Old Testament Topics For Essays For Middle School

Six 2.5 page (minimum) Topic Papers due alternate Weeks (mostly)--see calendar for due dates; 10 pts each/60 total towards final grade.

You must remember that you are in conversation not only with the Bible text but a host of scholars who have come (and gone) before you, or may still be speaking in (and out of) the Spirit today.  Write in this conversational but academic way showing agreement and disagreements AND that you learned something. (Don't just spout out what you already know or think you know or "believe"!)

General Hints [borrowed from Leuchter & Lamb (2016)]

Avoid “I think”, “I feel”, “I believe”, but rather state what you think without qualifiers.

Limit yourself to one exclamation point and one usage of the word “very” per essay! (For some of you, this will be very painful, but in this case, pain is very good!)

Use commentaries that focus exclusively upon the book you have chosen (i.e., that are not 1-volume OT or entire Bible commentaries) and were written in the last 30-40 years (i.e., not Calvin, Clarke or Henry). You can use these resources, but you need to use others as well, which will involve a trip to the library. Good commentary series to use: Word, Tyndale/IVP, NICOT, Interpretation, Anchor, OT Library (see more below).

Avoid including long quotations from secondary literature. Simply summarize scholarly views briefly.

Argue for your perspective on the main point of the passage is. Make a compelling case and support it with evidence. Whenever you refer to the text, give a reference. Don’t just say, “Scholars think...”; state which scholars think that way and give reasons.

Avoid non-peer-reviewed  online articles or helps, e.g., Wikipedia.  Resist copying and pasting from untrusted Web sources. (That includes good old Matthew Henry and John Calvin online!)

 Step 1. Choosing a Topic from the long list of possibles for each section.
Aim for one that is (1) interesting to you, (2)manageable (with readily available sources) that you can narrow in on an especiallyinteresting or important aspect, and (3)arguable--you'll want to express your opinion in conclusion based on the available primaryandsecondarysources and authorities (see step 2).  If you don't think you can write 2.5 pages on a topic, choose a different one!

Step 2. Research Your Topic

Each 2.5 page (minimum) Topical Paper will require a combination of at leastthree (3) scholarly sources from both the ATLA database in EBSCOhost andprint commentaries and/or Bible dictionaries (all found in the Guesman Reading and Reflection Room) or quality e-books from EBSCO or Ebrary, plus the Bible.   Yes, you may supplement with other online resources--but neither exclusively nor un-critically!

Avoid non-peer-reviewed  online articles or helps, e.g., Wikipedia.  Resist copying and pasting from untrusted Web sources. (That includes good old Matthew Henry and John Calvin online!)

 One caution: In your research, it is vital that you not allow your expanding knowledge of what others think about your topic to drown your own curiosities, sensibilities, and insights. Instead, as your initial questions expand and then diminish with increased knowledge from your research, your own deeper concerns, insights, and point of view should emerge and grow. You might even try to reach new conclusions or arrive at a new perspective about your topic.

A. Consult Standard Sources (Search by Topic in Tables of Content--and USE INDEXES)
Encyclopedia articles, dictionaries, and other standard historical reference tools contain a wealth of material--and helpful bibliographies--to orient you in your topic and its historical context. Look for the best, most authoritative, and up-to-date treatments. Checking cross-references will deepen your knowledge. Some of the most widely used resources, available in Eberly library (Guesman Reading Room), are:

General Reference Tools:

Anchor Bible Dictionary

New Interpreters Bible Dictionary

Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible
Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible

One volume commentaries

The Oxford Bible Commentary. 
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. 

Eerdmans companion to the Bible.

Cambridge companion to the Bible

Ramsay, W. M. (1994). Westminster Guide to the Books of the Bible. (e-books in EBSCO)

And more . . .

Multi-volume commentaries

             The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Books of the Bible (Online)

      New Interpreter's Bible 220.7 I612 

      Word Biblical Commentaries  220.7 W924

      Interpretation Commentaries  220.7 I615

      Exploring the Old Testament (IVP) 222.1 W474e 2003

One volume Introductions to the Old Testamen

221.61 H321i 2004 : Harrison, R. K.

221.61 L345o : La Sor, William

221.61 L856a 2006 : Longman, Tremper. 

221.61 R397o : Rendtorff, Rolf,

221.61 W518i : West, James King, 

221.66 M687 2012 : Mobley, Gregory,

       and many other browse-able in Reference

General books on ancient Israel:

Life in Biblical Israel. Louisville: WestminsterJohnKnox, 2001.
De Vaux, Roland, Ancient Israel. 2 vols. New York: McGraw Hill, 1965.

It's wise to start listing the sources you've consulted right away in standard bibliographical format (MLA or APA)  


B. Check Periodical Literature (Journals) (SEARCH TOPICALLY, BY SCRIPTURE, OR SUBJECT)
Important scholarship in biblical studies is frequently published in academic journals and periodicals. In consulting the chief articles dealing with your topic, you'll learn where agreements, disagreements, and open questions stand, how older treatments have fared, and the latest relevant tools and insights. Since you cannot consult them all, work back from the latest, looking for the best and most directly relevant articles from the last five, ten, or twenty years, as ambition and time allow.


The place to start is ATLA Database in EBSCOhost. Major biblical journals indexed in ATLA are:

Catholic Biblical Quarterly
Journal of Biblical Literature
Journal for the Study of the Old Testament
Vetus Testament

Note that even foreign language journals often publish articles in English.


Quality Online resources are less systematically available and up-to-date. But you can find links and some full articles and bibliographies online. Reputable guides to the many religious studies and theological Websites are housed at:

Your research topic will probably require you to look at a combination of primary and secondary sources.

STEP 3. You can then outline a presentation of your thesis that marshals your research materials into anorderly and convincing argument. Functionally your outline might look like this: (use the notebook function in EasyBib.com--Waynesburg Library Edition)

1 Introduction. Repeat the Topic Question and announce your thesis.
2 Background. Present the necessary literary or historical or theological context and issues of the question.

Note the "state of the question" or the main agreements and disagreements about it from scholars.

3 Argument. Present your findings in a clear and logical way. Marshal evidence tosupport your thesis and develop it further by:

• offering examples from your primary and secondary sources (dictionaries, commentaries, articles, etc.)
• citing or discussing authorities as necessary to bolster your argument
• contrasting your thesis with other treatments, if any, either historical or contemporary
• confirming it by showing how it makes good sense of the data or answers related questions orsolves previous puzzles.

4 Conclusion. Restate the thesis in a way that recapitulates your argument and its consequencesfor the OT field or its impact on the contemporary religious understandings.  For your concluding thoughtful reflection, you may choose to find connections or trajectories from "then & there" to "here & now."  Be creative.  BUT, do not leap to "here" (today) before you've climbed over to "there" (original contexts).

Each Research Topical Paper should be at least 2.5 double-spaced pages 12 pt in standard MLA or APA formatting for margins, font, citations, etc.  (Don't include citations, bibliography, your name, course, etc., in the page count!)  For MLA style see: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/01/; For APA sytle see: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/section/2/10/.

The grade for this paper will be divided by:

10 pts for submitting  the paper on time (email by midnight of the due date to rblake@waynesburg.edu)

30 pts for evidence of research (requisite number of citations & their engagement).

30 pts for creatively expressing the key issues in context (exegesis not eisegesis)

15 pts for sound grammatical expression and adherence to MLA or APA format.

15 pts for thoughtful reflection on the passage/text.

 I'll be happy to meet with you individually or in groups to review these guidelines--but please arrange a meeting well before the due dates. My weekly schedule is posted outside my office--120 Eberly Library.


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