Certain People of the Book (4 Week Course)
The Bible includes portraits of some people that become more fascinating the deeper one looks at them. In these four sessions, we will take a deep look at three people you think you already know. Surely, you might say, I have heard their stories. And I would remind you of my signature saying, “Nothing changes as fast as ancient history.”
We start with a beauty contest winner, move on to a working-class peasant, and wrap up with two sessions on the Bible’s most reluctant prophet.
Live Zoom Meeting.
Session One: Esther - October 13
The Scroll of Esther presents something entirely new in the Bible: the life of ancient Judeans living outside of Judea and under Persian rule. This is the first encounter with situations unique to minorities, with problems faced by groups who are considered “strangers” far from their homes. At the same time, the most influential characters are both involved in palace intrigue at the very highest level. There is a power play at court, subterfuge, sexual innuendo, disguise and deception, revolt and massacre—hey, is there something in Downton Abbey that wasn’t already in the Book of Esther? Through a PowerPoint presentation, Rabbi Rossel reveals secrets of the Persian court (including some secrets of ancient makeup) and examines the motivations of those who told the story. You thought you knew the story of Esther? You were only told the children’s version. But not now!
Session Two: Ruth - October 20
The Scroll of Ruth also seems simple on the surface, but it turns out that it is an undercover masterpiece. Ruth reimagines the struggles of all womankind to find happiness and harmony in life. This is more difficult when Ruth is the stranger and the Judeans are at home. And this is the time before there were any kings in the Holy Land. Each scene in Ruth illuminates a telling aspect of village life and exposes basic everyday beliefs and practices (most not so very far from our own). Some believe the book is even more the story of Ruth’s mother-in-law, Naomi, and of her powerful relative, Boaz. But far from the glamor of palaces and servants, perfumes and cosmetics, the Scroll of Ruth deals with prejudice and gossip, love and loyalty. It is a novella, for sure, and possibly inserted into the Bible to make a political statement (What? Politics? In the Bible?). Rabbi Rossel retells Ruth in colorful multimedia slides showing the underlying stories of the ambitious Naomi, loving daughter-in-law Ruth, and lustful kinsman Boaz.
Session Three: Jonah, a Master of Opposites - October 27
Now we turn to Jonah-- a man with a problem—actually three problems. He hated authority (even God’s). He grumbled and complained (a lot!). And he had a very high opinion of himself. So, right away, he seems like someone you might know, someone in your family, or someone you just elected to office. Like the fellow himself, the Book of Jonah is filled with mysteries and byways and is not what it is supposed to be. In Bibles, it falls in the midst of “the Twelve,” the minor prophets. But it is nothing like its eleven friends. They all present prophecies, the poetry of the God-lovers. Jonah only presents a story, the story of one prophet who is different from all the rest.
In the first go round, we find out just how different and strange this story can be. (Hint: It’s wonderful that the Book of Jonah is so short. You have plenty of time to give it a read to refresh your memory even before the class.) Don’t worry, though, Rabbi Rossel has had a few chances to study it and will gladly refresh your memory in class, too.
Session Four: The Many Messages of Jonah - November 3
By now, we will be asking: “Is Jonah really a prophet?” But in the New Testament, Jesus calls on Jonah’s restoration after three days inside the great fish to prefigure the resurrection of Jesus. In one dialogue, Jesus answers, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” Suddenly, we need to look for the sign Jesus saw in this remarkable little book. And it turns out that Jesus saw a lot.
Does a message come through Jonah (the way messages come from other prophets) that still applies to us today? But before we get intense and somber, we should know that some scholars study Jonah as a comedy. And, wait! Still others see Jonah as a universal prophet sent to Jew and non-Jew alike. Is there some significance to the fact that the name Jonah means “dove”?
Together, we will “wrap up” the Book of Jonah, finding some messages of our own and wrap up the four sessions on some very interesting Bible folk.
Price is per student. Class tuition is non-refundable.