Old Testament

Course No. 653
Professor Amy-Jill Levine, Ph.D.
Vanderbilt University
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Course No. 653
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Take an in-depth look at stories in the Book of Genesis, including Adam and Eve, the flood, and Abraham.
  • numbers Look at the influence and impact of folklore on the stories of the Bible - and vice-versa.
  • numbers Grasp the origin, meaning, implementation, and interpretation of laws and warnings laid out in the Old Testament.

Course Overview

The Old Testament, or Tanakh, was written in ancient Israel over 1,000 years by many authors. What can this book teach us about the ancient Israelites? What does our faith find in new scholarly understanding? As scripture or as the most influential piece of literature ever written, this book is a source of constant wonder, inspiration, and intrigue.

It is cited on the floor of the Senate and from the bench in the courtroom. Contemporary politics is inextricably intertwined with it, from conflict in the Middle East to the claim by many in the United States that a return to "biblical values"is warranted.

The Bible influenced the Pilgrims to leave England in the 17th century; it inspired the founders of the new republic in the 18th; it roused both slave and abolitionist to seek a new Moses and sponsor a new Exodus in the 19th and the Jews to establish a homeland in the 20th.

It has meant more to more people than any other book in history. The influence of ancient Israel's religious and national literature is evident in everything from medieval mystery plays to modern novels, art, music, theater, film, and dance.

As Professor Amy-Jill Levine observes: "The Old Testament is endlessly fascinating because it offers everything to explore: myth, saga, and history; tragedy, comedy, and farce; economics and politics; literature and poetry of surpassing beauty; court intrigue and prophetic morality; heavenly miracles and sometimes heavenly silence; questions of theodicy; answers that satisfy and answers that may not; destruction and rebuilding; despair and hope."

Lively and Learned Commentary on the Old Testament

Professor Levine's commentary thoughtfully explores selected passages from the texts called the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible, and the Tanakh. She provides clear examples of how various approaches to biblical research and interpretation can enrich your understanding of this inexhaustibly fruitful and powerful text.

Joseph Hough, the Dean of Union Theological Seminary, says Professor Levine is "the best classroom teacher I have seen in my 35 years in theological education, bar none."

Customers concur: "Levine is dynamic, exciting to listen to, and her knowledge of her subject is well organized and conveyed." "Wonderful course. Interestingly taught. Thought provoking, stimulating. Wow!"

A Conceptual Road Map to Biblical Studies

The Old Testament prophets' poetic calls for personal and social justice continue to urge people and nations to reform their lives, even as biblical wisdom literature challenges our views of God, and the Psalms enrich the prayer lives of millions.

Studded with genres ranging from myth and saga to law and proverb, from military history to love poetry, informed by world-views radically different from yet still fundamental to our own, the Old Testament tells a people's sacred story. It is a narrative of divine action in history that is holy writ to Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike.

Of course, 24 lectures cannot hope to cover the Old Testament in its entirety. The early parts of the Genesis narrative or the stories of Moses and David alone could easily occupy a whole course.

The method of the course is to discuss especially interesting or prominent passages from a cross-section of all the genres the Old Testament contains, using each passage as an example of how to apply a particular method of interpretation to the Bible.

Often Professor Levine uses representative figures or episodes as a highway into biblical meaning. Whether it's the story of Adam and Eve from Genesis, David and Bathsheba from II Samuel, or the apocalyptic imagery found in the book of Daniel, she brings biblical characters and passages to life and vividly reveals the magnificent artistry that suffuses the Old Testament.

Through these lectures, you will not only probe the content of the biblical books, but you will also explore debates over their meaning, the historical and cultural situations they reflect and address, and the critical methods by which they have been interpreted.

The lectures presuppose only the most general familiarity with biblical figures and themes—the Garden of Eden, Moses and the Exodus, the Ten Commandments, etc.—biblical literacy, sociologists have noted, is on the wane in the West.

Although students do not need to follow the lectures with an open Bible, reading the texts listed at the top of each of the outlines will enhance appreciation for the material.

Writings that Form the Spiritual Bedrock for Millions

Even if you know the Old Testament well, you will find it enlightening to hear Professor Levine discuss how it appears against the larger background of the ancient Near East as revealed by research in archaeology, cross-cultural studies, and comparative religion.

Even were one to argue that the text is divinely inspired or dictated by God, one might still want to know as much as possible about the particulars: Why these words? Why this order? Why this social context? Why this translation?

Although she focuses on historical and literary issues, Professor Levine also provides thoughtful reflections and useful information on the religious questions that arise from these sacred texts, and the lectures do not avoid raising issues of religious concern.

The goal of an academic course in biblical studies, she maintains, is not to undermine religious faith, but to use the best available knowledge and research to give believers richer insight into the writings that form their spiritual bedrock.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    In the Beginning
    What are the diverse issues, critical methods, and approaches that can play a role in biblical interpretation? How do they shed light on the chapter where God says "let there be light"? x
  • 2
    Adam and Eve
    This lecture follows Genesis selectively, episode by episode, to highlight its status as a foundational narrative, its complexity, the possible order of its composition, its ancient Near Eastern connections, and the questions it raises. x
  • 3
    Murder, Flood, Dispersion
    This lecture investigates the major themes of Genesis by analyzing the stories of Cain and Abel, Noah's Flood, the Tower of Babel, and more. x
  • 4
    Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar
    Here we meet Abraham—faithful hero, morally ambiguous trickster, and patriarch—first briefly via historical investigation, and then through a close reading of Genesis 12:10–20. x
  • 5
    The accounts of Abraham's son Isaac and daughter-in-law Rebecca (Genesis 21–24) provide the opportunity to introduce the method of biblical study known as "source criticism" as well as to demonstrate its limitations. x
  • 6
    The Jacob Saga
    The story of Isaac's sons Jacob and Esau (beginning in Genesis 25) provides an example of the insights that can be gleaned from "form criticism." This approach attends carefully to metaphor, double meaning, narrative voice, physical descriptions, handling of motivation, and use of dialogue. x
  • 7
    Folklore Analysis and Type Scenes
    Source and form criticism can help us understand common biblical plot lines, or "type scenes." Type-scene analysis, a method pioneered by folklorists, reveals narrative art and teaches about community heroes and values. Here we focus on betrothal scenes. x
  • 8
    Moses and Exodus
    Combining folklore, morality, theology and, perhaps, historical memory, Exodus 1–15 offers quick-witted women, a reluctant hero, and a mysterious deity. This lecture introduces "text criticism" while discussing slavery in Egypt, Moses' infancy and commission, and the Exodus itself. x
  • 9
    The God of Israel
    More than an account of the liberation of Hebrew slaves, the opening chapters of Exodus also provide insight into the name of the deity and the sources employed in the Pentateuch's composition. x
  • 10
    Covenant and Law, Part I
    Knowing the forms that legal contracts could take in the ancient Near East helps us understand the character of the covenants that the deity makes with the people (through Moses), and with individuals such as Noah, Abraham, and David. x
  • 11
    Covenant and Law, Part II
    Likely products of centuries of development, the Torah's laws concerning diet, farming, and sexual practices mark the covenant community as a holy people. Scholars still debate the laws' origin, symbolic meaning, and implementation. x
  • 12
    The “Conquest”
    With this lecture we move to Joshua, the first prophetic book. After looking briefly at the account of Moses' death and the function of "holy war," we address Joshua through three major explanations for Israel's presence in Canaan: conquest, immigration, and internal revolt. x
  • 13
    The Book of Judges, Part I
    In essence a large type scene of apostasy, punishment, repentance, and rescue, Judges ultimately spirals into idolatry, rape, and near genocide. Yet this deep tragedy is leavened by high comedy, which this lecture introduces even as it raises historical, theological, and moral questions. x
  • 14
    The Book of Judges, Part II
    Returning to Gideon's son Abimelech and then introducing the tragic judges of Jephthah and Samson, this lecture unveils the increasing instability of the judge as political leader and the descent of Israel's tribal confederation into moral and political chaos. x
  • 15
    Samuel and Saul
    This lecture begins with Samuel, who represents the transition from charismatic leader to prophet, and then turns to the tragedy of King Saul to reveal the benefits and liabilities of monarchy. x
  • 16
    King David
    What is David's status in history? How does the complex story of his relationship with Bathsheba combine the personal and political while revealing his charm, his ruthlessness, and his faith? x
  • 17
    From King Solomon to Preclassical Prophecy
    Biblical prophets were known less for predicting the future than for communicating divine will, usually through poetry, and often in debate with kings and priests. This lecture focuses on the "preclassical" (nonwriting) prophets, particularly Elijah. x
  • 18
    The Prophets and the Fall of the North
    Amos and Hosea, the first two classical prophets whose words are preserved in the canon, offer poetic critiques of the government of Israel, the priesthood, and the rich. What followed from their warnings about both personal behavior and political machinations? x
  • 19
    The Southern Kingdom
    What was the context in which the major prophet Isaiah issues his oracles? How did the Southern Kingdom of Israel respond under its kings Hezekiah and Josiah? x
  • 20
    Babylonian Exile
    This lecture begins on the eve of the Exile, with the prophetic warnings of Jeremiah. It introduces the prophecies, narratives, and law by which the Judean exiles maintained their identity. x
  • 21
    Restoration and Theocracy
    What did the exiles find on their return from Babylon? How did these conditions lead to the breakdown of classical prophecy and an increasing concern with assimilation and intermarriage? x
  • 22
    Wisdom Literature
    Since the "Sumerian Job" of the 4th century B.C.E., authors have attempted to make sense of the world and our place in it. Biblical contributions to such "wisdom literature" range from the optimistic Song of Songs to the practical proverbs and the pessimistic Ecclesiastes. But the most famous, and most controversial, is the Book of Job. x
  • 23
    Life in the Diaspora
    The Babylonian Exile gave rise to the Diaspora ("dispersion") of the Judeans, now known as Jews. New questions of identity arose. The court tales of Esther and Daniel, like those of Joseph and Moses, gave answers at once humorous, macabre, and profound. x
  • 24
    Apocalyptic Literature
    What are the literary devices and sociological origins of apocalyptic writing? How are these typified by the Old Testament's only full-blown apocalyptic account (Daniel 7–12)? We conclude with a few comments on messianic speculation and future hope. x

Lecture Titles

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  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 152-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 152-page course synopsis
  • Portraits & illustrations
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider

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Your professor

Amy-Jill Levine

About Your Professor

Amy-Jill Levine, Ph.D.
Vanderbilt University
Dr. Amy-Jill Levine is University Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of New Testament Studies, and Professor of Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School and the College of Arts and Sciences. She is also Affiliated Professor at the Woolf Institute, Centre for the Study of Jewish-Christian Relations, at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. Dr. Levine...
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Old Testament is rated 3.7 out of 5 by 259.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Old Testament comes alive This is my second set of the CDs. The lecture style of Dr. Levine is entertaining & captivating as we learn. I have listening to these lectures 3 times. I was heartbroken when I looked for them again & whomever I lent them to did not return. So, I bought another set for the 4th listening.
Date published: 2018-07-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from New Info on Old Stories The instructor added a lot to my limited knowledge of the Old Testament. She knew extensively about the history and all of background of the stories in the Bible. The course added greatly to my knowledge of the Old Testament !!!
Date published: 2018-06-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Sound Research, Well Presented One of the better courses available. Dr. Levine is a world-renowned expert on Biblical studies, with over a hundred scholarly articles and several books to her credit. It shows. Additionally, the presentation is not a rote display of facts, but a continuous questioning of why and how the Bible exists as the document we have today. What's missing? What's been added? How does the Bible relate to other Middle Eastern religious documents? She helps us see how many misunderstandings we accumulate about what the text meant to its writers, and thus to ourselves.
Date published: 2018-04-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from "Old Testament" I really enjoyed this course and will listen to her again after a bit of time. The speaker is easy to listen to and to follow. It is best for those wishing to go beyond just reading the bible as it is written. I was going to write more but I think it best to cut and paste the following: "Among the methods used in the academic study of the Bible, the following have had a substantial impact. Historical-critical approaches seek to situate biblical material in its original context and test the accuracy of its presentation. Archaeology has been used to prove, disprove, and understand biblical content and philological investigation of the language of the text— primarily Hebrew, with some in the cognate, Aramaic—makes translation more precise. There can also be a literary-critical approach, revealing textual artistry and complexity. Recognition of literary conventions (“type scenes”); tracing of themes throughout several narratives; and attention to irony, puns, and multiple interpretations of the same passage increase appreciation of the narrative. Even those who believe that a text recounts a historical event or that “history” is the only approach worth pursing might still consider the manner in which the event is recounted: How is the story told? With what agenda? For whose benefit?" I believe this is the only review that I have posted, which is an indicator of my appreciation of this course by
Date published: 2018-03-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative and entertaining I purchased the Old Testament course after a lecturer on the Jewishness of Jesus recommended books by Prof. Amy Jill Levine. When I saw that she was the presenter for the Great Courses edition of The Old Testament, I purchased it. I found it both informative and entertaining -- more so than I expected. Prof. Levine is knowledgeable and well-organized and presents material in a easily-understandable manner. Some serious Bible students may dislike this approach but I found it easier to learn in this manner. The course needed to be longer -- many parts of the Old Testament were barely mentioned or ignored entirely. I watched the entire course in about three days and enjoyed it. I also feel that I learned a lot.
Date published: 2018-03-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Old Testament I just started into this set of lectures and I find them very interesting and thought provoking.
Date published: 2018-01-29
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Much too much showmanship! Amy-Jill Levine is much too much a show person. I thought I was buying a teacher and I got a performer.
Date published: 2018-01-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent and Entertaining Overview of OT This is a great overview of the Old Testament, and very entertaining. I came away from it with a lot of insight into how to read the material that I didn't have prior to watching the course.
Date published: 2018-01-18
Rated 1 out of 5 by from The Old Testament - Very Odd and Useless One would suppose that a review of the Old Testament would be something other than someone's superficial sociological references to the Biblical "myths" (won't call them stories). I worry about her New Testament students if this NON-Theological, not thoughtful (i.e., shallow) understanding of the Old Testament is what she is teaching in her courses. She actually claims that the stories in the Old Testament were written (meaning created by their authors) in the Davidic period when the truth is that these stories were part of the history of the Hebrews from way back, AND she misunderstands completely the immense importance of the fact that different versions of these stories were kept in. Why would that be unless these stories were fundamental to the Jewish people and so could not be ignored. And why would a teacher of the Bible not include any discussion of the theology - the religious meaning of this monumental collection. She doesn't seem to have a clue that the Hebrews were one of the most insignificant people ever to appear on Earth - tiny, almost no physical resources, former slaves, no military history at all - who NONETHELESS are still around and historically important. These are a people who had nothing but their God. I - a Christian - was going to do this course with a doubter (which is why I bought two of them), but it would only reinforce his very slight, skeptical view of the Bible. So I am going to return both copies to you. I don't expect a refund, but I don't want them around, and I guarantee you that I won't by any other religious offering from the Great Courses. Also, you should review your Foundations of Western Civilization, Part I. In it the instructor gives a VASTLY better, more meaningful description of the importance of the "Hebrew Scriptures." Sincerely, Christine de Fontenay
Date published: 2017-12-30
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Lack of insight or analysis, simple summaries I am disappointed in this course. I was expecting it to be much more like Dr. Rendsburg's "The Book of Genesis" course, which was wonderfully insightful in its literary analysis. Dr. Levine's course, however, comes across much more like a simple Wikipedia summary of the highlights of the OT. When she DOES say something "insightful," it's usually an opinion of hers with no basis in the text. Furthermore, her presentation style is disjointed--she bounces from story summaries to random asides without warning.
Date published: 2017-11-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Old Testament I bought this course as a resource for the Episcopal church’s EfM (year 1) study program. Dr Levine’s organization and insights were extremely helpful, and her presentation kept me engaged and looking forward to each new lecture. Great course and awesome presenter.
Date published: 2017-11-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fascinating for Jew, Christian, or Anybody Else Let's start with this: If you have a religious agenda, particularly a conservative Christian one, you won't like this course. It's about the Jewish scriptures, as taught by a practicing Jewish scholar. If you are Christian or Jew and really want scripture to come alive, on the other hand, do youself a favor. Buy this course. Professor Levine is an excellent story-teller. Her lectures have a well-structured arc to them that fosters interest and at times a sense of mystery. She points out word-play, jokes, puns, and cultural insights that are completely lost in translation. What do names like Adam, Eve, Moses, and Reuben actually mean and why are they significant? What did Esau really say to Jacob about his birthright, and what exactly is a "mess of pottage" anyway? Why does the Bible tell us about the incest of Lot's daughters and how would an ancient audience have understood that? All of these questions are answered and many more you didn't even know you had. Some reviews have criticized Prof. Levine's "sighing." She doesn't sigh; after coming to the end of a lengthy comment she occasionally pauses to take a deep breath before moving on. I don't find that at all distracting. As a believing, practicing, Bible-reading Christian myself, I have found the course very helpful. I keep most of the lectures in my phone so I can periodically relisten to them. They've been very helpful to my own scripture knowledge. And if you're more secular-minded, you'll enjoy the course as well if you have any curiosity about the Bible at all. While Professor Levine mentions several times in passing that she is a believer, she is not proselyting. She's teaching the Bible as literature, as history where possible, and as the backbone of an ancient culture and faith. There's nothing heavy-handed here, neither for Christians nor for non-believers. Of course I recommend "The Old Testament." Judging from some of the reviews, a few of my fellow Christians could stand to learn something from it.
Date published: 2017-11-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Introduction into Biblical Scholarship Prof. Levine does an excellent job of introducing the student to critical analysis of the Bible by providing examples of different literary forms and breaking open their meaning. She manages to give greater insight into Biblical tradition while remaining respectful of believers. And she entices us in her closing by letting us know the many topics that she was unable to cover in her limited time. I learned several new things from each lecture.
Date published: 2017-10-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Overview, Wide Range Wonderfully structured to cover not just the full library of books in the Old Testament, but also a wide breadth of topics one needs to understand if you're going to seriously engage the Bible. From literary genre, to conventions, to ancient parallels, historical criticism, etc. Prof. Levine expertly crafted each lecture to tackle not just a different book (or range of books) but also a different subject of study that directly benefited the study of that book, and the Bible as a whole. Wonderful class.
Date published: 2017-09-30
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Dismal Scholarship I was sorely disappointed by this course. I value my time, and assume anyone reading this does too, so I will cut to the chase and point out what I believe to be the author's most glaring error. I error which I found to be the most egregious is her erroneous belief (which she bases several of her arguments on) that the Masoretic text (Hebrew) predates the Septuagint/LXX (Greek). She uses this false premise on a few occasions to explicitly say that the Greek translation doctored the Hebrew text to provide false evidence that Jesus of Nazareth is the messiah foretold in ancient scripture. In reality, the consensus is that the original Hebrew texts were translated into the Greek LXX. Later, the Masoretic text was compiled using the LXX, as the original Hebrew manuscripts no longer exist. Her belief that the Masoretic predates the LXX leads me to conclude that her work is that of very dismal scholarship at best, and at worst is an attempt to push an agenda regardless of where the facts point. I could go on and on, but it would save time by summarizing with an emphatic rejection of this course.
Date published: 2017-08-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative and entertaining AJ (she seems like a friend) gives a clear and insightful perspective to the complexities of the TaNaCh. I only wish the series were longer.
Date published: 2017-08-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Disappointed course did not run on Safari Disappointed course did not run on Safari. As a user of Mac Computers, iPad and iPhone, I was disappointed that the course lessons did not run on Safari. I thought the course was excellent as far as it went. Unfortunately, it does not cover the entire Old Testament as the title implies. What was there was excellent and the professor did an outstanding job. I wish The Great courses would have covered the entire Old Testament as well as they did the first chapters covered in this course.
Date published: 2017-08-03
Rated 1 out of 5 by from The Old Testament by Amy-Jill Levine She is very knowledgeable but not at all what I was expecting. How do you put the Old Testament into 24 lectures. Even so, not at all worth it. I am going to return it and get something else.
Date published: 2017-06-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Really well done The teacher knows her stuff and make dry material very interesting. Probably not a good fit for biblical inerrancy folks.
Date published: 2017-06-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Old Testament Course I use this course to broaden my knowledge base and understanding of the Old Testament. I'm a Sunday School teacher; I teach primarily from the New Testament. To really understand the Gospels in the New Testament, you have to understand the characters in the Old Testament. This gives a better understanding of the New Testament.
Date published: 2017-06-05
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Biased Content This atheist leaves no stone unturned in her attempt to belittle Christians and boost her own ego. I was looking for an unbiased course, say from like a literary perspective, where the content of the Bible had not been skewed by different doctrines, etc. After a lecture an a half I gave up. She provided much more opinion minutes than actual review.
Date published: 2017-04-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Old Testament Good course so far; I'm still in Genesis. I appreciate that the professor is not trying to shape my faith through her approach to the scriptures. Thanks for respecting my beliefs.
Date published: 2017-04-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from OK if you like this sort of thing The audio was good and clear. The subject can be a bit obtuse at times.
Date published: 2017-04-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comprehensive coverage Given the rancor of some of the previous reviews, I appreciate the breadth and depth of Dr. Levine's knowledge and clear love of her subject. And I appreciate the scholarly objectivity with which she approached her material. This is an overview; an invitation to further study which I am going to pursue as a result of this course.
Date published: 2017-03-18
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Unbridled Bias Excellent example of personal opinion over examining the topic.
Date published: 2017-03-05
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Old Testament This presentation is over 10 years old. It is not remotely current. I should not have assumed that your organization would be forthright about selling somewhat outdated material. She is very good, but dresses in mostly dull colors and stands in one place. It would have been more engaging to have different presenters and some visual aids.
Date published: 2017-02-25
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Old Testament I was disappointed with the video version. I expected to se something more illustrative, not just the lecturer standing at the podium.
Date published: 2017-02-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thorough and objective This is a wonderful series of lectures. My understanding of the history of those times has been greatly advanced. The lecturer was splendid and truly knew her material.
Date published: 2017-02-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Connections I purchased this audio recording two weeks ago and am so glad I did. Professor Amy-Jill Levine made connections between people, books of the Bible, and even time which increased my understanding. I am so eager to learn more. This is a great way to get more out of my reading the Bible.
Date published: 2017-02-07
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I purchased this course about two weeks ago. I started watching the video download and became disenchanted during the first lecture. I thought by choosing DVD/Video there would be visual content along wit the lecture and this was not the case. Would have saved money by downloading the audio file. Secondly starting with the first chapter the professor immediately started placing her personal opinion above the text. She starts out by saying the creation was a myth based off other cultures. Her evidence is because they were written in similar styles. This does not ""prove"" a myth only produces an opinion. Then she goes on to state she does not believe Kind David existed at all. Again her opinion based on her observations. I signed up to hear about the culture and context of scripture. It bothered me that instead I start getting opinion. In my opinion a lecture on the old testament should be presented in a manner consistent with the material. Because one person believes the bible to be a myth or certain sections, in my opinion is irrelevant when presenting material. After all the course was not titled "Myths of the Old Testament". The course description did not state the professor talks about the old testament and how she believes much of it is not true. I cancelled and received a refund. This experience has made me leery of pursuing other courses.
Date published: 2017-02-04
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