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THL 217-N Spring 2019

Revised Wed Mar 28 to add optional papers instead of online exams




Is this the end?  The homeland is destroyed, and the survivors have been marched across the map to exile in Babylonia.  After first emotional reactions to finding themselves in this situation, the exiles start asking the big questions about faith and the future.  God sends voices of hope to shepherd them through this period.  We can think of the Babylonian exile in several phases or periods: very early with reaction literature; early with response literature; main period with general life and developing thought; and late period with the voice of Isaiah of the Exile.

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Beyond hope or belief, some descendants of those survivors will actually get the opportunity to return to the homeland for a second chance.  How will they use it?  It will be a struggle, and then new struggles will emerge with the challenge of Hellenism, the magnificent culture which Alexander the Great will bring to the known world.


There’s more.  The story will continue beyond what we call the OT period, and it will produce an astonishing person who will bring something new and something old.  The story and the course will end with a bang, not a whimper.


Historical Dates.   Knowing when things are happening continues to be important for Unit 5.  Again, we need a sense of proportion–a sense of how long things are taking or how fast they are happening–in order to understand the story.  Again, not many dates are important for this course, but some are, so for the Unit 5 exam, the dates for main events are need-to-know.




After completing this unit, the successful student will be able to do all of the following.


  1. Describe the nature of the Babylonian exile and its prophetic voices.
  2. Describe the stages of return from exile and their prophetic voices.
  3. Articulate the major themes of justice and injustice in the Psalms.
  4. Describe and critically assess the outcome of the OT meta-narrative in terms of the gathered prophetic witness which can be articulated as “the new community in prophetic thought.”
  5. Describe the aftermath period and the influence of Hellenism on Jewish thought.
  6. Describe the continuity of thought from the OT and in particular from the prophetic witness to the teaching of Jesus in the NT.




Tues Apr 9 Day 1 ………………………………………………………………………………………………………….


Life in Exile and the Big Issues.

  • For an overview of this complex and important period, and what the prophets said, first read the Meta, “Part Seven: In the Babylonian Exile.”
  • Then read Birch, 84c-86c, for a good take on the meaning of the Babylonian Exile and how it might relate to us today.


In Exile!  Primal Screams in Anger, Questioning, and Despair.  With life in ruins, everyone is wondering what in the world the Lord might be thinking and doing‑‑if anything.  Some powerful feelings of the time are recorded along with their interpretation based in faith.  We will call it “reaction literature” because it expresses emotional reactions, not thoughtful response.  There’s a big difference, as we shall see today.


Psalm 137.  One moving and challenging example of reaction literature is found in Psalm 137.  Read Psalm 137 and picture it composed by Judean temple singers now in exile.  What might it tell us about their experience?  On their hopelessness and despair, see Birch 83d-84 (starting with “needless to say” and ending with “many thought the Lord has abandoned them”).


But how should we understand verses 7‑9?  Does the Bible teach that we should smash babies on the rocks?

  • For an explanation of this challenging and widely misused psalm, see the online document “Psalm 137–Notes and Explanations”
  • For a thoughtful take on the wider subject of violence in the psalms, see Donahue, 113-115, “Violence: The Shadow Side of Praise.” What are the main points here, and what do you think about this difficult but important subject?


Ezekiel the Prophet: Pastor and Theologian of Thoughtful Response.   After initial emotional reactions, but still early the exile, we encounter calmer voices of thoughtful response to the fact of exile, and we can call the written records of this “response literature.”  The outstanding voice in this time and situation came from the great Ezekiel, prophet and leader on location in the exile.

  • Read the online document “Ezekiel, Introduction, in The Oxford Study Bible,” to meet the man and his mission as important prep. for the rest of Unit 5.
  • For selected readings in Ezekiel, see the online document “Ezekiel–Notes on Selected Passages.”
  • What are the main issues addressed by Ezekiel, and what does he say about each?


Isaiah of the Exile: “Prepare to Return!”  After a couple generations in the Exile, likely in the late 540’s, an unnamed prophet begins to proclaim: “You will soon return!  Get ready!”  Incredibly, this will actually happen.  We call him Isaiah of the Exile, and his messages are found in Second Isaiah (Isaiah 40-55),

  • For basic knowledge about Second Isaiah, see the online document “Second Isaiah–Two Introductions.”
  • For an excellent understanding the message of Second Isaiah, including the biblical concept of hope beyond judgment, read Birch, 86-94, the section titled “Singing the Lord’s Song.”
  • For selected readings in Second Isaiah, see the online document “Second Isaiah–Notes on Selected Passages.”


The Early Return from Exile: Phases I and II.

  • For a summary of events in the early return, see the Meta section titled “Ups And Downs: The Struggles Of The Early Return.” (it’s in “Part Eight: Return To Jerusalem,” after the section on Second Isaiah).
  • For a good take on the early period of the return from the exile (the first two phases), read Birch, 96c – 98a (from the heading “Return and Restoration” to the top of p. 98).


Ezra’s Reforms and “The Law of Moses.”  A few generations after the first two phases of the return, a new group arrives, with a capable and energetic leader–Ezra the Priest.

  • For events in this brief but vivid and influential period, see the Meta, “Ezra The Priest And The Prophet Malachi,” along with the Bible passages mentioned there.
  • For the episode in Ezra about getting rid of foreign wives, see the online document “Ezra and the Forced Divorce of Foreign Wives.”


The Prophet Malachi and the Family of God.  What is the prophetic response to Ezra’s reforms by the prophet Malachi”?  A powerful critique and a message that endures.

  • For selected readings in Malachi, see the online document “Malachi–Notes on Selected Passages.”


Sun Apr 14  Major Paper  ……………………………………………………………………………………………….


Major Paper.  See “Major Paper on Social Justice in the OT” in the Major Paper module.


Tues Apr 16 Day 2 …………………………………………………………………………………………………………


Nehemiah the Governor and His Covenant.  Soon after Ezra, another group arrives with an even more capable and energetic leader.

  • For the far-reaching events in this equally vivid and influential period, see the Meta, “Nehemiah the Governor and His Covenant.”
  • For a very good take on the larger meaning of these events, read Birch, 99c-100d [beginning with “In this brief treatment” and ending with “much larger than that”].


Isaiah Of The Return And The Open Community.  What is the prophetic response to Nehemiah’s actions by “Isaiah of the Return”?

  • See the section in the Meta, “Isaiah Of The Return And The Open Community.”
  • For selected readings in Third Isaiah, which collects the messages of this anonymous prophet, see the online document “Third Isaiah–Notes on Selected Passages.”


The New Community in Prophetic Thought.   Where does the faith journey of the Old Testament arrive?  It’s a pretty interesting development.   See the Meta, “Part Nine: The New Community in Prophetic Thought.”



Meet “The Writings”: A Diverse Collection.  Part Three of the Hebrew Bible is called in Jewish tradition “The Writings,” which simply means a miscellaneous collection of sacred writings that don’t fit into Part One (The Torah) or Part Two (The  Prophets).  The Writings include some famous and well-beloved parts of the Old Testament, such as the Psalms and the Proverbs.  Read about this collection in Birch, 95-96.


The final section of our course will sample the Book of Psalms, which is the most important book in the Writings for social justice and the use of force.


The Book of Psalms.  In the Bible we find a collection of hymns and prayers of extraordinary power and beauty, and this is the Book of Psalms.  Some of the oldest ones have been sung and prayed continuously for almost 3000 years.

  • Responding to God and Life. The Old Testament as a whole tells Israel’s story in light of belief about what God says to them and how God works with them.  Now in these prayers the people respond.  They provide words and thoughts for responding in faith to the gifts and reversals of life, in joy or in sorrow, as individuals or as the united community of faith.
  • A Collection of Prayers and Hymns. These prayers were collected over many centuries, much like a church prayer book or hymnal.  The original circumstances for most of them have been lost.  This is because the ones which were kept were general enough that many different people could identify with them in many different situations.
  • Read and absorb the online document “Introducing the Psalms,” by Dennis Bratcher.


Justice and Violence in the Psalms.

  • Read Donahue, 110-113, “Lamenting Injustice.” What are the main points here?
  • Again read Donahue, 113-115, “Violence: The Shadow Side of Praise,” now with more understanding of injustice in the Psalms.  What are the main points here, and what do you think about this difficult but important subject?


Psalm 23 in Class if Time.


Apr 23  No Class.  Instead See the Extra Credit Assignment Below  ……………………………..….


Apr 23 and 27  Extra Credit Assignment  ……………………………………………….………………….


Documentary “This Is Home” for Extra Credit

Tues Apr 23         Documentary: “This Is Home” 1 hour 30 minutes, Harper Auditorium

Sat Apr 27      Assignment due

Details in the Extra Credit module


Tues Apr 30 Day 3 …………………………………………………………………………………………………………


The Aftermath Period.  For a good intro. and summary of the period after most of the Old Testament books were written, read Birch, 106-108.  We need to know this period in order to understand social justice in the New Testament, and especially in the teaching of Jesus.


Keeping Torah in a Changing and Hostile World: The Hellenistic Period.  One empire after another!  Changes, changes, changes!  After the return from Exile, the Jewish communities in the Jerusalem area and in various other lands all found themselves facing one issue after another for self‑identity and self‑preservation.  For a broad summary of this complex and important period, in which the last few Old Testament books were written, read the online document: “Keeping Torah in a Changing and Hostile World.”


The Process of Formation: How the Old Testament Came to Us.  Ancient writings and collections don’t just appear out of the blue.  They result from a situation of some kind, and address a target audience of people in their needs and circumstances.  To learn how this worked in the case of the Old Testament, read the online document “Process of Formation.”


The Story Continues.  The epic storyline of the Old Testament does not even pretend to reach closure, ending instead with a feeling of “To be continued—we hope.”  One idea which appears at some point, and starts to develop toward the end, is that some day God will send a great leader called “The Messiah.” Naturally, hope for his coming grew during the aftermath period in the changing circumstances and multiple issues for keeping the faith in a changing world.


Jesus of Nazareth.  Within a few generations a great teacher appeared in the homeland and his followers believed he was indeed the longed-for Messiah.  Jesus of Nazareth did not claim that title, but he did teach clearly that the biblical storyline had not come to an end.  For how this unfolded, read the online document “Jesus Continues the Story.”  For a good theological interpretation, read Birch, 108-111, “Jesus Christ is Our Peace.”   For more on the teaching of Jesus and the meaning of Jesus in the NT, see the online documents:

  • “Jesus Does Isaiah and the New Community”
  • “Jesus Does Reconciliation”


Justice and LGBTQ.  The Bible has long been for supporting discrimination in various forms against people who identify themselves as LGBTQ.  What does Scripture actually say, and not say, on this subject?

  • Absorb the online reading “GLBTQ: Need-To-Know Key Bible Passages.”
  • Also of interest [not required] might be “Pope Francis on LGBTQ+.”


Two common forms of this acronym are LGBTQ and GLBTQ.  Both are widely used.


Using the OT as Christian Scripture.  The 2000 year old question: How might people of the Christian faith read the Old Testament as Scripture.  For some ways to approach this subject, read the online document “Using the Old Testament as Christian Scripture.”  Might not sound like it, but we’ll end with a bang, not a whimper.


Unit 5 Online Exam     Worth 20 points = 20% of final grade


See “Exam Instructions for Unit 5” in the Unit 5 module.


Sat May 4   Open 10.00 – 11.30am


This assignment will assess:

  • Unit 5 Learning Objectives 1-6 as listed above
  • Magis Biblical Tradition Learning Objectives 1-5


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