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BT 801 Jewish Backgrounds to Early Christianity


Context is important.  2nd Temple Judaism is the context for when Jesus came to Earth. Studying the context helps us to further understand/appreciate what was going on in the Gospels

Work Load: busy

I took this as a LiveCast in the Winter of 2014, at the same time as Spiritual Formation.  Another MABLE student was also taking the class by Live Cast, since the class is offered only in semester format every couple of years.  Twice a week, we would log on to Google Hangouts and participate in the class live.

It was the first time since starting part-time seminary that I took two classes at the same time.  My conclusion?  I get more out of them if I take them one at a time.  Two classes put quite a strain on my schedule, and less time to savor the learning.

Readings (10%)

We had to keep a reading log, tracking reading assignments in preparation for each class.  There was primary source readings and secondary source readings.  Textbooks included:

From Maccabees To Mishnah

(We read the whole book.  I remember hating it, since the guy’s theology was rather liberal; but the most poignant thing I remember is when he said we can’t change the sacred text, so we now “interpret” our way around things we don’t like.  Ouch.)

Jewish Literature Between the Bible and the Mishnah

(This book has short introductions to various 2nd Temple documents.  Before reading something from the apocrypha or pseudipigrapha, the intro in this book helps orient you and introduce you to what was going on in history when that particular document was written, etc.  A useful resource.)

The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English: Seventh Edition

(Many scrolls were found at the Dead Sea.  Many of them were scrolls of Biblical books, like Psalms or Isaiah.  But many scrolls discovered were not “Bible Books”.  This is the English translation of all the non-Bible books found at the Dead Sea.  An interesting edition to my library)

We also had to have access to the Apocrypha and select pseudipigrapha, but were not required to buy certain books for this, since they are available online.  I already had the Apocrypha in my Logos library, and was able to locate the Pseudipigrapha documents I needed as free e-Sword modules.

During the semester, we ended up reading (along with the intros in the Jewish Literature textbook): Tobit, portions of Sirach, books 1 and 3 of 1st Enoch, portions of 1st and 2nd Maccabees, several of the Dead Sea Scrolls, portions of Jubilees, excerpts from Josephus, The Prayer of Manassah, Judith, Psalms of Solomon, and 4th Ezra.

At one point, we had to watch a video on “Jesus the New Way”, which was available in the library on reserve.  This was one of the few times that being off campus was inconvenient.  I ended up just ordering the video series myself, since it was still cheaper than living on campus for an entire semester.

Jesus The New Way hosted by Tom Wright

Primary Source Introduction (15%)

At the beginning of class, we had to sign up for presentations during the semester.  Since I had just completed the Psalms class in the previous semester, I signed up for a presentation of the Apocryphal Psalms found in one of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  A scroll was the book of Psalms, with the psalms in a different order, some were missing, but some were extra Psalms not found in the Bible.

Doing a presentation from a distance was interesting.  My fellow MABLE student lived close enough to campus to make the trip for his presentation, but I did mine online.  I was broadcast on the screen at the front of the classroom.  The class was actually recorded for some reason, which means it is available on Youtube.

As far as I know, it was the first time something like this had been attempted at Briercrest, so there were a few technical details to work out at the beginning.  (My presentation begins at about the 23-minute mark of the class).

“Urban Legends” Assignment (10%)

In this short, 4-5 page paper, we had to critically evaluate a common Christian portrayal of early Jewish belief or practice.  I wrote my paper on the negative view of Pharisees.  I sought to show that a pharisee is not automatically a hypocrite or a legalist, but it is more complicated than that.

Mid Term Exam (10%)

Apparently this was added to the syllabus by popular demand.  The classes themselves included a lot of history and other information, and students from previous classes had suggested a mid term to break it up, instead of trying to cram the entire semester’s info in their brains for the final.

Major Essay (30%)

First we had to submit a proposal, to be approved by the instructor.  Then we could write a 12-14 page paper.  I actually springboarded from my Primary Source introduction assignment and continued with the Apocryphal Psalms.  I argued that the mixed order of Psalms on scroll 11QPsa represent a text tradition prior to the traditional order we are familiar with.

To amuse myself, also I saved the essay as several different documents throughout the writing process as a demonstration of how a document reaches its final form.  I then wrote a spoof paper, pretending someone found my drafts centuries from now, and wrote a paper on their conclusions:  14M801K and the received essay.  The teacher was amused by the spoof.

Final Exam (25%)

As usual, I had to get a proctor, since I was at campus.  The exam got emailed to the proctor, I went to their house to write the exam, then the proctor scanned my responses and sent them back.


Other notes:

If the goal was to whet my appetite, it worked!  I came out of this class wanting to read more 2nd Temple Literature (I even made a place for it on my Reading Goals list).  I finished reading 1st and 2nd Maccabees during the semester, and added several documents and ideas to my After Master list of things to study.  This is also now a source of research information.  I feel it is an area of knowledge I can visit when researching other topics.

A few weeks after this class, the Pseudipigrapha were available at a deep discount on Christan Book Distributors, and I ended up ordering them for my personal library at a very reasonable cost.

The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume 1: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments

The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume 2: Expansions of the “Old Testament” and Legends, Wisdom and Philosophical Literature, Prayers, Psalms and Odes, Fragments of Lost Judeo-Hellenistic Works

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