Glossary of Terms


A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z Abbreviations

Select the first letter of the word from the list above to jump to appropriate section of the glossary. If the term you are looking for starts with a digit or symbol, choose the '#' link.


- A -

Agricultural cult
Cf. "fertility cult."

Apocalyptic
A type of narrative literature in which an other-worldly being (such as an angel) reveals to a human the hidden truth about the world or history. It assumes the world is too corrupt for humans to solve the problems they face. Apocalyptic often employs bizarre images (e.g. seven-headed beasts), but these images can also be found in non-apocalyptic materials.

Asherah
A Canaanite "fertility goddess" (q.v.).
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- B -

Baal
Storm god in Canaanite religion.
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- C -

Canaanite
An adjective denoting a person, social institution or practice related to the native people of Israel’s land.

Canon
The set of writings regarded as authoritative within a religion.

Close reading
Careful analysis of a text as a literary work, typically with less attention to the kinds of technical issues involved in exegesis (q.v.).

Compositional history
The account of the process by which sources or stories were combined to produce a book.

Cult
The societal institution responsible for carrying out worship, sacrifice and other religious functions.
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- D -

Decalogue
The ten commandments (Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:6-21).

Deutero-Isaiah
Isaiah 40-55.

Deuteronomist
One of the editors who shaped Deuteronomy through 2 Kings into a continuous history and/or helped edit certain prophetic books (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Amos, Micah, Zephaniah).

Deuteronomic/Deuteronomistic history
The books of Deuteronomy through 2 Kings, which have been shaped into a continuous history passing judgment on Israel’s history by describing the people and their kings as repeatedly ignoring the “book of the Law.”

Divination
The practice of predicting the future by such methods as examining the internal organs of animals or observing the stars.

Documentary hypothesis
The hypothesis that the Pentateuch was constructed out of four independent and complete documents: J (the “Yahwist”), E (the “Elohist”), P (the “Priestly” source), and D (the core of Deuteronomy).
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- E -

Elohim
A common Hebrew word meaning “God.”

Eponymous
Named for someone else; in the case of the patriarchs, such figures as Jacob are frequently considered to be fictitious characters to whom the common stories of the people have been attributed and whose name is derived from the people themselves (Jacob = Israel).

Eschatology
A visionary expectation that God will introduce a new era definitively realizing human and divine ideals.

Ethical monotheism
The belief that a single deity rules over all peoples, derived from the conviction that that deity holds all peoples equally responsible for their acts.

Exegesis (adj. = exegetical)
The discipline of inferring the meaning of a passage in its original setting by studying it in the light of its historical backgrounds and its linguistic structure.

Exilic
Relating to the period of the exile (586-538 B.C.E.).
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- F -

Fertility cult
A religion based on the notion that the gods will bring fertility to the earth and its creatures if humans engage in sexual intercourse as a religious act (cf. “sacred prostitute”).

Fertility goddess
A goddess who embodies the powers of fertility that make the land, people and animals fertile.

Final form
The final “edition” of any particular book.

Form criticism
An assessment of how particular, set literary structures (e.g. a hymn) function and the type of social setting where such literary forms would have originated in an effort better to perceive their intent.
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- G -

Gemara
Second part of the Talmud; commentary on the Mishnah (q.v.).

Genre
The literary classification to which a text belongs. E.g. A Tale of Two Cities is a novel; "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" is comedy.

Gloss
A comment on a text written by a scribe either in the margin (but which later found its way into the text) or in the text itself.
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- H -

Hermeneutics (adj. = hermeneutical)
Goes beyond exegesis (see above) by asking what import a text has for people today.

Higher criticism
Study of the Bible’s development by the isolation of the sources embedded within it (see "source criticism"), the distinct types of materials represented, the redactors (q.v.) who combined them, etc.

Historical-critical approach
Interpretation of the Bible as a historical document, probing to discover the forces that prompted its authorship and the nature of its composition.
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- I -

(empty)
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- J -

Jerusalem theology
The belief in the inviolability of Jerusalem and the security of the Davidic king.
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- K -

(empty)
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- L -

Literary criticism
When not equivalent to "source criticism," it refers to "close reading" of a text in some way.
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- M -

Manuscript
A handwritten copy of a document.
 
Masoretes
A group of scribes in the middle ages who carefully preserved and annotated the biblical text.

Masoretic text (MT)
A shorthand way of referring to the text commonly used in biblical scholarship, Leningrad B19A.

Mishnah
First part of the Talmud; rabbinic debates over correct behavior in the light of the Torah.
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- N -

Nature religion
See "fertility cult."

New criticism
The application to biblical studies of theories of reading developed in the study of English literature, such as structuralism, reader response criticism, and deconstruction criticism.
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- O -

Oracle
A speech presented as a message from God.
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- P -

Pentateuch
The first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy).
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- Q -

(empty)
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- R -

Received text (textus receptus)
The "final form" of a text generally accepted by religious communities as their authoritative form of the text. The text of the Bible that has become accepted as the Bible (cf. Masoretic text).

Redactor
An editor who not only organizes material into a book, but shapes it by inserting comments that give the material a certain "spin."
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- S -

Sacred prostitute
A cultic official with whom adherents to a fertility religion had sexual intercourse in order to reinforce the dynamic of fertility embodied in the deities (cf. “Fertility cult”).

Scribe
A literate person who copied documents by hand in order to make more copies available.

Septuagint (LXX)
A Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.

Source critics
Biblical scholars specializing in "source criticism" (see next entry).

Source criticism
An attempt to disentangle and identify the various written sources that have been interwoven to create a literary work. [return to "Flood Story"]
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- T -

Talmud
The compilation composed of the Mishnah and the Gemara.

Tetrateuch
The first four books of the Bible (cf. Pentateuch).
 
Textual criticism
The art of evaluating differences in wording between manuscripts in order to recover the wording most likely approximating the "original" text of a book. See the presentation on textual criticism.
Textual transmission
The process of passing on the text of the Bible by scribes making hand written copies.

Textus receptus
See "Received text"

Torah
The the Pentateuch.

Tradents
People who passed on the biblical books, sometimes adding their own supplements to the text.

Transjordan
The region east of the Jordan river, occupied by the tribes of Gad, Reuben and part of Manasseh (see map 3 in the back of the Harper Collins Study Bible).

Trito-Isaiah
Isaiah 56-66.

The Tetragrammaton
The four letters of the Hebrew alphabet that form the name of Israel’s God (YHWH). Based on a long tradition, the tetragrammaton is never pronounced. Instead, the Hebrew word for "Lord," Adonai, is read in its place. The merging of the vowels of Adonai with the consonants YHWH produced the Anglicized "Jehovah."
 
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- U -

(empty)
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- V -

Vorlage
A text lying before a scribe or a redactor and on the basis of which a new copy or edition was created.
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- W -

Wadi
A streambed filled with water only during heavy rains.

Wisdom Literature
Literature that probed life’s mysteries and/or sought to explain how life could be lived successfully (e.g. Proverbs, Qohelet, Job).
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- X -

(empty)
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- Y -

(empty)
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- Z -

(empty)
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- Abbreviations -

B.C.E. — "Before the common era" (= B.C.; cf. C.E.)

ca. — around, about (Latin circa)

C.E. — "The common era" (of Christianity and Judaism; = A.D.)

cf. — compare (Latin, confer)

e.g. — for example (Latin, exempli gratia)

f. — the verse cited and the following one (e.g. vv. 12f.)

ff. — the verse cited and an unspecified number of others (e.g. vv. 12ff.)

LXX — The Septuagint.

MT — Massoretic Text (q.v.)

N.B. — note well (Latin, nota bene)

NRSV — The New Revised Standard Version

q.v. = "which see" (Latin, quid vide)

v. — verse (e.g. v. 12)

vv. — verses (e.g. vv. 12-15)
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Dr. Ronald L. Troxel, Dept. of Hebrew and Semitic Studies
Revised: November 12, 1999.
Copyright 1998 by Ronald L. Troxel.
All trademarks or product names mentioned herein are the property of their respective owners.