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Thematic Guides

Welcome to Oxford Biblical Studies Online's thematic guides. These guides have been designed to provide a general introduction on popular topics in Biblical studies including research methods, people and places, books of the Bible, and more.

Each thematic guide walks users through a topic by providing background information and links to supporting material, such as entries, maps, images, and Biblical texts, which will give users an even deeper understanding of the topic. These guides are not meant to provide comprehensive coverage of a topic, rather they are meant to highlight the wealth of content available on Oxford Biblical Studies Online in these subject areas. They are useful both to users looking for an in-depth, multi-faceted exploration of a topic, and also to educators who are looking to cover topics in a comprehensive manner. New thematic guides on relevant topics will be added as they become available.

LGBTQ Sexuality and the Hebrew Bible

Sexuality, sexual orientation, and gender identity are subjects of great interest for contemporary readers of the Bible. This guide by Rhiannon Graybill (Rhodes College) will provide a concise overview of LGBTQ sexuality in the Hebrew Bible. After introducing the range of LGBT and queer approaches to biblical interpretation, it will outline ancient Israelite ideas of sexuality, as well as those of neighboring cultures. The guide will also review key texts for LGBT and queer reading of the Bible.


Gender and the Hebrew Bible

This guide by Rhiannon Graybill (Rhodes College) provides basic definitions for "gender" and related terms, surveys approaches to gender in the Hebrew Bible, and reviews what we know about gender in ancient Israel and the ancient Near East. It then considers the representation of gender in a range of biblical texts and genres (narrative, legal, prophetic, poetic and wisdom).


Sacrifice in the New Testament

Animal sacrifice was one of the most important and visible practices in the Ancient Mediterranean. The world that the New Testament authors inhabited was filled with the sacred spaces of sacrifice, from massive temples, to rustic country shrines, to tiny household altars. It was also made up of interwoven relationships that were reinforced by sacrificial practices. Families, cities, civic associations, professional organizations, priesthoods, and the Roman Empire itself were interconnected by participation in sacrifice. Finally, the ancient Mediterranean was also filled with an array of literate elites who debated and wrote about the meaning of sacrificial practices, their proper interpretations, and their correct performance. The New Testament authors are entwined in this network of sacrificial practices, groups, and debates. Given this reality, it is not at all surprising that sacrifice was on their minds, particularly as they began to articulate their understanding of Jesus, God, and the Christian movement. Given the importance of sacrifice to ancient Mediterranean religion, it was perhaps inevitable that Christians would use sacrificial ideas and imagery in their own religious mythmaking. The goal of this short Thematic Guide (by Daniel Ullucci, Rhodes College) is to provide some signposts for those interested in understanding the complex and multi-vocal positions on sacrifice among the New Testament texts, directing the reader to more in-depth theoretical discussions of sacrifice and of the early Christian texts themselves.


Images and the Image-Ban in the Hebrew Bible and Israelite Religion

The impulse to examine the relationship between the Bible and ancient art (or iconography) goes back at least to the 19th and early 20th centuries, at which time an influx of new archaeological discoveries gave scholars more access than ever before to ancient Near Eastern visual materials. Since that time, scholars have developed increasingly sophisticated ways of incorporating ancient images into religio-historical research. These new methods of study have helped to shed light on the interpretation of figurative language in the Hebrew Bible and the historical development of Israelite religion. This thematic guide by Ryan Bonfiglio (Emory University) provides a general introduction to how and why images contribute to the study of the Hebrew Bible and Israelite religion and highlight additional resources that can facilitate further study of this topic.


Scribal Culture in the Ancient Near East

It is primarily through the minds of scribes that we understand the biblical world and the ancient Near East. This thematic guide by James D. Moore (Brandeis University) introduces the culture and worldview of the Biblical writers, exploring the issues of ancient literacy and the mechanics of the scribal trade


Priests and Priesthood in the Hebrew Bible

Few topics are more central to the Hebrew Bible than priests and priesthood. In many ways, the Hebrew Bible bears witness to a community of people whose social identity, religious beliefs, and ritual practices were deeply enmeshed in matters related to the priesthood. As Ryan Bonfiglio (Emory University) shows in this thematic guide, priestly perspectives and concerns are on display in various places, from legal materials to historical narratives, and from the prayers of the Psalms to the discourses of the prophets.


The Epistle to the Romans

The Epistle to the Romans is the Apostle Paul's only epistle to a church he did not establish himself. As Christian D. von Dehsen (Carthage College) shows, Romans differs from Paul's other letters because it does not seem to be addressing a specific concern or event. Instead, Paul's comments are more theologically abstract, giving rise to an interpretive debate about the nature and purpose of the letter.


Temples in the Hebrew Bible and in the Archaeological Record of Syria-Palestine

In the ancient Mediterranean, temples were at the very center of society. The same was true for ancient Israel. Using archaeological evidence, Michael Chan (Emory University) discusses the influence of the temple as the residence of the deity, a source of societal blessing, and a center of writing, learning, and political power.



Egypt (Heb. miṣrayim) casts a long shadow over the books of the Hebrew Bible, with references to either the location or the people of Egypt appearing in almost every book. Michael Chan (Emory University) discusses the influence of Egypt as both a place and a literary and political theme.



Empires exerted an enormous influence on biblical literature. In this guide, Michael Chan (Emory University) shows how the reign of empires in the region shaped the themes and archetypes of the Bible, from the story of Israel's Exodus out of Egypt to the charming tale of Esther in the Persian court, from the imperial image of Solomon to the violent judgment leveled against Assyria and Rome.


The Gospel of John

Christian D. von Dehsen (Carthage College) examines the major themes of the Johannine Jesus, contrasting and comparing him with the figure depicted in the Synoptic Gospels. This thematic guide breaks the Gospel down into its main parts: the Prologue, the Book of Signs, the Book of Glory, and the Epilogue.


Wisdom Literature

The Books of Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom of Solomon, and Sirach provide some of the most challenging, insightful, and influential literature in the Bible. In this thematic guide, Brennan Breed (Emory University) discusses the literary genres and social settings of these books, as well as their influence on culture, literature, and human interaction.


The Corinthian Correspondence

Christian D. von Dehsen of Carthage College (Kenosha, WI) explores the context, themes, audience, and intent of First and Second Corinthians in this detailed thematic guide. Addressing the issues of authorship and structure, von Dehsen shows how the correspondence can be a window into the early Church and the life and ideology of Paul.


The Book of Revelation

Complementing his Focus On article dealing with the Book of Revelation, Peter Perry (Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago) constructs a thematic guide that explores the book's major issues of prophecy, political power, slavery, and wealth, among others. In addition, Perry uses the OBSO articles and Biblical resources to detail the literary similarities between Revelation and numerous books of the Bible.


Writing a Research Paper with OBSO

In this thematic guide, David Mindel, a librarian and student of religion, presents a series of questions typical of a conversation between a reference librarian and a student presented with the task of writing an undergraduate research paper on the Bible. This guide is designed to highlight the specific ways Oxford Biblical Studies Online can aid in writing a paper. It covers topics such as research methods, the use of primary and secondary sources, and citation shortcuts.


The Lands of the Bible

Understanding the geography of the Bible allows researchers a deeper historical understanding of the settings of biblical stories as well as the connections between ancient lands and today�s cities and countries. With links to survey articles, maps, and other reference material, this thematic guide provides entry points for exploring places that hold significance in the Bible.


Kings and Kingship in the Hebrew Bible

In this thematic guide, Song-Mi Suzie Park, Harvard University, examines the transition of Israel into a centralized state ruled by a monarch. The four centuries of kingship in Israel had a lasting effect on Western civilization; this guide walks users through various resources available on Oxford Biblical Studies Online that examine kingship and the reigns of the early monarchs. The role that ideas and symbols played in legitimating and supporting the institution of kingship is also addressed.


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