Understanding the Old Testament

Watch Understanding the Old Testament

  • 2019
  • 1 Season

Understanding the Old Testament is a comprehensive course that offers an in-depth look at the historical and cultural context in which the Old Testament was written. The course is presented by Robert D. Miller II, an experienced professor of Old Testament studies who provides a clear and engaging interpretation of the ancient scriptures.

The course is divided into 24 lectures, each roughly 30 minutes in length. These lectures delve into the origins of the Old Testament, exploring the literary traditions and historical context that shaped the beliefs and values of the ancient Israelites. Miller also examines the various genres of literature that compose the Old Testament, including historical narratives, poetry, and prophetic literature.

Throughout the course, Miller takes a scholarly but accessible approach to interpreting the Old Testament. He avoids dogmatic or theological interpretations, instead focusing on what the texts actually say and how they can be understood in light of their historical and cultural context. He also discusses the ways in which the Old Testament has been interpreted and understood over the centuries, highlighting the diverse range of interpretations and beliefs that have emerged from this seminal religious text.

One of the key themes that emerges throughout the course is the idea of covenant, which is central to the Old Testament. Miller explains the ancient Israelites' beliefs about their relationship with God, which centered on the idea of a covenant, or a solemn agreement between two parties. Through various examples, Miller shows how the Israelites sought to understand their covenant relationship with God and how this shaped their beliefs, practices, and values.

In addition to exploring the theological and literary aspects of the Old Testament, Understanding the Old Testament also delves into the historical and cultural context in which the texts were written. Miller discusses the political and social conditions in ancient Israel, as well as the broader cultural and historical developments that influenced the Old Testament, such as the Babylonian exile and the rise of the Persian Empire.

Overall, Understanding the Old Testament is an engaging and informative course that provides a thorough understanding of this foundational text. Whether you're a student of religious studies, a theologian, or simply someone with a curiosity about the origins of Western civilization, this course is sure to deepen your knowledge and appreciation of one of the world's most important literary and religious works.

Understanding the Old Testament is a series that is currently running and has 1 seasons (24 episodes). The series first aired on November 29, 2019.

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Slaying the Dragons of the Old Testament
24. Slaying the Dragons of the Old Testament
November 29, 2019
Conclude by examining a recurrent image within the Old Testament: the figure of the dragon as the personification of evil. Look back through the Old Testament at the metaphor of dragon-slaying, at the hands of God, and explore its appearance within earlier mythic traditions. Through multiple references, see how this unusual metaphor constitutes an analogy for human suffering and redemption.
Ecclesiastes and the
23. Ecclesiastes and the "Vanity of Vanities"
November 29, 2019
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.
Job's Suffering and Understanding
22. Job's Suffering and Understanding
November 29, 2019
Immerse yourself in 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.
Proverbs in the Bible: Wisdom Literature
21. Proverbs in the Bible: Wisdom Literature
November 29, 2019
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.
The Music of the Psalms
20. The Music of the Psalms
November 29, 2019
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.
How Scholars Study Psalms
19. How Scholars Study Psalms
November 29, 2019
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). Learn about the titles of the individual Psalms and what they tell us, and how the Psalms fall into five sections or "books."
Daniel and Apocalyptic Literature
18. Daniel and Apocalyptic Literature
November 29, 2019
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.
Jeremiah, Persecuted Prophet
17. Jeremiah, Persecuted Prophet
November 29, 2019
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.
The Prophet Isaiah in Three Movements
16. The Prophet Isaiah in Three Movements
November 29, 2019
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.
Amos, Prophet of Justice
15. Amos, Prophet of Justice
November 29, 2019
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.
Biblical Short Stories: Ruth and Esther
14. Biblical Short Stories: Ruth and Esther
November 29, 2019
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.
The Books of Kings
13. The Books of Kings
October 15, 2020
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.
The Books of Samuel
12. The Books of Samuel
November 29, 2019
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.
The Book of Judges
11. The Book of Judges
November 29, 2019
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.
Deuteronomy to Kings
10. Deuteronomy to Kings
November 29, 2019
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.
Leviticus at a Crossroads
9. Leviticus at a Crossroads
November 29, 2019
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.
The Covenant Code in Exodus
8. The Covenant Code in Exodus
November 29, 2019
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.
The Ten Commandments
7. The Ten Commandments
November 29, 2019
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.
Moses and the Exodus
6. Moses and the Exodus
November 29, 2019
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.
Abraham, the Father of Three Faiths
5. Abraham, the Father of Three Faiths
November 29, 2019
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.
When Things Go Wrong in the Garden of Eden
4. When Things Go Wrong in the Garden of Eden
November 29, 2019
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.
What God Intended for Adam and Eve
3. What God Intended for Adam and Eve
November 29, 2019
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.
The Genesis Creation Story
2. The Genesis Creation Story
November 29, 2019
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 question of the authorship of the first five books of the Old Testament, known as the Pentateuch or Torah.
The Old Testament as Literature
1. The Old Testament as Literature
November 29, 2019
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. #Music, Philosophy & Religion
Where to Watch Understanding the Old Testament
Understanding the Old Testament is available for streaming on the The Great Courses Signature Collection website, both individual episodes and full seasons. You can also watch Understanding the Old Testament on demand at Apple TV Channels, Amazon Prime, Amazon and Kanopy.
  • Premiere Date
    November 29, 2019