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 a fascinating part of the church’s heritage. It rewards close reading and prayerful study. Many of us—both in and outside of Christianity—know some of the stories, but we lack a clear portrait of the Old Testament as a whole. 

Additionally, modern approaches to history, archaeology, and literature have revolutionized how specialists see ancient Israel, early Judaism, and the formation of the Old Testament, but most of us aren’t specialists! 

This class is designed to help you teach, preach, and live the Old Testament as a theological story. Borrowing from archaeology, we’ll describe the Bible as layers, from older to newer, deposited by people of faith for future generations’ use. Each new layer borrows from older ones.  No individual or community ever quite owns or controls these layers, not even the one they specifically created. 

The layers are: Creation, Election, Torah, Exile, Wisdom, and End Times.  Our wise guide is retired Professor James Kugel, an Orthodox Jew and storyteller. 

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:

  • Excellent and well done videos. Really a good experience.
  • John was really good. I really had a sense of what exile meant at the end of the day.