Assignments

This section features instructions for the first, second, and third essays.

First Essay

4-5 pages due in Ses #7

Choose one of the following and write a 4-5 page essay in which you do your best to convince your readers to share your interpretation of a passage (or passages) from Genesis. Try to avoid unnecessary summary, to engage your reader's interest in your opening and concluding paragraphs, and to arrange your paragraphs logically. Pay close attention to your writing: read out loud! Be sure to give your essay a title, double space throughout, number your pages, and proofread very carefully.

Use correct citation format: Gen 2:4-4:2 means Genesis, chapter two, verse four through chapter four, verse two; Gen 2:4-8 means Genesis, chapter two, verse four through verse eight; Gen 2-4 means Genesis, chapter two through chapter four. So, for example: Even after God cursed them, He continues to provide for Adam and Eve: "And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them" (Gen 3:21). Another technical point: Bible—as well as all the books within it—is capitalized, but neither italicized nor underlined; "biblical" is not capitalized.

If you would rather explore a topic of your choosing, it's probably fine - but check with me first.

  1. What do you think the biblical writer(s)/editor(s) might have chosen to include two, sometimes apparently contradictory, accounts of creation?

  2. Why do you think Genesis opens with such strikingly similar narratives?

  3. Discuss the role of genealogies in Genesis. Be sure to consider both the differences between them and their placement between narratives.

  4. Closely analyze any one of the stories from the Primeval Cycle - Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, Babel - in order to show how it contributes to the larger themes that run throughout Genesis.

  5. At the end of the Joseph narrative—which is itself the end of Genesis—Joseph assuages his brothers' guilt with the following words: "Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today" (50:19-20). What new perspective does this statement offer on the many narratives of trickery and deception in Genesis?

  6. How and why does God test Abraham in Genesis 22 (customarily referred to as "The Binding of Isaac")? With what is he rewarded for his unflinching obedience?

  7. Choose any grouping of conventional type scenes in Genesis—passing off the wife as the sister; meeting the future bride at the well; the wife's response to her barrenness, e.g.—and discuss how their differences reveal both character and the basic continuity of the divine plan.

Second Essay

5 pages due in Ses #16

  1. Consider the narratives concerning Saul (1 Samuel 9-31). Why does God choose him to be kin over Israel and then regret that choice? Does Saul willfully disobey commandments or is he rightly assuming kingly privileges? What does he think? What does Samuel think? What does the narrator think? (NB: Do not answer these questions one by one, but integrate into a smooth argument.)

  2. Think about why the writer/editor of the Deuteronomic History placed the David-Bathsheba-Uriah episode where he did (2 Sam 11). How does the scene look back to Deuteronomy and how does it look forward to the rest of 2 Samuel (optional: and 1 and 2 Kings)?

  3. In the ancient world, powerful peoples had powerful gods; captured peoples believed their gods had failed them. What vision of history, then, enables First Isaiah to put the following words in God's mouth?

    Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger-
    the club in their hands is my fury!
    Against a godless nation I send him,
    and against the people of my wrath I command him,
    to take spoil and seize plunder,
    and to treat them down like the mire of the streets.
    But this is not what he intends,
    nor does he have this in mind;
    but it is in his heart to destroy
    and to cut off nations not a few.
    (Isaiah 10:5-7)


  4. In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
    (Isaiah 40:3)

    Discuss the ways in which Second Isaiah presents the immediate historical moment - the return from Babylonian Exile in the late 6th century BC - in the terms of the saving history—the Exodus from Egypt—that the Israelites already understand as their heritage.

Third Essay

5 pages due in Ses #25

  1. Choose a narrative unit of speech or action—called a "periscope," in New Testament parlance—shared by all three synoptic gospels and discuss the different versions in order to reveal the varying emphases and intentions of the evangelists.

  2. Why does Jesus speak in parables? What is his explanation? Are there other possibilities? Who understand the parables? Focus either on different parables within a single gospel or compare the same parable as presented in Mark, Matthew, and Luke. Be sure to consider when in the gospel a parable occurs and to whom it is narrated.

  3. Explain how Matthew's Jesus can disregard Mosaic laws concerning the Sabbath and dietary prohibitions, while at the same affirming the authority of the law: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished" (Mt 5:17-18).

  4. Although we often refer to Jesus' changing water into wine as a "miracle," John called the action a "sign." Why? A sign of what? How do John's "signs" both look back to the terms set forth in his prologue (1:1-18) and forward to his passion narrative?

  5. Explain how Paul transformed his personal conversion from a Pharisee who persecuted Jesus' followers to a disciple of Christ into a theory of biblical history that he presented in his Epistle to the Romans.