Biblical Wisdom Literature

Course No. 6260
Father Joseph Koterski, S.J., Ph.D.
Fordham University
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Course Overview

In the history of wisdom literature, few traditions match the solace and profundity found in the teachings of the Bible. For centuries, people have taken comfort and insight from the familiar yet eternally resonant writings of the Bible's wisdom literature. Through their inspirational teachings, the sages of the biblical wisdom tradition offer time-honored advice about some of life's most difficult questions: What is the reward of virtue? What is the best way to raise one's children? How can we best deal with the uncertainty of life?

  • "There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens." (book of Qoheleth)
  • "How much better to get wisdom than gold, to choose understanding rather than silver!" (book of Proverbs)
  • "A faithful friend is beyond price. No sum can balance his worth." (book of Sirach)
  • "Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Beatitudes of Jesus)

For countless people, these ancient writings have offered consolation and insight into the very meaning of existence.

And yet, few of us realize that these great teachings are part of a larger tradition—a rich and complex body of writings that have influenced theologians, philosophers, and everyday men and women for millennia. The insights offered in this tradition and their efforts to integrate faith and reason, revelation and human wisdom rival those of the renowned philosophical schools of ancient Greece.

In Biblical Wisdom Literature, award-winning professor Father Joseph Koterski takes you deep inside this tradition. In 36 thought-provoking lectures, you explore enlightening teachings that have inspired the world and that continue to speak to life's most important questions.

Throughout the course, you benefit from Father Koterski's ecumenical perspective, as he presents these teachings within the Jewish and Christian traditions and compares the varying versions of these texts. He places each book in its historical and cultural context but also examines its place in today's world, describing how these teachings can be applied to everyday dilemmas.

The result is an enriching journey that is as rewarding for members of the Jewish and Christian faiths as it is to those who simply wonder: What do these writings have to say about the great philosophical problems people seek to understand?

From the Trials of Job to the Teachings of Jesus

The course begins with the well-known story of Job from the Jewish Bible, in which a righteous man struggles to understand why he suffers loss, illness, and despair. Father Koterski uses this story to probe one of the most compelling themes of the biblical wisdom tradition: What is the cause of suffering? Should we interpret suffering as a punishment for wrongdoing? Or is it sometimes a test, designed to shape our character?

The book of Job contends with some of the most enduring questions of theology and philosophy—questions that echo and re-echo throughout the stories of the Bible and the philosophy of the ancient world. But through this course, you also explore many other crucial themes:

  • In the book of Proverbs, you ponder the value and nature of wisdom itself and encounter sayings and tales that offer a moral exhortation to live according to God's covenant.
  • In the book of Qoheleth, you find a pithy, sometimes skeptical meditation on the ultimate meaning of this life, qualified by a faith in divine providence.
  • In the book of Sirach, you encounter wisdom teachings similar to those found in Proverbs—with advice on friendship, fidelity to God's law, and the nature of sin—as well as a perspective on God's role in history.
  • With the Song of Songs, you watch as the meaning of love unfolds on many levels—literal, spiritual, and allegorical—in a sublime piece of poetry.
  • In the book of Daniel, you encounter a new avenue to wisdom—prophetic insights revealed through the divine revelation of dreams.
  • In the Wisdom of Solomon, you contemplate the place of wisdom both in the highest courts of the land and in daily life.

In the final unit, you return to the theme of suffering in the figure of Jesus Christ, who through his teachings, death, and resurrection permits us to reconsider Job's meditation on suffering from a distinctly Christian perspective—one in which Jesus's ordeal appears as a means of redemption through sacrifice.

The "Interludes": An Opportunity to Pause and Reflect

Interspersed throughout these lectures, Father Koterski provides moments to reflect on these teachings through his consideration of another source of biblical wisdom—the wisdom psalms. Through these "interlude" lectures, you experience the wisdom tradition in a more personal way, through the study of a selection of psalms that underscore key themes covered in each unit.

For example, after exploring the book of Qoheleth, with its concern about life's absurdities and calamities, you'll reflect on Psalm 49, which helps put these uncertainties into a divine perspective:

"Why should I fear in times of trouble, when the iniquity of those who cheat me surrounds me,
those who trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches?
Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life..."

Through these interludes, you also consider the act of prayer itself. Father Koterski shows how these psalms serve as a versatile tool for personal meditation, and he offers practical advice on how to develop a habit of prayer. For those who are not part of a prayerful faith tradition, Father Koterski provides a glimpse into the benefits and rewards of this spiritual practice.

Explore a Treasure Trove of Literary Riches

As you delve into this tradition, you also encounter a feast of literary treasures. Father Koterski provides generous excerpts from the original works, showcasing the remarkable depth, richness, and diversity of these writings. Consider, for example, one of the most famous poems of the biblical tradition, the renowned Song of Songs, with its lyrical, moving representation of a love that is both spiritual and sensual:

"My beloved is white and ruddy, the chiefest among ten thousand.
His head is as the most fine gold, his locks are bushy, and black as a raven.
His eyes are as the eyes of doves by the rivers of waters, washed with milk, and fitly set.
His cheeks are as a bed of spices, as sweet flowers: his lips like lilies, dropping sweet smelling myrrh...
This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem."

In addition to the beautiful lyricism found here and in the psalms, you also encounter a wide range of literary genres, including

  • the engaging dialogue format of drama, exemplified in the many debates that make up the book of Job;
  • the pithy, thought-provoking proverbs found throughout the tradition, which rely on rhetorical concision to aid the reader in cultivating wisdom;
  • the riddle-like, often paradoxical form of the parable, employed in the teachings of Jesus Christ to help demonstrate the mystery of God's wisdom; and
  • some of the first examples of biography in the Bible, as seen in the book of Sirach, which recounts the workings of divine providence in the lives of Israel's great leaders.

Profound Insights from an Expert Scholar

In Biblical Wisdom Literature, you encounter a rare opportunity to study an important but often overlooked tradition of wisdom teaching. And there's no better guide than Father Koterski. Intellectually incisive yet engaging and accessible, he offers both the expertise of a philosophy and theology scholar and the insights of an ordained priest who has experienced the power of these teachings in everyday life.

Join Father Koterski for this journey into Biblical Wisdom Literature and delve deeply into profound teachings that have shaped the faith of millions for centuries and still apply to our lives today.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Introduction to Biblical Wisdom Literature
    Why do bad things happen to good people? Is there meaning in the suffering of life? As an introduction to your consideration of biblical wisdom literature, begin to ponder these crucial questions through the story of Job and preview your journey into this rich tradition. x
  • 2
    The Place of Proverbs in the Bible
    In the book of Proverbs, encounter one of the oldest biblical wisdom books. After considering the various literary forms in this book, take a closer look at the text by examining the story of a youth's encounter with the Lady Wisdom and the Lady Folly. x
  • 3
    Collections of Proverbs
    Continue your consideration of the book of Proverbs by exploring the series of proverbs that follow the book's opening story. This lecture also provides insights into the book's historical context and its debt to Egyptian wisdom traditions. x
  • 4
    The Poems of the Book of Proverbs
    Proverbs not only offers sage advice on how to live a good life; it also contains some of the most beautiful poetry in the Bible. Here, examine two of these lovely poetic texts: an acrostic poem about the ideal spouse and a poem about the personified figure of Wisdom. x
  • 5
    The Relation of Proverbs to Covenant
    A key theme in biblical history is the idea of covenant: the solemn agreement made between God and his chosen people. Examine this biblical motif and see how a proper interpretation of the book of Proverbs provides a moral exhortation to live according to God's wisdom. x
  • 6
    Interlude—Some Wisdom Psalms
    In this first interlude, consider the place of wisdom psalms within the larger structure of the book of Psalms. The lecture also delineates the distinctive characteristics of Hebrew poetry and suggests ways to use these psalms as part of prayerful meditation. x
  • 7
    Job and the Suffering of the Innocent
    Remarkably rich and complex, the book of Job offers a distinctly philosophical approach to the problem of suffering of innocent people. Begin your exploration of this wisdom story by examining its structure and considering its complex mix of drama and poetry. x
  • 8
    Job—The First Cycle of Conversations
    In a close analysis of the first section of the book of Job, encounter the angelic council where God allows Satan to test Job and the response to these sufferings by Job's three friends. The scene raises a compelling question: Has Job done something to deserve his sufferings? x
  • 9
    Job—Deepening the Conversation
    As you continue your exploration of the first cycle of speeches, gain deeper insight into the logical error made by Job's friends. Job's insistence of his own innocence leads to the conclusion that there must be other reasons for suffering besides divine retribution. x
  • 10
    Job—Second and Third Conversation Cycles
    Does Job's resistance to his friends' arguments suggest moral blindness on his part or a rightful belief that his suffering is out of proportion to his actions? A close reading uncovers textual problems that suggest that the answer may be more complex than a simple dialogue can convey. x
  • 11
    Job—The Wisdom Poem and the Conclusion
    Here, encounter a sharp shift in style in the book of Job as the text moves from dramatic dialogue to wisdom poetry. Analyzing this poem and the laments that follow, consider how Job serves as a pattern for spiritual discernment in times of trouble. x
  • 12
    Job—Elihu's Defense of God's Honor
    The book of Job concludes with two dramatic episodes: the entrance of Elihu, a young man who upbraids Job for not admitting to God's justice, and the dramatic appearance of God in the form of a whirlwind. x
  • 13
    Job—Reflections on the Book as a Whole
    In this final lecture on the book of Job, examine the dramatic conclusion of this wisdom tale and explore how the lessons it teaches about the justice of God's ways compare with views of such modern thinkers as Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and C. S. Lewis. x
  • 14
    Interlude—Prayer in Times of Suffering
    After reflecting on the book of Job, return to Psalms to reflect on the significance of praying for compassion and wisdom in the face of suffering. The lecture also includes some practical suggestions for how to pray using the psalms. x
  • 15
    Qoheleth—The Inadequacy of Human Wisdom
    Often known by its Greek title as Ecclesiastes, the book of Qoheleth is one of the shortest books in the biblical wisdom tradition. In this lecture, see how this book, unlike the coherent narrative of Job, presents wide-ranging musings on a variety of topics. x
  • 16
    Qoheleth—Skepticism about Easy Answers
    Like Job, the author of Qoheleth faces a fundamental problem: Do a person's virtues and vices garner their due rewards in this life? A close examination of the text reveals that there are no easy answers to this question. x
  • 17
    Qoheleth—Keeping Faith during Confusion
    When confronted with life's uncertainties, how can one continue to forge ahead? This final lecture on the book of Qoheleth suggests the limits of man's ability to comprehend the ultimate meaning of life and offers practical advice on how to persevere in faith and hope. x
  • 18
    Interlude—Wisdom Psalms for Uncertainty
    After considering Qoheleth's weighty musings on the possibility of attaining wisdom, turn once again to the psalms. During this interlude, reflect on the topics of prayer and faith when reason seems to have lost its way or is blocked by uncertainty. x
  • 19
    Sirach—A Traditional Approach to Wisdom
    The longest of the Bible's wisdom books, Sirach (also called Ecclesiasticus) portrays suffering as a way to test character and teach moral lessons. Here, preview the book's structure and consider its place within the variety of traditions that have held these writings sacred. x
  • 20
    Sirach on the Cultivation of Virtue
    While it shares with Job and Qoheleth a sense of the need for faith in the face of uncertainties, Sirach echoes Proverbs in recommending the cultivation of virtue. This lecture explores this book's teachings on topics such as fidelity to Torah, friendship, fear of God, sin, and vice. x
  • 21
    Sirach's Wisdom Poetry
    The book of Sirach includes a wisdom poem that is distinctive for its explicit connection between wisdom and the observance of Torah. Examine the structure and content of this wisdom poem and compare it with other instances seen in Proverbs and Job and by the prophet Baruch. x
  • 22
    Sirach on Divine Providence within History
    The final portion of the book of Sirach includes two notable excerpts: a lovely hymn praising the glory of God in nature and a lengthy meditation on the history of salvation. As you analyze these passages, contemplate the importance of memory and gratitude in prayer. x
  • 23
    The Song of Songs—Love as the Answer
    The Song of Songs, also called the Canticle of Canticles, is a series of poems recording a great story of the separation and reuniting of lovers. This lecture provides a general overview of this resonant love story and discusses its historical context. x
  • 24
    The Song of Songs—Levels of Meaning
    What is the meaning of the beautiful verses of the Song of Songs? Is it the account of an earthly love between man and woman? Or an allegory about the relationship between God and his people? Explore the meanings both Jewish and Christian readers have found in this famous literary work. x
  • 25
    Interlude—Wisdom Psalms on Perseverance
    After exploring the wide range of emotions in the Song of Songs, return to the treasury of the Psalms to consider a number of texts that are especially relevant for moments when perseverance is needed to counter delay and discouragement. x
  • 26
    Daniel—Wisdom through Dream Visions
    Although it is often classed among the prophetic books of the Bible, the book of Daniel also offers a contemplation of wisdom through its representation of the meaning of dreams. Here, consider this book's historical context and analyze some of Daniel's early dream visions. x
  • 27
    Daniel—God's Providential Plan for History
    The latter portions of the book of Daniel concern eschatology, or theological reflections on the end times. Conclude your consideration of this book by examining its commentary on the various stages of the world's history as part of God's providential plan. x
  • 28
    The Wisdom of Solomon on Divine Justice
    Although attributed to King Solomon, the Wisdom of Solomon is believed to have been written long after his death. In this lecture, learn about the unique circumstances of its authorship and examine how its opening section posits the choice between virtue and vice. x
  • 29
    The Wisdom of Solomon on Death
    In this lecture, return to the problem of suffering and explore this book's teachings about the meaning of the death of innocents. Consider the book's treatment of God's covenant with mankind, as well as a theme that will gain equal importance, the idea of the immortality of the soul. x
  • 30
    The Wisdom of Solomon on Prayer
    Examine the extended poem in which Solomon exhorts kings of the world to cultivate wisdom in order to rise to the challenges of their office and offers a lesson on how to pray for wisdom. x
  • 31
    The Wisdom of Solomon on Divine Providence
    As in Sirach, the final section of the Wisdom of Solomon examines how God actively intervenes in history. Examine this theme and other distinctive elements of the book, such as its parallels with the philosophical tradition of natural law ethics and allusions to the soul's immortality. x
  • 32
    Interlude—A Wisdom Psalm on Torah
    Many psalms reflect a key concern of the Bible's wisdom literature: an exploration of God's covenant with his chosen people as expressed in Torah. Here, contemplate the importance of prayer for conforming oneself to the covenant that God initiated. x
  • 33
    Jesus as Wisdom Teacher
    In Christian belief, Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God who took on human nature for the sake of mankind's salvation from sin and death. This lecture provides an overview of this doctrine and presents Jesus as a teacher who both continues and reinvigorates the wisdom tradition. x
  • 34
    Jesus and the Wisdom Stories in the Gospels
    Jesus was renowned for presenting his wisdom teachings in the form of parables: dense, often paradoxical stories that convey hidden truths. Here, focus on representative examples, including the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son. x
  • 35
    Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount
    As the paradigmatic instance of Jesus as Wisdom Teacher, the Sermon on the Mount both echoes the earlier wisdom tradition and adds new inspiration. Explore this remarkable text, giving close attention to Jesus's famed Beatitudes as statements of traditional wisdom thought. x
  • 36
    Overview of Biblical Wisdom Literature
    What does "wisdom" mean? As you review the tradition, focus on three ways to view the meaning of wisdom as it is revealed throughout these writings: wisdom as divinely inspired; wisdom as derived from the natural world; and wisdom as achieved through human nature. x

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Your professor

Joseph Koterski, S.J.

About Your Professor

Joseph Koterski, S.J., Ph.D.
Fordham University
A member of the Society of Jesus, Father Joseph Koterski is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Fordham University, where he specializes in the history of medieval philosophy and natural law ethics. Before taking his position at Fordham University, Father Koterski taught at the Center for Thomistic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. He earned his doctorate in Philosophy from St. Louis University, after...
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Reviews

Biblical Wisdom Literature is rated 4.0 out of 5 by 51.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Teacher Dr. Koterski is the kind of person I would enjoy having dinner with. He is a thoughtful person and a gentleman. Spending time with him is time well spent. As one should expect he presents his own views, among those of other scholars, on topics open to interpretation. Books in the Catholic, but not the Protestant Bible, are included. Almost all of this class focuses on the Old Testament, and a more exact title for the class would be: Old Testament Wisdom Literature.
Date published: 2017-07-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fabulous Once again it is apparent an individual's expectations and pre-formed ideas affect their ratings. I am surprised by the number of relatively low ratings. My opinion is this course is an excellent fit with the other GC library of religious courses. Each Professor brings a different point of view to any subject. Prof. Koterski's presentation recognizes other interpretations exist (Of course; we are talking about religion !). His analysis of the various texts is as valid and valuable as any other of the GC's teachers. He does have a style of giving a sermon at times. However; in my opinion they are amongst the best sermons I have heard. He is very clear and deliberate in his presentation. He explains the background and history of the particular book he is about to discuss; and then discusses it. He makes a point of mentioning when a particular idea or theme appears in other books of the Bible. I think the entire presentation, organization, and points made about the various books discussed was excellent.
Date published: 2017-07-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Sapiential Exploration I have always wanted to read these books of the Bible but always felt intimidated without a competent guide... this course was that guide for me! I loved learning the history of the books and the context in which they were written. The inclusion of psalms and discussions of prayer were also very insightful. I personally loved Fr. Koterski's take on these important biblical books and how the concept of justice developed in them through time. I should disclose that I am of the same faith tradition as Fr. Koterski but I do not believe that it affected my opinion of this course. If you have always wanted to read these books with the help of a magister, this is the course for you.
Date published: 2017-03-30
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not what I was looking for. The reviews for this course are deservedly mixed, and quite polarized. Those looking for a spiritual approach to biblical wisdom literature may find this course compelling. Those, like me, looking for a historical-critical approach to biblical wisdom literature may be disappointed. As some other reviewers have noted, the course has the distinct feel of a sermon rather than an academic lecture series.
Date published: 2017-01-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Title is descriptive of the content. Thoughroly and professionally presented. A good interpretatiomal coverage.
Date published: 2016-12-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good summary of books Although not quite as expected, the lecturer does a good job of presenting the content of the books. Expected a more detailed discussion of the concept and presentation of wisdom literature in the Bible. More of a Bible study approach of the books individually. Including the "Catholic" books in addition to the standard Biblical books was a good addition. Even though the lecturer is Catholic, does a balanced presentation, providing the different viewpoints of other denominations and beliefs.
Date published: 2016-11-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent and would Recommend Father Joseph Koterski offers a great insight into the Wisdom literature for anyone seeking a greater understanding. As a happily practicing Catholic it reminds me of the great balance and relationship of "faith seeking understanding". He, Fr. Koterski, presents a balance of the historical settings of the books with all the trials and challenges of God's people throughout history and in a greater cultural setting along with an application to the challenges and questions faced today and throughout all time with regard to suffering, morality and enduring Truth. He is a Catholic priest and he, at times, shares his method of prayer and reflection on the scriptures. I liked that very much. I am reading his book on Medieval Philosophy and a few articles he has written on Pope John Paul's writings. He is a great teacher and is able to impart the deep beauty and transcendence of Catholic Teaching. A listener would not have to be Catholic to appreciate.
Date published: 2016-10-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Biblical wisdom The principals of human nature and its the biggest mystery of all, and helps categorize some of the most recent qualities as we evolve.
Date published: 2016-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Wise Course to Take Father Koterski's lectures on Biblical Wisdom Literature in both the Old and New Testaments were informative and inspiring. My religious background is both Episcopal and Lutheran, and I was glad to learn how the deuterocanonical/apocryphal books of Sirach and The Wisdom of Solomon help to connect the Old and New Testaments in the development of wisdom and resurrection beliefs. He designed the course for both searchers and believers, and he has a welcoming tone that shouldn't put anyone off if you're at all interested in this topic. I also like his practical suggestions on how the Bible's wisdom passages can enhance one's meditation and prayer. And after finishing the course, I plan not only to review his lectures but to keep searching the Biblical literature that this course covers.
Date published: 2015-09-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Like Listening to a Spiritual Advisor In Biblical Wisdom Literature, Father Koterski explains both the historical context (known and theorized) and provides guidance on how one may incorporate the lessons the Wisdom literature may teach us, should we choose to listen to it. Especially interesting to me, Fr. Koterski spent "interludes" every few lessons to discuss psalms and how one my mediate on the psalms or other Wisdom literature, essentially using lectio divino. The last few lessons include an extension into Jesus' ministry and how His lessons, such as those taught through parables, and His Sermon on the Mount may be considered Wisdom literature in the New Testament. In addition, Fr. Koterski brought in modern and ancient philosophy into the lectures to describe how various schools of thought might view various passages. I found it helpful to have a bible open in front of me. Though I listened to the audio version, I found I got more out of the lessons when I was following along in my bible, which made listen to this at home rather than in the car. A note on the bible- Fr. Koterski always indicated which version he was reading from, but there were at least three different translations that he quoted from regularly. Regarding Father Koterski's voice (I see that several other reviews mention it), I think he would make an excellent reader on a meditation recording or on a recorded bedtime story book. This class is different than many others I've taken through Great Courses, but well worthwhile. Overall, I would classify this course as more spiritual guidance rather than historical.
Date published: 2015-05-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course This is my 2nd course from this professor. I did the audio because I enjoy listening to the lectures while at the gym, or even at home. What I particularly enjoy about this professor, and this series, is it is packed with learning. His presentations are understandable, and he not only enjoys the subject, he gives a natural warmth. I'm not quite done with this series yet, but I am hopeful Great Courses will bring this professor back.
Date published: 2014-12-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course I am really enjoying this course! The professor is great and very knowledgeable. Can't wait to finish it, I know it will help me reread this bible books will clearer understanding and see them in a new light
Date published: 2014-12-10
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointed - Wanted More and Got Less. I was disappointed. I wanted to learn more about what is in the Bible and the story behind the words in everyday life when they were written along with what I am missing in these pages, and finally to have a better understanding so I can learn and live a better life through Gods Words. I wanted to be better able to link what is of concern in my life to Biblical doctrine for better guidance and wisdom. I didn't learn much. The Professor rambles, drifts off of the Biblical subject on various tangents and seems to like using "$20 words" to impress himself and his audience when regular straight forward words would be less distracting and more to the point like the Words of Jesus in the Bible. The Professor shows why his style of teaching isn't working in organized religions and in classrooms, and killing interest. It was painful to endure all these CD's and I was so glad when the last one was finally done playing. Wasted Money.
Date published: 2014-10-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent guide to this section of the Bible It probably is worth saying, given the numerous non-believing commentators on the Bible today, that Professor Koterski is a Jesuit priest and therefore a believer who is completely comfortable with these texts and obviously loves them deeply. He also has had a broad non-religious education, something I have found almost universal in Jesuits. For example, he remarks that Candide is a satire on the religious beliefs of Leibniz, suggests watching Babette's Feast as an illustration of one of the texts, and takes an enlightening detour into Dante's Divine Comedy. A feature I appreciated greatly is the smoothness with which he keeps you oriented in the present lecture as well as past and future lectures. There's an enormous amount of material here! I found it helpful to have more than one Bible (Koterski quotes from several). I already owned a King James Version, a Geneva Bible, and the early and recent translations from the Jewish Publication Society. I had to buy the Oxford Bible with the Apochrypa, as Prostestant and Jewish Bibles do not contain that material (e.g., Ben Sirach), which is the subject of some of the lectures. I am now wondering why those two groups spurned these books, as they are quite wonderful. One thing puzzles me: the cover of the course guide and the CD cases have pictures of a crucifix. A very large part of the material covered is from the Hebrew Bible, and some people will find the crucifix offensive. This is a small quibble, as the pictures can easily be ignored. After all, you get this course to listen to it, and it is well worth the time.
Date published: 2014-09-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Great Course! This is now my favorite Teaching Company course (I’ve been a customer for 12+ years). I held off getting it since I had read some negative comments about Father Koterski’s voice/presentation style, and also wondered about his perspective as a Roman Catholic priest. In the end, my interest in the subject and the positive comments of other reviewers persuaded me to get the course on audio download. I planned on breaking up the Biblical Wisdom lectures with lectures from another course (which I sometimes do when I’ve got a 36 lecture course on hand and feel like taking a break from a subject), but this course kept my attention right through the Old Testament into the New Testament. I attribute a good deal of the appeal of this course not only to Father Koterski’s teaching style, organization of material, personal asides and interpretations (with which he is quite free, but always alerts us when he is rendering a personal opinion), and observations, but also to his background. Yes, he is a Roman Catholic priest, a Jesuit, and knows the Bible, but he also has solid scholarly background in classical languages and philosophy. Considering that the Bible’s Wisdom Literature is the most philosophical portion of the Bible, Father Koterski comes to the task uniquely qualified as both a scholar and a believer. I did not want an academic treatment by a non-believer of this topic, drained of the spirit and meaning (or worse, treated in an incredulous or demeaning manner). After listening to all 36 lectures, I think I am safe in saying that even open-minded non-believers would find the course interesting, if for no other reason than to get a better perspective on Jewish and Christian belief, thought, and practice. Father Koterski also uses various versions/translations of the Bible. I sensed that he was especially sensitive to those of us from the Protestant tradition in some comments and elaborations, as well as in Bible references. These lectures are well worth the purchase if only for the masterful seven lecture treatment of Job. I came also to really appreciate the five Interlude lectures devoted to the Wisdom Psalms, in which Father Koterski provided multi-layered context and useful advice in how to meditate on and use those Psalms in prayer. Throughout, Father Koterski makes a point of relating each book to other parts of the Bible and to the other Wisdom books. There is some repetition in this regard, but in my opinion it is necessary over so many lectures. My ignorance of the background of the Apocrypha was greatly diminished by the lectures and especially fostered an appreciation of Ecclesiasticus (or Wisdom of Sirach) and Wisdom of Solomon. According to Father Koterski the Wisdom Literature of the Bible is not understandable without reference to covenant, especially that of God with Noah, which “…explains something about why bad things sometimes happen to good people—why the wicked sometimes prosper and the innocent sometimes suffer.” (Course Guidebook, page 23), and he carries this through into the New Testament. Along with covenant is fear of God (as, for example, being the beginning of Wisdom), and it is handled in such a thorough and reasonable way that I wish it could be shared more widely. A significant theme that surfaces even more explicitly is the reference to and significance of an afterlife. Father Koterski notes that only in Daniel is there an explicit mention of an afterlife (going beyond mention of the pit/Sheol) found, for instance, in Proverbs. This sets the stage, proceeding through the later Apocrypha into the New Testament, in which OT Wisdom Literature has its culmination in Jesus Christ. Here, Father Koterski focuses on The Sermon on the Mount and, in the matter of grace, the Lord’s Prayer. As one can tell, I found this a great course taught by a knowledgeable and personable professor. Where else can one find a discussion of biblical wisdom literature that not only includes mention of derivations and meanings of Hebrew and Greek words and their relationships to other books of the Bible, but also references to James Joyce, Rene Descartes, Greek Tragedy, the Da Vinci Code, Mesopotamian and Egyptian influences, Epicurus, Shakespeare, and Plato? I’ve since bought a copy of Gerhard Von Rad’s Wisdom in Israel recommended by Father Koterski and have begun listening to Father Koterski’s earlier TC course on Natural Law and Human Nature (lecture nine of which has a good thumbnail summary of Father Koterski’s OT portion of the longer Biblical Wisdom Literature course.) In the wings for me is Father Koterski’s TC course on Aristotle’s Ethics. Would it be too much to hope that the Teaching Company would have Father Koterski handle a course on an Old Testament theme or even in the New Testament, perhaps on the making of the NT Canon (-: , or on St. Thomas Aquinas?
Date published: 2013-08-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from a careful, insightful course I have been extremely impressed by the quality of the commentary that Fr. Kozerski has supplied for this course. Also, his choice of text portions to read aloud, the way he ties in thoughts from one sequence to the next are all very good. He presents a balanced, thoughtful consideration of the material, noting its strengths as well as where there are shortcomings. Highly recommend it.
Date published: 2012-12-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course I love this course and its even-handed presentation.
Date published: 2012-10-29
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Unexpectedly disappointing but has some value The overall low rating for this course clearly indicates considerable dissatisfaction with it. I found Father Koterski pleasant and appealing, but he did come across at times as though presenting a sermon. Also, I found his pronunciation of the word "PSALMS" to be extremely odd: he virtually makes it rhyme with "forms" or "dorms" which I've never heard before. It threw me off each time he used the word. Yes, I did learn from these lectures, but I was rather disappointed that I didn't come out with the understanding I had hoped to achieve. The lecrures are not memorable. I'm glad I viewed them, but I could not recommend them, and here I am in the company of almost half the reviewers, alas.
Date published: 2012-03-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Doesn't Address the Sapiential Meaning My principle concern is this: Christian and Jewish theologians have long observed that the Bible permits (if not requires) multiple levels of interpretation. The great Origen of Alexandria codified this principle as early as the third century, suggesting that Scripture can be interpreted at three levels: literal, moral, and spiritual. The last we might, in modern terms, call a psychological or sapiential level of interpretation. Nowhere in the Bible is this last level of meaning more important than in the Wisdom Books. An example taken from the New Testament will illustrate the point. Concerning the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, Origen suggests that the seven wise virgins, who keep their lamps trimmed and supplied with oil, correspond to seven spiritual senses. These senses the religious aspirant must keep active and ready in anticipation of divine revelations (symbolized as the coming of the bridegroom). The story makes little sense in any other terms. As a parable, it's clearly not to be taken literally, and as a moral lesson, it's rather vague. But as a statement of principles of subtle inner psychological processes, it is most profound. Similar examples abound throughout the Wisdom Books. For instance, when Proverbs warns about consorting with the "strange woman", a figurative, sapiential meaning is more persuasive than a literal or moral one. That is, one hardly needs Scripture to warn young men not to consort with courtiers. It's good advice, but not especially divine. At a deeper, allegorical level, however, it warns against concupiscence and the intrusion of and mental seduction by lustful or disordered sensual thoughts. For the seeker of Wisdom, it is arguably the latter meaning that is more significant. Enough modern authors have broached the topic of psychological/spiritual allegorism that it ought to have at least been mentioned in these lectures. Properly understood, the Wisdom Books of the Bible instruct the serious reader on the path of mental salvation -- the "transformation of the mind", as St. Paul calls it. Some Westerners now choose to explore this path via Eastern spiritual traditions, such as Buddhism. It is unfortunate that more do not recognize that a comparable tradition exists within the Western tradition, in which the Wisdom Books figure prominently. The lectures supply reasonably good background information on the Wisdom Books and offer insights into the moral dimension of their meaning. They are perhaps worth purchasing (but not at full price) for that reason. However, they fail to supply the key that unlocks the sapiential meaning of the Sapiential Books. The organization and delivery of the lectures (I purchased the audio version only) is excellent, and overall Fr. Koterski is an exemplary lecturer. His series on Aristotle's Ethics is splendid.
Date published: 2011-12-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very interesting survey of Biblical Wisdom I really enjoyed listening to this series of presentations. The overviews of various Biblical Wisdom books separated by interesting interludes on various psalms made the series enjoyable to listen to and to think about. It is not a high speed presentation - but is presented at a comfortable pace. Enjoy...
Date published: 2011-09-03
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Great Disappointment I have ordered and listened to over 25 different courses from The Teaching Company, and I have only been disappointed twice - this is one of two disappointments. This course does not provide the background or explanation I would have liked. Instead it is much more in line with what I would expect from a Bible Study. And while I enjoy a good Bible Study, that's not at all what I was looking for here. The professor's voice tends to drone and put me to sleep more than once. He fails to make the subject matter interesting or engaging.
Date published: 2011-07-06
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Depends on what you're looking for Whether you'll find this course of value depends on what you're looking for. The ratings I gave it are relative to my own interests. Unlike his other course on Ethics, this one comes across not as an intellectual presentation but a sermon, Father Joseph in his pastoral role. He is soothing, pious and unctuous, presenting the Good News as foreshadowed in the Old News. The intellectual content here -- and there is a bit -- is all placed in the service of showing that the Old Testament is an evolutionary stage on the way to the New. The mysteries of Job, for example, are all neatly solved by the subsequent "discovery" of an afterlife. I found it irritatingly complacent and intellectually simplistic. However, I am not currently in need of a priest; were I, might have found this course a comfort rather than a bore..
Date published: 2011-03-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Absolutely the BEST course I have ever taken at The Teaching Company. As with Father Koterski’s other courses, The "Ethics" of Aristotle and Natural Law and Human Nature, I found his Biblical Wisdom Literature material to be well prepared and delivered with excellence. The gold of this course is in its content -- deep, rich, and rewarding. I think its full measure can only be taken by repeatedly hearing it. Because I was laid-up due to surgery I was able to complete the 36 lectures in a short period of time . . . a bonus by any standard. Normally a course takes longer, given the constraints of “normal” time. Before beginning, the thought crossed my mind that this particular course may be biased toward Catholicism. Yet I found nothing of the sort. When Father Koterski did profess some particular aspect of his belief, he was very clear in noting that it was his, and that others may find a different meaning. I found his treatment of the material to be quite penetrating, direct, and balanced. He favorably noted the Buddhist koans as well as Jewish faith practices. He offered suggestions on prayer without blurring them into a sermon. Nothing in the entire course ever reminded me of a sermon. Father Koterski uses his talents to teach. Truly, I cannot praise Father Koterski and Biblical Wisdom Literature enough. I am so thrilled with this course that I have put my money where my mouth is. I purchased a second set to pass along among my friends and family because I want to keep mine on-hand for review. I have taken many courses at The Teaching Company and found only a few disappointing. Most have been worth my time. The Teaching Company is to be commended on its mission to offer quality courses for lifelong learning.
Date published: 2011-01-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Mixed feelings on this one My review title tells it all. At some points I was lulled to sleep with the detail and at other times I was entrhalled with the presentation and wanted more on the topic. Too detailed and not detailed enough. Admittedly this course did get me to want to re-read my Bible. While Father Koterski basically presented the Christian view he did present other views occasionally. I found this course spotty in its presentation.
Date published: 2010-12-31
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Just Not Sure I've listened to or watched almost 20 TC courses, and no other presentation has left me with such mixed feelings. I've rated each category 3 stars, while wondering whether they should have been 2s. As to whether I would recommend this course: It depends. Father Joseph Koterski comes across as a likeable, appealing, and caring mentor, as other reviewers have indicated. That creates reluctance on my part to write too critically, but the purpose of writing is to review the course, not the man. The content is very elementary to a person who has read these ancient texts for himself. Perhaps a true beginner will find here a helpful introduction to the biblical wisdom literature, but if it really is meant to be an introduction, it's way too long. My biggest criticism of the content is that Father Koterski spends too much time talking about the texts rather than letting them speak for themselves. Especially damaging to me is that the weakest part of his presentation is the opening lectures on Proverbs. I was highly tempted to quit early in the game, but forced myself to continue. The Proverbs are insightful, interesting, practical, useful, and often hilarious. Koterski talked at great length about the Proverbs, but shared little of them. I consider this a major misstep in the creation of the course. He improves on this fault later, but then backslides into talking about the texts again. This tendency comes and goes throughout. Finally, a word about the speaking style. I have the CD version and listen while driving. Unlike some other TC professors, Father Koterski has a true "golden throat" speaking voice. This is actually a problem: I have more than once discovered that I had mentally drifted off for several miles because of the soothing flow of his melodious voice. I have a feeling that if he left the ministry he could work professionally on radio or doing voice-overs (or as a hypnotist!). Viewers of the DVDs may have a different take, because his visual presentation compensates for this, but to that I can't speak. This course could have been much more, chiefly through more direct presentation of the texts themselves. I'd love to have Father Koterski as a friend and chat over lunch, but I don't think too much of this course.
Date published: 2010-04-10
Rated 2 out of 5 by from While I have purchased over a dozen of the Teaching Company courses, and have listened to at least another 20 (via the library) this is the first time I have ever found it necessary to return one. A real dissappointment. My dissatisfaction with the Biblical Wisdom Literature course derives from the fact that it seems to lack intellectual independence. Father Koterski would likely be an outstanding and wise pastoral counselor. But I was looking for a more objective exploration of the wisdom literature of the bible, its pros, cons, and difficulties. For example, Father Koterski's discussion of the Book of Job, skips over the difficult question – what kind of God would kill off all of Job’s 10 children and torture him with such afflictions, without a thought or regret? Second example, Father Koterski discusses the problem of suffering/evil (e.g. how can an omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent God permit innocent suffering?) without ONCE suggesting that the fact of innocent suffering might raise some doubt as to the existence of such a God. Third, he posits free-will as the solution to suffering, without discussing or examining how or whether free-will exists. Fourth, he spends an entire lecture (number 19 I think) teaching us how to pray. I was looking for intellectual analysis and critical thinking, not prayer lessons. Father Koteski seems like a wonderful man whom I would enjoy meeting, But I think that the Teaching Company needs to inform people that this course is a gentle, but strongly pro-christian apologia.
Date published: 2010-03-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from ...the beginning of wisdom One of the keys to understanding biblical wisdom literature is that it is not only historically significant, but it is a part of a still-living and breathing tradition. Thus, Fr. Koterski treats it as a part of a living tradition...one that he lives, personally, every day. The original listeners of the wisdom literature, the ancient Israelites, would not have understood some reviewers' demand to learn about Job, Solomon, the Psalms, etc, in a non-religious way. That attitude defies the entire point of the texts and it would not get a person very far. Imagine how dull this course would be if instead of plunging the depths of Job, he instead gave a plot summery, parsed the grammar, discussed meter and scansion, or reviewed the vocabulary? It would have been dreadfully boring. What makes biblical wisdom literature exciting is that the themes cut right to the core of what it means to be human; it tackles our most pressing existential questions and grapples with the answers. The fact that Fr. Koterski is shamelessly straightforward about the necessity of understanding these texts as a living tradition ensures that we to get to the substance of the texts, and not just have a glossy, superficial treatment. This course imparts real knowledge to the listener who really listens, and is worth every penny and much, much more.
Date published: 2010-01-30
Rated 2 out of 5 by from More sermon than lecture I've listened to most of the biblical studies lectures the Teaching Company provides, and this was the most disappointing. I grew increasingly fond of the professor as the course progressed, but increasingly disappointed in the content. Other professors in the area have similar credentials as practicing or former members of religious orders, but the others I have heard have been able to give a more balanced perspective on the material. Professor Koterski wasn't able to exercise the same restraint. Much of the presentation was focused on his own religious perspective or that of his church, with only slight acknowledgment given to dissenting views. The course has very little of the scholarly perspective that I appreciate in the other courses on religion and the bible. It wasn't a waste of time, but it was occasionally a strain to bear listening to it.
Date published: 2010-01-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fear of the Lord is the Beginning of Wisdom Fr. Koterski does an excellent job of threshing out the meaning of Biblical Wisdom literature. His lectures pull out threads for our consideration, but he never puts the answer in our face. Instead, he leads the student to take the thread and meditate on the meaning ourselves. Some reviewers have complained of the overt religious nature of this course. Hello, this is a course on Biblical Wisdom literature. One cannot understand the wisdom literature of the Bible without understanding the world view of those who wrote, read and live the literature on a daily basis. If you treat the Psalms as if they were secular, not religious, texts, then you will never understand them. In fact, to read the Psalms as secular text would be to commit a gross misreading, and you would find yourself in absolute contradiction of the very thing you claim to be interested in learning about. I wonder if the critics who pan Fr. Koterski for not being "academic" also pan their cardiologists for not discussing their heart like an insurance agent instead of like a doctor. In short, to criticize him for teaching Biblical Wisdom Literature as Biblical is foolish. But, as the Psalmist said, "The fool hath said in his heart, 'There is no God'." I suspect what those critics were really looking for was a course that would justify their skepticism/atheism by making Biblical Wisdom Literature seem quaint and naive. Yes, if you are looking for a course that says that Biblical Wisdom Literature is stupid, you have come to the wrong place. Buy this course. It is long and it can tire you out of you listen to too much at one sitting, but it is absolutely brilliant.
Date published: 2009-11-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from "Truly the light is sweet...." I learned a lot from Father Koterski’s course. I purchased the audio version, and appreciated the clarity and warmth of his voice. That Father Koterski is not of my faith was irrelevant to me. I think he was evenhanded and generally unbiased. I sensed little or no sermonizing. I learned that suffering can cascade into tragic despair when the sufferer thinks he/she is ‘disconnected’ from God, and experiences dreaded ‘desolation.’ Even an angry conversation with God is better than silence. For me, this was new and startling information -- a breakthrough. I learned the simple hidden value of suffering: it allows for wisdom (insight and vision). I also learned that Biblical wisdom can help some of us see what’s already and always there, surrounding us, but is often hidden by our day to day tasks in the routine-packed busyness of living. Perhaps this wisdom -- taking a meditative ‘time-out’ -- can empower us to see more clearly what has truly been, and what is to come. I’ve always believed that a useful way to be happy is to want what I get, rather than just getting what I want. These lectures assisted me in truly seeing what I already got. I now see abundance and opportunities for joy that I thought were missing. For me, this vision alone was worth the time and money I spent on ‘Biblical Wisdom Literature.’ But stepping back, and looking at my overall experience with this course, I felt that I was often hearing parts of a work in progress. This is not necessarily ‘bad’ in our unfinished lives. I had some ‘eureka’ moments, and there were plenty of intelligent insights to keep me listening attentively straight through to the end. Sometimes I felt that Father Koterski hindered the otherwise pleasing flow of the course with too much attention to Bible minutiae, e.g., different translations, different languages, versions, etc. Several times I was eager to just get on to more nuggets of wisdom. I did not have to wait long. I am pleased to add this course to my TTC library, and look forward to hearing it several more times. Highly recommended. There may be times in your life when you won’t want to leave home without it.
Date published: 2009-10-29
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