Story of the Bible

Course No. 6252
Professor Luke Timothy Johnson, Ph.D.
Emory University
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Course No. 6252
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Course Overview

Since the invention of the printing press, the world's consistently bestselling book has been the Bible. Since 1815, it has been printed an estimated five billion times. By the end of 2005, it had been translated into 2,043 languages. In the Western world, the Bible is easy to find: In most hotel rooms, it is handier than the Yellow Pages.

And yet, what do many of us know about this ancient and influential text? Compiled over centuries, the Bible is considered to be both a divinely inspired message and the work of human authors. Throughout its history, it has grown from a collection of stories and teachings shared through oral tradition to a founding text for three of the world's great religions. It has been copied and recopied into countless manuscripts, pronounced from the pulpit, studied in universities and synagogues, and read in private. Translated and distributed all over the world, it bears the mark of the many cultures that have debated its meaning and prized its wisdom.

In The Story of the Bible, renowned scholar Luke Timothy Johnson can illuminate for you the remarkable and complicated process by which this great book came into being. Tracing the development of biblical texts across millennia, Professor Johnson takes you on a journey from the farthest reaches of ancient history through antiquity and the Middle Ages up to the present. You'll learn about the many forms the Bible has taken and the ways history, scholarship, and technology have helped shape this great tradition, as well as the Bible's powerful influence on human history and culture.

Our journey takes us inside medieval monasteries where scribal monks copied scripture into beautifully illuminated manuscripts. We'll venture into the caves of Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls lay hidden for hundreds of years and examine how the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem forever changed the way the Jews read their sacred texts.

Throughout this enthralling story, you'll develop a deep appreciation for the tremendous power of this astonishing book—one that has endured through centuries and touched the lives of countless millions.

From Spoken Word to Printed Page

The word Bible literally means "the book" in Greek, but throughout this course you'll see how the Bible's story is actually the story of many Bibles.

This fascinating saga starts in Israel, where the oral traditions of an ancient people were recorded as manuscripts and eventually collected into the Jewish Bible. From there, you'll explore the place of the Bible in 1st-century Judaism as it was practiced in both Palestine and the Diaspora communities of the Mediterranean. You'll learn about the competing factions within Judaism that argued for different interpretations of scripture and promoted different ideas about what constituted this sacred text.

Next Professor Johnson reviews the early history of the New Testament and describes the Hebrew and Greek sources used to build a new story on the foundation of the ancient Jewish tradition.

You'll enter the world of the scribe and learn about the challenging art of manuscript production, in which anonymous workers painstakingly copied millions of words by hand using a reed or quill and ink on parchment or papyrus. Later we'll see how future scholars fought to preserve these precious manuscripts from destruction, including the remarkable tale of Constantin von Tischendorf, who in 1844 rescued a 4th-century New Testament manuscript that was being used as kindling in an Egyptian monastery.

Professor Johnson also considers how the invention of the printing press forever changed the way the Bible was perceived and experienced, and by whom. You'll see how this revolutionary innovation expanded access to the Bible to individual readers, and as a result contributed to one of the most influential movements in European Christianity, the Protestant Reformation.

Finally, our exploration of the writing of the Bible contemplates how over the centuries sovereigns, priests, and scholars have debated which texts deserve a place within the canon of scripture, and how to provide the most illuminating editions and most accurate translations for the world's readers.

The Clash of Nations, the Lives of Common People

But our story of the Bible is not limited to how the words found their way onto the page. Throughout its history, the Bible has served as a powerful force, both reflecting and shaping the cultures that have read and embraced it. Over the centuries, perceptions of the Bible have inspired everyday men and women and shaped nations; they've sent nations to war and martyrs to their deaths.

We'll learn the story of the Roman Emperor Constantine, whose conversion to Christianity transformed personal revelation into a revolution of imperial policy—and in the process elevated the status of the Christian Bible to sanctified state document.

But the story of Constantine is just one of many that illustrates how the Bible has been used to consolidate political power and create cultural unity during chaotic times. We'll also see how biblical translation has been a battleground for controlling the meaning of sacred text, a struggle that reached its peak during some of the most important movements in Western history, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment.

But you'll also hear about how the Bible has for centuries exerted its influence on people's lives. From the Catholic liturgical calendar, to the daily prayers and observations of the medieval monastic life, to the vibrant theological debates that enlivened Jewish life in communities all over the world, scripture has shaped and enriched the lives of the faithful and stood as testament to the power of this astonishing book.

A Unique Perspective on One of History's Greatest Stories

Even if you've already experienced our other courses on Judaism and Christianity, you'll discover a whole new world of biblical scholarship in The Story of the Bible. Combining perspectives from history, anthropology, archaeology, linguistics, and textual criticism, Professor Johnson provides an innovative multidisciplinary examination of the Bible as he traces the impact of technology on the spread of Biblical knowledge, and examines how the Bible has shaped individuals' lives, inspired artistic creation, and left its imprint on languages and cultures worldwide.

It's a story that's best told by an expert of Professor Johnson's caliber. A noted Bible scholar and former Benedictine monk, Professor Johnson is both well-informed and passionate about his topic. Imbued with deep faith and enthusiasm, Professor Johnson is also objective and unbiased, demonstrating a profound appreciation of the cultures and denominations that have shaped the Bible. He's also a gifted speaker who easily translates complicated scholarship into a compelling and accessible story. Throughout the sweep of centuries and nations, you'll never lose your bearings with Professor Johnson's helpful guidance.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Telling the Story of a Book
    The Bible is a book of stories; but the Bible as a book has a fascinating story of its own. In this lecture, we review the Bible's powerful influence throughout Western history and begin to consider the complex process by which this important text was composed. x
  • 2
    Making TaNaK
    We explore the contents and early formation of the Hebrew Bible (or TaNaK, an acronym derived from three ancient compositions, Torah, Nebiim, and Ketubim), and trace how this collection of ancient compositions arose from a centuries-long process of oral and written tradition. x
  • 3
    Forms of Jewish Scripture
    By the 1st century B.C.E., the Jewish Bible is both a unifying symbol and an emblem of Jewish diversity as communities across the Diaspora adopt different versions of scripture. x
  • 4
    Birth of the Christian Bible
    As the early Christian church takes shape, members of this new sect embrace the Greek translation of the Hebrew text and quickly develop their own sacred compositions. x
  • 5
    Formation of Jewish and Christian Canons
    During the first centuries of the Common Era, the Jewish and Christian faiths face a similar challenge: the need for a standardized version of scripture. For the Jews, this means confirming centuries of tradition; for the Christians, it is a longer and more contentious process. x
  • 6
    Writing and Copying Manuscripts
    Although the word Bible means "the book," it is anachronistic to call it a book before the 4th century C.E. In this lecture, we explore the techniques by which biblical manuscripts were created and copied prior to the advent of print. x
  • 7
    Imperial Sponsorship and the Bible
    When Constantine the Great converts to Christianity in the 4th century, the new faith becomes the official religion of the Roman Empire, an event that lifts the Christian Bible to the status of imperially sanctioned text and forever changes the relationship between Christians and Jews. x
  • 8
    Texts and Translations—The Ancient East
    The earliest translations of the Christian Bible provide a tantalizing glimpse into cultures throughout the ancient world, including the Syriac and Coptic cultures, and in many cases provides the first instances of written texts in these ancient languages. x
  • 9
    Old Latin and the Vulgate
    We examine the rise of Latin translation of the Bible, culminating in the Vulgate of St. Jerome in the 4th century, and learn how these translations underscored the growing divide between the Eastern and Western churches. x
  • 10
    Other Ancient Versions
    While many early worshipers read the Christian Bible in Greek and Latin, other translations spread to every corner of the empire, including Armenia, Georgia, Ethiopia, and Arabia. We'll learn how the project of translating the Bible often led to the creation of a written alphabet for these cultures. x
  • 11
    Monasteries and Manuscripts
    Throughout the Middle Ages, monasteries provide a stronghold for the production and preservation of biblical manuscripts. Monks' lives are deeply immersed in scripture, whether serving as manuscript copyists, performing the daily recitation of chants, or practicing the fine art of manuscript illumination. x
  • 12
    Interpretation within Judaism
    Jews throughout the Diaspora continue to pursue their faith and debate the meaning of their sacred texts in strong communities of worship. This conversation appears in the development of the Talmud, a constantly evolving interpretation of how God's law should be observed, and in the work of great Jewish Bible scholars. x
  • 13
    Interpretation in Medieval Christianity
    During the medieval period, Christianity is shaped largely by the Bible and its interpretations. "Reading the Bible" is a many-faceted experience; scripture is heard during Mass, chanted by monks, experienced in daily life through the sacraments and liturgical seasons, and (for a very few) read and interpreted directly. x
  • 14
    The Renaissance, Printing, and the Bible
    With the invention of new printing technology, the Bible is more accessible to private readers. This innovation, coupled with a rebirth of interest in classical learning, leads scholars to challenge the dominance of the Latin Vulgate and develop new translations. x
  • 15
    The Protestant Reformation and the Bible
    In breaking with the Catholic faith, Protestant reformer Martin Luther introduces a new emphasis on private reading and interpretation and a sole reliance on scripture as a guide for right living. x
  • 16
    Translating the Bible into Modern Languages
    In the wake of the Reformation, countries across Europe forge new national and religious identities. The Bible is one of the chief battlegrounds for this struggle, as traditional texts are newly translated into vernacular languages and new canons of scripture are championed. x
  • 17
    The First Efforts at Englishing the Bible
    From the 14th century, translating the Bible into English appears as a way to challenge the Catholic Church and make scripture available to all. Early translators are persecuted as heretics, but "Englishing the Bible" also becomes a means for exerting political control. x
  • 18
    The King James Version
    In an attempt to standardize scripture—and, by extension, the religious and civic order in England—King James I marshals a team of scholars to produce an authoritative English text. The impact of the King James Bible is still felt today in English language and literature as well as in the church. x
  • 19
    The Romance of Manuscripts
    With the advent of printing, manuscripts fall into disuse until scholars begin to appreciate their historical and literary value. The result is an explosion of interest in rescuing these ancient manuscripts from oblivion. x
  • 20
    Searching for the Critical Text
    This lecture reviews the remarkable efforts made to establish a "scholar's Bible," a critical edition synthesizing thousands of ancient manuscripts to provide a guide for readers. x
  • 21
    The Historical-Critical Approach
    Since the rise of the Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe, we have seen an expansion of interest in the Bible as a historical document that provides a way to reconstruct the past. x
  • 22
    The Bible in Contemporary Judaism
    In response to challenges of the modern world, Judaism reinterprets Jewish identity through the Reform movement, Orthodoxy, Conservative Judaism, and Zionism. Cataclysmic events such as the Holocaust forever alter how modern Jews read ancient scripture. x
  • 23
    Contemporary Christians and Their Bibles
    While the Bible remains central to worship and theology in contemporary Christianity, it is also an arena for lively disputes. Modern Christians continue to debate the place of scripture in daily and civic life and strive for more accurate and appropriate translations of biblical texts. x
  • 24
    The Bible's Story Continues
    The Bible has maintained its place for centuries as one of the most widely read compositions and continues to hold a special fascination for people all over the world. New technologies extend the Bible's influence even further, and translations of biblical stories into other media never fail to arouse interest and controversy. x

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Your professor

Luke Timothy Johnson

About Your Professor

Luke Timothy Johnson, Ph.D.
Emory University
Dr. Luke Timothy Johnson is the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Emory University's Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, Georgia. Professor Johnson earned a Ph.D. in New Testament Studies from Yale University, as well as an M.A. in Religious Studies from Indiana University, an M.Div. in Theology from Saint Meinrad School of Theology, and a B.A. in Philosophy from Notre Dame Seminary in...
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Story of the Bible is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 65.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History not Theology This is the third course I’ve taken from Professor Johnson and I am once again quite pleased. He tackles a subject (religion) that always causes quite a bit of controversy in the subsequent reviews. It is a testament to this course and Dr. Johnson, that the number of critical reviews is minimal and the number of those with low rankings that are due to issues of theology are very few indeed. While this may not seem to be much of an achievement, anyone who has read the reviews of most courses on religion, especially the Christian one, will realize that some of these reviews are more due to emotion and whether the course is in accordance with the reviewers own philosophy and theology. Once again Dr. Johnson presents his subject with a minimum of his own religious background intruding into his largely historical perspective. He begins at the beginning, with the making of the Tanak and the development Jewish Bible. If I have any criticism of this course it would be that he covers this in two or two-and-a-half lectures, devoting most of the course to the Christian Bible. To be sure he does return to the Jewish Bible during many of the following lectures and does include a late lecture on the contemporary Jewish Bible. For me, the real depth of the course was in the problems with determining exactly what should be in the bible, both in terms of what constitutes its content (the canon) and how the contents of that canon should be accurately translated from the Greek and Hebrew. I was most impressed with Professor Johnson’s ability to dispassionately discuss such sensitive issues as the translation from Hebrew or Greek to other languages of words that wind up being central to theology (e.g. virgin). His commentary on the need for continued new translations was also enlightening. As with his other courses, Dr. Johnson speaks clearly and concisely. It should be noted that some reviewers object to his word choices, although I don’t remember that he was pedantic. The course flows logically from antiquity to the present day (and perhaps a bit beyond) and within that flow each lecture is well constructed. One never has to consider why he chose to put one subject in front of another. I took the course mostly on audio , only looking at the video occasionally and I think that audio is fine. Highly recommended and I’ll continue to take other courses from this professor.
Date published: 2020-11-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very informative Not sure what I expected from this course, but was very pleasantly surprised. A lot I did not know and had never ever thought about. I always took the Bible for granted, but this course really made me think. How did a collection of stories become the basis of 2 religions? Who decided? Why? Fascinating history of it all. A must course for everyone, religious and non.
Date published: 2020-10-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb Biblical study This is an absolutely first rate course for anyone interested in the history and origins of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. The expertise and depth of knowledge of the Instructor is beyond dispute. He clearly loves his subject and is not afraid to point out facts that sometimes challenge conventional wisdom, as well as sharing differing opinions and letting the viewer make up their minds. He is a joy to listen to and has answered all the questions that i have about the makeup and history of the Bible.
Date published: 2020-08-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Better than Expected I was really hoping this course would be just what it is - details and good ones! Of how and when and why and who.....I love that it exceeds expectations. There are no graphics of any kind except the occasional word and I have been taking tours of countries that are nearly all visual. BUT this professor is so engaging and so into his subject that I do not miss them. The twinkle in his eye says he not only has taught this stuff a lot, but he loves it. And the materials covered so far are just what I wanted. Who decided the books of the Bible, how was it translated, what King did what with it, etc. He presents all sides without a lot judging or rationalizing. Just facts. So, to me, it is fascinating, fulfilling and has loads of stuff to pass along to my Sunday School class just for the joy of knowing. Thank you Professor Johnson! And God bless you.
Date published: 2020-03-07
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Too many biased opinions In the first lesson Professor Johnson called the Death and Resurrection of Jesus a myth. I stopped watching the course because in my limited knowledge of the subject I have discovered that there is historical evidence to support eyewitness testimonies of the important fact that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. My husband continued watching several more lessons and thought that Professor Johnson makes assumptions that if there isn't proof of authorship the writing must be false. Also he uses terminology that he doesn't explain. We both found the professor's presentation falls short of interesting.
Date published: 2020-03-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent review course Professor is engaging, explains his background and reason for opinions
Date published: 2020-01-30
Rated 2 out of 5 by from OK Professor Johnson's lectures provide a broad, but traditional telling of the Biblical narrative. In this respect, the course content was familiar, but rather devoid of new material. I had hoped to receive more discussion and explanation of Biblical controversies.
Date published: 2019-12-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Beginnings Just started to view lectures and have only viewed two at this time, but I have learned much just in these two lectures. Being unfamiliar with the bible, I have found this video series to be very informative.
Date published: 2019-05-16
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