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Assigned: The King James Bible. From Genesis: Chs. 1-4 (Creation and Fall); Chs. 6-9 (Noah's Ark); Ch. 11 (Tower of Babel); Ch. 22 (Abraham and Isaac). From Exodus: Chs. 1-20 (pp. 65-90). Job (pp. 607-40). The Gospel According to Saint Matthew (pp. 3-44). "The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians'' (pp. 206-22).
1. In Chapters 1-2, how and why does God create the earth and the heavens? To what extent does the text posit answers to such questions? What is the traditional view of the relationship between God and his creatures? (Look up the phrase "creation ex nihilo").
2. In Chapters 2-3, how does the text handle the first sin -- how much detail are we given with regard to God's reasons for placing the forbidden tree in Eden, and the circumstances and thoughts that lead to Eve's transgression?
3. In Chapters 3-4, how does God respond to the sinful behavior of Adam and Eve, and then Cain? Does the text clarify his reasoning in acting as he does? What seems to be the principle behind the punishments that he distributes to those who have sinned?
4. In Chapters 6-9 (Noah's Ark), and 11 (Tower of Babel), what patterns emerge in the Fall's aftermath? How does the source of sin remain the same even as its varieties multiply? Moreover, Christian theology posits that God is all-knowing and all-powerful; what thoughts and feelings does Genesis ascribe to God as he confronts the wickedness and illegitimate ambitions of earth's people?
5. In Chapter 22, God "tempts" Abraham -- what is the nature of this temptation? What would have constituted failure, or partial failure? What promise does God make to Abraham once he passes his test? Also, discuss this chapter's narrative style of -- how much detail is offered to us? What is omitted that a modern storyteller might dwell upon at length?
6. In Chapters 25 and 27, Jacob wrests from Esau both his birthright and his father's blessing. What prompts him to do these things? How do you interpret the moral of this story -- why is it acceptable that Jacob should do such things to his brother? How does Isaac comfort his favorite son Esau, who has been tricked along with his father?
7. In Chapters 37 and 39-46, Joseph (the son of Jacob, renamed "Israel" by God) is sold into slavery by his brothers, but later becomes the Egyptian Pharaoh's chief administrator. What special power does Joseph have, and how is that power both the cause of his initial troubles and his eventual exaltation? Discuss also this episode's emphasis on suffering, sacrifice, and redemption.
From Exodus, Chs. 1-20
8. In Chapters 1-2, what are the circumstances of Moses's birth and upbringing? What qualities does he begin to show when he reaches young adulthood?
9. In Chapters 3-6, in what circumstances does God call upon Moses to take up a leadership role? What trials immediately ensue, and what promise does God find it appropriate to give Moses and the Children of Israel?
10. In Chapters 7-10, what series of plagues does God send down upon the Egyptians? How does he explain his motive for raining these disasters on Pharaoh? And how does Pharaoh deal with what happens -- that is, with the demands Moses makes on him and with the disastrous plagues themselves? How does this king reinforce our understanding of the destructive pattern lived by fallen humanity?
11. In Chapters 11-12, what "one plague more" does God visit upon Pharaoh and his kingdom? How does he help the Israelites protect themselves from harm, and under what conditions do they depart from Egypt? With
12. In Chapters 13-14, God prescribes the Passover commemoration, and bid Moses lead the Israelites through the Red Sea wilderness. How does Moses part the Red Sea? Describe as well the rout that occurs when Pharaoh decides to pursue the Israelites. How does this result sum up the struggles between Pharaoh and the Israelites in previous chapters?
13. In Chapters 15-17, what miracles occur as the murmuring Israelites make their way through the desert after their departure from Egypt? What pattern of behavior and attitude do the people of Israel -- aside from Moses -- reveal in these chapters?
14. In Chapter 18, how does Moses's father-in-law Jethro help provide a rationale for the giving of the Ten Commandments that is about to take place? Explain with reference to the advice he gives Moses about how to deal with the people's need for justice.
15. In Chapters 19-20, how does Moses prepare the Israelites for the great event that is about to happen: the descent of God to Mount Sinai and the giving of the Ten Commandments? How do the people react to this event and to the awesome presence of God? What relationship between God and ordinary Israelites is figured by these chapters?
16. In Chapters 19-20, what exactly are the Ten Commandments? Enumerate them in your own words and discuss the significance of a few of the more complex ones. If you are presenting on this question, consider also what we might gather from the Commandments and from other statements God makes in Exodus about what he wants from the human beings he has created? What does he want them to understand about him, and how does he want them to conduct themselves towards him and one another?
17. In Chapters 1-2, on what grounds does Satan repeatedly challenge God's claims about his "perfect" servant Job? How does Job justify those claims by his initial response?
18. In Chapters 3-7, Job's friend Eliphaz argues with him about the cause of his troubles. How does Eliphaz understand Job's downfall and his continuing claims of uprightness? How does Job rebuke Eliphaz and, moreover, what is he determined at this point to do?
19. Next, in Chapters 9-13, Job argues with Bildad and Zophar, who set forth much the same worldly opinions about their friend as did Eliphaz. How does Job answer their accusations, and what attitude towards his predicament does he take up in addressing God directly?
20. In Chapters 14 and 30-31, Job lists the good things he has done -- taken together, what picture of his former, prosperous, life emerges from the list he provides? And at this point in the text, to what extent does Job truly understand his predicament?
21. In Chapters 38-41, God finally responds to Job's pleas with a voice "out of the whirlwind." By what means does God build up for Job a sense of his infinite power and wisdom -- what creatures, things, and processes does he employ to convey this sense?
22. In Chapter 42, Job responds one last time, and God rewards him richly. What has Job said and done (or not said and done) that leads God to restore his fortune? Why isn't his restoration to wealth and dignity equivalent to the kind of "material reward for moral goodness" scheme posited by Job's false friends?
23. A general question -- almost all Bible readers have found this book magnificent, yet some have also found it disturbing. What relationship between humanity and God does the story set forth? Is God "just" in terms that we can understand? Or is that not the point? Explain your thoughts on how Job's God deals with his creatures and on what insights we should draw from Job's sufferings, his response to them, and God's response to him.
The Gospel According to Saint Matthew
24. In Chapters 1-2, what is the story of Jesus' conception and birth? How does his birth affect his parents, Joseph and Mary? How does Matthew establish the boy's special nature right from the beginning of the first chapter?
25. In Chapter 2, how does King Herod react to the birth of Jesus? What does he do, and what information is he acting upon that drives him to this course of action? How do Jesus, Mary, and Joseph manage to escape from Herod's trap?
26. In Chapter 3, who is John the Baptist? What expectations does he raise regarding the mission of Jesus? Into what relation does he place himself with Jesus, and vice versa?
27. In Chapter 4, why is it necessary that Jesus should undergo a series of temptations in the wilderness? What exactly are the temptations, and what threat does each constitute to him? How does he overcome them? In responding, attend to the words he speaks against the devil. Finally, what is the immediate result of Jesus' successful completion of this difficult test -- what does he begin to do?
28. In Chapters 5-7, Jesus gives his great Sermon on the Mount. This sermon covers much ground, but choose what you consider the three most important issues Jesus addresses and discuss their significance -- what advice is he giving, for example, about personal conduct, setting an example for others, how to approach one's religious duties and relationship to God, etc.?
29. In Chapters 5-7, Jesus insists in his Sermon on the Mount that he has come to fulfill the scriptures (i.e. "the law" and "the prophets"; see 5.17-18), not to abolish them. How do you interpret this pledge, based on his handling of moral and religious concerns in the Sermon? In what sense does he fulfill the demands made upon people by the earlier scriptures, and in what sense might he be said to challenge or transform them?
30. In Chapters 8-9, multitudes of people begin to follow Jesus. What demonstrations of his powers does he offer in these chapters, and what are the most important lessons that he expounds to the people? How does he reinforce his authority by refuting those who question his right to do the things he does, and challenging the assumptions of those around him?
31. In Chapter 10, who are the twelve disciples, and how does Jesus prepare them for their mission as his assistants -- what advice and warnings does he give them?
32. In Chapter 11, how does Jesus explain to the people his true relation to John the Baptist? And why does he upbraid the present generation and the important cities he names? How, towards the chapter's end, does he describe his status in relation to God the Father and in relation to ordinary human beings?
33. In Chapter 12, what rebukes does Jesus make against the Pharisees who question him? Who are these "Pharisees"? (Research the term if you are not familiar with it.) More generally, what stern warnings and difficult, almost off-putting dimension of his mission on earth does Jesus reveal in this chapter? Consider in your response to this last issue especially 12.46-50.
34. In Chapter 13, Jesus speaks in parables to the multitude of people who gather to hear him, and he explains to his disciples why he does so. What exactly is a parable? Discuss a few of Jesus' parables in this chapter as well as the rationale he offers to the disciples for using such a device to convey his meaning.
35. In Chapter 14, what happens to John the Baptist, and how does Jesus teach a lesson about faith to his disciples? Consider his miracle of the loaves and fishes as well as his demonstration of the ability to walk on a troubled sea?
36. In Chapter 15, how does Jesus answer the Pharisees' accusations that his disciples "wash not their hands when they eat bread"? Also, even though he says, "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel," how might he be said to modify that claim by his treatment of the woman from Canaan and her daughter?
37. In Chapter 16, Jesus founds what will later become the universal or Catholic Church. How does this act come about? How does he soon thereafter nonetheless become angry with Peter, and for what reason? How does he use the moment to elaborate on the significance of his own future suffering and death?
38. In Chapter 17, how does Jesus balance his divine status with his earthly circumstances? Consider the chapter-opening scene in which he is transfigured, and then the one towards the end where he reinforces the necessity of his own death and agrees to pay tribute money at Capernaum.
39. In Chapter 18, in what ways does Jesus advise his listeners regarding the nature of heaven and the most likely way to get there? How do you understand the message he is conveying -- why is the concept of childhood so important to him?
40. In Chapters 19-20, how does Jesus address key issues such as the spiritual significance of earthly wealth and success, family loyalty, and (at least by implication) social rank? How might Jesus's teachings about such things lead us to see him as more of a revolutionary than a preserver of the social and political status quo? Discuss a few of his most noteworthy statements along those lines.
41. In Chapters 21-23, Jesus wrangles with the Scribes and Pharisees as well as with those within the temple of God in Jerusalem. How does he answer the main accusations they make, and what behavior on their part does he particularly condemn? On the whole, how would you characterize the change that has come over Jesus' way of dealing with and addressing those around him as he moves towards the end of his time on earth?
42. In Chapters 24-25, Jesus describes what is often called the End of Days: an intense time of destruction and judgment that brings human history to an end and ushers in the Kingdom of God. What are the main features of this period -- what signs announce it, and what cataclysms are predicted? On what principles are the good separated from the wicked?
43. In Chapters 26-28, which cover the betrayal, trial, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, what patterns of human frailty and error do those around Jesus display? In responding, consider Jesus' disciples, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, and those who condemn Jesus as a blasphemer against religious tradition.
44. In Chapters 26-28, to what extent does Matthew show us Jesus' human, suffering side, and at what key points does he do that? Why is there a need to show this dimension? Nonetheless, how do the final chapters convey an equally necessary sense of the pageantry or ceremonial nature of what Jesus suffers and accomplishes?
The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians
45. In Chapters 1-4, what basic reproaches does Paul level against his addressees the Corinthians? How does he chastise them or instruct them regarding the proper way to view knowledge and wisdom?
46. In Chapters 5-7, how does Paul address "fornication" and, more generally, material desire? What seems to be his view of sexuality and marriage?
47. In Chapter 9, how does Paul characterize his role as an apostle of Jesus? What does he say motivates him to do the things he does?
48. In Chapters 10-11, what does Paul suggest about the correct interpretation of freedom from the rules and restrictions laid out in Hebrew scripture? What sense of discipline does he work to instill in his followers with regard to conduct in and out of church?
49. In Chapters 12-13, how does Paul address the issue of diversity of "spiritual gifts"? How does he thereby urge unity amongst the Corinthian believers? Also, how does Paul define and elaborate upon the meaning of "charity," and how are his eloquent words in Chapter 13, Verses 11-13 related to his discussion of this key concept?
50. In Chapter 14, what does Paul suggest about glossolalia ("speaking in tongues") and why is the gift of prophesy better than speaking in tongues?
51. In Chapter 15, how does Paul describe his own career (research it briefly on the Net if you're not familiar with the story of Saul/Paul of Tarsus) and reinforce a key distinction between body and spirit in relation to the doctrine of the Resurrection of the dead?
Edition: The King James Bible. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998. ISBN: 0-192-83525-4.