The Old Testament
Dr. Amy-Jill Levine is University Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of New Testament Studies, and Professor of Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School and the College of Arts and Sciences. She is also Affiliated Professor at the Woolf Institute, Centre for the Study of Jewish-Christian Relations, at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. Dr. Levine earned her B.A. with high honors in English and Religion at Smith College, where she graduated magna cum laude. She went on to earn her M.A. and Ph.D. in Religion from Duke University. Professor Levine's numerous books, articles, and essays address such topics as Second-Temple Judaism, Christian origins, Jewish-Christian relations, and biblical women. She has served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Biblical Literature and the Catholic Biblical Quarterly and has held office in the Society of Biblical Literature, the Catholic Biblical Association, and the Association for Jewish Studies. A widely sought-after speaker and favorite at the Chautauqua Institution, she has given hundreds of talks on biblical topics to both academic and nonacademic audiences, including church, synagogue, and community groups throughout the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Her awards include grants from the Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the American Council of Learned Societies.
01: In the Beginning
What are the diverse issues, critical methods, and approaches that can play a role in biblical interpretation? How do they shed light on the chapter where God says "let there be light"?
02: Adam and Eve
This lecture follows Genesis selectively, episode by episode, to highlight its status as a foundational narrative, its complexity, the possible order of its composition, its ancient Near Eastern connections, and the questions it raises.
03: Murder, Flood, Dispersion
This lecture investigates the major themes of Genesis by analyzing the stories of Cain and Abel, Noah's Flood, the Tower of Babel, and more.
04: Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar
Here we meet Abraham-faithful hero, morally ambiguous trickster, and patriarch-first briefly via historical investigation, and then through a close reading of Genesis 12:10-20.
The accounts of Abraham's son Isaac and daughter-in-law Rebecca (Genesis 21-24) provide the opportunity to introduce the method of biblical study known as "source criticism" as well as to demonstrate its limitations.
06: The Jacob Saga
The story of Isaac's sons Jacob and Esau (beginning in Genesis 25) provides an example of the insights that can be gleaned from "form criticism." This approach attends carefully to metaphor, double meaning, narrative voice, physical descriptions, handling of motivation, and use of dialogue.
07: Folklore Analysis and Type Scenes
Source and form criticism can help us understand common biblical plot lines, or "type scenes." Type-scene analysis, a method pioneered by folklorists, reveals narrative art and teaches about community heroes and values. Here we focus on betrothal scenes.
08: Moses and Exodus
Combining folklore, morality, theology and, perhaps, historical memory, Exodus 1-15 offers quick-witted women, a reluctant hero, and a mysterious deity. This lecture introduces "text criticism" while discussing slavery in Egypt, Moses' infancy and commission, and the Exodus itself.
09: The God of Israel
More than an account of the liberation of Hebrew slaves, the opening chapters of Exodus also provide insight into the name of the deity and the sources employed in the Pentateuch's composition.
10: Covenant and Law, Part I
Knowing the forms that legal contracts could take in the ancient Near East helps us understand the character of the covenants that the deity makes with the people (through Moses), and with individuals such as Noah, Abraham, and David.
11: Covenant and Law, Part II
Likely products of centuries of development, the Torah's laws concerning diet, farming, and sexual practices mark the covenant community as a holy people. Scholars still debate the laws' origin, symbolic meaning, and implementation.
12: The "Conquest"
With this lecture we move to Joshua, the first prophetic book. After looking briefly at the account of Moses' death and the function of "holy war," we address Joshua through three major explanations for Israel's presence in Canaan: conquest, immigration, and internal revolt.
13: The Book of Judges, Part I
In essence a large type scene of apostasy, punishment, repentance, and rescue, Judges ultimately spirals into idolatry, rape, and near genocide. Yet this deep tragedy is leavened by high comedy, which this lecture introduces even as it raises historical, theological, and moral questions.
14: The Book of Judges, Part II
Returning to Gideon's son Abimelech and then introducing the tragic judges of Jephthah and Samson, this lecture unveils the increasing instability of the judge as political leader and the descent of Israel's tribal confederation into moral and political chaos.
15: Samuel and Saul
This lecture begins with Samuel, who represents the transition from charismatic leader to prophet, and then turns to the tragedy of King Saul to reveal the benefits and liabilities of monarchy.
16: King David
What is David's status in history? How does the complex story of his relationship with Bathsheba combine the personal and political while revealing his charm, his ruthlessness, and his faith?
17: From King Solomon to Preclassical Prophecy
Biblical prophets were known less for predicting the future than for communicating divine will, usually through poetry, and often in debate with kings and priests. This lecture focuses on the "preclassical" (nonwriting) prophets, particularly Elijah.
18: The Prophets and the Fall of the North
Amos and Hosea, the first two classical prophets whose words are preserved in the canon, offer poetic critiques of the government of Israel, the priesthood, and the rich. What followed from their warnings about both personal behavior and political machinations?
19: The Southern Kingdom
What was the context in which the major prophet Isaiah issues his oracles? How did the Southern Kingdom of Israel respond under its kings Hezekiah and Josiah?
20: Babylonian Exile
This lecture begins on the eve of the Exile, with the prophetic warnings of Jeremiah. It introduces the prophecies, narratives, and law by which the Judean exiles maintained their identity.
21: Restoration and Theocracy
What did the exiles find on their return from Babylon? How did these conditions lead to the breakdown of classical prophecy and an increasing concern with assimilation and intermarriage?
22: Wisdom Literature
Since the "Sumerian Job" of the 4th century B.C.E., authors have attempted to make sense of the world and our place in it. Biblical contributions to such "wisdom literature" range from the optimistic Song of Songs to the practical proverbs and the pessimistic Ecclesiastes. But the most famous, and most controversial, is the Book of Job.
23: Life in the Diaspora
The Babylonian Exile gave rise to the Diaspora ("dispersion") of the Judeans, now known as Jews. New questions of identity arose. The court tales of Esther and Daniel, like those of Joseph and Moses, gave answers at once humorous, macabre, and profound.
24: Apocalyptic Literature
What are the literary devices and sociological origins of apocalyptic writing? How are these typified by the Old Testament's only full-blown apocalyptic account (Daniel 7-12)? We conclude with a few comments on messianic speculation and future hope.