Great Courses: Great Figures Of The Old Testament: Part II, by Professor Amy-Jill Levine
If you have listened to the first half of this course, you have a good idea of what to expect from the second half. The author is witty and charming, but demonstrates herself to be someone not prone to taking the Bible sufficiently seriously and taking apocryphal and falsely named “deuterocanonical” sources all too seriously. These tendencies, firmly established in the first part of these lectures, continue themselves here. As far as Great Courses  go, this is among the weakest, because the importance of worldview and perspective are so glaringly obvious in biblical studies and are less glaringly obvious in most other fields. Even so, although this book is disappointing in its worldview, it is not a complete waste. In fact, the instructor manages to avoid the sort of hangups over law and grace that ensnare so many people who write or speak about the Bible, and if her biblical worldview is defective there are at least some elements of it that can be praised. So long as this particular course is thought of as biblically-based entertainment on the level of older Hollywood presentations rather than serious biblical instruction it can be enjoyed.
In terms of its contents, they are familiar, for the most part. The twelve lectures included here cover Samuel and Saul, David, Solomon, Elijah, Job, Jonah, Ruth, Esther, Daniel, Judith, angels/demons, and God. The author is at her worst when she is blaming Samuel for Saul’s psychological problems, engaging in humanistic thinking and reasoning, and getting herself involved in matters of hermeneutics, where her worldview deficiencies are particularly glaring. She is at her best, though, when she is talking about the narrative and showing appreciation for the skill of the authors, even when this involves a nonbiblical book like Judith. Basically, what we have here is the case of someone operating out of their area of competence, someone who should be sticking to fairly straightforward discussion of plot and narrative involving herself in areas where she is badly unqualified. The contents here are more than usually jumbled by the fact that Job, who belongs with the patriarchs and whose story was likely known by David, and Ruth, who belongs to the period of the Judges, are included here way out of order because of the professor’s bogus views on biblical textual criticism.
So, if you take this course, it is worthwhile to have some idea of what to expect. The professor does not approach the biblical texts from someone who expects God to judge them or expects the Bible to be an authority in her life. This is, obviously, a major failing. Those with a higher degree of reverence for God’s word will likely find it impossible to accept the author as an authority on various aspects of the biblical text, including its characterization of God and others–and the author’s characterization as well. What the would-be listener has to decide is whether it is worthwhile spending twelve hours or so listening to someone who is somewhat clueless about the Bible because of her unbelief but considers herself to be an expert. Those whose viewpoints match with the professor’s will likely face no such dilemma, but there are a lot of people who will come to this particular course with a great deal more knowledge, on account of their belief and the seriousness with which they take the text, than this professor does. Whether or not that is a problem will depend largely on the approach and expectations of the listener. Some people like to be more knowledgeable than their alleged instructors, after all.
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