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 62.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very good presentation, thorough coverage Prof. Johnson is one of the most recognizable of the Teaching Company professors. His presentation style is earnest and calm, and it's clear that he's deeply committed to his subject matter. He covers this topic thoroughly. It is one that I had long sought an introduction to, and he delivers what is promised. In that sense, he gives us the best of what the Teaching Company has to offer: A scholarly but accessible introduction to one of the subjects with which every student should be generally familiar. There are many options for in-depth analyses or presentations of advocates, but there are far fewer opportunities for us to get an overview that isn't overly simplistic. This course serves that purpose very well.
Date published: 2010-10-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The History of the Bible in History Whether you believe The Bible to be the inspired word of God, an inspiring complilation of the word of man, don't know what to believe, or just really haven't thought about it - this course will instruct and inform you. After listening to Dr J's wonderful course you will know how the most important book of the Judeo-Christian heritage got to be the book it is. Along the way, you will learn a lot of fascinating religious, intellectual, and political history. No matter what your opinion of the Bible may be, after Professor J's course it will be a more informed opinion. Anyone with an interest in the history of thought, politics, or religiions of the West will have that interest amply rewarded by this course - The Bible is one of the basic fabrics that was woven into Western Civilization and Dr J enjoyably details how the this fabric was fashioned. It is truly an amazing story with a more amazing cast of characters. Years ago the TC offer a course entitled 'The Bible and Western Culture' it is regetably no longer offered but if you can get a used copy it makes a wonderful complement to this course. Dr Johnson entitled this course, Story of the Bible, well, it is simply a great story well told. The TC offers many worthy Religion courses and this is among the best.
Date published: 2010-08-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best courses about religion. This is the second course by Dr. Johnson that I have taken. I love it (actually I haven't quite finished it, but don't need to for a review). It is one of the best courses I have taken. At first for personal reasons, I didn't want to take a course by Dr. Johnson; then I took the one on mystical aspects of the three major religions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam. That course was terrific and convinced me to try others, so therefore I chose this one. I have learned so much about the Bible, history of its changes, ways in which various cultures have interpreted it; I could go on and on. Dr. Johnson is a great teacher and I really really enjoy his lectures. He is very objective; I don't know what his personal beliefs are now; his biography says he was once a Bendictine monk . Whatever he believes now makes no difference in how he presents the material in this course and the other one I took. I recommend any courses by Dr. Johnson, the more , the merrier.
Date published: 2010-08-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A triumph What a great overview of the bible and it's growth and development in history. I found the Apostle Paul course enjoyable, but this course was even better. Professor Johnson was able to take two different subjects (the study of biblical text and biblical history) and for two different religions (Christianity and Judaism) and condense this into 24 lectures. He also gives good historical context for the historical development of the bible. This is not an easy subject to teach because anything you say will be controversial to somebody, but Prof. Johnson does a great job of being as non-partial as possible in a way that should please the vast majority of fundamentalist and secularist. I consider myself someone of the fundamentalist persuasion, and I found myself enjoying this class more and more as it progressed.
Date published: 2009-08-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Love his Lectures Prof. Johnson does another great lecture, this one about the bible and it's history. To my enjoyment, it doesn't just focus on the Christian Bible but also the TaNaK (the Jewish Bible), providing the complete world from which to understand it all. This lecture may be disconcerting to those who have a true belief that the King James version is the exact translation of what Jesus exactly said but for those who can easily live and keep their faith without that requirement, this lecture can give you a better understanding of the primary source of your faith and belief and help you understand, accept and grow with it.
Date published: 2009-08-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Fun As someone who enjoyed Bart Ehrman's courses, I decided to try this one out. It is as enjoyable and informative as any religion course here at teachco.
Date published: 2009-08-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from For Bibliophiles Only - Pun Intended Prof. Johnson is one of the finest and most engaging public speakers I have heard. He could make reading the phone book sound interesting and a pleasure to listen to, and this ability is certainly a great asset to this course. Unfortunately, the subject matter, for me, did not come close to matching the presentation. This is truly a history of a book; with minor exceptions, mostly when needed to create context, it deals negligibly with historical, religious or philosophical issues. The emphasis is squarely on the Bible's composition, languages, translations, and dissemination, presented with a passionate erudition. Allthough I found much of this to be of some Interest, I had hoped for more integration with the historical, philosophical, and theological developments of the times discussed. Listening to it was a bit like asking your aging grandparents to share their lives with you, and being presented instead with a family genealogy. Yes, I should have been able to figure this out from the course description, but I simply didn't focus enough on the content to fully realize what I was getting into. Admittedly, my bad. Hopefully not yours. The final two lectures were of a different sort, and were for me of somewhat greater interest. As examples, in lecture 23 Prof. Johnson rather remarkably takes it upon himself to explain to us "the proper place of the Bible within Christianity." And in the last lecture, he goes through an amusingly silly and utterly unnecessary enumeration of the evidence that the Bible is still an important book. Agreed - but that importance comes out of it's interaction with the worlds around it, not simply out of it's own 'personal' history. So - if you are an actual bibliophile with an interest in the Bible as a book, this course is for you, and for that purpose it is very well done. If instead you are seeking a course oriented towards Judeo-Christian history, philosophy, or the religions themselves, I would look elsewhere. (For Christianity in particular, I highly recommend any of Prof. Bart Ehrman's uniformly outstanding courses.)
Date published: 2009-04-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good overview of a huge subject If you are looking for an overview of the subject that covers thousands of years, dozens of countries and historical figures and numerous languages and cultures, this is for you. I bought the audio version and listened to it on my mp3. I don't think video could have improved the experience much. The subject is of course huge, and coming from a roman catholic background I found that many names rang a distant bell, which helped. Where the history covered exclusively the jewish experience I found it harder to follow, but well worth the effort. Equally interesting for people of any religion or indeed the non religious who are interested in the history of the book that ihas after all been a major influence in Western Civilization.
Date published: 2009-02-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Excellent Course I have been watching many of Teaching companies courses and at the time I decided to add something to the religious category on my shelf, and so decided on Prof. Luke Timothy's course on the Bible. This course is up your aisle if your looking for a course that deals with the history of the constant translations and the hands that dealt with the Bible's existence. And that is what I was looking for at the time. I know the Bible's content and symbology back and fourth but I just wanted a course that dealt with the antiquity history. Luke Timothy originally comes from Saint Meinrad a Monastery I myself once thought of joining. That Monastery is quite a interesting place, so it doesn't surprise me that one of teaching companies professors originated there. Even his name is monastic, see when one joins a monastery you no longer have your original birth name. You now choose a name that is a fraternal name. But back to the topic at hand, Luke Timothy is a good professor although I do not agree with his assertion of politics and religion always go together. But this is mostly Vatican philosophy that there is no separation of Church and State. And one growing into the Catholic Hierarchy would absorb this philosophy. Also sometimes he stammers a little bit and ums too much but his presentation isn't bad for a former monk. In conclusion I highly recommend this course for it covers its main topic quite well and one can acquire the passed down history of the Bible with great enjoyment.
Date published: 2009-01-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Broadened my biblical horizons Professor Johnson certainly knows his material. At times the depth of material was too much for me, but that does not mean it was not valuable. I expect this in any course since what interests me and what doesn't will vary from topic to topic. He presented an unbiased view of how the bible came about. If he could lecture without using the word "um", he would be perfect. This sometimes became distracting for me. This course did spark another interest I did not know I had, in wanting to learn more about the bible itself, its history, how it came about and if it really was the word of God or the word of man. Definitely don't need to have the video format for this one, audio would be just as fine, but I still like to engage my eyes and ears at the same time.
Date published: 2008-12-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from For a subject so often, so publicly, and so heatedly discussed, it's amazing how much we don't know-- about the Bible.This course nicely fills in those gaps, providing useful, even essential background.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dr. Johnson is a very learned man who makes his topics comprehensible and fascinating; an outstanding lecturer.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from If I had one iota of Prof. Johnson's awesome comprehension of the Bible, I would be as blessed as he is.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My 14 year old son was as fascinated by this as I was- and my 21 year old is listening to it now- we've listened to quite a few over the years and this was the best one so far.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The course was not as interesting as previous ones. The material was difficult to understand.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Course was totally great! Dr. Johnson is an excellent teacher and scholar. During lecture 1, I was put off a little by his accent but this soon changed.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is an excellent course. Even when I disagreed with the professors point of view, I think he presented varying sides of a question fairly and accurately.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Twenty four lectures were not nearly enough from this wonderful lecturer. professor luke Timothy Johnson
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Luke Timothy Johnson always motivates me to continue my study of the subject.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dr Johnson put so much balanced information into this history of the compilation, translation and passing down of the Bible.
Date published: 2008-10-17
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