CHR 170 - Interpreting the Text: Genesis

by Theresa Rhodes last modified 2016-08-08T09:09:25-04:00

Note: This guide emphasizes the scholarly helps available in the Tarver Library to assist you with your interpreting the text paper.  If you need more in-depth help, check out the additional course-specific resources available on the Christianity Subject Librarian page.

Remember, you need to unpack your passages so that you will be prepared to discuss your passage in terms of its content, background (historical and cultural), literary context and form, and theological perspective.  This exercise is to assist you with interpreting biblical texts responsibly.  This is a scholarly activity.  You will be digging the meaning out of the text rather than reading into the text what you want or expect to find.  A text without a context is a pretext.

The focus for this writing assignment is to determine what the text meant then.  In order to answer that question, you must use sources (translations, dictionaries, and commentaries) to set the text in its literary and historical context.

Compare text in several translations

After you have read your text several times in the Jewish Study Bible (JPS) and have become comfortable with it, it is time to read the text in several translations to get a "feel" for the passage.  Remember, you want to use a translation (works from the original Hebrew and Greek and converts it into another language) rather than a paraphrase (which takes a translation and renders it into more modern English).

NoteBe sure to use only the translations listed in the instructions for your paper.  Four of the translations are available in print in Reference, and many are in the online sources.  The Holman Christian Standard and New American Standard versions are available in the online sources.

Print versions available in the Tarver Library include:

New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version: with the Apocrypha (4th edition)
REF BS 191.5 .A1 2010 O94 2010

Contemporary Comparative Side-by-Side Bible (includes New International Version and New King James Version, acceptable for this assignment; ignore New Living Translation and The Message--they are not acceptable for this assignment)
REF BS 125 .B5 2011

The Good News Bible (Today's English Version/TEV)
REF BS 195 .T63 1986

Jewish Study Bible
REF BS 895 J4 2004

The Layman's Parallel Bible

REF BS 125 .B5 1991 c.2

Online access to Bible translations available includes:

Consult Bible dictionaries

These are not your ordinary dictionaries--similar to an encyclopedia than a traditional dictionary.  For example, in addition to definitions you will also find longer entries that provide information about history, customs, institutions, and beliefs.  They also often include entries for the book, Genesis, and the Old Testament. 

When you do look up specific words or terms, make sure that you are using the definition of the term as it was used at that time, not how we mean it today.  Remember, language changes.

You may use the following dictionaries for your assignment:

Read Bible commentaries
Capture source information
  • Remember to include the source you are using when you make notes.  
    • For example, Anchor Bible dictionary states; or, according to The Encyclopaedia Judaica, scholars state
    • Taking the time to do this when you write will save time later trying to match up information with a source.
  • Make sure you get all the information you will need for your footnotes and bibliography.
    • You will need author (usually an editor for multi-volume works) title, volume number (if a multi-volume work), and publication information (publisher, place of publication, and date) for the source as well as any author, title, and page numbers for the article included in the source.
    • Tip:  links in the guide above will take you to the library catalog where you can retrieve information about the main source.  However, the "insides" of the sources are not searchable.  Make sure you capture that information when you start rather than trying to scramble later when you compile your footnotes and bibliography.
  • Your footnotes will use abbreviations of many of the dictionaries and commentaries but include the full citations in the bibliography.
    • Anchor Bible Dictionary (ABD vol:pg)
    • The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (IDB vol:pg)
    • The New Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (NIDB vol:pg)
    • Mercer Dictionary of the Bible (MDB pg)
    • The Encyclopaedia Judaica (EncJud vol:pg)
    • The Jewish Study Bible (JSB pg)
    • The New Interpreter's Bible (NIB vol:pg)
    • Mercer Commentary on the Bible (MCB pg)
    • Etz Hayim, Torah, and Commentary and The JPS Torah Commentary:  Genesis
      • do not have standard abbreviations
      • cite them like a regular book
Recall tips; ask for help, if needed
  • Except for the translations, all of this work has to be done at the library--plan accordingly.
  • Spend some time writing and brainstorming on keywords
    • not every word you think of is going to be in a dictionary
    • the more words you think of the better your chances of identifying key concepts to look for in the dictionaries
    • remember to look up familiar words or phrases to make sure you are capturing the sense of the term in context
  • This work is "cyclical" which means that one thing often leads to another.  For example,
    • reading a translation leads you to words you either don't know or aren't sure of their context and these words taken you to a dictionary, where you might find more words
    • reading the commentary leads you back to the translation to see if the same phrase is used in more than one translation
    • reading the commentary may take you back to the dictionary and vice versa
  • This is going to take time, so don't put it off until the last minute.
    • read the text, read the text, read the text ... familiarity can bring understanding
    • consider listening to the passage; sometimes you hear something you might miss when reading
  • Be sure to use only the sources listed in the instructions for the paper
    • you may be tempted to use other sources (we have lots of them!), but for this writing assignment stick to the approved list in your instructions
    • this isn't a "Google it" assignment--use the recommended sources
  • Please don't re-shelve (or hide!) the sources. 
    • Theresa will monitor the area and try to keep the items in order on the reference shelves.

Jack Tarver Library also offers assistance, including:

  • Ask Jack/Research Services available in person, by phone, via IM or texting
  • Individual consultation with Theresa Rhodes, Christianity Subject Librarian.
    • It is better to ask for help sooner rather than later.