each paragraph should somehow respond to the question that is asked. This is especially important on such a short assignment! Second–always root your answers in specific examples from the readings. If you do these two things, you’ll do alright.

Nitty-gritty: Your responses should be about 2 pages, double-spaced, in 12-pt Times New Roman, Arial, or Calibri font. No crazy shenanigans with the margins. They are due at the beginning of class on the day of the question listed. Late papers won’t be accepted on these particular assignments since part of the goal is to spur class discussion for that day.

For Wednesday

Tomorrow, we’ll be getting into the actual subject of the course–the development of traditions concerning the land. Specifically, we’re going to look at the concept of covenant, a MAJOR theme in the Hebrew Bible and a defining feature of both Judaism and Christianity. Your textbook reading will be Chapter One from The Land Called Holy. If you don’t have a copy yet, I’ve scanned the chapter here.

I’d also like you to read three passages from the Hebrew Bible. The first is Genesis 12:1-9, which offers the first iteration of the covenantal concept at the beginning of the Abraham storyline. If you are not familiar with the Abraham storyline in general, you may want to read Genesis 11-25. The second is from Deuteronomy. I wrote Deuteronomy 30 in the syllabus, but I’d also like you to read chapter 29. Deuteronomy recounts the story of the Israelites’ wanderings in the Sinai after being led by Moses out of slavery in Egypt. It includes the giving of the commandments that will form a new part of the covenantal relationship begun with Abraham. The two chapters I want you to read involve Moses summarizing the meaning of the covenantal concept–and its relationship to the land. The third chapter I want you to read is Joshua 24. In the biblical narrative, Joshua succeeds Moses and is the one who actually leads the Israelites in conquering the land. In Chapter 24, he has gathered them together to again restate the covenant. So, just so we’re clear–tomorrow’s about covenant, covenant, covenant…

Also, if anyone wants more information about the historical-critical approaches to the Bible that we discussed on Monday, I’ve scanned the introduction to Richard Elliott Friedman’s Who Wrote the Bible?, as well as an appendix from the book that lays out his particular understanding of which Torah verses were written by which author. This is not required reading, but you might find it helpful or interesting. Keep in mind that this is the perspective of one scholar–scholars have been arguing over these ideas constantly since the 19th century. What I want, more than anything, is for you all to get used to using the Bible as an historical source that reflects specific contexts.

Coming Up

Your reading for tomorrow is Sandra Gravett’s “Space and Time,” which gives some background info on the period we’ll be studying over the next week and a half. With this reading, I want you to get the basic context and timeline for Ancient Israelite history and the formation of the Bible. Pay particular attention to the different periods she lays out–the “United Monarchy,” the “Two Kingdoms,” “Judah Alone,” and “The Babylonian Exile.”

Also, if anyone wants to knock out their first two-page response, the first one is due this Friday. I’ve added an Assignments page to give you some more info on that.

And, don’t forget, you’ll have a pop reading quiz at some point this week!

Questions for Friday’s Reading

Our reading for Friday is Mircea Eliade’s chapter on sacred space. Like I said in class, this is probably the densest reading we’ll be doing all semester, as well as the most theoretical. (by the way, though they are interesting, you can skip over the portions that deal with personal homes)

Eliade repeatedly uses three terms that are worth defining here. First, when he uses the word “profane,” he means something like “normal” or, at least, “not sacred.” Another word he frequently uses is “hierophany,” which means the revealing of the sacred or holy. Another, “cosmogony,” refers to creation–the birth (-gony) of the cosmos.

As I mentioned, I want you to read Eliade with the question I raised in class in mind–do we treat sacred spaces different (whether through stories, rituals, or whatever) because they are sacred, or does treating them differently make them sacred? How do you think Eliade would answer this question?

And don’t forget…we’re having donuts from Brown’s Bakery this Friday…