Audiobook Review: Great Courses: Great Figures Of The Old Testament: Part One

Great Courses:  Great Figures Of The Old Testament:  Part One, by Professor Amy-Jill Levine

Your enjoyment of this particular Great Course [1] will depend on what you bring into it, as is the case with those subjects where political and philosophical and religious worldview matters so much.  Many listeners will likely find the professor to be charming and engaging, and will enjoy her wit and her contemporary views concerning women and the value of extrabiblical fables and stories from Christian, Jewish, and Muslim perspectives.  If one is looking for one’s Old Testament studies to come from a liberal Catholic perspective tinged with more than a little bit of Liberation theology, this is a representative example of that.  Nearly every aspect of this professor’s approach, unfortunately, was either offensive or irritating to me, and despite the fact that the professor is at least possessed of social graces, that alone cannot save the perspective of the putative instructor from being subject to particularly withering criticism for its failure to uphold the historical and doctrinal value of the Bible and for its adoption of humanistic perspectives by which to judge the worth and relevance of biblical criticism.

In terms of its contents, this book consists of 12 lectures of about half an hour each, each of which is devoted to a particular person or group of people to be found in the old Testament.  The first lecture, though, sets the stage by talking about the Old Testament and how it looks different based on one’s religious worldview.  As the author comes from a Catholic perspective, she makes a claim for various apocryphal sources she deems improperly as deuterocanonical, which will be of importance later in the course.  After this the author spends her time talking in a charming but often erroneous fashion about such personages as Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, Abraham, Sarah and Hagar, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua and Rehab, Deborah (and Jael) and Samson.  The professor brings to her task a certain humanistic perspective, a strong tendency of feminist textual criticism, and a thorough disregard for the moral and historical claims of scripture.  The author seems to view scripture as being interesting as literature but not as holding any sort of authority over her and how she lives her life.  As a result, she does not have the foundation to speak authoritatively on scripture.  One cannot speak with authority without a respect for the authority that grants one legitimacy, after all.

In many ways, it appears that the professor of this course has things the wrong way around.  As is the case with many higher critics, she views the Bible as something to be weighed and balanced rather than realizing that God and the Bible weigh and balance her life and conduct.  She does not come to the text of the Bible as a judge, but rather as a defendant at the bar, not as someone who has the expertise to decide which parts of the scripture are valid in a contemporary world, but as someone coming to a heavenly courtroom seeking mercy because to seek justice would be fatal.  There is a certain air of unreality about much of what is discussed here–especially regarding the various midrashim and even more so the colorful but fictional Islamic tales that seek to muddy the water about Ishmael and the patriarchs.  To be sure, it is all conducted in an entertaining manner, but certainly not in an edifying one.  Many people will come to this course with a greater knowledge and certainly a greater respect for the Bible than this author does, and anyone who has read biblical histories from such sources as Kitchen and Longman will have far more insight on the ways of the people discussed in this book than the professor can manage.  It is unlikely, however, that anyone with a genuinely biblical view would gain the approval of an organization like Great Courses, though.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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4 Responses to Audiobook Review: Great Courses: Great Figures Of The Old Testament: Part One

  1. Pingback: Audiobook Review: Great Courses: Luther: Gospel, Law, And Reformation: Part 2 | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Understanding Bible By Design | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Audiobook Review: Great Courses: Buddhism: Part 1 | Edge Induced Cohesion

  4. Pingback: Audiobook Review: Great Courses: The Apostle Paul | Edge Induced Cohesion

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