Li’l Help with Hebrews?

I’m teaching a course on the Book of Hebrews in the Spring semester and am selecting textbooks for it over the next few weeks.

I’m planning to use two commentaries–David DeSilva’s socio-rhetorical commentary and James Thompson’s new commentary in the Paideia series.  I’ll have students work through an assigned passage for the week, reading both commentaries on that passage and writing a 500-750 word essay on the passage that engages both commentators.

Further, I’ll probably assign at least one chapter per week from the edited volume, The Epistle to the Hebrews and Christian Theology.  Students will write another 500-750 word essay that summarizes and evaluates each chapter.

Weekly class meetings will involve directed discussions of the passage itself, how the commentators processed it, the content and argument of the chapter from the edited volume, and then some lecture over the passage. 

By the way, for my own preparation I’m reading my St. Andrews colleague Carl Mosser’s Ph.D. dissertation on Hebrews.  It is excellent and if he continues to put off publishing it, I’ll be mighty tempted to steal it and do so under my own name.  I’ve had my own work stolen once.  I was in an Edinburgh coffee shop one day talking with a friend about my great idea for a series of novels about a boy who was really wizard and lived under his uncle’s staircase, but that’s a story for another time.  Seriously, if you know Carl, urge him to get cracking.  It’s great stuff.

At any rate, I’m just wondering of seminarians and former seminarians out there–if you’ve taken a class on a biblical book that you’ve loved, what was it about that class that was uniquely engaging and helpful?  What was the structure of the course viz. readings, assignments, etc.?

8 thoughts on “Li’l Help with Hebrews?

  1. Ben T.

    Hi Tim, in my own experience it has been valuable to have various commentaries assigned to different students. It is then the responsibility of those students to know their author’s particular ‘take’ on a given passage. It certainly makes for a lively discussion and provides exposure to a much broader range of scholars and interpretive trajectories.

    Happy planning!

  2. Tyler

    Will this class work from an English text? Perhaps it would be helpful to assign secondary readings from Leviticus text/commentary (e.g. Milgrom or Wenham)? The most profitable experiences I’ve had in courses on biblical books have incorporated sundry approaches to engage the text on different levels, i.e. memorization (whether in the original lg. or english text), interaction with grammar and syntax at the clause level, paragraph (and broader!) readings (esp. to trace themes and motifs), interpretation analysis (juxtaposing commentaries), and comparative (>intertextual) analysis.

  3. Keith

    When I took New Testament courses in Seminary, we would choose passages from the book under study. We would then write our research papers on our passage. Instead of handing them in to the professor we made copies for each of our classmates. We would then gather and discuss the papers. Each student led the discussion and critique of another student’s paper. When our paper was up for discussion we had to defend our research and conclusions.

  4. Luke

    I never took a class on Hebrews in seminary, but that sure sounds like a lot of work each week! Commentaries are often quite dense, and most of your students are probably taking 4-5 other classes. I’m all about hard work and pushing students, but I would at least keep that in mind.

    Regarding classes over books of the Bible & what made me love them, I would say it wasn’t the class reading or assignments per se, but more the lecture of the professors. Did they know the material well (students know when you don’t), did they provide a good “big picture” view of the book & constantly remind students of the larger macro-structure so that nobody got lost in the details, did they travel through the book pericope by pericope, as they lectured did they ask questions to engage the students & get them involved in the learning process, could they highlight the intra-canonical allusions & provide a bigger biblical theology of the book, etc. The readings & assignments were good (normally the reading of one commentary and 2-3 exegetical papers), but when the emphasis was on the lectures it was always better to me. I can stay at home and read a commentary & get by spending around $30-$40, but I’m paying $1500 to come and take a course with a scholar who will teach me the book in real life. For the profs who put a lot of effort into the exegetical courses & taught the book well, I would’ve payed double that. Unfortunately in my experience it was about half/half, with some where my money was well spent & others where the course wasn’t worth $5. It all had to do with the professor, the interest he/she showed, the effort he/she put into it, and how well they taught me the book.

  5. Alastair Sterne

    I took Hebrews at Asbury so we spent a lot of time doing IBS and figuring out the structure of the book and narrative themes that tied it together. Luke Timothy Johnson’s commentary was particularly helpful.

  6. Clifford Kvidahl

    A good book to get one introduced to the exegetical study of Hebrews is by Andrew Trotter, entitle “Interpreting the Epistle to the Hebrews? ( This book is a short, but very helpful introduction to areas important to exegesis.

    The best class I took in school was on Hebrews. The professor lectured for the first few weeks on background issues, overall structure of the text, the theology of Hebrews, and Hebrews in the grander scope of things. After this the students were to have translated a section of Hebrews and be able to come to class knowing everything that pertains to lexical, grammatical, syntactical, and what the commentaries discussed. This was always a scary but rewarding process. We would translate the verses for the day and then discuss them together as a class.

  7. Brian Fulthorp

    perhaps start out the class with a straight through non stop reading of the letter (from the same translation) and have students draw up a working outline before even touching the commentaries at the outset then adjust it as they go along? might seem like a bit of work but it is seminary and you want them to know the text and issues that lie within it well, no? and of course student presentations or student led class discussions on a given passage are always beneficial too.

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