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Session 3: Methods of Study


By the end of this session you should be able to: 

  • demonstrate an understanding of how Hebrew narrative works, including its dynamics and theological perspectives;

  • identify what we might learn about the time and culture of the Patriarchs from their stories;

  • consider different critical approaches to the texts;

  • apply key aspects of the text to the contemporary church.



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Blessed are you Lord our God,

for you come to us and seek to make your home in us.

As we study now, let our eyes and our ears be open to you

let our hearts find their rest and their joy in you

that we may grow in grace and live to your glory.

Blessed are you, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.



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In this session we will explore some of the ways that biblical scholars have used to open up the Old Testament and shed new light on this amazing spiritual resource. We will be particularly concentrating on Source Criticism (otherwise known as The Documentary Hypothesis) which will help with our exploration of the Pentateuch. Please note that the word 'criticism' when used in this way does not mean something negative. It is more about thinking deeply about something and using our God-given intellect to analyse and reflect thoughtfully on things.

The Authorship of the Pentateuch

For a long time, in fact right up to the 17th Century, it was thought that Moses was the author of the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament). Although a few scholars still hold to this view, most now believe that these books were a combination of the writings of a number of different authors. As this is the most widely held understanding it is the one we will concentrate on for the purposes of this course. Some Christians find this concept concerning but, as we saw in the video 'Who Wrote the Bible', it is no different to the accounts in the four gospels being woven together rather than split up. This could easily have been how we received the gospels and they might have been simply called “The Gospel of Jesus Christ 1, 2, 3 & 4”. The first book might have begun, for example, with John chapter 1 and then moved on to the genealogy from Matthew 1 and the birth narratives from Luke etc. In the Pentateuch we see a similar thing happening with several different authors' hands at work, some who may have been writing long after the events they describe, possibly during or even after the exile. This makes little difference to the truths the texts are telling us but it can help to shed some light on the emphases placed on different parts of the message at different points, and it can also explain some of the differences of style, grammar and occasionally, contradictions. As we go through the next few weeks we will keep these ideas in mind and you will begin to see how the different 'hands' might be at work as you read through the texts. The names given to these 'hands' are Jahwist (J), Elohist (E), Deuteronomist (D) and Priestly (P) and each has its own particular style - downlaod the pdf file 'Ways into the OT' to read more about this.

Now read Genesis Chapters 10-11 then watch lecture 5 or read chapter 5 of the text book.




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Take the short test here (this is mandatory for those on the CMM or LLM(R) courses).

Make a note of the possible different sources outlined in this chapter of Hayes. What do you think about the Documentary Hypothesis?

Make notes of your thoughts for discussion in you tutor group.


Read again Genesis Chapters 1 and 2. They are very different in style which makes us believe there were two different 'hands' at work on them.


Which of the possible sources do you think wrote each chapter?

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Image by Mark Rasmuson

Spotlight on Doctrine


Thinking about how we approach scripture feeds into what we believe. Those Christians who believe in 7 days of creation read the bible differently from those who believe in evolution. Think about your approach to scripture and how it may differ from others you know. What effect do you think that has on what you believe and how it may differ from what other Christians believe?

Spotlight on Spirituality


The way we approach scripture is also demonstrated in our spirituality - it informs how we pray and how we worship. Some Christians like to use biblical texts as the basis for their prayers, others prefer to be more free flowing. Where do you fit on that spectrum?

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Spend some time prayerfully thinking about what you have discovered in this session. What did Hayes say that struck you most? How will you use it to develop your discipleship? What challenging questions does it make you ask of yourself and of the Church? Post your thoughts on the Forum. Below, in the Resources section, you will find a second timeline which is in table format. Download it and keep it handy along with the Simple Timeline as you progress through the module.


Blessed are you, Lord our God, all things come from you:

from you come our life, this world and all that we have and are.

Teach us to love and respect your creation and give glory to you.

Blessed are you, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.  Amen

Something Practical To Do

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Either listen carefully to your preacher this week. How have they approached the passage? Have they gone through it verse by verse or have they taken a wider lens, using their experience and illustrations - or a mixture of both? (NB: please don't give us a summary of the sermon, focus on how the sermon was approached 'there was a mixture of verse by verse analysis and illustrations/personal experience ...' etc).

Or think about how the preaching and teaching in your church helps you to live out your faith in the world.

Share some of what you have found on the discussion board in the Forum here.


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