A Basic Vocabulary of Biblical Studies For Beginning Students: A Work in Progress

Fred L. Horton, Jr., Kenneth G. Hoglund
, and Mary F. Foskett
Wake Forest University
© 2003



Definition of Terms

A. D. Latin: "the year of the Lord." A sectarian designation for dates which always goes before the numerical date. Examples: A. D. 1987. A. D. 70. Dates A. D. are the same as those C. E. Used together with B. C. flh

Angel Greek: "messenger." The Hebrew term mal'ak can refer either to a human messenger such as a prophet or to a heavenly messenger. In the NT the term refers exclusively to heavenly beings. See below: gods. flh

Apocalypse Greek: "revelation." A written account of a vision of the heavenly world and/or of the future. As a genre the apocalypse is characterized by bizarre imagery which the prophet does not understand and which must be explained to him by a heavenly guide. The difficult imagery reflects the understanding of a sectarian group about the meaning of the present time in relation to the heavenly world and about the future. "The Apocalypse" refers to the Book of Revelation. Other apocalypses may be found in Daniel 7-12. flh

Apocalytpic Short for "apocalyptic eschatology," the understanding of the future based upon a revelation (Greek: apocalypsis) rather than upon speculation or calculation. flh

Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical Books Greek "hidden," a term employed by St. Jerome (died 420 C. E.). The books in the Greek Septuagint but not in the Hebrew Bible. These books are accepted as canon among most Christian churches, though rejected as canon by the Protestant churches in favor of the shorter list of books found in the Hebrew Bible. Though the exact list differs from church to church, the main collection of "extra books" consists of Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Ben Sira (Ecclesiasticus), Baruch, 1 and 2 Maccabees, and additions to Esther and Daniel. See also Septuagint Vulgate, and Jamnia. flh

Apophthegm A very thin story built up around a saying (of Jesus or of a prophet). The function of the story is to explain or to exemplify the content of the saying, and the interest of the story remains with the saying even when the narrative includes a wondrous act. flh

Aramaic A Semitic language which came to be the official language of the western Persian Empire and, consequently, a language spoken by the Jews during the Persian Period (late sixth century B. C. E.) and continued in use for many centuries thereafter. Portions of Ezra and Daniel are in Aramaic, and a few of Jesus' sayings in the NT are given in Aramaic. flh

Aramaism A Semitism best explained on the basis of Aramaic grammar, syntax, or vocabulary. flh

B. C. English: "before Christ." A sectarian notation to designate dates before the birth of Christ. This notation is placed after the numerical date. Used together with A. D. flh

B. C. E. English: "before the common era," a non-sectarian notation equivalent in meaning to the sectarian B. C. The notation is placed after the numerical date. Used together with C. E. flh

Belief An intellectual conviction of some kind. In the study of religion it usually has reference to an intellectual conviction about the world of the gods or the relationship of that world to the world of ordinary experience. Except in the case of the Pastoral Epistles, the word "belief" is not equivalent to the word "faith." flh

Bible Greek biblos, "scroll," or "book." In modern English the term refers to the scriptures. This word has become common because of the invention of printing that made it possible to generate exactly the same text in codex form time after time. In this course "Bible" will be synonymous with "Christian scripture(s)." In reference to the Masoretic Text, we shall refer either to the Hebrew scripture(s) or to the Hebrew Bible. flh

C. E. English: "common era." A non-sectarian notation for dates preferred in biblical studies. Although the dates are exactly the same as dates introduced with A. D., it does not force non-Christians to express their dates as "in the year of the Lord." Used together with B. C. E. flh

Canon Greek: "rule" or "measure." In Christian usage canon refers to rules adopted by a council. Protestants use the word almost exclusively to refer to their canon of scripture, often specified in a confession of faith. This usage has become common in English even among non-protestant writers as a way of referring to the scriptures, but this usage obscures the differences between the texts each religious sect recognizes as canonical. Thus, Catholics, Orthodox, and Anglicans recognize Ben Sirach as scripture, but Moravians, Presbyterians and Baptists do not. Especially confusing is the expression "the canon" in reference to scripture in that it begs the question as to what works are meant. Because the word "canon" derives from Christian practice, it is never appropriate to refer to Jewish scriptures as "the Jewish canon." Recently, Catholic writers have used the term "deuterocanonical" in reference to the Apocrypha to underscore their belief that these books cannot be used alone to determine matters of faith or morals. flh

Characterization The modes employed by an author in to describe to the reader the personality and mind of a character in a narrative. flh

Clean See unclean.

Codex What we in modern English would call a "book." The codex replaced the scroll as the preferred means of reproducing long documents after its introduction in the second or third century C. E. by the Christians of Egypt. See Bible. flh

Cult See cultus below. The term "cult" in religious studies does not automatically refer to a fanatical sect as it does in contemporary English. flh

Cult Objects Implements used in the performance of cultic acts. These might include vessels for sacrifices, special clothing for cultic officials, written texts. Architectural features such as altars and pillars might also be termed by some authors cult objects. flh

Cultic A modern adjective that refers to those ritual activities that relate human beings to the world of the gods. These include such activities as sacrifices, washings, dances, drama, and others. flh

Cultus A specific organized body of ritual activities that relate human beings to the world of the gods. See cultic above. The term may also be used loosely to refer to the institution which supports the practice of those ritual activities. Thus one may speak of the "Temple cultus," meaning both the ritual acts of the temple and to the temple as the institution under whose auspices these activities occur. flh


Wadi Qumran and Qumran Cave 4
Fred L. Horton

Dead Sea Scrolls A collection of biblical and non-biblical scrolls found in caves around the archaeological site of Qumran on the northeast corner of the Dead Sea. Although there is some debate about the origin of these scrolls, most investigators believe that they represent the writings of a Jewish apocalyptic sect called the Essenes in the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus. The Qumran sect broke away from the temple cultus in Jerusalem under the leadership of a person known in the documents only as the Teacher of Righteousness. Evidently, the sectarians opposed the takeover of the high-priesthood by the Maccabean kings, and mention is made of the Wicked Priest who opposed the Teacher of Righteousness. The sectarians believed that at the end of time the heavenly armies would join with the Qumran sectarians to drive the Maccabees from the temple and restore the rightful high-priesthood. Later, the sect came to believe that the Romans represented the legions of Satan were to be dispossessed by the Spirit of Truth and those allied with that Spirit. The biblical scrolls at Qumran include some portion of all the books of the Hebrew Bible, written in consonantal form without vowels or punctuation, except for the book of Esther. They are the earliest biblical manuscripts found to date. flh

Demon Primarily a NT concept, the demon is a natural but incomplete being that seeks completion through possession of a human body. Demons inhabit unclean places such as graveyards, deserts, and ruined buildings. In the Synoptic Gospels the demons are earthly allies of Satan. flh

Deuteronomistic Historian (Dtr) The books Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, and 1-2 Kings are our primary source for the history of Israel from the time of the tribes until the fall of the Kingdom of Judah. The collection shows a consistent viewpoint about Israel's history: When Israel was faithful to its covenant with God, it prospered. Otherwise, it failed. Since this is also the view of the Book of Deuteronomy and since the language and style of these historical books is similar to those of Deuteronomy, scholars speak of the "Deuteronomistic History" or the "Deuteronomistic Historian" and abbreviate this usage as "Dtr." Although there is a remarkable consistency in style and language within Dtr, it is also clear that the author has depended upon other written sources. Nevertheless, the general designation "Deuteronomistic Historian" has stood the test of time. In some respects Dtr develops the ideas of Deuteronomy in important ways. In the first place, it is not unambiguously pro-monarchy, and David's rape of Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11 shows the ultimate arrogance of power predicted time and again by the prophet Samuel. The ultimate ruin of the monarchy ultimately derives from the flaw inherent in its structure from the beginning. Secondly, the particular unfaithfulness of Israel in Dtr is that of Baalism. flh

Divine Council The assembly of the gods, especially as that assembly is depicted in the Hebrew Bible. This is the biblical equivalent of the divine council in Canaan ite mythology and the stories of the gods on Mt. Olympus in Greek mythology. In the Hebrew Bible, however, only Yahweh's will can be served, and the function of the council seems to be for advice only. flh

Eschatology Literally, the "study/doctrine of last things." Any doctrine about the end, whether of a particular age or of all time. For "apocalyptic eschatology," see apocalyptic. flh

Etymology The derivation of a word (often a proper name) from a root or earlier form of the word. A false etymology is one that does not, in fact, correspond to the historical origin of the word. Example: "She shall be called wo-man ('ishshah) because she came out of man ('ish)." (Genesis 2:23) This is an example of a false etymology because Hebrew 'ishshah comes from a completely different root from that of 'ish.kh

Exegesis The exposition of a biblical passage that involves the application of specific critical methodologies. The aim of this exercise is to produce a homiletical or theological piece based on the exegesis. Most exegeses are divided unevenly into lower criticism (textual criticism) and higher criticism. Under "higher criticism" is included the philological, historical, form-critical, redaction-critical, and literary-critical study of the text. Ordinarily exegesis proper, as a literary undertaking in its own right, requires knowledge of the relevant biblical languages and is normally an exercise assigned in divinity schools and seminaries. flh

Exposition The explanation of a biblical passage. Although virtually any explanation might be called an "exposition" in ordinary parlance, the implication is that the explanation is made for a particular reason or with a particular goal in mind. So "homilitical exposition" would be exposition for a sermon. "Critical exposition" would be an attempt to explain a passage from a set of critical principles, usually those of historical criticism. One could, of course, give a moral exposition or a mystical exposition or any of a number of different kinds of exposition. The term has much broader meaning than the word exegesis.flh

Faith Usually synonymous with "trust." Only in the Pastoral Epistles does the term faith come to mean adherence to a body of beliefs (see above). flh

Form In biblical studies form most often refers to oral forms for the transmission of tradition. Form Criticism (Formgeschichte) attempts to trace the history of the transmission of a pericope (see below) from the stage of oral tradition to its inclusion within the written biblical text. In biblical studies form and genre mean different things. flh

Form Criticism (Formgeschichte) The study of biblical texts in terms of the oral traditions that underlie them. Pioneers of this kind of study included Hermann Gunkel for the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament scholars Rudolf Bultmann, Martin Dibelius, and K. L. Schmidt. The method seeks to go beyond the insights of source criticism to relate oral forms with their setting in the life (Sitz im Leben) of ancient Israel or of the early Christianity. Form critics generally regard the final author of a biblical book as an editor who assemples the various pericopae into connected literary products. The study of K L. Schmidt, Der Rahmen der Geschichte Jesu ("The Framework of the Story of Jesus,"1917) showed the author of Mark as a collector and arranger of individual traditions about Jesus. Rudolf Bultmann in his work entitled Die Geschichte der synoptischen Tradition ("History of the Synoptic Tradition," 1921) applied the method in a thoroughgoing way to the three synoptic Gospels. Hermann Gunkel's studies on Genesis and on the Psalms developed the methodology for use by scholars in the field of Hebrew Bible. flh

Genealogy A list of offspring, usually traced only through the male line, but not always. Often the reader can find a numerical scheme such as decreasing years of life for successive generations. Narrative functions of genealogies differ according to context, but a genealogy may do such things as link two stories that are widely separated in time or provide a background for an important character. kh

Genre In literary theory genre means, roughly, a "kind" of literature. A biography is of a different genre from that of a romance or of a history. The reader expects different things from two different genres of literature. flh

God In the English Bible the singular word "God" with an initial capital letter refers to Yahweh, the God of Israel. The English word translates several different Hebrew words, but the most common is 'elohim, which is a plural noun in formation. Whether 'elohim refers to the one God or to many gods depends upon whether a singular or a plural verb is employed. The other Hebrew words translated "God" in the English Bible are 'el and 'eloha. In proper Hebrew names one often finds the suffix -el. For instance, Nathaniel, "gift of God." The Greek word for "God" is theos. (Note: It is never acceptable English to capitalize personal pronouns that refer to the noun "God" except when they begin sentences.) flh

gods The Hebrew Bible refers to many heavenly beings under various names. The word 'elohim (see God) often refers to these beings, as does the plural 'elim. Further, the terms bne 'elim and bne 'elohim ("sons of the gods") likewise refer to these same beings. The LXX often translated "gods" as "angels" (see above), and in the NT these heavenly beings are invariably called "angels." flh

Heaven Properly, the air space between the earth and the dome of the sky (the firmament). Usually plural in Hebrew, the heavens are the abode of all the gods and of Yahweh. The gods do not fly around this heaven, however. The abode of the gods in heaven is normally represented as being upon a great mountain and, in that respect, is like the Greek Mt. Olympus. See also underworld. flh

Hebrew A Semitic language spoken by the Israelites from at least the Late Bronze Age on. Its "classical" form is the Hebrew of the Book of Deuteronomy. The language continued in ordinary usage among Jews well into the Middle Ages and was revived for modern use in the 19th century. flh

Hebrew Bible The Tanach, the books in Hebrew and Aramaic accepted by Jews as holy scripture. flh

Hebraism A Semitism best explained in terms of Hebrew grammar, syntax, or vocabulary. flh

Hermeneutics Greek: "interpretation." The study of how one interprets texts (for our purposes, the biblical text). For instance, one may interpret the biblical text with a view to deriving its moral teaching. This would be a moral hermeneutic. Another might interpret the text to discover its meaning for Christian dogma. This would be a dogmatic hermeneutic. Another might be interested in its historical meaning, and this would be a historical hermeneutic. flh

Hexateuch Greek: "six scroll cases" Many Hebrew Bible scholars, including Julius Wellhausen, believed that the three sources JE and P continued into the Book of Joshua and so wrote in terms of a Hexateuch instead of a Pentateuch. Most researchers now would assign Joshua to the Deuteronomistic Historian (Dtr).

Historical Although this adjective should, properly speaking, could describe some element of any history (see below), its ordinary meaning is in reference to a historical sequence determined by modern historians. ???

History Greek: "investigation." As a literary genre, a history is a written prose text that organizes the events of the past in a causal sequence. When such written texts relate their causal sequences in story form, the designation is narrative history. All of the Bible's histories are narrative histories. flh

History of Religion This is the study of the Bible in terms of the religious traditions that influenced it. The practitioners of this methodology were less interested in comparing biblical religion to Babylonian, Persian, Jewish, Hellenistic, and Early Christian religions than in showing how aspects of these religions influenced the shape of the biblical witness. The movement, often called die religionsgeschichtliche Schule ("the History of Religion School") began at the University of Göttingen toward the end of the 19th century and declined after the First World War because of post-war protestant reaction against historicism in theological studies. Among some of the most famous members of this movement were Wilhelm Bousett, Hermann Gunkel, Johannes Weiss, Rudolf Otto, Alfred Rahlfs, and Hugo Gressmann. In addition to the many individual works of scholarship contributed by these scholars, the encyclopedia Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart ("Religion in History and in the Present" abbreviated RGG), is a lasting memorial to their insights. flh

Holy Synonym: "sacred." There is no precise definition for this term. It is used in binary opposition to terms like "profane" or "common." To call something "holy" is to claim that it belongs to the world of the unclean. See below. flh

Introduction In biblical studies an "introduction" means a written orientation to a book or passage that introduces the reader to the critical issues involved. These usually include questions of authorship, date of writing, place of writing, literary type, historical setting, and principal themes. Full introductions will also discuss the history of the written text and ancient versions. flh

Jamnia (Hebrew: Yavneh) Before the end of the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 C. E., Yohanan ben Zakkai petitioned the Romans for permission to found an academy for scholars at Jamnia on the coast (near modern Tel Aviv). There the tradition of the Pharisees was codified, including their tradition about which books were holy, i. e. which books should be regarded as scripture. Because the Jamnia scholars became the legitimate Jewish authority after the fall of Jerusalem, their list of Hebrew books, what we call the Hebrew Bible, came to be recognized by Jews everywhere as the scripture. From that time on, the books of the LXX that were not also in the list from Jamnia, were not regarded by Jews as holy. These excluded books are those St. Jerome referred to as the "hidden" books or Apocrypha. flh

Koine Greek: "common." Used mainly in reference to the common Greek that developed throughout the ancient world following the conquests of Alexander the Great. The "common" Greek language, in contrast to "classical" Greek, was rich in vocabulary but had lost some of the more difficult grammatical features of the ancient tongue. Koine Greek, because it was the language of international trade and culture through out the Roman world, was also the language of the LXX and of the NT as well as of the early Christian movement. The scholar responsible for the definition of the Koine and for recognition of its importance for biblical studies is Adolf Deissmann. flh

Lectionary A collection of scriptural passages organized for recitation or other use in the liturgy. The term may indicate an actual book in which the passages are copied out or may indicate the plan of readings. Modern western Christians have in large measure adopted the Vatican II three-year lectionary which provides scriptural readings for each Sunday and Holy Day in the Christian calendar. Other lectionaries exist for the recitation of the Daily Office and for other liturgical acts. In the synagogue the pattern of Torah readings takes an entire year, and the return to the beginning of the cycle is celebrated in the fall as Simxat Torah. The medieval Christian lectionary books provide useful evidence for the text of the New Testament. flh

Legend A prose narrative about the actions of a figure or of figures from the past that is unrelated or only partially related to a known historical sequence. flh

Liturgical adjective. Having to do with liturgy. flh

Liturgy Greek: "public work." In religious studies the word refers to the organization (and, by extension, the principles of organization) of cultic actions. The usual word in the Bible for liturgy is service and sometimes worship. flh

Masoretes Agroup of scholar-scribes who added punctuation marks and vowel marks to the text of the Hebrew Bible. This activity took place from the 7th to the 9th centuries CE. See also Masoretic Text. flh

Masoretic Text The Hebrew text established in the 7th/9th centuries C. E. by Jewish scholars (Masoretes) who fixed the exact pronunciation and intonation of the words of the Hebrew Bible through an ingenious system of markings imposed upon the traditional, consonantal Hebrew text. The oldest complete Masoretic text is in St. Petersburg, Russia and dates to 1008 CE. See also Masoretes. flh

Miracle Story A story that dwells upon a specific wondrous act performed by a character in the story. As a form the miracle story is characterized by a history of oral transmission that heightened the difficulty of the wondrous act and provided names and other minor details to enhance what Rudolf Bultmann calls the "novelistic" aspect of the tale. flh

Myth The Greek term mythos refers to a long poetic saga that relates tales of the gods and, often, of the gods' relationship to human beings. In this restricted sense there are no myths per se in the Christian scriptures. A secondary meaning of myth is a story about the gods. In this course we shall distinguish between "higher myth," stories about the gods alone, and "lower myth," stories about the gods in their dealings with human beings. Virtually all biblical myth is lower myth. flh

Narrative See story.

New Testament Latin: "covenant." Abbreviation: NT. Designation of Christian writings in Greek that Christians regard as holy. Although the Christian sects vary in the Jewish writings they regard as scripture, there is almost no variation in the New Testament books they accept. flh

Old Testament Latin: "covenant." Traditional Christian designation for the Jewish scriptures they regard as inspited (as opposed to the New Testament). Christians who read the Apocrypha as scripture do not usually distinguish the apocryphal books from those of the Hebrew Bible and refer to them all together as the Old Testament. flh

Pentateuch Greek: "five scroll cases." The first five books of the Hebrew Bible. See also Hexateuch. flh

Pericope In Form Criticism, a unit of oral tradition such as a miracle story , an apophthegm or a saying. (In the study of liturgy, however, "pericope" refers to the biblical text appointed for reading on a particular day. On occasion this meaning will also appear in the writings of biblical scholars.) flh

Point-of-view In narrative the point-of-view is the viewpoint of the implied author, the one telling the tale. The point-of view may correspond to that of a single character or of each of several characters. It may also be that of an omniscient narrator, who sees all the action and knows the inner workings of the characters' minds. flh

Prayer Literally, "petition." A request addressed to God or to the gods. Prayer may be either cultic (liturgical) or non-cultic (non-liturgical), depending upon its setting. In the Bible it is important to distinguish between prayer and other addresses to the gods such as blessings, praises, and thanksgivings. flh

Q Likely derived from the German word Quelle, "source." A hypothetical collection of the sayings of Jesus and John the Baptist that, according to the most generally accepted resolution to the Synoptic Problem, served as a source for the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, but not for Mark. flh

Redaction Criticism Study of the way in which the editor (redactor) of a work has arranged the written and oral materials at hand to achieve literary and rhetorical goals. mf

Religion A modern term that properly designates both a cultus (see above) and the beliefs about the gods and the world that may be associated with the practice of that that cultus. No precise equivalent to our English word "religion" occurs in the Christian scripture. flh

Sacrifice Synonymous with "offering." A sacrifice is something offered to God or to the gods within the course of some cultic (liturgical) action. Most, but not all sacrifices involve the ritual slaughter of a living being. In the Bible, worship or service always involves some kind of sacrifice. flh

Sacred Scripture The idea of a writing or piece of literature having come from a divine source. Many religious systems have sacred scriptures, often mediated by semi-divine figures or particularly holy individuals. See also Scripture. kh

Satan In Job, Satan is a member of the divine council who accuses Job before Yahweh. In later mythology Satan is one designation for the angels or gods who undertake a revolt against God and are punished by being confined to the underworld. In the NT, "Satan" is the ordinary term to designate the chief of the underworld deities. Most of the Hebrew Bible has no notion of Satan or any other god who is powerful enough to oppose Yahweh even unsuccessfully. flh

Saying In biblical studies this term normally refers to a short, pithy aphorism such as those found in Proverbs 10-31. It is also used to refer to the typical discourse of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels as opposed to the long discourses of the Fourth Gospel. flh

Scripture "Written" (Latin: scriptus) documents. In common usage, the word refers to written documents that play an authoritative role in cultic practice. In Jewish and Christian practice the scriptures are distinguished from other authoritative writings (such as the Prayer Book or the Talmud) on the basis of being cult object with special reverence. See also Sacred Scripture. flh

Semitism As used in biblical scholarship, this term means a feature of LXX Greek or NT Greek that does not reflect standard Greek usage but the usage of a Semitic language. A very common Semitism is the Greek kai egeneto ("and it came to pass"), an expression that has practically no meaning in Greek but one which recalls the Hebrew vayyehi, often used in classical Hebrew to introduce a narrative. This particular Semitism is also a Hebraism, since it would be impossible for any other Semitic language. An Aramaism would be a Semitism that one might best explain from Aramaic rather than some other Semitic language. Although Semitisms abound in the NT, their presence does not automatically mean that the Greek is indeed a translation from Hebrew or Aramaic. Intentional or unintentional imitation of the Septagint is also a possible explanation for many Semitisms in the NT. Such a Semitism based on imitation of the Septuagint is called a "Secondary Semitism." flh

Sect This term refers to a cultic institution that arises from and depends upon a parent cultic institution. The Qumran community represents a sect of Judaism. Methodists began as a sect of the Church of England. In biblical studies the term is usually reserved for apocalyptic sects like the Qumran community or the Christian movement. flh

Semitic A linguistic designation only. This term refers to the Semitic branch of the Hamito-Semitic family of languages. Modern Semitic languages include Arabic, Ethiopic, and Hebrew. The Hebrew Bible is in the Hebrew language with the exception of some portions of Ezra and Daniel which are in Aramaic. flh

Septuagint (LXX) According to a later tradition, the Greek king of Egypt asked the Jewish community in Alexandria to prepare a Greek translation of their scriptures. Seventy translators were assembled, each placed into his own study, and each worked independently on a translation. When they finished, their work was brought together and each of the translations agreed completely, taken as evidence for the divine oversight of the translation process. Manuscript evidence suggests the Greek Old Testament came together over several centuries as different portions of the Hebrew Bible were translated into Greek. This was the scripture for those Jews who were unable to read Hebrew, but it contains books that the scholars of Jamnia did not accept as holy. By the emergence of the Christian movement, new books, some authored in Greek and others translated from Hebrew or Aramaic originals, had been incorporated into the collection of books in the Septuagint. Also, the order of books taken from the Hebrew Bible were rearranged into presumed historical order. The oldest complete Septuagint is Codex Siniaticus, dating to the 4th century C. E. Abbreviation: LXX ("seventy," referring to the tradition that 70 scholars translated it). Because Christianity was a Greek-speaking movement, the Septuagint was the scripture Christians adopted from Judaism. flh

Service In the English Bible "service," as a religious term, has reference to cultic actions which serve Yahweh or one of the gods. See liturgy. flh

Source In biblical studies the word always refers to a written source document that lies behind another written work. In studying the Synoptic Gospels, for instance, we refer to the Gospel of Mark as a source for both Matthew and Luke. The proposed sources for the Pentateuch are JEDP. flh

Story (In this course synonymous with narrative.) A causal sequence ("plot") of events that move toward a specific outcome. flh

Synoptic Problem Addresses the literary relationships among the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Currently, the most prominent resolution to the so-called problem is the Two Source theory of Markan priority that posits Mark's Gospel and the Q document as common literary sources that the authors of both Matthew and Luke incorporated into their Gospels. For the latest argument against Q, see Mark Goodacre's "Mark Without Q." mf

Tanach Acronym for the Hebrew Bible made from the Hebrew words Torah ("law"), Neviim ("prophets"), Ketuvim ("writings"). flh

Textual Criticism The study of differing readings of the biblical text in ancient manuscripts. Not only do text critics study manuscripts of the texts in their original languages but study manuscripts of the ancient versions as well. The goal of textual criticism is the establishment of the "best text" of a passage, not the "original text," which is likely unattainable. flh

Unclean Opposite: clean. Something that is unclean belongs to a prohibited class of objects or people. This prohibition may be absolute, as in the case of pork or relative as in the case of sexual relations. A relative uncleanness involves ordinary activities that temporarily prohibit one from certain activities or places whereas an absolute uncleanness is always prohibited. Note that the scriptures often put time limits on the uncleanness (always relative in nature) that a person would likely contract in normal life. flh

Underworld The regions under the earth where, in most Near Eastern mythology, the gods of the dead reside. In the Bible, as in other mythologies, human souls descend to the underworld upon death; but in the Bible there are no gods there to give those souls conscious existence, so that in the Hebrew Bible there is no belief in a conscious life after death. The usual term for the underworld is Sheol, and its lowest portion is called Abaddon or "the Pit." There is no hell, in the usual Christian sense, in either of the testaments of the Christian Bible. flh

Version Translation of a text into another language. The Septuagint, for instance, is a version of the Hebrew Bible. The Old Latin translation of John is a version of John. flh

Vulgate Latin: "common" St. Jerome's 4th-5th century C. E. translation of the Bible into Latin. Made by a monk of Bethlehem named Jerome, the Vulgate's Old Testament was translated from both Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. In the process of translating, Jerome recognized that the Greek Septuagint had extra books not contained in the Hebrew Bible, and questioned their status as scripture and labeled them with the word "Apocrypha." It was, in part, his recognition of the different canons of the Old Testament that led to the rejection during the Protestant Reformation of the canonicity of these "extra" books of the LXX. flh

World As a technical term in this course, "world" refers to an order of reality. The "world of the gods" refers to the divine realm (often heaven) populated by the gods. The term never has the modern sense of "planet." In liturgical language and in older English translations of the Bible "world" can mean "world age," in which case it refers to a block of time. flh

Worship In a religious sense worship in the Bible is ordinarily the equivalent of service. In social settings the word refers to an act of reverence from an inferior to a superior. On occasion, however, the social meaning slips over into the cultic sphere. flh

Yahweh Hebrew proper name for the God of Israel. Alone, the English text translates it as LORD (all caps). The dual expression Yahweh 'elohim is rendered "Lord GOD." The meaning of the name has been debated, but it seems to be the causative form of the verb "to be" and appears to mean something like "he creates." The name can also be seen in the -iah suffixes on Hebrew proper nouns like Jos-iah and Nehem-iah and as the yi-/yo- prefix as in Yonadab or the yeh- prefix in names like Yeho-shua (Joshua, Greek: Jesus). flh

Selected Biblical Scholars


Kümmel, Werner Georg. The New Testament: The History of the Investigation of its Problems. Translated out of the original German by S. MacLean Gilmour and Howard Clark Kee. Nashville and New York: Abingdon Press, 1972. Cited as TNT in this work.

McKim, Donald K., ed. Historical Handbook of Major Biblical Interpreters. Downers Grove, Illinois and Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1998). Cited as HH in this work.

Web Sites

Archiv "Religionsgeschichtliche Schule." http://www.gwdg.de/~aoezen/Archiv_RGS/index.htm. Access: June 6, 2003. Prof. Dr. Gerd Lüdemann, Archivleiter, has kindly granted us permission to reproduce the photographs on the Religionsgeschichtliche Schule site in this vocabulary. In addition to other literature cited in the following thumbnail sketches of scholars, the reader should refer to the Archiv for helpful additional information.

Photo courtesy of Archiv "Religionsgeschichtliche Schule", Prof. Dr. Gerd Lüdemann, Archivleiter.
Wilhelm Bousset (1865-1920). A principal advocate of the "history of religion" (religionsgeschichtlich) method, Bousset is perhaps most famous for his work Kyrios Christos: Geschichte des Christusglaubens von den Anfängen des Christentums bis Irenäus (FRLANT 21;1913), a study of belief in Christ from earliest Christianity until Iranaeus within the context of Roman-Hellenistic religion. His works Jesu Predigt in ihrem Gegensatz zum Judentum. Ein religionsgeschichtlicher Vergleich (1893); and Die Religion des Judentums im neutestamentlichen Zeitalter (1903) created the idea of "late Judaism" (Spätjudentum) as the complex of religious traditions out of which Jesus and the Jesus movement evolved. (TNT 251-253, 468) flh

Photo courtesy of Burke Library Archives at Union Theological Seminary
in New York City

Charles Augustus Briggs (1841-1913). A vetran of the Civil War, C. A. Briggs followed his military service with studies at Union Theological Seminary in New York City under Edward Robinson and in Germany under the famous Hebrew philologist Wilhelm Gesenius, among other notable German scholars. When he returned to the United States in 1870, he served briefly as a Presbyterian minister and then became professor of Hebrew and cognate languages at Union. In 1880 Briggs and A. A. Hodge of Princeton found the Presbyterian Review in the hopes of addressing issues dividing the Presbyterian church at the time. Ultimately, Briggs' modernist views and the reaction of Presbyterian fundamentalists led to the demise of the journal. Union Seminary appointed Briggs to the Edward Robinson Chair of Biblical Theology in 1890, and Briggs' inaugural address was so controversial that it led, ultimately, to his suspension from the Presbyterian ministry in 1892. This event led to the withdrawal of Union from the Presbyterian Church and Briggs' ordination into the priesthood of the Episcopal Church. Briggs' two most famous works are the two-volume commentary he completed with his daughter, Emilie Grayce Briggs, during the years 1906-1907. He also collaborated with Francis Brown and S. R. Driver in an English translation and thorough revision of Gesenius' lexicon, published in 1906. Briggs was a founder of the Society of Biblical Literature (1880) and was its fourth president (1890-1891). (HH 294-302) flh

Union Theological Seminary's Archives of Women in Theological Studies

Emilie Grace Briggs (1867-1944).In 1897 Emilie Grace Briggs became the first woman graduate from Union Theological Seminary in New York City and the first person to receive the Bachelor of Divinity degree from the seminary. Following her graduation she continued her doctoral studies but did not receive the degree because she could not find a publisher for her dissertation (a special requirement laid upon her by the Union faculty). Briggs continued her biblical studies and was co-author with her father, Charles Augustus Briggs, of an important commentary on the Psalm, published 1906-1907. Briggs continued her biblical scholarship throughout her life and was the first woman to belong to the Society of Biblical Literature. After her father's death in 1913, Briggs took charge of his literary estate, editing and reissuing many of his works. Briggs also devoted herself to the advocacy of women as deacons in the Episcopal Church. flh

Photo courtesy of Archiv "Religionsgeschichtliche Schule", Prof. Dr. Gerd Lüdemann, Archivleiter.
Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976). Professor of New Testament at Marburg from 1921 until his retirement in 1951, Bultmann became a larger-than-life figure not only in the field of New Testament but also within the world of Protestant theology. An early proponent of form criticism (Formgeschichte), his masterful History of the Synoptic Tradition (German, 1921) not only provided a comprehensive study of the traditional oral forms of the Synoptic Gospels but also argued for a Sitz im Leben (setting in life) of each form in the life and history of the Early Church. In 1926 he dealt with the problem of the life of Jesus in his Jesus (English Title: Jesus and the Word). Although Bultmann, rather unfairly, is remembered as a skeptic about the life of Jesus, this work made it clear that Bultmann believed that the tradition provided a consistent picture of Jesus as an eschatological prophet. Bultmann's commentary on John (1941) portrays the Gospel as highly influenced by dualistic, gnostic concepts. Nevertheless, it may be the earliest of the Gospels. His Theology of the New Testament (German, 1958) attempts to reconstruct the theology of the earlest Christian communities and then relate thetheological views of the New Testament authors to it. (HH 449-456) flh

Photo courtesy of Duke University Photography
W. D. Davies (1911-2001) Student of C. H. Dodd at Cambridge University. Congregationalist minister. W. D. Davies distinguished himself in the area of the Jewish backgrounds of Christianity. Within Judaism he was most concerned with the rabbinic tradition. Davies taught at Duke University, Princeton University, Union Theological Seminary in New York City, and returned to complete his career at Duke. Among his many important works are Paul and Rabbinic Judaism (1948, rev. 1955), The Setting of the Sermon on the Mount (1964), The Gospel and the Land (1982), and his monumental three-volume commentary The Gospel According to Saint Matthew (1988, 1991, 1997). (HH 471-475) flh

Adolf Deissmann (1866-1937) Taught at Marburg, Heidelberg, and after 1908 at Berlin. In hisBibelstudien (1895, ET: Bible Studies, 1901) and Licht vom Osten (1908; ET: Light from the East, 1910), Deissmann demonstrated the importance of a vast body of writings that biblical scholars had previously almost completely ignored. These were the common letters, inscriptions, magical papyri, and legal documents of the Greco-Roman world. Deissmann showed that these texts shared a common Greek dialect, a dialect, indeed, that was consistent throughout the Greek-speaking world, the "common" or Koine Greek. He was able to show that this dialect of Greek was much more robust in vocabulary and grammar than classical Greek. The NT and LXX, he contended, were in this dialect. They were neither bad Greek for their departures from classical Greek nor holy Greek. Instead, the Greek Bible was composed in the Greek language of its time. (TNT 437n287, 471) flh

Courtesy of the A. N. Palmer Centre for Local Studies and Archives, Wrexham County Borough Museum
C. H. Dodd (1884-1973) Student of Alexander Souter at Oxford University. Congregationalist minister. C. H. Dodd made major contributions to our understanding of the New Testament within its historical context. Famous for his articulation of the eschatology of the New Testament as "realized eschatology," i. e. as a present reality in the person of Jesus. Among his many works should be mentioned Historical Tradition in the Fourth Gospel (1963), The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (1953), The Epistle to the Romans (1959), and The Parables of the Kingdom (1935, rev.1961). His introduction t the New English Bible: New Testament (1961) is also important. (TNT 472-473; HH 476-481) flh

Photo courtesy of Archiv "Religionsgeschichtliche Schule", Prof. Dr. Gerd Lüdemann, Archivleiter.
Hermann Gunkel (1862-1932) A member of the "history of religion" school (die religionsgeschichtliche Schule), he is the founder of form criticism for the Hebrew Bible with (among others) his Genesis (1901), Ausgewählte Psalmen ("Selected Psalms," 1917), and Einleitung in die Psalmen ("Introduction to the Psalms," completed by Joachim Begrich, 1933). Gunkel was also a qualified New Testament scholar and his Schöpfung und Chaos in Urzeit und Endzeit ("Creation and Chaos in the Beginning and at the End of Time," 1895) showed his mastery of both fields.(HH 487-491; TNT 476) flh

Matthew Hampton Halley (1874-1965). Ordained to the ministry of the Disciples of Christ in 1898, Matthew Halley authored Halley's Bible Handbook, a massive handbook of biblical lore that grew out of a 16-page pamphlet. First published in 1924, the Handbook has gone through many editions and is still being published by Zondervan Press. Despite his lack of training in biblical scholarship, Halley produced a book that many fundamentalists over the years have found useful in their reading with the Bible. For additional information, see the following:


Matthew Henry (1662 -1714) Non-conformist (Presbyterian) English minister and commentator. His massive treatise entitled The Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, is a famous work that still finds a wide readership, especially in Calvinist circles. For additional material about Henry, see


Robert Lowth (1710-1787). Bishop of London from 1777 until 1783, Lowth was offered the See of Canterbury but declined owing to poor health. In biblical scholarship Lowth's major contribution was through his studies of Hebrew poetry, both Praelectiones Academicae de Sacra Poesi Hebraeorum (Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews, 1753) and his study entitled Isaiah: A New Translation With a Preliminary Dissertation and Notes (1778). In these works he gave the study of Hebrew poetry the basic terminology that is still in widespread use today. Although Lowth was an important cleric and biblical scholar, he was also Professor of Poetry at Oxford 1741-1752. In the realm of English grammar he is known for his 1762 text entitled A Short Introduction to English Grammar in which he insisted that the rules of English should not be "forced" into the rules of foreign languages. flh

Sigmund Mowinckel (1884-1965). Born in Kjerringøy, Mowinckel studied for the Lutheran ministry at the University of Kristiania (Oslo) but did not enter that profession until much later, leaving Norway to study in Denmark and Germany. He returned to teach at Oslo in 1915 and was elected professor at the university in 1922 where he continued to work until his retirement. Mowinckel's studies with Hermann Gunkel were especially important in helping Mowinckel formulate his views on the Psalter. Following Gunkel, he took the Psalms to relflect the cultic enactment or drama of Israel's religious life. In particular, he expanded Gunkel's notion of the enthronement psalm to argue for a yearly enthronement festival in which the king, as Son of God, took upon himself the failures of the nation for the year in ritual humiliation. Mowinckel's studies with Jensen on Assyriology gave him a unique insight into this fruitful parallel to Israelite royal practice. (HH 505-510) flh

Photo courtesy of Archiv "Religionsgeschichtliche Schule", Prof. Dr. Gerd Lüdemann, Archivleiter.
Rudolf Otto (1869-1937) Otto was not a biblical scholar but a theologian. His phenomonological study Das Heilige (9th ed., 1922; ET: The Idea of the Holy, 1923) is his most famous and influential work; but in New Testament studies his Reich Gottes und Menschensohn (1934; ET: The kingdom of God and the Son of Man: A Study in the History of Religion, 1938) challenged Rudolf Bultmann's views about the historicity of the Jesus tradition. In this work he claims that Jesus taught a temporal end to this world order and that he understood his ministry in terms of the Suffering Servant of Second Isaiah. Otto taught at Jena (1870), Göttingen (1871), Breslau (1914), and Marburg (1917) where he ended his career. (TNT 386-389, 486) flh

Cyrus Ingerson Scofield (1843-1921) Author of the dispensationalist Scofield Reference Bible, C. I. Scofield left a political career in Kansas to become a Congregationalist pastor. Untrained in theology or biblical studies, his work is an attempt to reconcile the Bible with the doctrines of pre-millenialist dispensationalism. To this same end he also wrote Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth and New Life in Christ Jesus.


Phyllis Trible (1932-). A graduate of Meredith College and the Union Theological Seminary-Columbia University joint PhD program, Phyllis Trible has applied the rhetorical criticism of her dissertation supervisor, James Muilenburg, to the Hebrew Bible, often, but not exclusively, out of an interest in the Bible's rhetoric about sexuality. She is best known for her two works God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality (1978) and Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives (1984). She has taught at Wake Forest University (1963-1970) and Andover Newton Theological Seminary (1971-1978). She retired as Baldwin Professor from Union Theological Seminary in New York City (1979-1999) in 1999 to accept a position as Associate Dean at the Wake Forest University Divinity School where she is still professor of Hebrew Bible. (HH 615-618) flh

  Merrill F. Unger (died 1981) was professor of Old Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary from 1948-1967. Trained at Johns Hopkins University and Dallas Theological Seminary, Dr. Unger was a copious author, most famous, perhaps, for his Unger's Bible Dictionary and Unger's Commentary on the Old Testament (2 vols). M. F. Unger devoted his considerable academic credentials to a fundamentalist interpretation of scripture in light of modern linguistics and archaeology. flh

Photo courtesy of Archiv "Religionsgeschichtliche Schule", Prof. Dr. Gerd Lüdemann, Archivleiter.
Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918) Studied at Göttingen and in 1870 became Privatdozent there before moving to Greifswald. During his early years of scholarship, Wellhausen's views of Israel's history appeared in articles that formed the basis of his 1878 publication Die Composition des Hexateuchs und der historischen Bücher des Alten Testaments ("The Composition of the Hexateuch and the Historical Books of the Old Testament" ), and he continued his work toward a full history of Israel, publishing Geschichte Israels I in 1878 with unexpected professional results. Indeed, his career at Greifswald (1872-1882) ended with his resignation under pressure from those who disagreed with his critical views of Israel's origins and history. Undaunted, Wellhausen reissued the volume as Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels in 1883 (ET: Prolegomena to the History of Israel, 1885). In 1885 he became Professor at Marburg and in 1892 moved to Göttingen where he remained until his death. Although scholars of the Hebrew Bible had already identified four different sources for the Hexateuch, Wellhausen believed that the source that contained the great majority of laws and legal commentary, the source he called Q (for Latin quattuor, now called P for "priestly code"), was the latest of all and, indeed, was post-exilic. From Wellhausen on, the historical order of the sources was accepted virtually all researchers as JEDP. The surprising contention that the legal materials were also the latest materials reoriented the study of Israel's political and religious institutions by seeing them develop towards a legal piety. Wellhausen was also the author of many works on the New Testament and on Arabic history. (HH 380-385; TNT 495) flh

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