The Bible & Contemporary Issues

Prof. Mark K. George
Office: I-113, (303) 765-3168
Office hours: I am happy to arrange a meeting with any student. Please contact me by email to make arrangements.
Weekly gatherings (optional): I will hold weekly "Bible & Contemporary Issues Happy Hours" (BCI HH) on Zoom every Thursday, 7:00–8:00 pm MT, except in Wk 10. Should fewer than 3 people be able to join me, I reserve the right to close out the happy hour in the first 10 minutes. Please note this meeting has a password, and you will enter a waiting room before reaching the session.

Elyse Pierce, GTA (Graduate Teaching Assistant)

BCI Happy Hour : each week (Wks 1–9) on Thursday evening at 7:00 pm MT (Zoom link here ), Mark will open an optional synchronous Zoom session. The purpose? To hang out, chat about what we're learning, have conversation, be with one another. Mark will not present new materials or expect what is discussed during these sessions to be material for which you are accountable. Rather, think of these sessions as opportunities for a conversation over an adult beverage (since we are not on campus and thus unable to walk over to a bar or coffee shop and have conversation together). It's informal. It's ungraded. It's optional. It's fun and relaxing!

Catalogue Course Description

Using current events and issues as a starting point, various approaches for reading the Bible are studied to see how they help interpret the Bible in light of those issues. This course helps students learn more about exegesis and become more comfortable interpreting the Bible with scholarly tools along with understanding how these tools provide a means of addressing current issues with the Bible as a theological resource.

Extended Course Description

The Bible (Hebrew Bible and New Testament) is an accepted cultural resource in the United States that seems to go without question or challenge in public discourse. This is particularly true for those of us who participate in Christian and Jewish communities that hold the Bible as having a particular authority. It is, however, a set of texts that require questioning, interpretation, and challenge. This course, designed for master’s degree students, seeks to enhance students’ skills in reading and interpreting the Bible in the context of the current issues facing our communities. Our regular examination of contemporary issues, explored from a variety of perspectives and angles, will be paired with an examination of the Bible as we consider how it might function as a resource for communities negotiating these issues.


Either the introductory course in Hebrew Bible or the introductory course in New Testament.

Course Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course, students should be able to:



New Revised Standard Bible (NRSV). This is the translation we will use in the course for all class and written work. Digital or print format is acceptable, but please note that there are very few apps that contain the NRSV due to copyright license fees, so please make sure your chosen app includes it and you have it readily available. If you would like to purchase a print copy of the NRSV, we recommend Harold W. Attridge, ed. The HarperCollins Study Bible-Student Edition: Fully Revised and Updated . San Francisco: HarperOne, 2006. ISBN 9780060786847.

Additional readings will be made available each week.

All students are expected to have full access to at least one high-quality breaking news source, such as The New York Times , The Washington Post , The Wall Street Journal , Slate , BBC , Fox News (the news side), NPR, PBS NewsHour, The Atlantic , etc. It must be a source that reports on current events using their own reporters and bureaus. In other words, this is not a news aggregator or social media platform (yes, that includes Facebook, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah , Twitter, Instagram, etc.).

The required work/assignments for this course include:



The GTA for this course, Elyse, is available to you at all points of the writing process for your two exegesis papers. Having trouble choosing a topic or approach? Email Elyse. Struggling to gather evidence that supports your argument? Email Elyse. Nervous about all that 'exegesis' entails? Email Elyse. Completed an initial draft you want looked at for general writing conventions and it is still three days before the due date? Email Elyse.

She is available to help via email ( or or zoom, at both GTA and student convenience. She has been a writing tutor at the college level for many years, and so is very experienced working with students in all stages of the composition process. Feel free to reach out at any point and schedule a meeting or send a draft, and she will be more than happy to help!


Writing Tips video:


Writing Tips handout: Writing Tips.docx 


Reminder of Assignment Requirements:


Participation and discussions................................................................................ 30%
Class presentations (2 ea.)..................................................................................... 10% (5% each)
Exegesis Paper 1...................................................................................................... 20%
Exegesis Paper 2...................................................................................................... 30%
Paper responses....................................................................................................... 10% (5% each)

Pass/Fail requests must be submitted to the instructor by e-mail no later than Sunday, 3 April 2022. Incomplete grades will be granted only in the rarest of cases and follow the policy in the Masters Student Handbook, which is online.

Late work is unacceptable. It adversely affects our collective discussion work by depriving us all of your voice and ideas. This holds true especially for the exegesis papers because of student responses. For this reason, late contributions to the Tuesday discussion will be graded down one full letter grade if made up within 24 hours. At the professor’s discretion, contributions made later than 24 hours will receive a grade of zero (0). The Thursday discussion is not graded individually but is part of the overall participation grade, so failure to participate or consistently late participation will adversely affect your participation grade. Each paper will be graded down one full letter grade for each 24 hour period it is late, up to a maximum of 48 hours. After that time, a late paper will receive a grade of zero (0). Additionally, because another student’s paper response grade depends on having a paper to read, the student who does not submit a paper will receive a grade of 0 (zero) for the paper response because it prevented the other student from completing that assignment. The upshot is please, please, please submit your papers on time! Everyone is depending on you.

Please review the topics in the Policies & Services page. Please note that the statements contained in this syllabus regarding Pass/Fail and Incompletes are the policies for this course.

Use of biblical languages. There are many apps that make it easy to see the underlying Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek words behind English translations. These give users who have never studied these languages the illusion they understand these words and languages and can use them in papers (or sermons or talks) on the Bible. Please do not do this in this course. If you have studied biblical Hebrew, Aramaic, and/or Greek and wish to use in in your written work, please contact the professor for a 5–10 minute discussion to demonstrate you have competency (note: not full comprehension or fluency!) in any or all of these languages. If you use any of the biblical languages in your written work without meeting with the professor beforehand, you will incur, at minimum, a 10 point deduction on the assignment.

A   94–100
A-  91–93
B+ 88–90 (NB: a 90 is a B+)
B    83–87
B-  80–82
C+ 78–79
C   73–77
C-  70–72
D+ 68–69
D   60–67
F    59 or below

Grades are earned, based on your work and performance on assignments. The professor is comfortable assigning grades from A to F, in accordance with what students earn. Please note that a B+ extends to 90, making the “B” range a bit wider than usual. Grades of 100 points are rare, on assignments, papers, and the course overall.

If a student turns in all materials on time and satisfies the minimal requirements of the assignment, this is a “C” or pass. With greater analytical insight and engagement in the assignment comes a higher score and grade. Exceptional performance on assignments merits a score and grade that is exceptional. This schema holds for all graded assignments.

Grading for participation and discussions in class: Students are expected to participate in weekly discussions (and Gathering Days sessions) prepared to engage the assigned readings and other assigned materials (e.g., student presentations). They also are expected to respond to at least two others in their discussion group each week (i.e., in the discussion threads of two others, not simply responding to two others who respond in the student’s own thread). Demonstration that a student has done the reading, viewed the week’s presentations, and understood the issue and its complexities is most highly valued. Students who cannot do the reading or only a portion of it will earn a “C” or below. Those who demonstrate they did some of the reading and have begun to develop critical and analytical perspectives on the topic/issue generally earn a “B” grade. Those who demonstrate thorough understanding of the topic/issue, from a variety of perspectives, and can integrate those perspectives into a critical, analytical consideration of the topic/issue, generally earn an “A” grade.

Grading for class presentations: “C” grade means your presentation spoke to the assigned materials and topic in a general, unfocused, and uncritical fashion. Your knowledge and understanding of the materials and issue demonstrates a lack of study and research. You do not demonstrate an understanding of alternative perspectives and the reasoning and value they offer on the issue. You do not offer 2–3 aspects or topics for class consideration except in a very general way. A “B” grade means your presentation offered a relatively clear focus and an issue or two for class consideration. You are aware of alternative perspectives but missed important elements of them. An “A” grade demonstrates outstanding creativity in its thesis and argument, engages with the biblical text and topic for the week in discerning ways that offer insight to the biblical passage that is thought provoking, and has no formatting, spelling, documentation, or other formal errors.

Grading for exegesis papers: a “C” grade means you have a weak or muddied thesis that you argue with 1–2 poitns that may or may not thoughtfully engage the biblical text you chose as your exegetical focus. You met the minimum requirements for outside sources (two recent journal articles and one recent monograph), formatted your paper more-or-less appropriately, correctly cited sources, spell-checked your paper, and other such basic matters (I assume all graduate students know these aspects of writing a paper; if not, please contact the Writing Center staff and seek their help). A “B” grade has a clear thesis suitable to the length of the paper and provides several arguments that demonstrate broader engagement with the biblical text and secondary materials, but has several weaknesses in logic and argument, while formatting, documentation, spelling, and other formal features of the paper largely are correct. An “A” grade demonstrates outstanding creativity in its thesis and argument, engages with the biblical and secondary literature in discerning ways that offer insight to the biblical passage that is thought provoking, and has no formatting, spelling, documentation, or other formal errors.

Grading for student responses: a “C” grade indicates you read the paper and offer general comments about it. A “B” grade indicates you read the paper and are able to offer a point or two about both its strengths and areas needing improvement (assuming there are any). An “A” grade indicates a careful reading of the paper, the ability to identify, with specific examples, strengths and areas of improvement.

Guidelines for Respondents to Papers
Adapted from Materials Originally Produced by Dr. Pamela M. Eisenbaum
(Available as a pdf)

The primary objectives of responding to a paper are: 1) to assist the author with constructive criticism so the author might thereby improve the quality of the paper; 2) to articulate issues and questions that will generate discussion (if the paper is being presented to a class) or help the author think further about the arguments made in the paper.

To that end, please follow these guidelines:

  1. Articulate in your own words what you understand to be the author’s primary thesis in the paper, including what you think its significance is or might be. You should do this in no more than 3–5 sentences. If there is a thesis statement that you wish to highlight by quoting, that is fine, but it is not a substitute for putting it in your own words; you still must interpret that thesis statement. Be sure, however, you can state the page on which you see the author’s thesis statement (if there is one). If the thesis is not clear, articulate what you think is the general topic, and then say you are uncertain what is the central thesis. Do not summarize the contents of the paper.
  2. Identify the strengths of the paper. If it is very well-written and -argued paper and you find yourself listing more than a half dozen, limit yourself to what you see as the most important ones (e.g., ones that get at issues central to the themes and topics of the class, one that you think fulfill the assignment particularly well). If you only can find one strength, then name only one—do not try to force it. For each strength you name, you must give a reason why you think it is a strength. Do not engage in unnecessary or (even worse) insincere flattery.
  3. Identify the weaknesses of the paper. Your focus here should not be on very minor things (e.g., “incorrect spelling of the author’s name in footnote 2”) but on things that characterize the paper or major sections of it (if the author has used inappropriate footnote style or bibliographic citation throughout, that deserves comment). As with Guideline #2, any weakness you name must be backed up with an argument or example explaining why you think it is a weakness.
  4. Wherever possible, make constructive and concrete suggestions about how the paper might be improved. Here you most likely will focus on the paper’s weaknesses, but you need not limit your comments to them. You may also see ways the author can build on the paper’s already existing strengths (e.g., a particular passage, secondary reading, or argument may add subtlety to the author’s arguments).
  5. Highlight anything in the substance of the paper that you find especially compelling, illuminating, or convincing, as well as points of agreement between yourself and the author of the paper.
  6. Articulate points you find unconvincing, strained, obvious, or untrue. As always, you must explain why this is the case. If you cannot say why, don’t mention it.
  7. Articulate questions. Questions may serve different purposes. Here are a few examples:
    1. They may enable the author to see the same issues from a different, perhaps better, perspective, thereby assisting the author in improving the paper.
    2. They may signal to the author certain issues or subtopics either are unclear (i.e., poorly explained or argued in the paper) or that require further elaboration in order to become cogent and persuasive to future readers.
    3. If you are doing the review for the purpose of a class discussion, questions may enable you to generate material for discussion that you think will be of interest to the group.
  8. Do not make generalizations about the person (or even the person’s academic work) drawn from the paper. In other words, you job is to provide a critique of the paper, not the person.
  9. All critical comments—positive and negative—should use language appropriate to an academic context and discourse and be as substantive and specific as possible.
    1. Inappropriate: “Your first example was stupid.”
    2. Appropriate: “Your first example failed adequately to illustrate your point, because…”
  10. Respect the limits articulated for the review, so as to be as effective as possible in relation to the primary objective articulated above.

Revision date: 30 March 2022

The syllabus and assignments are subject to change at any time at the sole discretion of the professor.

Mar 30, 2022WedWk 1—Start Here!due by 05:45AM
Mar 30, 2022WedWk 1: The Bible's Authoritydue by 05:45AM
Apr 01, 2022FriWk 1 Discussion reminderdue by 05:45AM
Apr 06, 2022WedWk 2: LGBTQ+ Issuesdue by 05:45AM
Apr 06, 2022WedWk 2: Dean's Office required synchronous meetingdue by 11:00PM
Apr 08, 2022FriWk 2 Discussion reminderdue by 05:45AM
Apr 13, 2022WedWk 3: Bible & LGBTQ+ Issues; Bible in Religious Traditionsdue by 05:45AM
Apr 15, 2022FriWk 3 Discussion reminderdue by 05:45AM
Apr 20, 2022WedWk 4: The Opioid Crisis, Pandemic Inequality, and Healthcare due by 05:45AM
Apr 22, 2022FriWk 4 Discussion reminderdue by 05:45AM
Apr 28, 2022ThuWk 5: Gathering Days: Bible & The Opioid Crisis, Pandemic Inequality, and Healthcare——No Discussion postingdue by 07:00PM
May 04, 2022WedWk 6: Racism, Antisemitism, and Prejudice due by 05:45AM
May 06, 2022FriWk 6 Discussion reminderdue by 05:45AM
May 07, 2022SatPaper #1due by 05:45AM
May 10, 2022TueResponse 1due by 05:45AM
May 11, 2022WedWk 7: Bible & Racism, Antisemitism, and Prejudicedue by 05:45AM
May 13, 2022FriWk 7 Discussion reminderdue by 05:45AM
May 18, 2022WedWk 8: Climate Change and the Environment due by 05:45AM
May 20, 2022FriWk 8 Discussion reminderdue by 05:45AM
May 25, 2022WedWk 9: Bible & Climate Change and the Environmentdue by 05:45AM
May 25, 2022WedPresentation 1due by 05:45AM
May 25, 2022WedPresentation 2due by 05:45AM
May 27, 2022FriWk 9 Discussion reminderdue by 05:45AM
Jun 01, 2022WedWk 10: Bible's Authority; Final Papers for Continuing Studentsdue by 05:45AM