Layers: The Story of the Old Testament

Online: October 12 – November 30, 2020

Monday, October 19, evening
Monday, October 26, evening
Saturday, November 7, morning
Monday, November 16, evening
*Please note, these are subject to change, based on conversation between the instructor and those enrolled in the course.

The Old Testament is perhaps one the most fascinating yet misunderstood parts of the church’s heritage. Many of us—both in and outside of Christianity—are somewhat familiar with particular stories, but we lack a clear portrait of the Old Testament as a whole. Additionally, modern approaches to studying history have revolutionized our understandings of ancient Israel, early Judaism, and the formation of the Old Testament, but these new perspectives are not widely known or understood.

This class is designed to empower students to teach, preach, and live the Old Testament as a theological story. To do this we will utilize the metaphor of layers to describe the development of the Bible and the experiences of hearers who have read, interpreted, and lived the text throughout history and today. Each new layer does not erase the old ones, but it does modify them, creating a new composition—a continuing story—that no individual or community ever quite owns or controls alone.

The layers are: Creation, Election, Law, Exile, Wisdom, and Empire.

Rather than concentrating on a particular corpus or a quick overview of the contents, this class provides students with a framework for understanding the Old Testament as a whole. It is hoped that as students continue to encounter the Bible after this course through worship, group Bible study, and independent reading, the framework will remain as a helpful tool.

Required Materials:

Students will be expected to read a substantial amount of the Bible each week. This is our primary textbook. For this course, a modern, non-paraphrased translation is suggested. (e.g. NRSV, NIV, NASB, or JPS). I strongly recommend buying a study or reference Bible. The Harper Collins Study Bible or the Jewish Study Bible are both great options.

In addition to readings from the Bible, participants will also be expected to read selections from the course book, How to Read the Bible by James E. Kugel. The book is available from for around $15.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Learn a framework for understanding the Old Testament as a whole through exploring six “layers” of scripture: Creation, Israel, Law, Exile, Empire, and Apocalypse.
  • Gain basic understandings of where scripture came from, how it was preserved and composed, and the relationships between different parts of the Bible
  • Prepare for teaching, preaching, and living the story of scripture as a theological story

Instructor: The Rev. John Bellaimey, Chaplain at Breck School, Priest Associate at St. John’s, Linden Hills, Minneapolis.

Comments from previous participants:

  • Reed was amazingly informative. I got so much out of his presentation. The entire course was the gold standard for learning.
  • The instructor was very helpful and flexible about balancing the coursework and life. He also seems very knowledgable and passionate about the topic of the course.
  • The lecture videos that Reed provided were hugely useful. I appreciated the dynamic nature of his videos, rather than simply having a PowerPoint that progressed as the instructor lectured.