How to Read the Book of Genesis as Literature


Like its counterparts “How to Read Classic Texts” series, this course is designed to help students improve their reading skills. In this case, by learning how to read the Book of Genesis as “literature” rather than as “scripture,” thereby unlocking new layers of meaning. We’ll focus both on paying close attention to the actual text on the page, and on becoming self-aware of the unconscious biases that we bring to this foundational book, as well as to the rest of “The Bible.” Continue reading

Jesus for Jews (and Others)


Although the figure of Jesus has permeated Western culture for nearly 2,000 years, many Jews and other non-Christians find the figure of Jesus a problematic one, difficult to study and comprehend. As a result, many of the great Western works that presuppose a sympathetic understanding of Jesus remain opaque. This course provides a sympathetic introduction to the figure of Jesus as well as an exploration of some of the challenges that Jews in particular often face in dealing with Christianity’s appropriation of one of Israel’s greatest sons. Readings from the Bible will be supplemented by Chaim Potok’s My Name is Asher Lev and Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Continue reading

Introduction to the Book of Genesis as Literature


For most people, reading the Bible from a secular perspective — as “literature” — is both an intensely challenging and an intensely rewarding experience that requires the re-evaluation of a range of preconceptions in order to appreciate the texts along the lines that the authors of the Bible did. This course introduces both the process of reading the Bible as literature and the Bible itself through a close reading and discussion of the first book in the biblical anthology, the Book of Genesis. Participants will also likely be introduced to less familiar aspects of themselves. Continue reading

“For He Shall Save His People from Their Sins”: The Gospel According to Matthew as Jewish Literature


Although the Gospel According to Matthew is generally and naturally thought of as a “Christian” work, historical and literary evidence suggests that both the text’s author and intended audience may well have been Jewish. Indeed, in some ways Matthew “makes more sense” as one of the last books of the Hebrew Bible than as one of the first books of the New Testament. This lecture will survey the historical and literary contexts in which Matthew was originally produced as well as the religious contexts in which it has been subsequently read in order to consider a new thing in an old light. Continue reading

You Say ‘Yahweh’, I Say ‘The LORD’; Or, Why God by Any Other Name Ain’t


While the gods (and goddesses) in most religious systems have personal names (think: Zeus, Jupiter, Athena, Mars, etc.), many people think that the god of the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament does not — that “He” is simply “God” or “The LORD”. The truth, however, is more complex and subtle. This lecture will survey the evolution of the name(s) of the god(s) of the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament as well as explore the philosophical implications of deity naming (and non-naming). Continue reading

Delivered from Destruction: The Bible’s Exodus and Virgil’s Aeneid


Origin or foundation epics are common to many cultures. In this course we will examine two such epics side-by-side: the Exodus epic (Exodus-Joshua) from the Bible, in which the Israelites are transformed from slaves in Egypt into masters in Canaan, and Virgil’s Aeneid, in which the vanquished at Troy are transformed into the victors at (what will become) Rome. Through careful consideration of both stories we will seek to better understand each epic in its own right as well as what the two stories have in common and what makes each story unique. Continue reading

Of Hanukkah and Holy War: The Clash of Hellenism and Judaism in 1 & 2 Maccabees


Although the spread of Greek culture that followed Alexander the Great’s conquests is often considered one of the great steps forward in world civilization, not everyone has thought so.  Indeed for many traditional Jews  of the time,  Hellenism was a great pagan enemy of the God of Israel.  This lecture will explore the holy war against Hellenism depicted in the First and Second Books of the Maccabees that cured the desecration of the Jerusalem temple through the rededication of the House of God in 165 BCE — an event memorialized in the Jewish festival of Hanukkah. Continue reading

Divine Epics [2]: Homer and the Bible


This course is a rare opportunity to compare four foundational texts that are usually read independently or in pairs, yielding surprising insights into the texts and ourselves. Beyond extending an existing story, sequels comment upon, reinterpret, and at times even repudiate the events and values of the original. This course examines the Odyssey as a sequel to the Iliad and the New Testament as a sequel to the Hebrew Bible in an effort to understand the later works both as independent works and in terms of their vital relationship to their predecessors. Continue reading