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BIBS317 God, Suffering and Justice

A detailed study of texts from the Hebrew Bible and related literature that wrestles with the problem of how God can be regarded as just in the face of the reality of suffering.

A detailed study of biblical and other early Jewish texts that wrestle with the problem of reconciling a belief in the justice of God with the reality of human suffering. This paper is based on the detailed study of texts from 1 and 2 Kings, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Psalms, Job, 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch. Many of these texts respond theologically to catastrophes in the historical life of ancient Israel, such as the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE and 70 CE, but some of them have a more individual focus. We will pay special attention to what is sometimes called the protest tradition. The aim is not to explain the problem of suffering, but rather to engage critically and sympathetically with particular biblical and early Jewish texts that deal with suffering, evil, and the justice of God.

Paper title God, Suffering and Justice
Paper code BIBS317
Subject Biblical Studies
EFTS 0.15
Points 18 points
Teaching period Not offered in 2023 (On campus)
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $955.05
International Tuition Fees Tuition Fees for international students are elsewhere on this website.

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One 200-level BIBS, BIBX, RELS or RELX paper
BIBS 413, BIBX 317, BIBX 413
Schedule C
Arts and Music, Theology
All students are welcome to study the Bible regardless of whether they have a particular faith commitment or not. All that is required is an inquiring mind and an interest in acquiring the critical skills common to all subjects in the Humanities.

Reverend Dr James Harding:

Teaching staff
Lecturer: Reverend Dr James Harding
Paper Structure

Lectures and videoconferences focus on the exegesis of specific texts that deal with divine justice and human suffering.

  • Exegesis (20%)
  • Summary and critique of readings (20%)
  • A three-hour exam (60%)
Teaching Arrangements

On-campus students: 26 x 1-hour lectures
Distance students: six x 2-hour videoconferences and a teaching day held via Zoom


Students must have access to a bible that contains the apocryphal and deutero-canonical books, including 4 Ezra (part of 2 Esdras).

Course outline

View the course outline for BIBS 317 (on campus)
View the course outline for BIBS 317 (distance)

Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Lifelong learning, Critical thinking.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes

At the end of this paper, all students will:

  • Be able to summarise the major approaches to the problem of suffering in the Hebrew Bible (and related texts)
  • Have a solid grasp of the different understandings of divine and social justice in the Hebrew Bible
  • Have studied the Deuteronomistic History and the books of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Lamentations, Psalms, Ezra, Daniel, 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, and Job in connection with divine justice and human suffering
  • Understand how modern events, such as the Holocaust, have shaped the way modern Jewish and Christian theologians read the Psalms, Lamentations, and Job

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Not offered in 2023

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system