We know a lot about the ancient Israelites because an anthology of their literature, the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible, is still part of our culture.
But who were the writers of these ancient texts and why did they shape their stories the way they did? What was the mental world of their listeners, their background and unspoken assumptions? And what kind of material world that they live in?
Modern scholars and archaeologists argue about the answers to these questions but there is a consensus on many points. Two free online courses cover this world of biblical scholarship in an engaging way.
From Yale University is Introduction to the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible (website), taught by Christine Hayes. This course, posted over a year ago, has a long-standing place on my list Best free courses & lectures. Hayes is an eloquent and organized lecturer who combines close reading of the biblical texts with a survey of scholarly theories about the origins of the text and the cultures of the ancient Near East. She covers her material at a brisk pace. If you enjoy this topic (as I do) you won’t have time to be bored, and when the course ends, you will be wishing for more.
A newer online course is Literature and World of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible , (iTunes) taught by John Strong of Missouri State University. Like the Yale course, it discusses the major theories about the origin of the biblical text and the cultural context in the ancient Near East. Additionally it emphasizes the archaeological finds that give us a picture of the material world of the Hebrew Bible. (See especially lectures 10, 11 and 15 which include video clips from interviews with archaeologist Gabriel Barkai at the site of the ancient city of Lachish in Israel.)
Strong has a slow, laid-back style with a hint of a Southern drawl. (He reminds me a bit of Mr. Rogers of the old children’s TV show Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.) He often repeats his main points, a style that can become tedious. Still, I am enjoying the lectures and am finding much to supplement the Yale course.
- The Bible’s Buried Secrets on TV & YouTube
- The KJV: Great art produced by a committee
- Looking at the Bible through a different lens