After a long gestation period, I’ve finally given myself a kick in the pants by submitting a proposal to the HILR curriculum committee to lead my first study group in several years: An Intellectual History of Judaism and Christianity. The important part is the course catalog description:
The big ideas we inherit from Judaism and Christianity — one God, evil, an afterlife in heaven or hell, the end times, salvation — often get treated as though they were always there, each perhaps paid more attention by some than others. Not so. These ideas emerged over the course of a millennium as Israel responded to conquest, exile, and reemergence in a Persian and then Greek context. The Israelites started out as polytheists just like everyone else in the neighborhood; once they’d made the transition to monotheism, they had a problem that had no simple solution: given an omnipotent and benevolent God, why do bad things happen to observant Jews? The answer was a big departure — so much so that the rabbis discarded it when they reinvented Judaism following the destruction of the Temple. But like many (not most) Jews of that time, Jesus found the revolutionary solution (cosmic dualism) both intellectually and emotionally satisfying. And as the theological basis of Christianity, cosmic dualism gave us (very late in the game) such central concepts as personified evil (Satan), resurrection and a meaningful afterlife, and original sin with its consequent need for salvation.
This rigorous study group will survey the history of these big ideas and examine why they developed as they did (4 hours a week of preparation). We’ll read and discuss many sources provided on the course website but of course the main texts are the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. You can get an overview of the chronology by looking at the Overview and Ideas(Basic) timelines at http://ruml.com/timelines/ (Google Chrome preferred). More details about the course at http://ruml.com/intellectualhistory/.
The texts for the course are The Jewish Study Bible and, amusingly, The Jewish Annotated New Testament (NRSV), both from Oxford. That later choice reflects the fact that all other NRSV study bibles have annotations so thoroughly saturated in Christian theology that they positively obscure the original meaning of the authors. Since they were all Jewish, reading them from that perspective helps.