Understanding the Old Testament

Course No. 6013
Professor Robert D. Miller II, PhD
The Catholic University of America
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Course No. 6013
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Discover the epic story of the ancient Israelites on their journey across the Fertile Crescent.
  • numbers Study the richness and diversity of the literature, songs, poetry, and prophecy embodied within the text.
  • numbers Reflect on the notions of ethics, moral philosophy, and social justice that have guided the unfolding of Western civilization.
  • numbers Learn more about the history of the cultures of the ancient Near East.

Course Overview

The 39 books of the Old Testament constitute the Hebrew Bible, comprise nearly three quarters of the Christian Bible, and contain substantial material considered sacred within Islam. As such, the Old Testament is among the most influential and widely read texts in world history.

Even beyond its religious functions, the Old Testament has permeated Western culture since its creation, giving rise to innumerable references to the text and stories within Western literature, historical writing, philosophy, and art. For these reasons and more, the importance of the Old Testament in cultural, religious, and historical terms would be hard to overemphasize.

Now, in 24 dynamic lectures, Understanding the Old Testament takes a new look at this seminal text, filled with fresh perspectives, rich visual aids, and fascinating examination of the text, shedding light on the monumental impact of one of the world’s most beloved books.

Even beyond its religious functions, the Old Testament has permeated Western culture since its creation, giving rise to uncountable references to the text and stories within Western literature, historical writing, philosophy, and art. For these reasons and more, the importance of the Old Testament in cultural, religious, and historical terms would be hard to overemphasize. A grasp of the core writings of the Old Testament offers you valuable insight into subjects such as:

  • The conceptions of divinity and theology at the heart of Judaism and Christianity;
  • The epic story of the ancient Israelites on their journey across the Fertile Crescent;
  • The history of the cultures of the ancient Near East;
  • The richness and diversity of the literature, songs, poetry, and letters embodied within the text;
  • The ways in which the writings have shaped our intellectual and artistic heritage; and
  • The notions of ethics, moral philosophy, and social justice that have guided the unfolding of Western civilization.

A World-Shaping Literature

In 24 engrossing lectures, enriched with vivid color imagery and maps, Professor Miller guides you through many of the major books of the Old Testament, inviting you to probe their meaning and relevance in incisive and thought-provoking commentary. Among the books of the Old Testament that he highlights in detail, you’ll explore:

  • Genesis: Uncover revealing features of the opening text of the Old Testament, such as how the events of the first week of creation form an elaborate pattern, expressing the complex order of the universe; and how the text does not lay primary blame for “the fall” on the woman, Eve;
  • Deuteronomistic History: Across the books of Judges, Samuel, and Kings, study the dramatic history of the people of Israel in the Promised Land, bound to God by a covenant; follow the story of the Israelites’ disobedience to God, and its tragic consequences;
  • The Prophets: Through the dramatic narratives of Elijah, Amos, Jeremiah, and Isaiah, take account of the challenges faced by those who sought to actualize God’s plan for humanity;
  • The Books of Ruth and Esther: Among notable women in the Old Testament, explore two stories of women in the ancient Near East who are doubly at risk, and who prevail through loyalty, resourcefulness, and integrity;
  • Daniel and the Apocalyptic: In the Book of Daniel, encounter the genre of apocalyptic literature—revelation initiated by God—and contemplate the figure of “the Son of Man,” a promised redeemer.

Probe Deeply into the Inner Meanings of the Text

Throughout these extraordinary lectures, Professor Miller offers a wealth of intriguing perspectives on how to approach the text of the Old Testament. In numerous cases, you’ll assess the role of translation in the understanding of the texts, studying the meanings of key Hebrew words and words of ancient languages. You’ll also look in depth at the history, dating, and writing of the texts themselves. In addition, you’ll study the literary and linguistic features of many of the texts, noting how they achieve their impact on the reader.

In Understanding the Old Testament, you’ll take a revelatory look at this epically impactful document, learning to find its deeper historical and religious meanings, as well as to savor its sublime literary treasures.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 27 minutes each
  • 1
    The Old Testament as Literature
    Consider the historical and literary contexts of the Old Testament, and take an overview of this course. Then, study the events contained within the first six days of creation. For each day, note what was created, how God evaluated it, and how the events of the days are interconnected. Also, observe how the events establish an elaborate pattern and what that pattern meant to ancient Israelites. x
  • 2
    The Genesis Creation Story
    Look at the creation of humanity according to Genesis Chapter 1, and in particular, at how we interpret the idea that humans were made in the image and likeness of God. Then learn about the unique seventh day- the Sabbath-and how the Sabbath was also a day of creation. Investigate the intriguing question of the authorship of the first five books of the Old Testament, known as the Pentateuch or Torah. x
  • 3
    What God Intended for Adam and Eve
    Here, delve into the story of the Garden of Eden. Grasp God's purpose in creating humans as beings that are both material and spiritual. Consider the significance of the god-like role given to Adam to name other creatures. Learn how woman was created as a counterpart (and even rescuer) of man, and how the creation story accounts for a world that is not what God intended. x
  • 4
    When Things Go Wrong in the Garden of Eden
    In the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, explore how ancient Israelites understood the nature of sin. Follow Adam and Eve's transgression in eating the forbidden fruit and note how this act disrupts both the relationship between the two humans and between humanity and nature. See how the ultimate consequence of the humans' actions is the loss of fellowship with God. x
  • 5
    Abraham, the Father of Three Faiths
    In a deep look at the figure of Abraham, the spiritual father of three major religions, examine the features of the Covenant made between God and Abraham as Abraham embarks on his legendary journey. Study the three promises God makes, and what God asks of Abraham. Learn about the paradox embodied in God's command that Abraham sacrifice his son, and what this signifies about the nature of faith. x
  • 6
    Moses and the Exodus
    Read the Call of Moses to liberate the Israelites in Egypt and observe how it resonates with the call of other Biblical prophets. Investigate the Hebrew name of God, Yahweh; how God's nature is expressed in the name; and why Jews did not speak or write it. Finally, take account of scholarly controversy regarding interpretations of the Ten Plagues and the meaning of the Exodus from Egypt. x
  • 7
    The Ten Commandments
    Consider why the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments, has a significance beyond that of the other 603 commandments in the Torah, and note how the Ten are numbered within different religious traditions. Examine each of the commandments and grasp how these directives by God were intended not to constrain humanity, but to guarantee freedom, of the community and of each individual. x
  • 8
    The Covenant Code in Exodus
    The Covenant Code contains some of the oldest laws of ancient Israel. Read the Code's many laws, on subjects from religious regulations to social justice, noting that they are considered divine in origin. Compare the Code to the laws of other ancient Near Eastern societies. Learn how, more than legal codes, the laws functioned as moral education regarding notions of human justice. x
  • 9
    Leviticus at a Crossroads
    The book of Leviticus sets out the ways Israelites were to live as God's people. Delve into three sections of the text, beginning with sacrificial practices. Examine five types of ritual sacrifice and the motives or purposes of each. Investigate the Manual of Impurities, which includes dietary rules on the purity of food. Then learn about the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the year. x
  • 10
    Deuteronomy to Kings
    Take account of the context of Judges, within the Old Testament books that reveal the story of the Israelites in the Promised Land. Assess different accounts of how the Israelites came to the land of Canaan. Then witness the violent cycle in which they fell into idolatrous behavior, then wound up in enslavement, followed by God sending them a series of charismatic leaders (judges") to free them." x
  • 11
    The Book of Judges
    Follow the unfolding narrative of Judges, as the leaders sent to free the Israelites themselves fall from virtue. Study the stories of Gideon and his son, Abimelech, and note archaeological discoveries that show amazing similarities to the biblical story. Conclude with the trials of Jephthah and Samson, and the tragic conclusion of Judges, as Israel descends into immorality and violence. x
  • 12
    The Books of Samuel
    Chart the origins of prophecy in ancient Israel, with prophecy seen during ecstatic, trancelike spiritual practices. Observe how Samuel, the last judge, initiated monarchy among the Israelites, appointing Saul as king. Trace the disastrous reign of David, and the story of Bathsheba. Then meet the wise Solomon, builder of the first temple to Israel's God, where worship-significantly-focused on a text, not an image. x
  • 13
    The Books of Kings
    Examine the role of the prophet in ancient Israel as the conscience of the nation. Study the life of the prophet Elijah, his actions to affirm the supremacy of God, and his later disillusion and disobedience to God. Grasp Elijah's role in the fall of the Israelite kingdoms of Israel and Judah to Assyria and Babylon, a story which, nevertheless, ends on a note of hope. x
  • 14
    Biblical Short Stories: Ruth and Esther
    Discover the genre of the biblical short story: Old Testament books that recount single plots, often focusing on displaced women. Learn the story of Ruth, of the land of Moab-Israel's hated enemy, who survived in Bethlehem through loyalty and resourcefulness. Also, encounter the Jewish, Persian Queen Esther, who saved her people by honoring her Jewishness while being queen of a gentile society. x
  • 15
    Amos, Prophet of Justice
    Explore the preaching of the prophet Amos and his passionate theme of justice for the poor and vulnerable. Note how, as an outsider, Amos brings the northern kingdom of Israel to task for its crimes against the poor, seen in acts such as debt slavery, distortions of justice, and the treatment of concubines. Contemplate Amos's three woes" against Israel, and also his concluding vision of hope." x
  • 16
    The Prophet Isaiah in Three Movements
    Examine the three distinct sections of Isaiah: first, the prophet's stern denunciation of social injustice, and his intimation of a new era of peace under a messianic king; next, a promise of restoration and redemption for Israel, through the figure of the Suffering Servant"; and finally, the vision of a post-exile Jerusalem, where all peoples are included within the worship of God." x
  • 17
    Jeremiah, Persecuted Prophet
    Within the life and preaching of the prophet Jeremiah, study the book of Jeremiah, Chapter 7, regarding his temple sermon" preaching against idolatry, injustice, and fraudulent worship. Witness the prophet's response to his later persecution, and his struggle against his own call to be a prophet. Also read the hopeful prophecy in which God offers a new covenant to Israel, a covenant of forgiveness which will be everlasting." x
  • 18
    Daniel and Apocalyptic Literature
    In approaching the prophetic oracles and stories of the book of Daniel, delve into the genre of Apocalyptic literature-revelation which discloses a transcendent reality. Note the appearance in Daniel of the figure of the Son of Man," a divine, human-like being enthroned by God. Study the story of Daniel's exile to Babylon and take account of its message for diaspora Jews." x
  • 19
    How Scholars Study Psalms
    Uncover the musical nature of the book of Psalms, which were prayers that were originally sung, and how the Psalms embody the words of humans to God. Study the poetic features of the Psalms, highlighting parallelism (correspondence of lines). See how these patterns structure the Psalms and help to decipher meaning. Learn about the titles of the individual Psalms and what they tell us, and how the Psalms fall into five sections or books."" x
  • 20
    The Music of the Psalms
    In a second look at Psalms, investigate the primary psalm genres-hymns, thanksgivings, and laments- taking account, in each, of who is speaking within a given Psalm and with what intent. Also delve into lesser genres, such as wisdom psalms, pilgrimage songs, and penitential psalms. Discover how psalms are structured, and how these beloved prayers express the gamut of human emotions. x
  • 21
    Proverbs in the Bible: Wisdom Literature
    As context for the book of Proverbs, discover the Old Testament genre of wisdom literature" and the varieties of knowledge it encompasses. In the first, nine sections of Proverbs, study the use of paired metaphors that guide the reader's understanding. Examine the use of personification in Proverbs to express wisdom: as referred to as a woman, as present with God at creation, and as equivalent to the nature of the universe." x
  • 22
    Job's Suffering and Understanding
    Immerse yourself in the mysteries of the book of Job, first identifying its biblical genre and unusual literary structure. Witness God's wager with the accuser, who questions Job's faith, and see the unfolding of the guiltless Job's ensuing tribulations and reckoning with God. Contemplate the many historical explanations of God's actions, and what the narrative suggests about divine providence and human value. x
  • 23
    Ecclesiastes and the "Vanity of Vanities"
    Grapple with the fascinating and elusive text of the book of Ecclesiastes. In the apparent bleakness of Qohelet's words, grasp why many through the centuries have found the book depressing. With a careful and rigorous reading, plumb the verses for their deeper meaning: a singular vision of affirmation, reaching beyond the futility of human life to an authentic joy in the gifts of God. x
  • 24
    Slaying the Dragons of the Old Testament
    Conclude by examining a recurrent image within the Old Testament: the figure of the dragon as the personification of evil. Look back through the entire Old Testament at the metaphor of dragon-slaying, at the hands of God, and explore its appearance within earlier mythic traditions. Through multiple textual references, see how this unusual metaphor constitutes an analogy for human suffering and redemption. x

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Your professor

Robert D. Miller II

About Your Professor

Robert D. Miller II, PhD
The Catholic University of America
Robert D. Miller II is Ordinary Professor of Old Testament at The Catholic University of America. He received a PhD in Biblical and Near Eastern Studies from the University of Michigan. He is a research associate at the University of Pretoria and a life member of St John’s College Cambridge. Professor Miller is a scholar of the history, literature, religion, and archaeology of ancient Israel. His books Chieftains of the...
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Reviews

Understanding the Old Testament is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 48.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course This Course is superb - Prof. Robert Miller presents the material in a most attractive and thorough way. We watched each of the lectures most attentively - and he has presented a difficult topic with an obvious love for his subject.
Date published: 2020-08-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Breathed New Life into the Old Testament This course gave me a new appreciation for the Old Testament, and a desire to do follow- up study. Each session dug deep into the ancient world of the Israelite's of the Old Testament and ancient peoples who came before. It was exactly what it said it was.....a historical and literary perspective on the OT. Hidden meanings of the text were uncovered breathing new life into these ancient books. The scholarly knowledge of the Professor was apparent and his delivery of the material was excellent. Would definitely recommend having the course/transcript book, as there is so much covered in each session. My favorite sessions....Genesis, Job, Jeremiah and Ecclesiastes. But all were excellently presented.
Date published: 2020-07-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Always great to Learn more about the Bible This course feels like “The Old Testament” 2.0. I think what makes this course very watchable is that the Professor is able to incorporate the latest in archeological findings, providing more historical and literary content and context to the writings in the Bible. I think what I find I get most out of courses about the Bible is that they are meant to be read as literary texts, not as historical truths. And for me that makes me appreciate them so much more.
Date published: 2020-06-30
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not getting much out of this one so far I’ve gotten into 5 sessions so far and I don’t feel like I’m learning too much. Lots of talk about trivial things in the class so far. Maybe it will get better as I’m not that far into it.
Date published: 2020-06-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from E xcellent I found this course to be very informative. The instructor is extremely intelligent and highly knowledgeable about the Old Testament. He makes the difficult content accessible, and is very engaging. Thoroughly enjoyed the course.
Date published: 2020-06-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I have been devoted to the Great courses since sometime in the mid 90s. Understanding the old testament ranks up there in the top two or three of the 60+ Classes that I have in my library.
Date published: 2020-05-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Lots of great information but poor presentation I watched this course after watching Amy-Jill Levine's older Teaching Company course which was simply titled "The Old Testament." I think the two courses work well together and I suggest that people interested in this topic view BOTH courses. Prof. Miller incorporates archaeological findings, knowledge of other ancient religions, and ideas about literary forms into his interpretation of the Old Testament. He does a rather good job but I was put off by Miller's manner of speaking. I felt he was yelling at me over 24 lectures. I also was put off by some aspects of Miller's analysis of literary forms. His lectures on the Psalms were especially challenging because he cited passages in the Psalms so many times and so rapidly that it made my head spin. The Psalms lectures were definitely a show. Still, this was a worthwhile course and I learned a lot of things I didn't know before. I would recommend this course especially if you take it in conjunction with Amy-Jill Levine's Old Testament course.
Date published: 2020-05-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Shop insructor I am so happy and grateful i bought this course,it's always great to learn new information
Date published: 2020-04-30
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good I’ve only watched a few chapters. I believe too much information is given per chapter and sometimes a little overwhelming.
Date published: 2020-04-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Important Addition to TGC Corpus on Religion This is an important addition to The Great Courses (TGC) corpus on religion because it promotes the exchange of different ideas, which is at the heart of true scholarship. Most courses in this TGC corpus are from a scholarly perspective called “critical” and they do not present the course material from the perspective of the traditional believer. While this is exceedingly valuable, it does beg the question of what belief system they are analyzing. Understanding the Old Testament helps address that vacuum because it presents its course material from the perspective of a traditional believer. It is still of this highest scholarship but its perspective is that of a traditional believer. Dr. Miller focuses on the highlights throughout the literature that Christian call the “Old Testament.” (He seems to overlook traditional Jewish interpretation. He rarely, if ever, uses the terms “Tanakh” or “Hebrew Bible.”) He does not address all the books but he does address the most important or typical ones including all genres such as legislation, history, short story, prophecy, apocalypse, and poetry. Although I enthusiastically recommend this course, it does have its shortcomings. Note that he spends about 10% of the course on the first 0.3% of the Tanakh / Old Testament, so one might question his time management. He wasted several minutes on the origin of the word “Jehovah”, which is interesting but not particularly useful. He tends to explicate the text rather than analyze the material; to this end, sometimes the lecture seems like a sermon. (To this point, he seems to assume that his audience is a traditional Christian audience. Thus, this presentation style lends insight as to how insiders teach insiders.) The student should take both this course and also TGC courses that assume a more critical scholarship. I viewed the video version. I think that the audio version would have been just fine.
Date published: 2020-04-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Interesting Perspective on the Biblical Texts My friend and I were attending a Bible exploration course at my church before the Covid-19 virus outbreak. We really missed the intellectual stimulation and this led me to search for a course to complete at home. The "Understanding the Old Testament" course fills a need for those seeking to understand the text from the angle of its literary roots. Professor Miller offers insights on the meaning of chapter and verse by pointing out the poetic nature of the writing and referencing the original Greek text to clarify the English translation. Do not conclude from the fact that The Catholic University of America is mentioned that this course is in any way a catechism. There is, in fact, very little religiosity espoused. This course is more of a literature course than a Bible course. This is an angle to Bible reading that I had not yet explored and I find it quite useful.
Date published: 2020-04-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Understanding the Old Testament Dr. Miller has superb command of the content, the lectures are engrossing. I’ve been eying this course for awhile and my only regrets did not buy it sooner.
Date published: 2020-04-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course! My wife and I just finished this course and without a doubt it was fantastic. Professor Miller is exceptionally familiar with his work and is a top notch presenter. I wish the course were longer however--we felt that this could have been 36 lectures so that the books all the way to Malachi could be presented. Although this course does not focus on doctrinal viewpoints, the historical and literary approaches add a new dimension of perspective that really adds a lot to serious Biblical study. We thoroughly enjoyed it and plan to review it again when Sunday School topics come up.
Date published: 2020-04-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well stated I bought this course about a month ago and have found that I have really enjoyed it plus it has given me a better understanding of the culture, laws, and weaknesses of the people of the Old Testament. I’m anxious to finish and start the New Testament. The course is very well done. I give it an A+.
Date published: 2020-04-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from DVD Packaging less than expected The course is great but to stack DVD's on one spindle is not good packaging
Date published: 2020-04-04
Rated 2 out of 5 by from I'm sure the author is very learned man but his presentation came across, to me, as very negative on each subject. His way of "downing" each subject turned me offto the point I could not enjoy. Unfortunately not for me.
Date published: 2020-04-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very interesting approach! I have been enjoying Dr. Miller's approach to the Old Testament and have been learning a lot. I look forward to watching the videos at night!! Some sessions have have replayed due to the amount of information given that I want to remember.
Date published: 2020-02-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Old Testament Revisited in 21st Century Professor Miller, as an archeologist, offers insights, revelations, and reinterpretations of the Old Testament. His Course offers not only enlightenment but exposes some of the implausible events revered in the the Bible. So glad Professor Miller did this Course!
Date published: 2020-02-15
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Old Testament I haven't gotten it yet!! Please help!! Will you send another copy?!
Date published: 2020-02-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative Am enjoying the informative presentation very much. Thank you.
Date published: 2020-02-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Understanding the Old Testament Very thorough in its presentation. It exceeded my expectations.
Date published: 2020-02-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Course The approach, the pace, the video support and the teacher's knowledge are excellent.
Date published: 2020-02-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from good discription of the subject matter Good approach by relating to the writers/scribes of the time and relating to other reviewers.
Date published: 2020-02-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great features Easy to follow lectures and videos, very informative
Date published: 2020-02-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great features I got this about 2 weeks ago, very satisfied !!!!!!
Date published: 2020-02-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Listen carefully, the professor speaks fast. Sparse, flickering graphics, knowledgeable, good humored professor.
Date published: 2020-02-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course. This very interesting course has given me a new understanding of the Old Testament as to why it was written in the manner it was, how the historical period influenced it and who were both immediately and later affected by the scriptures. The instructor holds our attention.
Date published: 2020-02-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Absolutely the best review of the Old Testament Professor Miller provides a brilliant overview of the Old Testament that combines his academic expertise with his archaeological experience. A truly scholarly approach that I truly admire!
Date published: 2020-01-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from For me reading For me me the lectures are better than trying to read the bible. I tried a couple times and gave up after only a few paragraphs.
Date published: 2020-01-11
Rated 1 out of 5 by from A huge disappointment. I was relieved when the course was over.
Date published: 2020-01-11
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