This course seeks to help students better understand the Bible and appreciate its role as an authoritative collection of sacred texts for Jews and Christians. The Bible is a difficult book, one that is demanding on many levels. In order to read the Bible intelligently, it is important to understand the historical and cultural backgrounds of the biblical writings. This course explores the history and geography of ancient Near Eastern civilizations that shaped the experience of ancient Israel and, later, the Greek and Roman imperial contexts that shaped Second Temple Judaism and early Christianity. The focus of the course, however, is on the biblical narrative itself and the particular ways that the story of Israel and its covenant with God was represented in scripture: in tales, poems, hymns, dialogues, and genealogies. A basic goal of the course, then, is to promote intelligent, well-informed reading of the Bible. Also important is the willingness to read the Bible closely and critically, with a view toward larger questions raised by biblical texts: how is God to be known and understood? What is the purpose of human life in the world? What moral obligations ought to structure our common life? Does human history have direction and purpose? What is the good and how do we follow it? The Bible takes up these questions and many more. Though an ancient anthology shaped by the succession of Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman empires, the Bible is not merely a product of its original contexts. Millennia of transmission and interpretation have made it a product of history in a much more extended and dynamic sense. In this course, we will examine larger questions raised by the biblical writers and consider the ways that the Bible has shaped, informed, and guided Jewish and Christian ways of life.