Audiobook Review: Great Courses: Religion In The Ancient Mediterranean World: Part 2

Great Courses:  Religion In The Ancient Mediterranean World: Part 2, taught by Professor Glenn S. Holland

Sometimes one can gain a great deal of insight about a subject in ways that the instructor does not intend.  It should be stated at the outset that I come to this course with very different understandings of the Bible and the religion of the ancient Mediterranean as a whole than this author does.  The author probably thinks that he is a fair-minded and balanced scholar of the Bible when he comments in ignorance about evolutionary religious beliefs and Zadok and David as Jebusites rather than Israelites, but most of what he says about the Bible, like that of many other people who fancy themselves as scholars of religion [1], is pretty worthless.  Where this course is worthwhile is in seeking to present why certain (mis-)understandings of the Bible and history are so popular, and that is something that the professor can do without having to deliver accurate knowledge about history or scripture.  The author is clearly perfectly content with a polytheistic/pluralist worldview because such a worldview makes no idealistic demands on him and allows him room to maneuver without having to face ultimate judgment and ultimate authority, and that worldview greatly colors the materials here.

Like most of the great courses series, this particular part of the course had twelve lectures of half an hour each on six cds.  The instructor begins these lectures with a discussion of Mesopotamia as the land between the rivers (13) before looking at various myths of creation (14) that came from the complex mix of cultures and language.  Following this there are myths about Inanna/Ishtar (15), Gilgamesh as a king (16), the search for eternal life (17), and the great flood (18), where the professor contrasts a couple of Mesopotamian myths with the biblical history.  After this the author looks at ancient concepts of the divine, discussing polytheism, henotheism, and monotheism (19) before discussing the heathen gods of Syria-Palestine (20).  From this point the author moves into a discussion of Israel’s ancestral history, which the author manages to mangle in a somewhat predictable fashion (21), and the professor similarly bungles his discussion of Israel’s national history (22), a discussion of prophecy in the ancient Near East (23) and early prophecy in Israel (24).  It is likely, moreover, that this bungling will continue in future lectures because the instructor really does not take the Bible nearly seriously enough.

Basically, the most obvious gain one gets out of lectures like this is entertainment.  A great deal of this course is based on speculation, whether that is speculation about biblical history or that of Israel’s neighbors, and much of the insight a listener would gain depends on the credibility of the instructor.  Unfortunately, that credibility is not particularly great given the professor’s passing along of mistaken information about Israel which makes it hard to take what he says particularly seriously.  Since this instructor falls below the Kitchen line as well as the Longman line, there is little here to offer on the level of insight about the Bible.  What this instructor offers is the secular view of scripture, and the way that it varies so widely from the facts of the matter demonstrates the gulf that must be bridged in the understanding of the Bible as well as in its continuing cultural and moral authority.  So long as people like this professor are considered to be acceptable scholars of biblical religion, it is likely that the lies they pass along will continue to be viewed as historical fact.  Consider this instructor to be one more of many who does not deserve to be viewed as an expert on biblical history.

[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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