Introduction

In this course we will focus on biblical materials relevant to the issue of how a fragmented tribal nation became unified, powerful kingdoms.  While the event that we are studying took place about two and a half millennia ago, the ideas and concepts have remained relevant.

A little background

As you will realize by looking at the table-of-content of your Tanakh, the Tanakh (the Jewish Bible) is composed of 24 books that are divided into 3 main parts.  This is reflected in the name Tanakh which is an acronym for Torah, Nevi’im and K(h)etuvim.

The first part, the Torah, is the part most people are familiar with.  It contains the 5 books of Moses that are read in weekly portions in the synagogue and completed (and started) each year on Simchat Torah.

The second part, Nevi’im (prophets) contains the historical books from the entry into the land of Israel until the destruction of the first temple in 586bce.  It contains, as well, the classical prophetic books such as Isaiah, Jeremiah etc.  The active period of classical prophecy seems to start in the 8th century bce, and will not be covered in this course.

The third part, K(h)etuvim (writings) contains material that did not fit into the previous categories (even if some of it is historic material).  Here you will find Psalms, the Megillot (such as Esther) and wisdom literature.

The dating of the composition of the different books is often both difficult and intriguing.  While classic Jewish sources view the Torah as being God-given but handwritten by Moses, the Nevi’im and K(h)etuvim parts are composed or compiled by people but were felt to be inspired and worth canonizing.

The main books that will interest us in this course will be Samuel and Kings (in Nevi’im) and Chronicles (in Ketuvim.)  There is no doubt that these books were compiled from various sources, but the questions that we might want to keep in the back of our minds are: Why was this material included?  What is the point of view of the narrator of this book?

Where are we on the timeline?  We will cover a time period of under 2 centuries, from circa year 1000 bce, when David united the people and established the first state capital of the people – Jerusalem, to the establishment Samaria in mid 800’s bce.

What text should I use? The biblical text was written in Hebrew.  It is often a masterfully constructed story in which the sound and the artful use of language play an important role.  I encourage you to try to read at least some of the original text.  However, translations are acceptable.  Keep in mind that you are receiving the text through an intermediary, and be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the translation.  If you find yourself disagreeing with the translation, you may be correct.

How to use the guiding questions sheets

The questions will focus on the main material studied.  However, it is often helpful and enlightening to go off on relevant tangents.  Such tangents will appear separately in color.  It is up to you if you wish to turn to those sources now, save them for some other time, or ignore them.  In general, it is up to you to divide your time according to your interests.

At the end of each week there is a Bringing it all together corner.  While weeks can be approached as individual units, this section attempts to bring us to use the material as a building block in the greater picture of the creation (and loss) of the 2 empires of Israel.

Sources

The main sources used in this course are from the Tanakh.  You will be referred to such sources by location (book – chapter – verse) so that you will be able to use the Tanakh (and translation) that you are comfortable with.  When outside sources in Hebrew are brought in (such as Gemara, Midrash or commentaries,) the verse quoted from our text will appear in bold to make it easier to see why the source is relevant to our material. (There may be verses from other biblical texts as well.)  All such texts will be followed by an English translation.

Hevruta

טוֹבִים הַשְּׁנַיִם מִן הָאֶחָד אֲשֶׁר יֵשׁ לָהֶם שָׂכָר טוֹב בַּעֲמָלָם: (קהלת ד,ט)

Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. (Ecclesiastes 4:9).  Hevruta is an old and tried Jewish method of approaching studying.  It means finding a study partner with whom one can share, discuss, and (even) disagree.  From my experience, Hevruta is a terrific example of “gestalt”: The result of the learning in Hevruta is significantly greater than what would have been accomplished if each of the people had studied on their own. 

Go to Next Class – Concentrating The Power: State and Religion

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