Introduction to the First Testament
RL 200 — Fall 2009
last update06 November 2009
Sheila E. McGinn, Ph.D.
Professor of Biblical Studies & Early Christianity
RL 200.51 (V, S, CS)
TR 12:30-1:45 PM, Room AD249
Office: Admin Bldg, B250e; tel. 216-397-3087
Office Hours: TH 10-11 A.M., 2-3 PM, or by appt.
Prereqs: RL 101 or equivalent & an inquiring mind
Lab Fee: $30.00
Academic Integrity
Class Format
Class Schedule
Course Description
Course Objectives
Learning Contract
Ignatian Pedagogy
Papers and Writing Assignments
Quizzes & Examinations
Social-Justice Praxis
Services for Students with Disabilities
Extra-Credit Opportunities Online & Text-Based Resources
Writing Resources
COURSE DESCRIPTION: This is an introduction to the library of texts which have become the Hebrew Bible. Some aspects considered are: the origins, formation, and development of these texts as they grow out of the experience of ancient Israel; the different theological perspectives which can be discerned in these writings (including the JEPD theory of Pentateuchal literature); and the historico-cultural context in which the texts arose.
     RL 200 is part of the University core curriculum because it develops students' skills in critical thinking, analysis of texts, compelling and elegant writing, and independent research.
     This course is part of the Catholic Studies curriculum because it engages the student with the Roman Catholic theological tradition of interpretation of the New Testament, both as an entity and in its respective parts. The ecclesial nature of authentic scriptural interpretation is fundamental to this tradition. Insofar as it is possible, I endeavor to make the class process model the kind of communal give-and-take which continues to produce this Catholic interpretive tradition. It is my hope that all students will find the class (and the instructor) respectful of their faith perspectives while posing invigorating challenges to prior assumptions.
COURSE OBJECTIVES: By successfully completing this course, a student will be able to:
  1. Trace the development of the idea of the covenant from the early Israelite monarchy to the post-exilic period.
  2. Explore the implications of Covenant for the development of a personal ethic.
  3. Demonstrate familiarity with the historical-critical method of HB interpretation, including the following:
    1. The basic outline of the Torah story.
    2. The relationship of the Judaism to the other Ancient Near Eastern religions and cultures.
    3. The key terms and significant personages relating to Hebrew Bible study .
    4. Dating for the significant persons, events and key writings of the HB.
    5. The key themes and characteristics of each of the pentateuchal sources (JEPD).
  4. Make fruitful use of the standard reference tools for HB study (e.g., commentaries, Bible dictionaries, critical notes and apparatuses).
  5. All core courses are supposed to help students improve their thinking skills. This course focuses on skills at the levels of organization (4), analysis (5), and integration (7).
LEARNING CONTRACT: The above-listed objectives have been built into the course design. However, students often have other reasons for taking a class like this, and other learning objectives they would like to achieve. Each students will be invited to create an individual learning contract, based on her/his individual goals for the course and/or semester, and adopt or adapt his/her course assignments to best support achievement of the student's learning goals.
CLASS FORMAT: A variety of methods are used to engage participants in the content of this course, including lectures, discussions, careful reading of the assigned texts, creative papers, films, slides, field trips, computer assignments, performance, as well as periodic quizzes and examinations.
CONSULTATION: I welcome the opportunity to talk with you about your academic and research interests before or after class, during my office hours, or at other times by appointment. I really do welcome your feedback at any time, especially any suggestions about how to make the course a more fruitful experience for you.
COURSE RESOURCE MATERIALS: Each student will be required to have access to a study edition of the Bible (i.e., one with cross-references and annotations); the Living Bible or other paraphrase will NOT do. The best available translations are: The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha, the New Jerusalem Bible, and the New American Bible. In addiction, we will use the following resources:
  1. Required:
    1. Boadt, Lawrence. The Old Testament: An Introduction. New York/Mahwah: Paulist, 1984.
    2. U.S. Catholic Conference, Interpretation of the Bible in the Church
    3. Web page materials
  2. Recommended:
    1. Hillers, Delbert. Covenant: The History of a Biblical Idea. Johns Hopkins Press.
    2. McKenzie, John. Dictionary of the Bible
    3. The Catholic Bible: Personal Study Edition (NAB). Oxford University Press.
STUDENT RESPONSIBILITY: Students will do assigned readings before each class meeting; behave professionally in class and during other class activities; participate in class discussions and field trips; successfully complete all required quizzes and examinations; and be timely in completion and submission of all course work, including any required assessments. The writing assignments will include analytical, creative, reaction, and summary papers. The schedule of readings and topics for the course are found on the Class Schedule page. If the student's instructor-approved Learning Contract modifies any course requirements, the Learning Contract will take precedence in determining what requirements that individual student must complete. All required assignments be completed in order to receive a passing grade for this course.
ACADEMIC INTEGRITY: The University expects that students will submit their own original work and properly cite sources for their ideas, including the Bible, web pages, handouts, class notes, and ideas from other students. I am sure that you intend to do this. Be careful about how you do your work. E.g., do not "loan" papers or other assignments to friends; this counts as academic dishonesty, too, and you face the same penalties as those who take the assignments and submit the ideas as their own. If you work with other class members to prepare an assignment, be sure to credit other persons' ideas so it will not look like you have copied their notes. See the JCU Student Handbook for further information. Any student who violates academic integrity will earn an "F" for the course.
ATTENDANCE: Bad hair day or not, the University expects students to attend every class meeting. For serious reasons (e.g., illness, death in the family), a student may receive an excused absence if documentation is provided. Class discussion comprises a substantial component of the course grade, and one must be present to participate in discussion. Students earn participation points for every class attended. Contrariwise, students who absent themselves more than three times during the semester will be docked one full letter grade for each subsequent absence. An absence from class does not constitute an extension for an assignment. Late assignments (i.e., those submitted after the beginning of class on the due date) will be docked one full letter grade for each day they are late.
FIELD TRIP: There is one field trip in conjunction with this class; it involves virtual visits to the New Jerusalem Mosaic and the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) and a real-life trip to a local middle-eastern restaurant. The restaurant trip is likely to take longer than our regular class period. While I know this may create difficulties in regard to other classes or work schedules, I hope you will be able to participate. I am happy to provide a letter for you to give your other professor (if you have a 2 PM class for which you might be late) to show that this is a bona fide class activity. The trip is an opportunity for the members of the class to get to know each other in a less structured setting, and to have fun while learning about Near Eastern and Jewish culture—and it's not bad getting credit for eating. If you will not be able to participate in the Field Trip on either of the two scheduled dates, please see me as soon as possible so we can negotiate an alternative assignment.
PAPERS & WRITING ASSIGNMENTS: Occasional short writing assignments are spread throughout the semester. See the Course Schedule and Social-Justice Praxis description for details. A good start is to review and follow these "Ten Commandments" about writing essays.
     All writing in this class, whether online or in print, is understood to be formal writing. Therefore, all written work must conform to the best practices of Standard American English. Acceptable assigments are expected to be characterized by clarity of style, grammatical accuracy, appropriate format, inclusive language, accurate and complete citations of sources, and interesting discussion of the theses. Students often ignore these concerns and then wonder at their grades on written work; save yourself that disappointment by planning ahead and getting help before you submit your papers.
     For style, grammar, and format concerns, see, respectively: William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White, The Elements of Style; Perrin, Smith, and Corder, Handbook of Current English; and Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. Papers in this course are to follow the Chicago Manual of Style, not MLA style, so Turabian's guide is the one to consult on when and how to give citations of works you have used (even if you have not taken direct quotations from them); this link takes you to a quick guide on CMS format and a brief discussion of what needs a reference. A guide to good inclusive style is Casey Miller and Kate Swift, The Handbook of Nonsexist Writing (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1980). Students who need more help with writing are referred to the instructor's website for writing resources, or to the JCU Writing Center.
LAMENT PSALM PROJECT: Students will work in small groups to outline the literary forms of Individual and Communal Psalms of Lament. Following one of these two forms, each student will write an original lament psalm. The small group will select one of their laments to be performed for the entire class, and will develop the ritual action (and any appropriate props) for this performance. The class performance of the lament will be videotaped and critiqued by the small group and by the rest of the class.
APPPAA: I give credit for class attendance; preparation for the session (e.g., evidence that you have done the reading, turning in the assignments); participation (e.g., talking in small group discussions, asking questions or making appropriate comments during lectures); professionalism in attitude and behavior; assessment of one's own and other students' class performance and progress toward student-specific learning goals; and attentiveness (i.e., looking alert and interested in the class activities). Students in this class benefit not only from the instructor's presentations, but also from interaction with their classmates. Students learn better when they are prepared for the class discussion; they also learn better what they themselves say aloud. The overall course grade takes this into account in delegating a substantial percentage of the grade to the APPPAA score.
15% Essays
10% Lament Psalm Project
15% Social Justice Service-Learning Project
30% Examinations. NB: Those students who earn an average of at least 75% on the unit tests are exempt from the cumulative final examination
For more details, see the Sample Grade Calculation Form.

A = 95%+ A- = 91% B+ = 88% B = 84% B- = 81%
C+ = 77% C = 74% C- = 70% D+ = 65% D = 60%
Below 60% is a failing grade. Each excessive absence will reduce a student's grade by one letter. Any violation of academic integrity earns an automatic "F" for the course.

NB: In accord with a university tradition of venerable antiquity, the "A" grade in this class is given in recognition of exemplary performance; it typically requires work that, on both qualitative and quantitative grounds, goes well beyond the basic course requirements.
John Carroll University strives to create an institutional climate in which students with disabilities can succeed. If you have a documented disability, you may be eligible to request accommodations from the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD). Contact the SSD coordinator at (216) 397-4967 or come to the office located in room 7A, in the Garden Level of the Administration Building. After your eligibility for accommodations is determined, you will be given a letter to present to your instructors to help them know best how to assist you. Keep in mind that accommodations are not retroactive, so it is best to register as soon as possible.
Follow this link for more information regarding JCU Services for Students with Disabilities
The CLASS SCHEDULE includes due dates for reading and writing assignments as well as examinations. If you have any questions about those, or about any other items on this Syllabus, contact either the Instructor or the T.A. immediately to prevent getting behind in your course work.
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Sheila E. McGinn, Ph.D.
Professor of Biblical Studies & EarlyChristianity
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