From the Hebrew Bible to Judaism, From the Old Testament to Christianity

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Shaye J.D. Cohen

Spring 2014

From the Hebrew Bible to Judaism, From the Old Testament to Christianity

Culture and Belief 23 (Harvard College/GSAS: 5275)

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Description: The Hebrew Scriptures, what Christians call the “Old Testament” and Jews call the “Bible,” are the basis of both Judaism and Christianity. In this course we shall survey how this work of literature, through interpretation and re-interpretation, spawned two different cultural systems. Topics to be surveyed include: canon and prophecy; exegesis and Midrash; Shabbat and Sunday; temple, synagogue, church; the Oral Torah and the Logos; sin and righteousness; messiah and redemption.

NB: for the purposes of this course the word “Bible” refers to the collection of books that Christians call “the Old Testament,” that Jews call Tanakh, and that ecumenically- minded and progressive people call “the Hebrew Scriptures.” It does NOT refer to the collection of books that Christians call “the New Testament.”

Course requirements:

  • The weekly readings. Note that much of the reading consists of biblical or other ancient texts, which must be read s-l-o-w-l-y.

  • Section attendance is optional but recommended; in section you will review terms and passages that will recur on the midterm and final. If you attend section, your TF has the right to assume that you have done the reading for that week.

  • Midterm exam – one hour. Paragraph length ID’s plus passages plus an essay. [25%]

  • Two short papers (approx. 5 pages each), one before the midterm and one after; details to be distributed on separate sheet. [20% each, total 40%]

  • Final exam – three hours. Paragraph length ID’s plus passages plus two essays. [35%]

Lecture videos: The entire course – lectures, lecture handouts -- is available on iTunesU. In a Windows machine go to and look for this course. In an Apple environment download the iTunesU app. Please note: since I am always seeking ways to improve the course, it is possible that some lecture handouts and some lectures will differ somewhat from those posted in iTunesU. As a result the lectures of this year’s iteration of the course are being taped as well, and will be posted to the course page.

Course calendar: As a rule the class as a whole will meet on Mondays and Wednesdays; sections will meet on W/Th/F )(tbd). Read the syllabus carefully, however; there are exceptions. The course will meet on some Fridays.

Students with disabilities: if you require special accommodations, please speak with the Head TF before the third week of class.

Academic Integrity and Collaboration: You are permitted, even encouraged, to study together. Read the assigned passages with a friend, discuss them together. With a friend or a group study the terms, IDs, and the like. Prepare for the midterm and final in a study group. However, when you submit a piece of writing with your name on it – the midterm, the final, the short papers, or anything else– you are affirming that it is your own work and that it fairly reflects what you have learned. You may study with friends for the exams, but you take the exams alone. You may discuss the paper assignments with your friends, but when you submit your paper you are stating that it is your work, except insofar as you acknowledge (in a footnote or equivalent) any assistance that you received, whether from a friend, a book or article, or an online resource.

How to contact me: Office: 6 Divinity Avenue, Semitic Museum, inside the NELC office, rm 105. I will hold office hours in our classroom every Wednesday from 9:30am until class time. Feel free to drop in and chat. If there is a matter that you would like to discuss with me privately, please make an appointment.

Head TF: Tyler Schwaller .

One required book, one recommended (available at the Harvard COOP):

  • The Jewish Study Bible, ed. Adele Berlin and Marc Brettler (Oxford University Press) (ISBN 0195297512 hardcover; ISBN 0195297547 softcover), (referred to below as JSB). NB: All readings from the Bible should be done from this edition. Read the notes on each assigned text. If you wish to save money you can read this work online here (click on Jewish Study Bible). (We will also be reading some passages from the Christian scriptures, the New Testament. This is readily available on-line, e.g. here (click on Oxford Annotated Bible and go to New Testament).

  • We will be reading large chunks of the Dialogue with Trypho by Justin Martyr. I recommend that you acquire the following edition: St. Justin Martyr Dialogue with Trypho, trans. Thomas B. Falls, revised by Thomas Halton, edited by Michael Slusser (Catholic University of America Press, 2003). (ISBN 0813213428). If you prefer you can save money and read the Dialogue with Trypho in an older translation online, for example here or here. Note that the online text contains only chapter enumeration, whereas the Falls-Halton-Slusser edition contains paragraph enumeration as well. So, for example, if the syllabus refers to “Dialogue with Trypho 16.4,” you will be able to find the exact spot in the Falls-Halton-Slusser edition, but in the online edition you would go to Dialogue with Trypho chapter 16 and have to figure out where paragraph 4 is. This is not particularly difficult since chapters are usually rather short.

Foundations; Historical Perspectives (lectures 1-8a)

1. M Jan 27: Introduction to the course: why the Bible matters

2. W Jan 29: What is the Bible? The canons of the Hebrew Bible; canonizaiton

  • JSB 2072-2077 (“The Canonization of the Bible” by Marc Brettler, under “Essays: Backgrounds for Reading the Bible)

  • The canons of the Hebrew Bible (chart)

3. M Feb 3: What is Judaism? The truth claims of Judaism cluster around three points: God, Torah, and Israel.

    • GOD: R. Moses b. Maimon (1138-1204), known as Rambam or Maimonides, Thirteen Principles of Faith: (Note: we are interested here only in the first page, the list of thirteen articles of faith; the rest of the webpage, an excerpt from a book by Shmuely Boteach, is of no concern to us)

    • Altmann, Alexander. “Articles of Faith.” Encyclopaedia Judaica. ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. Vol. 2. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA,2007.529-532. Gale Virtual Reference Library. (Available through Hollis).

    • TORAH: (what is the Torah)

    • (what is Halakhah)

    • (people of) ISRAEL: (are the Jewish people chosen?)

    • (Chosen people: some modern views)

4. W Feb 5: What is Christianity? If the truth claims of Judaism can be said to cluster around God-Torah-Israel, then the truth claims of Christianity can be said to cluster around God-Christ-Church.

    • GOD: The Nicene Creed and other creeds ( and scroll down to The Creeds of Nicea and Constantinople). Helpful historical note on the Nicene Creed at

    • If you want more info, go to the old Catholic Encyclopaedia (

    • CHRIST: Charles Hedrick, What is Christianity? (read the pages: What are major Christian beliefs? What is the Gospel? What about Heaven and Hell? Why do Christians believe this?)

    • What is the New Testament? Robert M. Grant, A Historical Introduction to the New Testament chapter 1 [Note the misspelling of the word “Canon” in the title!!] (Read up to the section marked “Hebrews”.)

    • CHURCH: What is the church? Charles Hedrick, What is Christianity? (read pages What is the Church?)

  • Questions to consider: In what respects do Judaism and Christianity resemble each other? Wherein do they differ? In your experience is the trilogy God-Torah-Israel a reasonable way to summarize Judaism? Is God-Christ-Church a reasonable way to summarize Christianity?

(Remember that on this syllabus and for the purposes of this course “the Bible” means the Old Testament, the Tanakh, the Hebrew Scriptures.)

5. M Feb 10: Jewish Bible Interpretation in Antiquity:

    • JSB 1863-1875 (“Midrash and Midrashic Interpretation” by David Stern)

    • Carefully read Exodus 16, the biblical account of the manna in the desert. (Optional: also read the partially parallel accounts in Numbers 11; Psalms 78, esp. 78:17-32.) We will not have the time to disentangle the tangled skeins in this material; we are interested here in the story about the manna.

    • Some rabbinic readings of the manna tradition: Mekhilta on Exodus 16 (to be distributed).

6. W Feb 12 Christian Bible Interpretation in Antiquity:

    • Justo L. González. “How the Bible Has Been Interpreted in Christian Tradition.” In New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, 1994) Vol. 1, 83-95 (up to “The Middle Ages”).

    • A Christian reading of the manna tradition: Gospel of John chapter 6. We will not have the time to untangle all the tangled skeins in this chapter; pay attention to the motifs of food, feeding, bread, bread of life, etc.

  • Questions to consider: How does the Bible become a Jewish book? How does it become a Christian book? What was the main goal (or goals) of ancient Jewish Bible exegesis? What was the main goal (or goals) of ancient Christian Bible exegesis? What is midrash? What is typology and what is allegory?

M Feb 17: no session Presidents’ Day – draft of first paper due to your TF; see separate sheet

7-8: W Feb 19: “The parting of the ways” between Jews and Christians; Justin Martyr and Early Christianity

    • Morton S. Enslin, “The Parting of the Ways,” The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Ser., Vol. 51, No. 3. (Jan., 1961), pp. 177-197 (available through JSTOR via Hollis)

  • Two key passages of Justin Martyr in his Dialogue with Trypho:

    • The problem of the Law: Justin 9-10; Justin’s solution: 44.2

    • : The Scriptures are ours, not yours: Justin, Dialogue 29

    • If you want more information about Justin Martyr, go to the Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. St. Justin Martyr .

    • The Dialogue with Trypho depicts a Christianity that is diametrically opposed to that of Marcion; we have read about Marcion above (see the readings by Grant and Gonzalez)

  • Questions to consider: Is Christianity a kind of Judaism? If it isn’t, how did this come about? Who was Justin Martyr and why is he important? What according to Justin makes Judaism not-Christianity and Christianity not-Judaism? Why did/do Jews and Christians argue over the interpretation of the Bible?

8a. F Feb 21: (not on iTunesU) The Life and Death of Jesus

    • E. P. Sanders in Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism: A Parallel History, ed. H. Shanks(2011) 83-92

    • NT passages and rabbinic text in lecture notes

Law and Ritual

Lectures 9-10: Circumcision

9. M Feb 24: Circumcision in the Hebrew Bible and Judaism

    • Passages about circumcision: Genesis 17; Exodus 12:43-50. Other passages you may want to look at: Genesis 34; Exodus 4:24-26; Leviticus 12; Joshua 5.

    • Shaye J.D. Cohen, Why aren’t Jewish Women Circumcised? (University of California, 2005) 3-28

    • Mishnah and Talmud Nedarim (in the lecture notes)

    • Foreskin of heart, lips, and ears: Deuteronomy 10:16, 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4, 6:10, 9:25. Other passages you may want to look at: Exodus 6:12, 30; Leviticus 26:41; Ezekiel 44:7-9.

10. W Feb 26: Circumcision in Christian perspective

    • Shaye J.D. Cohen, Why aren’t Jewish Women Circumcised? (University of California, 2005) 67-83

    • Justin, Dialogue with Trypho 15 (end) –16, 18, 19, 23, 28-29. Other passages you may want to look at: 41.4, 43.1-2, 92, 113.6-7, 114.4, 137.1.

  • Questions to consider: What is/are the meaning/s of Jewish circumcision? What does circumcision mean for Paul, and why must Christians cease to observe it? Are Justin’s anti-circumcision arguments the same as those of Paul? If the Bible commands the circumcision of the foreskin, why don’t Christians do it?

Lectures 11-12: The Food Laws

11. M Mar 3: Prohibited Foods in the Torah and in Judaism

    • Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14; Exodus 23:19, 34:26, and Deuteronomy 14:21; Exodus 22:30; Genesis 9:1-4 and Leviticus 17:10-16 and Deuteronomy 12:16, 23-25

    • David Friedenreich, "Food and Table Fellowship," in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, 521-524

12. W Mar 5: Prohibited Foods in Christianity

    • In past years I assigned Peter Tomson, “Jewish Food Laws in Early Christian Community Discourse,” Semeia 86 (1999) 193-211 (available on-line via Hollis) but many students have found this reading to be difficult and challenging, so it is no longer assigned.

    • Barnabas chapter 10 ( or

    • If you want to know more about the Epistle of Barnabas, go to the Catholic Encyclopedia s.v. Epistle of Barnabas.

    • In the New Testament: Mark 7; Acts 10 and 15; 1 Corinthians 8

    • Justin, Dialogue with Trypho 20

  • Questions to consider: Did Christianity do away with all of the Jewish food laws? How does Barnabas understand the biblical food laws? Would Paul have approved Barnabas’ interpretation? What was the social function of the food laws in Jewish and/or Christian communities? If the Bible commands abstention from pork, why don’t Christians abstain?

F Mar 7: Review for the midterm

M Mar 10 Midterm exam (or W Mar 12)

Lectures 13-14: Sabbath

13. W Mar 12: The Sabbath

    • Genesis 2:1-4; Exodus 20:8-11, 31:12-17, 35:1-3; Deuteronomy 5:12-15; Isaiah 56:1-8, 58:13-14; Other passages you may want to look at: Exodus 16; Numbers 15:32-36; Jeremiah 17:19-27; Ezekiel 20:11-24.

    • Robert Goldenberg, “The Place of the Sabbath in Rabbinic Judaism,” from The Sabbath in Jewish and Christian Traditions, ed. T. Eskenazi et al. (New York: Crossroad, 1991)

14: F Mar 14: From Sabbath to Sunday

    • New Testament: Mark 1:21-34; 2:23-3:6 (Matthew 12:1-14); Luke 14:1-6; John 5:1-18

    • Do Christians observe the Sabbath? Justin 12.3, 19.5, 21.1, 26-27, 41.4

    • Craig Blomberg, “The Sabbath as Fulfilled in Christ,” in The Sabbath in Jewish and Christian Traditions, ed. T. Eskenazi et al. (New York: Crossroad, 1991)

  • Questions to consider: Why do Jews abstain from work on the seventh day (the Sabbath)? Is the Christian Sunday the same as the Jewish Sabbath? How did the Jewish Sabbath become the Christian Sunday? If the Bible commands abstention from work on the seventh day, why don’t Christians abstain?

M Mar 17 and W Mar 19 – no session – spring break

Lectures 15-16 Passover: From Sacrifice to Seder

15. M Mar 24 Pesah in the Torah

  • Exodus 12-13; 23:14-19; 34:18-26; Leviticus 23:4-8; Numbers 28:16-25; Deuteronomy 16:1-8.

16: W Mar 26 The Seder

    • Mishnah Pesahim 10 (to be distributed in the lecture notes)

    • Jonathan Klawans, "Was Jesus' Last Supper a Seder," Bible Review 17:5 (Oct. 2001)

    • If you don’t know what these terms means check their entries in Wikipedia: “Passover,” “Passover Seder,” “Afikoman,” “Maror,” and “Haggadah,”

  • Some questions to consider: What is a seder and what is the Haggadah? Does the Torah envision either? How does the Paschal meal envisioned by the Torah contrast with the ritualized festive meal of a Seder?

Lecture 17-18 From Passover to Easter and Eucharist, From Pesah to Pascha

17. M Mar 31

    • New Testament: Matthew 26:2, 17-30; Luke 22:7-23; John 13:1; 19:14, 31-37. We will not have time to deal with these texts in detail. Two key questions for our purposes: What is the date of the crucifixion? Is the last supper a Passover meal?

    • New Testament: 1 Corinthians 5:7 (Christ as Paschal sacrifice) and 11:23-26 (Last supper); John 1:29, 36 (Behold the Lamb of God); Revelation 5:11-13; (the Lamb who was slain); John 6:52-58

    • Justin 40.1-3 and 111.3, Paschal lamb as type of Christ

    • What is Communion / Eucharist? Charles Hedrick, What is Christianity? Read the pages on Christian worship.

18. W Apr 2: Melito of Sardis and the Christian Passover

    • Melito of Sardis On Pascha, available at:

    • For helpful information re Melito, see “Melito of Sardis” and “Quartodecimanism” in Wikipedia; Catholic Encyclopaedia s.v. Easter Controversy (First Phase and Second Phase)

  • Questions to consider: Did/do Christians celebrate the Passover? How would you compare the Jewish festival of Pesah/Passover, with the Christian festival of Easter? Who were Quartodecimans? Who was Melito and what is his significance? Do you see similarities between Melito and the Haggadah?

Ideas and Beliefs (lectures 19-24)

Lectures 19-20: From the One God to the One which is Two; From Torah to Logos.

Warning: this material is dense and difficult. If you do it in a rush, you won’t understand it.


19. M Apr 7: The one God, Torah, and Logos

    • Genesis 1 (how does God create the world? Is anyone or anything else present when God creates the world? Does anyone or anything assist God in creation (note the mysterious plural in 1:26)? Are angels mentioned?

    • God and angels: Genesis 18:1-19:1 (you may also want to look at Genesis 21:17; 22:1, 11-18) – note how easily and mysteriously these texts seem to bounce back and forth from “man/men” to “angel(s)” to “God.”

  • Who or what “dwells” in the temple (or tabernacle) and/or among the Israelites:

    • God himself: Exodus 25:8; 29:44-46; other passages you might want to look at: Leviticus 26:11-12; Deuteronomy 23:15

    • Name of God: Exodus 20:21; Deuteronomy 12:11; other passages you might want to look at: Deuteronomy 14:23; 16:2,6,11; 26:2; 1 Kings 9:3; cf. Exodus 23:20-21

    • Glory (or “Presence”) of God: Exodus 16:10; 24:16-17 (see note in the JSB); 40:34-38; other passages you might want to look at: Exodus; Leviticus 9:6, 23; Numbers 16:19; 17:7; 1 Kings 8:10-11, contrast 1 Kings 8:16.

    • Combination of Name and Glory: Ezekiel 43:1-9

20. W Apr 9: The One God who is Two

    • Logos/wisdom theology: Proverbs 8:22-31; NT Gospel of John 1

    • R. D. Middleton, “Logos and Shekinah in the Fourth Gospel,” The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Ser., Vol. 29, No. 2. (Oct., 1938), pp. 101-133 (available through JSTOR via Hollis) (read the whole article, skim 105-107 and 130-133)

      • Some Hebrew and Greek phrases appear in Middleton’s article but do not get scared. All the Hebrew and Greek phrases are translated. Before reading Middleton, you should know something about: Philo (the Jewish philosopher); Logos; Targum; anthropomorphism; hypostatization.

    • Students have found the Middleton reading to be too difficult. An alternative is: Daniel Boyarin, "Logos, a Jewish Word: John's Prologue as Midrash," in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, 546-549

    • Justin on the name and glory of God: 75, 126-129

    • Justin on the pre-existing Christ, Christ as angel, God and Lord: 55-65. Other passages you may want to look at: 45.4 (from “Since those who did that which is universally, naturally, and eternally good are pleasing to God” to the end of the paragraph), 48.1-2 (up to “and was born a man by the Virgin.”), 50.1 (up to “that He submitted to be born of the Virgin.”), 68

  • Questions to consider: Does Jewish monotheism necessarily exclude belief in other divine figures? What is the Logos of God? the name of God? the glory of God? Are angels “God”? Can you be a good Jew and believe that God is two? Did Christ pre-exist the world? Did the Torah?

Lectures 21-22: From the Messiah son of David to the Messiah Son of God


21. M Apr 14: Messiah: The Restoration of Davidic Monarchy

    • Davidic king and messiah: 2 Samuel 7; Isaiah 9:1-6, 11:1-10; Jeremiah 23:5-6; 33:14-22; Psalms 110, 132. Other passages you may want to look at: Ezekiel 34; Psalms 2, 45, 89

    • (read sections 1-2 and browse 3-18)

W Apr 16: no session – Passover

22. F Apr 18: Christ as King and Messiah

    • The “virgin birth”:

      • Isaiah 7:10-17

      • New Testament: Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38

      • Justin Martyr, Dialogue 43.3-8 (from “But since the mystery of His birth now demands our attention” to the end of the chapter), 66.1-67.3 (up to “the demonstration of what I have stated along with the testimony of the Scriptures.”), 71, 77-78, 84.

    • The two comings of Christ according to Justin: 52-54, 83, 109-110. Other passages you may want to look at: 14.8 (end of the chapter, beginning with “Of these and such like words written by the prophets”), 31, 36-39, 45.4 (the end of the chapter beginning with “Since those who did that which is universally, naturally, and eternally good”), 49.

    • Questions to consider: What is the role of the Jewish messiah? Was the Messiah to be human, superhuman, or divine? Was the messianic age to be a continuation of normal history or something qualitatively different? Did God grant monarchy to the house of David unconditionally and forever? What does “Son of God” mean? What are the two comings of Christ according to Justin?


Lectures 23-24: From Sacrifices to Prayer and Eucharist

M Apr 21 no session Passover

23. W Apr 23: Atonement through sacrifice and its surrogates

    • Biblical worthies build altars and offer animal sacrifices: Genesis 4:1-5; 8:20-21; 12:7-8; 13:18; 26:25; 33:20; 35:1-3

    • Atonement through the sacrifice of animals: Leviticus 16

    • Critique of sacrificial religion: Hosea 6:6; Isaiah 1 and 58; Jeremiah 7; you may also want to read Psalm 51

    • The suffering servant, vicarious atonement: Isaiah 52:13-53:12

    • Rabbinic text (to be distributed) showing how charity and good deeds equal the sacrifices (perhaps adrn re r yohanan ben zakkai)

24. F Apr 25: Atonement through the sacrifice of Christ

    • Christ as high priest and atonement sacrifice: NT Letter to the Hebrews 7-9 (to understand this reading you will need to read Psalm 110); Justin 13, 41.1-3 (up to “affirming both that we glorify His name, and that you profane [it].”), 115-117

    • Why did God demand animal sacrifices? Justin 19.6 (from “wherefore God, accommodating Himself to that nation” to the end of the chapter), 22.1 (up to “Amos, one of the twelve”), 22.11 (from “Accordingly He neither takes sacrifices from you nor commanded them at first to be offered” to end of the chapter)

    • The two goats of the Day of Atonement: Justin 40.4 (“And the two goats which were ordered to be offered during the fast … which those believing in Jesus do”) and 111.1 (up to “Jesus (Joshua), led the fight, and Israel conquered”).

    • Christ suffers for the sins of humanity: Justin 94-96

  • Questions to consider: Is the Christian critique of the animal sacrifices demanded by the Torah the same as the prophetic critique as recorded in the Bible? Has Christianity fulfilled, replaced, or cancelled the biblical sacrifices? Has Judaism? Is atonement possible without blood?


Conclusions: From the Nation of Israel to the Nations; the End of Days

25. M Apr 28: Israel, the People of God

    • Biblical passages re Israel the chosen people: Deuteronomy 7; 26:16-19; 28; Amos 3:1-2

    • Old and new covenant, old and new creation: Jeremiah 31:31-34, 32:37-41; Ezekiel 11:14-21, 36:16-36

    • Gentiles at the end of days: Isaiah 2:1-5 (Micah 4:1-5); 42; 49; 56:1-8; 60; 65-66

    • God’s eternal love for Israel: Ahava Rabbah from the prayer-book (to be distributed)

    • recall the reading from the beginning of the term about the Chosen People.

26. WApr 30: Who is the True Israel?

    • Romans 9-11; Galatians 4:21-5:1

    • Christians are the true people of God: Justin 26, 80-81, 119-125, 130-136

  • Questions to consider: What is the function of the new creation and the new covenant prophesied by Jeremiah and Ezekiel? What is the relationship of the gentiles to the Israelites in the end of days according to Isaiah? According to Romans 9-11, what is the status of “Israel according to the flesh” (=the Jews) in the theological order now that Christ has come? How does Justin try to prove that Christians are the new people of God?

Final exam: tbd (exam group 3)

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