This experience is optimized for Internet Explorer version 9 and above.

Please upgrade your browser

Video title

Priority Code

Cancel
Book of Genesis

Book of Genesis

Course No.  6234
Course No.  6234
Share:
Video or Audio?
While this set works well in both audio and video format, one or more of the courses in this set feature graphics to enhance your learning experience, including illustrations, images of people and event, and on-screen text.
Which Format Should I Choose? Video Download Audio Download DVD CD
Watch or listen immediately with FREE streaming
Available on most courses
Stream using apps on your iPad, iPhone, Android, or Kindle Fire
Available on most courses
Stream to your internet connected PC or laptop
Available on most courses
Download files for offline viewing or listening
Receive DVDs or CDs for your library
Play as many times as you want
Audio formats include Free Streaming
Audio formats include Free Streaming

Course Overview

About This Course

24 lectures  |  31 minutes per lecture

The Book of Genesis, regardless of our faith, is something with which almost all of us in the Western world are familiar—a foundational work of our culture we have read and, we believe, understood. After all, its language, despite its remarkable elegance, is simple. Its powerful sentences are short. And its messages glisten with clarity.

Or do they?

Is it possible that the understanding of the Book of Genesis we've all grown up with isn't as complete as we'd like to believe? That its deceptively simple sentences and surface appearance hide from contemporary readers a purposeful and intricate structure designed to let its depth and detail and implication resonate with the readers and listeners of its

View More

The Book of Genesis, regardless of our faith, is something with which almost all of us in the Western world are familiar—a foundational work of our culture we have read and, we believe, understood. After all, its language, despite its remarkable elegance, is simple. Its powerful sentences are short. And its messages glisten with clarity.

Or do they?

Is it possible that the understanding of the Book of Genesis we've all grown up with isn't as complete as we'd like to believe? That its deceptively simple sentences and surface appearance hide from contemporary readers a purposeful and intricate structure designed to let its depth and detail and implication resonate with the readers and listeners of its own time? That we are overlooking, despite all of our modern sensibilities as readers, many of the astonishingly sophisticated literary devices and techniques used by the author—or, indeed, authors—of this beautiful work?

Professor Gary A. Rendsburg, who chairs the Department of Jewish Studies at Rutgers University, thinks so. And in the 24 lectures of The Book of Genesis he offers the tools needed to change our perceptions, showing us how we might read, hear, think about—and feel—its words as an ancient Hebrew would have, allowing us to gain a new appreciation of "one of the most remarkable literary compositions from the ancient world," as Professor Rendsburg says, the book with which both Jews and Christians alike begin their Bible.

Uncover New Meanings in Familiar Language

His approach to the Book of Genesis is one you may never have experienced before—a detailed, line-by-line literary parsing that gently probes its language, exploring how and why its effects were achieved; what its author—or authors—was saying; and revealing, between those lines, more information than most of us have ever dreamed was there.

As a noted scholar whose major interests include the literature of the Bible, the history of ancient Israel, the development of the Hebrew language, and the relationship between ancient Egypt and ancient Israel, Professor Rendsburg is an ideal choice for introducing what will be, for many, a new way of reading, as well as a wealth of fresh insights.

Among those insights, you'll learn:

  • The reasons the Book of Genesis has not one but two creation stories, and the very different messages they contain
  • The many contradictions (real or apparent) that appear in the book's pages, and the hints they offer about the book's authorship
  • The repeated appearances of barren women and younger sons in its stories and what these motifs stand for
  • The remarkably ordered large-scale narrative structure devised by the author (or authors) of the Book of Genesis to embody and convey its theological meaning.

Although this is clearly a course whose emphasis is literary, with detailed analysis dominating, Professor Rendsburg is ever mindful that the Book of Genesis remains, for many, a theological pillar underpinning religious faith. And he is both respectful of that reality and aware of it in an even broader context.

"In [the] first 11 chapters of Genesis, we see a universal story, a universal perspective, describing the relationship between God and humanity in general. Characters like Adam and Noah are not Israelites, per se; they represent all of humankind. ...

"This perhaps is the greatest lesson that we should learn from our course. The Bible is the record of the relationship between God and man—but the focus remains tenaciously on man.

"We follow mankind, through the early heroes of the Book of Genesis, in their attempt to find meaning in life; and we, as readers of the Bible, gain from that experience, extracting the lessons of their lives, and hopefully, finding meaning in our own lives."

The World of Genesis

And literary analysis is far from the only perspective Professor Rendsburg draws on. Throughout the lectures he surrounds his intense attention to the text with historical, social, and archeological context, always conveying the world in which Genesis was read and listened to, so that each journey into the deepest subtleties of language enables us to look outward as well, shaping what might have been "only" a literature course into much more.

Our close reading into this masterpiece of Hebraic literature becomes our gateway to a deeper understanding of the literatures of Babylon, Egypt, and Ugarit to which it is compared.

Our understanding of historical context allows us to follow conjectures as to where and when Abraham, the first of Israel's three great patriarchs—along with Isaac and Jacob—lived.

The lines of Joseph carry us into the world of Egypt, its royal courts, and even its funerary rituals of mummification.

Again and again, this course will surprise you as it shifts its focus from the nuance of language to educate, surprise, and sometimes even shock:

You'll learn the attractions and pitfalls of the "JEDP" theory—the name given to the standard or documentary hypothesis of how the five books of the Torah, or Pentateuch, were compiled from four separate sources, J, E, D, and P—a theory developed by a German scholar named Julius Wellhausen in the second half of the 19th century.

Earlier beliefs had seen this grouping as the revealed word of God before biblical scholars in the Enlightenment began a new effort to explain its many textual difficulties as a product of divergent sources. Professor Rendsburg takes the scholarly debate another step, by highlighting textual difficulties for the JEDP theory itself, and endeavors instead to read the Book of Genesis as a literary whole.

An Amateur Makes a Discovery for the Ages

You'll learn how the parallels between the Biblical story of the Flood and the version presented in the ancient Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh were discovered in the late 19th century by a gifted amateur, a banknote engraver named George Smith. He had learned to read the Akkadian language of ancient Babylon and had volunteered to translate the cuneiform tablets being unearthed in Iraq and sent to the British Museum in London. It was there that Smith discovered the epic's Tablet XI and its account of the Flood.

And you'll learn about the extraordinary and difficult history of translating the Bible—which was originally written, of course, in Hebrew—into other languages.

Professor Rendsburg explains that the first translation of the Bible was a Greek translation produced in the 3rd century B.C.E. in Alexandria, Egypt. Known as the Septuagint, and abbreviated as "LXX," it enabled many Jews of the Diaspora (their dispersal into lands outside of Israel), who had lost fluency in their ancient language, to read and understand the Scriptures.

According to legend, the name of the translation derives from rounding off the number of Jewish scholars—six each from the original 12 tribes of Israel, for a total of 72—gathered in Alexandria by King Ptolemy II to provide the translation for the Great Library of Alexandria.

But other translation efforts did not go as smoothly.

Translating the Bible into English, for example, was opposed by the Church, which insisted on using only the Vulgate, or Latin translation, and forbade any translations into the vernacular. When Englishman John Wycliff produced such a forbidden translation in the 14th century, he was condemned by the Church and his books ordered burned. When another Englishman, William Tyndale, produced another English translation in the early part of the 16th century, he was condemned as a heretic by both the Catholic Church and the newly established Church of England and forced to flee to Germany. He was eventually captured by the authorities in Belgium and burned at the stake in 1536.

Yet even disturbing stories like this one never overshadow the impression left by the course's attention to the words of Genesis, which, even in translation, continually offer us fascinating glimpses of authorial mastery.

Thoughtful, engaging, and often deeply moving, The Book of Genesis offers a wonderful opportunity to experience this foundational work—not only of theology, but of literature —as never before. No matter how many times you may have read its lines, or the perspective from which you have approached them, you will almost certainly never experience them the same way again.

View Less
24 Lectures
  • 1
    On Reading the Book of Genesis
    This lecture introduces the course's ground rules—a holistic (rather than separate-source) treatment that approaches the text as literature, history, and theological treatise that must be read with, and understood from, the world-view of its original readers. x
  • 2
    Genesis 1, The First Creation Story
    We plunge immediately into the biblical text, with the goal of learning how to read the literature of ancient Israel, so greatly removed from our own world in both time and place. x
  • 3
    Genesis 2–3, The Second Creation Story
    This lecture highlights the four major differences between the first and second creation accounts and discusses the main reason why Genesis, and hence the Bible, begins with two divergent narratives. x
  • 4
    An Overview of Ancient Israelite History
    This lecture presents historical background necessary for any study of the Bible, including the history of ancient Israel from Abraham, c. 1400 B.C.E., to the conquest of Alexander the Great, c. 330 B.C.E., and the development of the biblical canon. x
  • 5
    The Ancient Near East
    We survey the broad context of ancient Israel and its world—the ancient Near East divided into the three major geographical regions of Egypt, Canaan, and Mesopotamia. x
  • 6
    The JEDP Theory and Alternative Approaches
    The unified approach to the two creation accounts presented in Lecture 3 is one most scholars debate, citing many contradictions. This lecture introduces their four-source hypothesis, and discusses its good points and its problems. x
  • 7
    Genesis 6–8, The Flood Story
    We compare the Bible's account of the flood to the story incorporated in the Epic of Gilgamesh, the literary classic of ancient Mesopotamia, and also use the biblical version as a way of comparing the contrasting methods of the JEDP and unified-whole theories. x
  • 8
    Genesis 9, Covenant
    This lecture focuses on a crucial concept in biblical studies and how this idea of a bond between God and humanity, in general, and the people of Israel, in particular, distinguished ancient Israel from other cultures and religions of the ancient Near East. x
  • 9
    Genesis 12–22, The Abraham Story
    This lecture presents an overview of the Abraham narrative, focusing on the interrelated themes of God granting the land of Canaan to Abraham and Abraham's quest for an heir. x
  • 10
    When and Where Did Abraham Live?
    This question gives rise to considerable scholarly debate. We examine the arguments and also discuss the insights into Genesis provided by the archives and epic compositions, respectively, of two ancient cities. x
  • 11
    Genesis 21–22, Abraham Put to the Test
    We look in detail at the last two chapters of Abraham's story—including the Aqedah, or binding, of Isaac—giving a close reading to the text that focuses on the different literary techniques used by the author. x
  • 12
    Women in the Bible—Sarah and Hagar
    A relatively new avenue of biblical scholarship is an increased awareness of the many important female characters in the story. We illustrate the point by examining the roles of Sarah and Hagar in the Abraham narrative. x
  • 13
    Genesis 24, A Bride for Isaac
    We look at the longest prose narrative in the Torah—made so by the unusual method of its literary construction—and also explore the reasons for its focus on a minor, and anonymous, character. x
  • 14
    The Barren Woman and the Younger Son
    This lecture looks at the literary and theological reasons for the persistence of two key themes throughout Genesis—the woman unable to bear a child and the superseding of an older brother by a younger one. x
  • 15
    The Literary Structure of Genesis
    In this lecture we look systematically at the way individual stories are assembled to create a literary whole. We look at literary and theological reasons for mirroring structures within the stories of Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph, as well as parallel structures within the creation stories. x
  • 16
    Different Bible Translations
    We pause from our close reading of Genesis to examine the issue of different translations of the Bible—including the possible approaches and the reasons for them—illustrating the differences with several passages. x
  • 17
    Genesis 27, Jacob and Esau
    The well-known story of Jacob and Esau allows us to see the literary device of repetition at work, as well as Rebekah's role as instigator of the deception of Isaac and the punishment she receives for her actions. x
  • 18
    Genesis 29, Jacob and Rachel
    We discuss several literary devices available to ancient Israelite writers, including the use of "typescene"—the repeated narration of a theme or story using different characters or circumstances—in the tale of Jacob and Rachel meeting at the well. x
  • 19
    The Date of the Book of Genesis
    When was Genesis written? Previous lectures have dated it, in passing, to the 10th century. This lecture defends that conclusion, starting with the tendency of many authors to reveal and reflect the present when writing about the past. x
  • 20
    Genesis 37, Joseph and His Brothers
    This lecture focuses on the final main section of the Book of Genesis—the Joseph narrative—including a look at the difficult question of who actually transported Joseph to Egypt and the author's reasons for making this question so difficult. x
  • 21
    Genesis 38, The Story of Judah and Tamar
    We look at the links of theme and vocabulary between the stories of Judah and Tamar, and Joseph being taken to Egypt, and we explore the moral lesson Tamar's story was meant to convey to ancient Israelite readers. x
  • 22
    Genesis 39, The Story of Potiphar’s Wife
    This lecture examines a motif also present in ancient Greek and Egyptian texts—the handsome young man resisting seduction by his master's wife. We discuss the similarities and differences. x
  • 23
    The Egyptian Background of the Joseph Story
    There are many points of contact between the Joseph story and ancient Egypt. They show the author's intimate knowledge of Egyptian culture and his expectations that his Israelite audience would absorb many of the details. x
  • 24
    One Last Text—and the Text as a Whole
    The concluding lecture offers an opportunity to look ahead to the succeeding Book of Exodus, re-examines a key part of Genesis in light of what we discover, and reaches a major conclusion concerning what the Book of Genesis is really about. x

Lecture Titles

Clone Content from Your Professor tab

Your professor

Gary A. Rendsburg
Ph.D. Gary A. Rendsburg
Rutgers University
Dr. Gary A. Rendsburg holds the Blanche and Irving Laurie Chair in Jewish History in the Department of Jewish Studies at Rutgers University, where he also holds an appointment in the History Department. He earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in Hebrew Studies from New York University and taught at Canisius College and Cornell University-the latter for 18 years-before joining the Rutgers faculty in 2004. The author of six books and more than 120 scholarly articles, Professor Rendsburg takes a special interest in literary approaches to the Bible, the history of the Hebrew language, the history of ancient Israel, and the development of Judaism in the post-biblical period. His works include The Bible and the Ancient Near East (1997), a general survey of the biblical world coauthored with the late Cyrus H. Gordon, and, most recently, Solomon's Vineyard: Literary and Linguistic Studies in the Song of Songs (2009), coauthored with Scott B. Noegel. Professor Rendsburg has visited all of the major archaeological sites in Israel, Egypt, and Jordan and has explored Qumran, the site of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, repeatedly for several decades. He has participated in excavations at Tel Dor and Caesarea. His main research interests are the literature of the Bible, the history of ancient Israel, the historical development of the Hebrew language, and the relationship between ancient Egypt and ancient Israel. Professor Rendsburg has received several fellowships including the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
View More information About This Professor
Also By This Professor
View All Courses By This Professor

Reviews

Rated 4.2 out of 5 by 74 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by Reading Genesis With "New Eyes" AUDIO DOWNLOAD Five stars is not enough. This is by far the best course that I have yet taken with the Teaching Company, a real eye opener. I have read Genesis several times over many years in various English translations (KJV, NIV, ASV, and ESV) knowing that as with any translation of an ancient text I likely missed and misunderstood a good deal, but that turns out to be a gross underestimation. Professor Rendsburg opened up wide a rich world of meaning for me that makes Genesis even more significant and special. I had often felt a bit confused in reading Genesis that there were two creation stories, had wondered if there was anything to the argument that the Flood was taken from such contemporary Near Eastern stories as ‘Gilgamesh’, and been bemused by the seemingly unnecessary amount of repetition. These and a lot of other matters are clearly explained by Professor Rendsburg. He deals with Genesis as a literary work without, however, neglecting the historical and theological issues, showing how many literary devices (for example, type scene, wordplay, alliteration, and change in perspective) and literary motifs (specifically, the barren woman and the younger son superseding his older brother(s)) are employed in Genesis to great effect. It should be noted, however, that not all of Genesis is treated at the same depth (which is beyond what can be expected of a 24 lecture course), but Professor Rendsburg does make excellent choices. The most not noteworthy is the treatment of Genesis 29, Jacob and Rachel, a favorite of mine and, as I learned, of Professor Rendsburg. He goes so far as to provide his own translation of Gen. 29 from which he conducts his literary analysis. To give a hint of what this course offers, here is a short selection on word play in Genesis 29 which “…occurs in verses 6 and 9, in the expressions ‘and here is Rachel his daughter coming with the flock’ and ‘Rachel came with the flock,’ respectively. The Hebrew word for ‘coming’ and ‘came’ is ba’a, which reproduces the sound that sheep make. When one realizes further that Rachel means ‘ewe,’ the wordplay is enhanced. How playful the ancient Israelite authors could be!” (Page 81). The most interesting aspect of the course is Professor Rendsburg’s attempt to place Genesis “…in its original setting, reading it with the knowledge and worldview that an ancient Israelite would have brought to his or her reading…” (Course Guidebook, Page 3). This includes extensive reference to other Near Eastern peoples and their literature (since Genesis “…provides a veritable tour of the entire ancient Near East”, Page 21) and even to ancient Greece; how Genesis was read or, more often, listened to (which demanded “…input and involvement” (Page 48) by ancient Israelites); significant background on Israel’s history and the changing beliefs of its people from monolatry to monotheism; and how Genesis shows that “…God interacts in human affairs, not only in direct fashion at times…but also in minor, indirect ways… [manifesting] the omnipresence of God, even when acting behind the scene” (Page 59), [that] [t]here is a divine presence in Israel’s history…” (Page 70). Professor Rendsburg ably argues, often against prevailing opinion, that Abraham is best dated from ca. 1400 BC; that “…there is much greater literary unity to the book of Genesis than most scholars have realized” (Page 70), explaining why Genesis is not, as so many purport, the product of many hands over several centuries. He also provides compelling details as to why the writing of Genesis must be dated from the 10th Century BC, during Israel’s Unified Kingdom, the work of “ancient Israelite literati” (Page 129). While Professor Rendsburg reassuringly sees Genesis as “essentially historical” (Page 19), some may be surprised and/or disturbed by his contention that “…the stories in Genesis about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph are literary creations, with more literary quality to them than historical reality per se” (Page 19). Of equal concern is Professor Rendsburg’s view that Genesis describes “…the world as preexistent, with matter symbolic of evil… (…that the belief in creation ex nihilo is a later theological development)...[and that it is] God’s actions [that] bring goodness into the world” (Page 9). There is so much more about this course that I have to leave untouched. Nevertheless, I must mention how well Professor Rendsburg attends to the matter of translations of the Hebrew Bible, Jewish and Christian, up through the 20th Century. For purposes of the course, he recommends Robert Alter’s 1996 ‘Genesis: Translation with Commentary’, and assigns selections from it in the Essential Reading sections of the Course Guidebook. I got a copy to follow along with the lectures and I am so glad I did. Not only is it a great translation, fairly closely following the Hebrew original (though for me not nearly so elegant as the King James Version or so smooth flowing as the English Standard Version) with extensive notes that are the perfect complement to the lectures, facilitating “new eyes” (Lecture 24, Audio) in reading Genesis. You do not have to agree with all that Professor Rendsburg claims about the writing and dating of Genesis to appreciate this course. The lectures are stimulating and informative, drawing you into a better understanding and appreciation of Genesis. Professor Rendsburg is an excellent guide: knowledgeable, exceptionally engaging, and effective. I am looking forward to not only to a second time through this course, but also listening to his TC course on the Dead Sea Scrolls. May 6, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by Miraculous The instructor gets top scores from me for being structured and meticulous. His presentation seems to take into consideration the audio learner to the degree that I didn't feel I missed out by not seeing the video. If you are fence sitting between the audio and video you will find the audio satisfying. I Ioved all the insights into the language and literature of Genesis. These insights also gave me greater appreciation and understanding for other books in the Bible. Even though the lectures are not religious in nature, the instructor's love for the text comes across. Whether or not he personally accepts Genesis as from God doesn't dim his admiration for the content. I felt he was both inspired and inspiring. November 11, 2013
Rated 5 out of 5 by A Word To The Wise I appreciated the literary approach as I believe that Scripture is verbally inspired so the literary devices etc. were of great interest to me. I see the New Testament as part of scripture, which I suspect the lecturer does not. He referred to the Torah generally so I would say to him, if he reads these reviews and if he could bear to read a New Testament : Exodus Chapter 34 Verses 29 to 35 can be usefully read alongside 2nd Corinthians Chapter 3 Verse 7 through to Chapter 4 Verse 6. Paul had a direct way of writing with no literary devices that I can recall. The writer of Genesis must have been inspired in order to write so skilfully and if the Hebrews of his day could get all the nuances I take my hat off to them. October 12, 2014
Rated 3 out of 5 by Content great - presentation poor Having had very little exposure to the book of Genesis I will have to take previous reviewers' comments on the content of this course as being correct. However Professor Rendsburg's presentation style, in my opinion, is extremely poor - not up to the usual Teaching Company standard. As a result I found finishing the course #which I wanted to do# was onerous in the extreme. Not a course to revisit I'm afraid. September 24, 2014
2 3 4 next>>

Questions & Answers

Customers Who Bought This Course Also Bought

Some courses include Free digital streaming.

Enjoy instantly on your computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone.