Tag Archives: Itunes U

iTunes U Course – The Hebrew Bible

A Harvard University Course by Shaye J. D. Cohen

Much like my last post on Dale Martins course on the New Testament, this is a course that I got into because of my interest in ancient scriptures and while it would make sense to post these in reverse order however, this is the version I listened to them in.

Shaye J. D. Cohen is a professor in the Hebrew Scriptures at Harvard University. Like mentioned in my last post, I do have a fairly good understanding, at least in introductory understanding, (better than most gentiles) of the Hebrew texts. I took a few courses on them, but again these were years ago and in high school setting. Therefore, I was intrigued to listen to a historical criticism of the Hebrew Scriptures. It is worth note the complexity of these documents. While that is not to say that there isn’t in the New Testament, the scope and scale of time is important here. Like Martin, Cohen makes an effort to start the course with some basics including maps and a timeline chronology.

As a Gentile growing up, I learned that the Scriptures of the Old Testament are divided into four parts the Torah, the historical books, the wisdom books, and the prophetic books. Cohen does a good job at the beginning of describing the differences between the Protestant books and Catholic books, and then comparing these the Jewish books. Even going into why the Catholics have seven more books in the Old Testament then either Jews or Protestants. (For those interested, this has to do with what language the books were originally written. If the book was originally written in Greek, despite the importance to the Jewish faith, it is not included in the Hebrew Scriptures, but often kept alive in the rabbinic tradition of people named Cohen (Coen) and the Levites. This means that the Catholics have the Song of Songs and the books about the Maccabean revolt (ie The story of Chanukah) while the Protestant and Jewish scriptures to not do not).

However, Cohen plays devil’s advocate much more. He admits that oftentimes we just don’t know certain things. Now, he does this playfully. What this means is that he looks at say rules in numbers, talks about the fact that the 10 Commandments in Exodus is different than the one that shows up later in Deuteronomy, or that certain kosher laws are explained, but then not really explained. He talks about parts of the Hebrew Scriptures that he finds uncomfortable like God’s demand that the Israelites commit genocide on the Canaanites. That being said, he explains this in an interesting way (that the Israelites were most likely Canaanites themselves), but not in a way that is in the text, more of a way that we understand thanks to archaeology. This course does an excellent job of explaining the history of the text and why it is different than the interpretation of the text. Additionally, he makes the arguments about where Judaism actually comes from. Which is very tricky.

Ultimately, this is an interesting piece because it allows for a new kind of interpretation, while introducing for example the documentary method which is so well understood. In fact my New American Bible, the standard Catholic of edition, includes Joshua, Ruth, Samuel and the histories, because they’re all clearly written by the deuterocanonical author. It is an impressive course and one that should be enjoyed by people interested in the text. It goes much further than the traditional easy criticisms like contradictions in Genesis chapters 1 and 2. I think, unlike Martin, this course ebbs and flows. Overall the course is excellent, and the last lecture specially is incredibly well done, and would have none of the power if you had not listen to his other lectures.

Like last piece, I want to make it clear here that this is a lecture series on the historical interpretations of the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures). I’m not here trying to change your faith, I just think this is an interesting interpretation. Cohen even seems to struggle at times with parts of what historians are saying, but still makes sure to say it. Overall I think this is an excellent podcast, and I am doing additional research.


iTunes U Course – Introduction to the New Testament History and Literature

An iTunes University course from Yale by Dale Martin

While studying for my PhD comprehensive exams, there reached a point where I was so mentally exhausted from rereading the same arguments over and over again that I needed a break. While many out there of you will not necessarily think of taking an online course as a break, I knew I needed to refocus myself by listening and thinking about something else, but I also wanted to be historical in nature.

Generally, as someone who studies US history, I realize that most of you think of US history as the only history that you need to know. However, as an academic in the field, it’s a little bit more complicated than that. When I think of academic history, I think of tweed jackets and elbow patches maybe a pipe, but when I think of that, I don’t think of them teaching US history. Generally, I think of them teaching Rome, ancient Greece and Persia. When I think of teaching US history, I bang my head against the wall because people don’t seem to relate to the fact that this is almost like civics. Teaching American history is still to explain the current election in context. With this in mind, studying classics of Western Civilization and the books that fundamentally founded in a historical context is right up that alley.

For those of you who have not taken an iTunes U course before, it’s quite simple. A series of audio or videos of lectures, a syllabus and all readings that are not copyrighted. Thus in this case, lists of Bible readings and a recommended textbook for purchase, additionally assignments are given but are not graded either for chose to read this much more like a podcast on a non-fiction topic.

Prof. Martins course is fantastic. As someone who is been interested as a Catholic in both Canon and the history of the church for historical reasons for a long time, this is really a boon. For example, I have read many Bart Ehrman’s books, and took standard Catholic synthesis and new and Old Testament courses, but those were primarily at the high school level and Bart Ehrman’s books are good, but written for a mass audience. Martin here addresses us as undergrads, but with an academically rigorous nature appropriate for Yale.

The course, to Prof. Martins own admittance, starts off rather slow, but interesting as he depicts Rome at the time of the Christian scriptures and Judaism at the time of the Christian scriptures and slowly builds. He starts out tracking the Gospels and following the books in order, but makes the story much more complex than that. Talking about how we know the synoptic Gospels are connected versus the Gospel of John, talking about how we know that Luke is part one and ask is part two of the same story, how we know that Paul wrote seven of his letters for sure, several are we are 50-50 on, and several we are sure our written by others in his name. He goes to great lengths to talk about how the early church looked, and why the Paul in Acts is different from the Paul of the letters. Additionally, he is one of the most interesting explanations of revelations I’ve heard.

While this is in no way to insult my high school education, in fact, for a Catholic high school they were very neutral on the historiography of the Bible impressively enough. I, for example, knew there were contradictions in the New Testament, and that it was assembled over time, with Mark being written first within 30 years of Jesus’s death, Luke and Matthew being based on Mark and a mysterious Q document filled with the quotes of Jesus, then finally John written about 100 years or so after Jesus’s death. However, Martin does an excellent job and creates a very interesting class. Something you should listen to for people who are really interested in the New Testament.

Finally, a caveat. Please note, Prof. Martin and I have no interest or really care about your faith. Martin makes clear that he is a religious man and of himself, but that does not change the canonical point of view versus the historical point of view. This is an iTunes University course on the historical interpretations of the Bible. Historical criticism tries to contextualize and use historical evidence for the Bible you can still look at the work as a solid text without contradictions, and he is not out inherently to disprove anyone’s religious beliefs, but know that if you believe that the Bible is without contradiction or without flaw, you will be frustrated.

iTunes U – The Introduction to the New Testament History and Literature