Rebecca Lesses

Associate Professor, Philosophy and Religion
School: School of Humanities and Sciences

Hebrew Scriptures
Jewish Studies 340-103/ Religion 344-103
Section 1 MWF 11:00-11:50
Section 2 MWF 12:00-12:50
Room: CHS 211

Professor Rebecca Lesses
Office: Gannett G122
Office Hours:
Telephone: 274-3556

The Hebrew Bible (referred to by Christians as the Old Testament) is one of the foundational books of both western and world culture, and serves as the basis for Judaism and Christianity. In this course, we will read the books of the Bible critically as literature, as religious and moral text, and as a source of sociological knowledge. This course surveys the biblical literature, acquaints the students with critical methods for the study of the Bible, situates the Bible within the literature and culture of the ancient Near East, and discusses the religion of ancient Israel. We will deal with questions of history and archaeology, and with questions of meaning – what the biblical text meant to its ancient readers, and what meanings it has today. All texts will be read in English translation.


Michael D. Coogan, The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006) (this book will also be on reserve in the library).

Buy one of these editions of the Bible (not both). Both are also available in the reference section of the library.

1. Michael Coogan, ed., The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Oxford University Press, 2001.

2. Adele Berlin and Marc Brettler, eds., The Jewish Study Bible, Oxford University Press, 2004.

Course Reader: available in class or in the Jewish Studies office. Cost: $3.00.


  • Class attendance and participation: this includes asking questions and speaking up during class discussions, participating in small group work in class, and active listening to lectures and to classmates. You will be graded on class preparation and participation – if you are silent and uninvolved in class, it will lower your grade (10% of final grade).
  • Map exercise – it will be handed out on Wednesday, September 6 and is due in class, on Wednesday, September 13 (5% of final grade).
  • Quizzes & Short Assignments (15% of final grade). There will be quizzes or short writing assignments every week or every other week. The short assignments will include bringing in questions or comments on a particular reading, or a paragraph on a particular subject we will be discussing that day. You may also be asked to meet with a chevruta partner (study partner) outside class to prepare one of these assignments. (See below for explanation of chevruta).
  • Midterm Examination – Wednesday, October 18 (20% of final grade).
  • 6-8 page Research Paper – instructions will be handed out on October 23; it will be due on November 29, in class (25% of final grade). Even though the paper is due after the Thanksgiving break, DO NOT procrastinate in working on it – I will not look favorably on requests for extensions.
  • Final Examination – It will be given at two different times: Wednesday, December 20, 10:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m.. or Friday, December 22, 10:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m., and will be held in the classroom (CHS 211) (25% of final grade).

How this course will be conducted

1. Bring the Bible to class! The main activity of this class will be reading and interpreting the Bible. We will always be referring to the Bible, therefore you must always have a Bible before you in class. Looking on with your neighbor is not sufficient.

2. Bible Translations: Use one of the Bible translations ordered for this class, either the New Oxford Annotated Bible or the Jewish Study Bible. They are available in paperback in the bookstore. Even if you already have your own edition of the Bible, I request that you buy one of these, in order to be able to use the very useful annotations and essays found in these editions.

3. Class preparation is required. This class will be conducted partly as a lecture, partly as small group work, partly as large group discussion. I expect you to come to class having done each day’s reading and prepared to say something about it. You will be graded on class preparation and participation – if you are silent and uninvolved in class, it will lower your grade.

4. What is Chevruta? In class or for an outside assignment I will sometimes ask you to read a particular text together with another person or persons, so that you can discuss your own questions about the text and spark each other’s ideas. This method is taken from the rabbinic way of studying a text, a method that they called chevruta (fellowship). It stems from the idea that learning is acquired best through the active interaction between self, fellow, and text. Your chevruta partner may have different questions than you do, or different answers.

5. Active Listening. Listening to another person speak is not a passive enterprise. Really to understand another person requires paying attention to his or her words, taking notes on what the other person says, making associations with what you already know, asking questions when you don’t understand. This is true when you listen to your classmates in small or large group discussions or to my lectures. I expect you to pay attention in class and learn both from your classmates and from my lectures. Take notes. Do not expect simply to remember everything said in class. If you are unfamiliar with taking notes for a class, please speak to me.

Course Policies

1. No plagiarism on papers or cheating on examinations. ALL WRITTEN WORK MUST BE YOUR OWN. Please consult pages 116-118 of the Student Handbook for a complete statement of the Ithaca College policy on plagiarism, including definitions of plagiarism and proper citation of sources. Plagiarism includes using another student’s paper to write your own, or lending your paper to another student (do not do this!). I refer proven cases of plagiarism or cheating to the Judicial Affairs office.

2. Attendance Policy. 2 unexcused absences are permitted; if class must be missed because of illness, athletic exercises, concerts, job interviews, or other unavoidable activities, please let me know with a full explanation and if possible a note from the relevant authority (doctor, coach, chorus leader, Dean of Students office, etc.). More than two unexcused absences will lead to reduction of the course participation grade. 

3. Respect for others in the class is required. This includes:

  • Arrive to class on time.
  • Turn off your cell-phone before class starts.

  • Don't eat noisy food in class (e.g., potato chips). If you must eat in class, please throw away your trash after class.
  • Please do not leave the room during class except in case of dire physical need.

  • Respect the instructor and your classmates – listen when they speak and avoid whispering or passing notes in class.

4. All written work must be done to pass the class. This includes exams and papers. 

5. If you need help with your writing: Please come speak to me. I also recommend the Writing Center, 228 Park, which is open 9-5 Mon.-Fri. and 7-10 p.m. Sun.-Thurs. To schedule an appointment, call 274-3315.

6. Students with learning disabilities: please approach me early in the semester and let me know your needs in terms of papers or exams. Also, please have the Office for Support Services send me a letter with your specific needs.

 7. If you are having personal or family problems, and find it difficult to complete your assignments – please speak to me to set up special arrangements. Please, do not simply stop coming to class!


CR=Readings found in the Course Reader

Wednesday, August 30 First Day of Class

CR 1: Comparative Translations.

Friday, September 1 How to Read the Bible
Bible: Gen. 1-2; CR 2-5: “Reading the Bible”; Gen. 1-2; chevruta questions on Gen. 1-2.

Monday, Sept. 4 Labor Day NO CLASS

Wed., Sept. 6 Biblical Creation Story
Bible: Gen. 1-3; CR 9: Characteristics of the Creation Story; Coogan, pp. 3-5.
Map Exercise handed out.

Fri., Sept. 8 Ancient Near Eastern creation stories
CR 10-11: Creation Myths: Coogan, pp. 5-20.

Mon., Sept. 11 Who wrote the Bible?
Coogan, pp. 21-30; Bible: Gen. 6-8; CR 17-18, 23-24

Wed., Sept. 13 The midrashic approach to the biblical text
Guest teacher: Aryeh ben David
Map Exercise due in class.

Fri., Sept. 15 Primeval history
Bible: Gen. 4-11; Coogan, pp. 31-42; CR 12-16: Babylonian flood story in Gilgamesh

Mon., Sept. 18 Land and History
Coogan, pp. 45-62; CR 18: Timeline

Wed., Sept. 20 Abraham & Sarah
Bible: Gen. 12-13, 15-17, 20-22; CR 25-26, 42-26 (Niditch); Coogan, pp. 63-69.

Fri., Sept. 22 Jacob & his children
Bible: Gen. 25:19-34, 27-34, 37-38; Coogan, pp. 69-76; CR 47-58: Robert Alter, “Narration and Knowledge.”

Mon., Sept. 25 Ancestors & History
Bible: Gen. 35, 49; Coogan, pp. 76-83.

Wed., Sept. 27 Israel in Egypt
Bible: Ex. 1-15; Coogan, pp. 85-104; CR 27-29: Issues in the Book of Exodus

Fri., Sept. 29 Covenant and Holy Nation
Bible: Ex. 16-24; Coogan, pp. 105-119: CR 30-31: Revelation and Covenant in Exodus

Mon., October 2 Yom Kippur NO CLASS

Wed.,  Oct. 4 Covenant Code & Ancient Near Eastern law
Bible: Ex. 21-23; Coogan, pp. 120-125.

Fri., Oct. 6 Torah of the Priests: sacred places
Bible: Ex. 25-31, 40; Coogan, pp. 125-137.

Mon., Oct. 9 Leviticus
Bible: Lev 11, 15, 16-19; Coogan, pp. 138-151; CR 59-64: Niditch, “Priestly Codes,” “Leviticus 16.”

Wed., Oct. 11 Numbers
Bible: Num 5-6, 12, 13-14, 21-24; Coogan, pp. 153-172.

Fri., Oct. 13 Deuteronomy
Bible: Deut. 1-6, 12-15, 17-18, 20, 22, 34; CR 32-34: Deuteronomy; Coogan, pp. 173-190.

Mon., Oct. 16 Review Session for Midterm Exam

Wed., Oct. 18 Midterm Exam

Fri., Oct. 20 Fall Brea

Mon., Oct. 23 Joshua
Bible: Joshua 1-11; Coogan, pp. 191-210; CR 35-36.
Research paper assignment handed out.

Wed., Oct. 25 Judges
Bible: Judges 1-5, 11-16; Coogan, pp. 212-226.

Fri., Oct. 27 Women and death in the book of Judges
Bible: Judges 19-21; Gen. 19; CR 65-77: two articles by Niditch.

Mon., Oct. 30 Samuel and Saul
Bible: 1 Sam 1-15; Coogan, pp. 231-237.

Wed., Nov. 1 David vs. Saul
Bible: 1 Sam 16-31, 2 Sam 1; Coogan, pp. 237-247.

Fri., Nov. 3 David’s reign
Bible: 2 Sam 2-19, 1 Kgs 1-2; Coogan, pp. 248-265.

Mon., Nov. 6 Solomon’s reign
Bible: 1 Kings 1-11; Coogan, pp. 266-286.

Wed., Nov. 8 Divided Kingdom
Bible: 1 Kings 12-19; Coogan, pp. 287-306.

Fri., Nov. 10 Amos
Bible: Amos; Coogan, pp. 307-321, 325.

Mon., Nov. 13 Hezekiah & Josiah
Bible: 2 Kings 15-23; CR 37-38: Assyrian Threat to Israel and Judah; Coogan, pp. 327-330, 336-345, 349-355.

Wed., Nov. 15 Isaiah
Bible: Isaiah 1-12, 29-39; CR 40: Isaiah; Coogan, pp. 330-336, 342-343.

Fri. Nov. 17 NO CLASS – professor attending professional meeting (Society of Biblical Literature)

November 20-24 Thanksgiving Break - No classes 

Mon., Nov. 27 Fall of Jerusalem
Bible: 2 Kings 23:31-25:30, Jer. 52; Coogan, pp. 359-365; CR 41: Timeline

Wed., Nov. 29 Jeremiah & life in exile
Bible: Jer. 1-7, 13, 17, 21-25, 29, 30-31, Lamentations; Coogan, pp. 366-377, 381-386.

Fri., Dec. 1 Return to Zion
Bible: Ezra 1-2, Isa. 34-35, 40-55; Coogan, pp. 401-416.

Mon., Dec. 4 Rebuilding of the Temple
Bible: Ezra 3-6, Isa. 56-66; Coogan, pp. 419-423, 427-429.

Wed., Dec. 6 Worship in the Second Temple
Bible: Psalms 3-5, 19, 24, 30, 72, 80, 91, 97, 121-122, 124; Coogan, pp. 456-472.

Fri., Dec. 8 Job
Bible: Job 1-10, 38-42; Coogan, pp. 479-489.

Mon., Dec. 11 Tales of Exile: Esther and Jonah
Bible: Esther, Jonah; Coogan, pp. 525-530.

Wed., Dec. 13 Bible today

Fri., Dec. 15 Review session for final exam


 Wednesday, December 20, 10:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.

Friday, December 22, 10:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.

 The Final Exam is held in the classroom (CHS 211)