A Hebrew Bible/Old Testament scholar looks at the Bible and culture…

Lancaster Theological Seminary

Joshua in Ancient and Contemporary Perspectives

I’ve just encountered powerful curriculum on Joshua.  It’s entitled Joshua:  A Journey of Faith and is the 2009-2010 Horizons Bible Study for Presbyterian women.

The primary author is Mary Mikhael, President of Near East School of Theology in Beirut (NEST).  The editor is W. Eugene March, professor emeritus from Louisville Presbyterian Seminary.


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West Bank and Israel Travel Log #2: Walls

The first of many unsettling experiences during the LTS West Bank/Israel trip was my introduction to the Wall.  While I had read much about the “separation wall” between Israel and the Occupied Territories and even seen photos from friends, I wasn’t prepared for the reality.

On the bus ride from Ben Gurion airport to our hotel in Bethlehem, the wall seemed everywhere–zigzagging across the landscape, chopping up fields, and blocking roads.

We had to pass through the wall in order to enter Bethlehem, where we stayed for much of our trip.


West Bank and Israel Travel Log: Purposes

From January 6 to January 25, I joined my colleague Anabel Proffitt in leading a group of 21 students from our institution through the West Bank and Israel.  I’ve recently returned, my camera full of pictures and my head full of realities to process and responses to formulate.  In the next few weeks, I’ll be reporting on my evolving experience of the trip.


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Psalms and Def Jam Poetry

It’s one thing to acknowledge that the book of Psalms is written as poetry.  It’s quite another to consider what difference the poetic style makes to interpretation of the Psalms. What if we encountered Psalm 139’s claim that “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” not in private devotion or from the mouth of a lector in church but in a context more like that of def jam?  This great piece is Marty McConnell’s “Instructions for a Body.”

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Can a Theological Textbook be Too Theological?

This semester, my students in the Introduction to Hebrew Bible/Old Testament class at LTS are working with new textbooks:  John Collins, A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible (Fortress, 2007) and Johanna van Wijk-Bos, Making Wise the Simple: The Torah in Christian Faith and Practice (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005).  We also read from other sources (the Global Bible Commentary, the Women’s Bible Commentary, the Eerdman’s Dictionary of the Bible, and some internet pieces), but Collins and Bos have been our primary introductions to the Pentateuch.

collins Making_Wise_the_Simple6

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Thinking through Biblical Violence

In the spring 2010 semester at LTS, I’ll be teaching a new course:  Violence and the Bible.

I first envisioned the course 5 years ago, as an extension of a course I already teach (Prophets of Divine Wrath:  Nahum, Obadiah, and Malachi), work I’d done in my Nahum volume, and workshops I’d given in churches.

Now it’s time to give the course shape and select readings.  So, I turn to readers with questions:


  • Which violent biblical stories most deserve attention?
  • What readings have been helpful to you as you consider biblical violence?
  • What approaches to biblical violence do you find most helpful?
  • What does this course just have to talk about?
  • What concrete examples can you offer of the “spillover” of biblical violence into the world?
  • What other questions should I be asking?
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The Many Uses of the Psalms

Thanks to all those who responded to my call for Psalms stuff. Here, I report on the array of objects we handled in our first Psalms class.

Not surprisingly, there were an array of musical settings of psalms. These included psalms marked for chanting within Christian and Jewish services, as well as those made into hymns for congregational singing.


Psalm-based performance pieces ranged from anthems and chorale pieces to contemporary praise music to Psalms passages in Coolio and U2 lyrics.  We looked at hymnals from various denominations, as well as CD’s and could have watched youtube clips of contemporary artists.  Among our collection were loans from the the rare book collection of the Lancaster Theological Seminary library:

1. Sternhold, Thomas and John Hopkins. The Whole Booke of Psalmes… London: Company of Stationers, 1625. The first English language version of metrical Psalms in use from at least 1562.

2. Tate, Nahum and Nicholas Brady. A New Version of the Psalms of David. Amsterdam: Henry Gartman, 1772. This version of the Psalms with music notation (first published in 1696) replaced the earlier Sternhold and Hopkins psalter in use most of the 17th century.

3. Lobwasser, Ambrose. Die Psalmen Davids... Budingen: Joh. Friedr. Regelein, 1733. With music notation. Lobwasser prepared this version of the Psalms for German Reformed churches. It was popular in both Germany and the U.S. and reprinted many times through the first quarter of the 19th century.

4. Lobwasser, Ambrose. Neu-vermehrt und vollstandiges Gesang-Buch worinnen sowohl die Psalmen Davids…  Marburg; Frankfurt: Heinrich Ludwig Bronner, 1797. An edition of Lobwasser’s expanded hymnal with the Psalms bound in a decorative vellum binding.

We admired several children’s books illustrating the 23rd Psalm–one with a bucolic setting, another in an urban context.

We looked at visual images drawn from Psalm texts–the Psalm illustrations from the St. John’s Bible and images on one of the seminary president’s stoles.

I brought in bulletins from weekly services as well as my dad’s funeral that utilize Psalms texts as parts of the liturgy–call to worship, assurance of pardon, etc.

Many students were drawn to the pictures I’d downloaded from the internet of Psalm verses on jewelry and tattoos.  We imagined ways this body art might function–for protection, for advertisement, as identity markers.  (This use of Psalms reminded me of the tiny psalters I saw at the Walters Art Museum, described in an earlier post.)

We considered Psalters designed for private devotions, both those in devotional booklets and in David Ker’s Cyber Psalms project.

The books I’d brought in from the library reminded us that psalms are used to reconstruct the worship practices and daily lives of ancient Israelites.

And we recognized that there are important aspects that didn’t show up in the objects: Psalms as poetry and Psalms as the basis for doctrine and theology.

I’m sure we’re missing other major uses of Psalms, but we were struck by the many different ways in which Psalms as a book and as individual pieces have been used and continue to be used. We look forward to exploring different aspects of the Psalms as the class unfolds.


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Calling for Psalms Stuff

On Wednesday, I begin teaching a seminary course on the book of Psalms.  After months immersed in the narratives of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, a turn to poetry/liturgy will take some adjustment.

I will begin the class with Psalms artifacts–concrete examples of the diverse ways in which biblical psalms are used in the present and have been used in the past.  I have funeral bulletins, hymnals, Psalters, CD’s, children’s books of Psalm 23, and some images of Psalm verses on jewelry. The idea is for students to reflect on how the psalms are used as poetry, liturgy, music, instruction in prayer, atropaically, etc.

Do readers have other examples that I can add the mix of how Psalms are used?

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