The Bible is one of the foundational texts of the Western tradition and Harvard historian Shaye Cohen’s course The Hebrew Scriptures in Judaism and Christianity (iTunes) gives a lively introduction to the different ways believing Christians and Jews have interpreted the Bible since ancient times.
A course like this could be a minefield, given the possible sensitivities of his students and of the wider Internet audience. But Cohen does a great job of treating everyone’s truth claims respectfully. He emphasizes that his course seeks to understand the ways in which believers have read the Bible – without judging the validity of interpretations.
Cohen, who has written extensively about the period in which Christianity and Judaism went their separate ways, brings his vast erudition and good humor to the topic in the 26 lectures of this course. He explains how Christians came to view the Hebrew Bible through the lens of Jesus’s life, death and resurrection, while Jews viewed it as the story of their special relationship with God.
Of particular interest are lectures 13 and 14, where Cohen explains how the Jewish Sabbath lost relevance for Christians as they began to celebrate Sunday as Lord’ s Day, and the last two lectures that deal with the contentious concept of the “chosen people.”
This course is a great sequel to the Yale open courses Introduction to the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible (website) and Introduction to New Testament History and Literature (website), although Cohen provides enough background to let you jump right in, even if you haven’t listened to the Yale courses.