Book of Genesis

Course No. 6234
Professor Gary A. Rendsburg, Ph.D.
Rutgers University
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Course No. 6234
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Course Overview

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.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 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

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  • 168-page printed course guidebook
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Your professor

Gary A. Rendsburg

About Your Professor

Gary A. Rendsburg, Ph.D.
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...
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Reviews

Book of Genesis is rated 4.2 out of 5 by 96.
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I bought the DVD version of this program about a month ago. I also bought what I thought was the transcript (paper) of the program. The DVD version arrived and is excellent. However, no transcript. After e-mailing you, the program was converted to audio version on my computer with the promise of getting a PDF of the transcript. I was able to access and view a transcript only one time. When I exited the program and turned off my computer, the PDF file was gone and gone was the transcript. All previous transcripts have been book form. This is my first unsatisfactory experience with Great Courses which has also been good.
Date published: 2018-01-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderfully insightful literary analysis! THIS is what I expect from a scholarly course on Biblical material. I can't sing this course's praises highly enough. Dr. Rendsburg brought aspects of the Book of Genesis to my attention that I would have never noticed on my own, and I can't wait to re-read the book after completing this course. His speaking style is a bit robotic in that you can tell he's definitely reading from notes. HOWEVER. Lecturing this way allows him to present the material in a wonderfully coherent and easy to follow manner, and he sounds less robotic as the course moves along. I would definitely recommend this course to anyone interested in TRULY understanding the Book of Genesis.
Date published: 2017-11-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A whole new perspective This was an eye-opening course. I've read and heard read these stories many times but this course gave me a whole new perspective. Yes, I was disappointed that section of Genesis weren't covered as another reviewer mentioned, but I got over that pretty quickly as I was confronted over and over again with things I'd never noticed before. I did the course by audio and the professor was easy to follow.
Date published: 2017-11-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Genesis Review I enjoyed the literary analysis of the Book of Genesis, and the professor did a nice job mixing textual analysis with historical context. My one critique is that he sometimes presented the intent of the author or understanding of the ancient Israelite audience with an unwarranted amount of certainty given the subtle nature of the literary techniques (e.g., "No Israelite reading this story could fail to see..."). I preferred when he would offer differing perspectives on disputed issues then give reasons to back up his preferred position, as with the dating of material and the JEDP theory vs. literary unity. Overall, the combination of literary and historical analysis offered a new perspective and deeper understanding of the text.
Date published: 2016-12-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So good! Even though I'm not religious , I love studying biblical history and the mid east during that time frame. The professor began at the first verse and meticulously and chronologically went through the chapter. I would definitely buy more if he has courses on other biblical chapters, especially Exodus or Leviticus.
Date published: 2016-10-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A great source of knowledge of ancient Israel history, I have read genesis millions times before taking this course without understanding the meaning of it, as a Christian I recommend this without hesitation , looking forward to finish the whole course be prepared to read or listen to the lectures more than once again fantastic course
Date published: 2016-06-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wish I could give a 10-star review What a breathtaking course! At first I wasn't sure how this was going to go. Professor Rendsburg is a low-key speaker, and I was concerned the course might be boring or slow. Wrong. The content is so fascinating, and Dr. Rendsburg's scholarship so deep, that I was quickly hooked. This was one of the courses I watched straight through, one or two lectures per evening, and I'd look forward during the day to my evening "get-togethers" with Dr. Rendsburg. Since watching the course for the first time (I'm now on my second), I've actively searched for more material that he's produced. I envy the Rutgers students who are able to take his courses in person. I would recommend this course to anyone provided they aren't wedded to a particular interpretation of Genesis. Dr. Rendsburg's readings sometimes differ from the prevailing scholarship, which in my view is part of what makes the course so Interesting. He always makes clear where he differs and provides supporting evidence for his point of view, but never denigrates opposing opinions. Short version: start to finish, the course is absolutely first rate. Next stop: Dr. Rendsburg's Dead Sea Scrolls course.
Date published: 2016-03-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Quite possibly my favorite course so far There are some courses I sip slowly, dipping in and out so that I can savor them little bits at a time. Then there are some courses that I can't help gulping down because they are so compelling and pull me in. This course was one of the latter for me. I have a lot of experience in learning about the Hebrew Bible from the Christian perspective (as the Old Testament) , and I've wanted for some time to learn about from a Jewish perspective. This course delivered much more than I expected, and I was so sad that it was only 24 lectures long. I think it's safe to say that I will probably not get around to learning Hebrew, so I appreciated all the finer points the professor touched on having to do with specific translations or literary devices that I miss because I can only read Genesis in English. I'm crossing my fingers that maybe one day Professor Rendsburg will teach more classes on individual books in the Hebrew Bible.
Date published: 2016-02-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic Course Pros: 1. Focused topical approach to the Book of Genesis, not simply trudging through the chapters. 2. Nice integration of literary, historical, and archaeological elements. 3. Great course guidebook, especially glossary, biblical names, and bibliography. 4. Balanced discussion of controversial issues, such as when and where Abraham was born. 5. The teacher really knows his stuff. It would be wonderful to take a live course from him. * Cons: Nothing to speak off. Definitely recommend this course and plan to view it again. I will also look into the teacher's Dead Seas Scrolls course.
Date published: 2016-02-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thoroughly enlightening! I found this to be an extremely interesting and enlightening series of lectures. Initially the presenter talked about the literary values of the work which meant less than nothing to me at the start and attracted my respect and admiration at the end. However, what was of most value to me was the revealing of what had always been confusing and meaningless text to me in the past. Furthermore, he enabled me to form a new assessment of the Book of Genesis, one that changed my entire view of it. I highly recommend this lecture series for anyone who wants to understand this Book in a new and liberating way.
Date published: 2015-12-31
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointing, Redundant The audio version is all that is needed. I was so disappointed in this course. Probably the greatest disappointment was the limited time spent on Adam and Eve in Paradise. If God felt that the tree of life was worth sending an angel to guard, then the lecturer might have given a little more attention to it than dismissing in a few seconds. The creation part was done superficially, but better than the disobedience in the garden. If you are not interested in this part of Genesis then maybe it won’t bother you as much as it bothered me. There is almost nothing on Cain and Able. However, if that doesn’t bother you then repetitiveness and redundancy should bother you. Lectures 4 and 5 could be deleted if you have any understanding of ancient civilizations. There are other courses that do a much better job of covering this area. Lecture 7 is totally redundant. He seems most interested in pushing his own theories than giving real insight into the book of Genesis. Lecture 13 about the Rebekah (Rebecca) story is so boring and redundant that I even thought of giving up at that point. I pushed on with difficulty. Lecture 14 on the barren women theme was repetitive and could have been done in half the time. Lecture 15 is back to him pushing his own scholarship. Lecture 16 is a whole lecture on bible translation, which could have been condensed and put into the first lecture. He could then have spent more time on the first part of Genesis. Lecture 19 is a whole lecture on dating Genesis. All so he can support his own theory. I could go on but then I would be accused of being redundant and boring. Plus, it does get slightly better, but the damage was done. Maybe someone will do another course with emphasis on the first part of Genesis. Some of the Hebrew comments and literary comments were of interest- just so I don’t sound totally negative. I still would not recommend this course.
Date published: 2015-08-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Answered Lots of Questions I was not nearly as familiar with Genesis as I should be and so I watched the course with great interest. I feel that the course was well structured. As there is no real archeological evidence for the contents of Genesis, and since there is very little corroborating evidence from other sources, it is very hard to prove who wrote the book and how much of it is true and how much is fable. Rendsburg does a good job presenting the material from a literary point of view. Yes, he has a theory of a single author, but he is fair: he states why he believes this and then states why others believe in multiple authors and leaves it up to the viewer to decide on their own. I don't understand why some viewers feel he is so one sided on this topic. The most amazing thing about this course is how awful the presentation is. I don't think he could have been more mechanical in his delivery. Fortunately, what he has to say more than compensates for his poor delivery. After a while, I got used to his speech patterns and was able to appreciate his words rather than worry about how they were said. (I also have his course on the Dead Sea Scrolls and he's far better in that course. Still not top notch, but definitely easier on the ear.) As for the literary analysis, Genesis was written for an audience. Whether the author was God, one person, or many people, the text had to convey the material but also had to be something people would want to read or have read to them. As a result of this course, I have a much better understanding of the world when Genesis was received by the people, a much better understanding of the contents of Genesis, and a better appreciation of why people read it. More importantly, I am now able to participate in conversations about Genesis following services with the erudite members of our congregation.
Date published: 2015-01-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comprehensive on all fronts To begin with, it should be stated that the professor believes Genesis is history, not fiction. If you don't agree, there will be much in this course that bothers you. This is a comprehensive review: Rendsburg not only retells the stories but discusses aspects of the writing that we listeners will miss if we don't read Hebrew. There is also an essay on the Hebrew language, which is very different in structure from English, and an extensive list of widely read translations along with his own translation of one chapter.. He disagrees with the common idea that the story of Joseph was written by several authors, explaining why he thinks it is the work of one writer. He posits the interesting idea that the substitution of Leah for Rachel after Jacob has worked 7 years to win Rachel's hand is Jacob's punishment for stealing Esau's birthright. There is a lesson on the women of Genesis and the repeated theme of the barren woman. There is a nine-page annotated bibliography of books on Genesis. There also is an essay on mummification, and a list of prominent Biblical scholars. In sum, there is everything you could want to know (maybe even more than you want to know) about the book of Genesis, which you will never look at the same way again after taking this course!
Date published: 2014-11-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from 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.
Date published: 2014-10-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from 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.
Date published: 2014-09-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wow ! great course and learning experience This provided a much deeper understanding of the stories, content, and literary patterns used in the book of Genesis. I would definitely recommend this course to anyone with an interest in more deeply understanding this book of the Scriptures.
Date published: 2014-08-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from 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.
Date published: 2014-05-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Highly Engaging Explication Having completed numerous courses on Christianity and Judaism the idea of a dedicated course on the Book of Genesis appealed. The first 3 lectures were a little challenging, listening to the CD version, as the Professor's delivery appeared rather stultified and far from flowing. However rest assured from lecture 4 pretty much for the rest of the course he presents in a very engaging and illuminating way. In the opening lecture the Professor sayd that he will utilise the tools of history, theology and literature(and some anthropology)to bring out the meaning of the course. This he does although the emphasis was very heavily toward the literary and it was fascinating. I would have personally liked more in depth treatment of the theology of Genesis. But overall a recommended course for anyone interested in the foundational text for the Abrahamic Faiths. I would welcome a dedicated course- perhaps 24 lectures or 36 indeed- on the Torah from this Professor.
Date published: 2014-04-28
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not the JPS version I have The review and course material was satisfactory. However, the teacher says that he is using the JPS translation as a resource. As a long-time professor of comparative religion, I have several copies of the JPS - all of which begin "In the beginning..." I do not know of any translation that begins "When God began to create..." While not a poor translation of the Hebrew, it certainly is not one that has been used extensively...
Date published: 2014-03-26
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Reconsider This subject is so interesting and could be a great topic. Unfortunately, his voice to listen to is just simply not enjoyable. His sentences spoken out load have many unnecessarily stops, or small breaks thus making his ideas a bit hard to follow. Example: In the begginning....was............nothing :)
Date published: 2013-12-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A "page turner" in lecture format The literary insights you learn will help you explore the entire Tanakh as literature with greater pleasure and deeper satisfaction. I found it so engaging, I couldn't "put it down." It's a "page turner" in lecture format.
Date published: 2013-12-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So Far the Best Excellent, I have had a number of courses and by far this one was the best. It did not have the personal bias that some of the others courses had. He truly wanted to look at Genesis as a piece of literature and nailed it.
Date published: 2013-12-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding intellectual content The overall scholarship of the professor and intellectual value of this course becomes more apparent with each lecture. The presentation difficulties with the first three lectures, mentioned by some reviewers, are obviously due to professor Rendsburg becoming familiar with the video production process. These disappear completely and are utterly inconsequential overall. The notes are among the best I have seen, with excellent supplementary material. This course has been very well organized and polished and leaves the viewer with a greatly deepened understanding of Genesis. My background is in physics, but I have experience translating western and non-western languages, so I appreciate his explications of biblical Hebrew and related Canaanite texts. I find his literary analysis of Genesis, as contrasted with the JEDP theory, convincing. I have viewed several other Great Courses, including the very excellent Dead Sea Scrolls by Professor Rendsburg. This is my favorite to date.
Date published: 2013-12-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from 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.
Date published: 2013-11-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it! I love the study of religion, and I'm fairly knowledgeable. Yet, in addition to the trove of new interpretations I gained about Genesis and the historical insights of the early Hebrews, I quite unexpectedly also very much enjoyed learning the literary techniques of the Bible writers. I say this b/c I'm NOT one who generally cares about things literary. My only misgiving at all is the lecturer's halting speaking pattern, which at first I found disturbing, but soon adjusted to. But don't let that stop you from getting this great lecture!
Date published: 2013-09-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating! In this series of lectures, Professor Gary Rendsburg discusses in significant detail the Book of Genesis, essentially from literary and historical perspectives. Many less known episodes are covered, such as Abraham’s travels to Egypt. Yet, time is too short to cover others and the listener actually wishes there were more lectures. Professor Rendsburg displays true scholarship and presents original hypotheses and analyses on a topic that clearly completely ensnares him. His enthusiasm and organization compensate his somewhat annoying choppy diction. Consequently, this course is warmly recommended to all.
Date published: 2013-08-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Genesis as Literature Professor Gary Rendsburg presents 24 lectures on a variety of literary and historical themes in the book of Genesis. He provides excellent background to the historical period of interest, and his knowledge of the Hebrew language adds substantially to the interpretation of numerous Biblical passages. He investigates the authorship and date of the writing of the book as well as devoting a lecture to the various available Bible translations. However, the meat of the course is his thorough presentation of the literary devices and other literary effects used. This course raises my appreciation of the level of sophistication and skill of the ancient Hebrew author. The focus of the course is clearly on the provision of many interesting insights into the literary nature of the book. I especially enjoyed his explanation of the “Rachel ba’a” link (you will have to listen to the lectures). Occasional theological points are raised. However, given the diversity of theological interpretations for Genesis I doubt that many will see things theologically quite the way Professor Rendsburg does. I would not let any theological differences deter you from enjoying the professor’s many literary insights. As noted by other reviewers Professor Rendsburg does seem to get off to a slow start. He has clearly planned his lectures well, however his presentation style is somewhat wooden in nature . At no point would one mistake the professor for an entertainer. He more than makes up for his presentation style with the well-considered content of the course. Those that give up before competing all 24 lectures are clearly the worse off for doing so. A prior understanding of the content of the book of Genesis will be beneficial. Emphasis on the content of the 50 chapters of Genesis is not the primary focus of the course. This course is recommended for those who desire a greater appreciation of the literary style of the masterful author of Genesis, whoever this might have been. I next look forward to tacking Professor Rendsburg's course on the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Date published: 2013-07-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I Finally Read the Book of Genesis! [audio version] If you’ve always wanted to read the book of Genesis and never got very far, this may be a great course for you, too. I not only read it; I enjoyed it and I now appreciate the literary beauty and the significance of the text. Prof Rendsburg is a master of the subject and has clearly put much effort into these lectures, which are very well-organized. If you read the on-line lecture-by-lecture summaries that GC provides, you’ll see exactly what you’ll be getting. It’s really a literature course and not religion. As others have noted, his delivery can be stiff, especially in the first few lectures. I found this, and his repetition of important points, to be minor flaws in a masterful course.
Date published: 2013-03-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Course Starting With Lecture 5 As others have commented the first four (4) lectures were rather boring. The audience may take from the first few lectures the lecturer seems so nervous and awkwardly often looking at the camera. But take heart, he becomes much more comfort in the studio. Enough of the presentation and on towards the content. This course is about LITERATURE and not about THEOLOGY. It is fascinating to understand the intricacies of the language and formating of Genesis. I promise you will not read the Book of Gensis the same way after viewing these lectures.
Date published: 2013-01-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Take a different mindset Imagine taking a course from Star Trek's android Lieutenant Commander Data in the year 2342 on the ancient earth book Genesis. He has used his mighty positronic brain to analyze the book relative to the history of the earth's near eastern region and to search the text itself for literary structure and story-telling technique. As you and your fellow red shirts listen to his precise, clipped tones you learn about the source of many of earth's religions and some of the great stories that serve as their foundation. There is much new information, some of it quite interesting and some rather dull information that is repeated excessively as if Data is not quite sure how many times he needs to give examples or variations on a theme before non-computing based lifeforms will retain it. Even if you have never dreamed of attending Ancient Earth Religions at Starfleet Academy, you will find that a huge percentage of the lessons in this course will give you new insight into Genesis and the history of Israel and the near east. The presentation style does take some getting used to, but it does get more human as the course progresses.
Date published: 2012-10-19
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