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Understanding the Old Testament

Take a fresh and eye-opening look at one of Western civilization's most fundamental texts and learn to decipher and interpret the meanings of this world-shaping collection of books of the Bible in the Old Testament.
Understanding the Old Testament is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 112.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dr. Miller does a fantastic jov I purchased this course to learn more about the Bible. I learned so much more from this Old Testament course than I did the New Testament from another professor. Dr. Miller makes the context needed for understanding clear and his lectures are terrific. You can tell his love and interest in the subject, and he makes the Old Testament make sense without oversimplifying. Loved this course!
Date published: 2023-09-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonder Full Erudite, warm... sometimes cheeky. Indeed, Dr. Miller is a true master of the Biblical "bon mot." This series has inspired us to read that Big series of Little Books (The Bible) once again.
Date published: 2023-08-14
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Very disappointed with this. I was very disappointed with this program. I tried but finally deleted it after 4 sessions. He drones on and on about the structure of the writing when I was hoping to gather more information about the writings and the history of the time. I found it terribly boring.
Date published: 2023-08-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This course is far and away the best TGC has to offer on the Old Testament. Quite frankly I was very disappointed in the quality of other courses such as "The Old Testament", "The Book of Genesis", "Reading Biblical Literature", and the "World of Biblical Israel". And though this course also falls short of my expectation of completeness (only 18 of the 39 books of the Old Testament are touched on in some capacity here---and only about 8 are covered in full), Professor Robert D. Miller II makes up for it by providing masterful analysis on the specific passages and episodes he does cover. Let's just get the bad out of the way first (three main items): 1- Instead of discussing each of the main storylines in the books of the Old Testament or providing summaries of the contents of the books or narratives behind the books, the professor selects certain episodes of certain books to perform deep dive analysis while leaving out others. (for example some books are not studied at all including Numbers and Joshua, some only have specific topics explored but not all, for example Abraham in Genesis but not the Isaac or Jacob stories, and even the subjects selected are not covered in full: for example God’s covenant with Abraham is analyzed but nothing on some of the other key episodes involving him such as Sodom and Gomorrah) I guess my gripe is the same as with the other courses: 24 lectures are not enough to even lightly touch on each of the 39 books! But given 36 or 48 lectures and now you can do deep dives on some of the more famous books while also being able to at least summarize the other ones. 2- While the professor excels at pointing out details of specific passages and provides some conclusions on the individual books, the course does not reach any overarching conclusion on the main themes of the Old Testament as a whole...sure most of us understand it is about the covenant between the LORD and the Israelite people and the push and pull involved there. But if you are new to this collection of books are you leaving this course with a general understanding of what ties these 39 books together at a macro level? 3- After listening to the lecture on Proverbs I was left wondering: where were the actual proverbs?? So much time was spent on the personification of wisdom and its implications in Christianity, Gnosticism, books of the Apocrypha, and Jewish mysticism but I can’t recall if any specific examples of the Proverbs were even given and certainly the more well-known ones were not discussed. But this is not a negative review. I thoroughly enjoyed this presentation. Now the three main reason this deserves a five star rating: 1- Professor Miller plays the role of contrarian quite well by challenging our long-held understanding/translations of specific events/passages by studying the books within their original context in an effort to understand the original intent of the authors. For example: the serpent in the Garden of Eden sounds actually like a dragon (more on dragons in lecture 24) and that one of the main reasons God gave the Ten Commandments was not for obedience or as a law code but to provide Israelites a blueprint to follow to prevent them from falling into slavery again. 2- Professor Miller provides great insight into specific passages and episodes such as explaining when the author was injecting humor (but the context has been lost on us over time) as well as when simple statements are actually meant to convey deep philosophical views (such as the fact that Adam did not give Eve her name meant that the Israelites believed God never intended for women to be subjected to domination by men). 3- The following lectures were worth the price of admission: 3 (what God intended for Adam and Eve) 19 (how contemporary scholars are studying the sequencing, groupings, musical instructions, and patterns of the internal structures of the Psalms as a way to gain better insight into their meanings) 22 (interpretations of the book of Job including that it should not be seen as a book about suffering or theodicy but about humanity’s value to God and their place in the universe) 23 (finding meaning in the book of Ecclesiastes) He does not waste any effort or time in repeating himself nor does he dwell on something long nor provide an unnecessary number of examples to support his cases. He also does not throw religious dogma your way nor does he attack these sacred writings. His middle way reminds me of the saying: "A well officiated game is when you don't notice the umpire at all". Those that already have a general understanding of the Old Testament will get the most out of this course: it will open your world to a richer experience. But even if you are new to these books there is a lot of excellent content here that will illuminate your introduction (although I would suggest reading/studying in parallel to listening to this course as it is not necessarily an introductory one). Maybe TGC will have Professor Miller back for 24 more lectures on the books he could not cover. There is so much more of the Old Testament waiting to be explored. I think we found our professor to take us there.
Date published: 2023-07-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative & Enjoyable First, I enjoyed listening to Dr. Miller’s presentation. He is a dynamic great presenter. and also has a good sense of humor! It is amazing that he is making the religion interesting to listen to!. Perhaps and for me the reason is he discussed Old Testaments from historical and literary perspective. He emphasized how old Israelite s or Jews understood the texts and not necessarily that the audience of today must believe that these texts were dictated by God and are error free. Indeed, it was interesting to note that several books including Proverb and others were copied from other ancient myths and religions from Egypt, Mesopotamia and Turkish regions. Even the stories of dragon (evil), and God of storm were completely the same and were taken from other books and myth known and written 5000 BC. In any case, the point was the Jews were using these texts to understand nature, explain their success and failures. In addition, it serves them as an “identity” to fight against foreigners as well as a mechanism for enforcing justice and social order in their land.
Date published: 2023-07-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from re: Lecture 23 on Ecclesiastes From my atheist perspective, I see the writer of Ecclesiastes and Camus sitting in the same chair and writing about life from the same view. I replace "vanity" or "futility" with "absurd" or "absurdity". And I replace "God" with "the ancestors" or "the laws of physics". That being said, I think the professor is as close to the truth as he be re: this book, given he still carries the handicap of believing in God. :)
Date published: 2023-06-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from an enriching experience As a bible student, I was greatly helped by the professor's teaching style and his objective approach to the text. His approach to the course was comprehensive, covering not only the historical and cultural context of the texts but also their relevance to contemporary issues. I would highly recommend Professor Miller's course to anyone interested in the Old Testament. His teaching style is engaging, his approach to the material is comprehensive, and the course provided me with a solid foundation for further study in the field. Whether you are a student of religion or simply curious about the Bible, this course is an excellent choice.
Date published: 2023-05-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great series I learned a lot about the Old Testament and the lecturer was a great speaker. Overall very engaging.
Date published: 2023-03-15
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The 39 books of the Old Testament constitute the Hebrew Bible, comprise nearly three quarters of the Christian Bible, and contain substantial material considered sacred within Islam. As such, the Old Testament is among the most influential and widely read texts in world history.


Robert D. Miller II

Join me for this fascinating exploration of the old testament; stepping back in time to witness the historical birth of a book that continues to shape our world.


The Catholic University of America

Robert D. Miller II is Ordinary Professor of Old Testament at The Catholic University of America. He received a PhD in Biblical and Near Eastern Studies from the University of Michigan. He is a research associate at the University of Pretoria and a life member of St John’s College Cambridge.

Professor Miller is a scholar of the history, literature, religion, and archaeology of ancient Israel. His books Chieftains of the Highland Clans: A History of Israel in the 12th and 11th Centuries BC and Oral Tradition in Ancient Israel, as well as related related articles, made him a recognized authority on early Israel. Other books by him include Covenant and Grace in the Old Testament: Assyrian Propaganda and Israelite Faith and The Dragon, the Mountain, and the Nations: An Old Testament Myth, Its Origins, and Its Afterlives.

Professor Miller has worked in the interface of science and theology as the recipient of two major grants in that area, and he participates in Jewish-Christian and Muslim-Christian dialogue at local and international levels. He is a former member of the board of trustees of the American Schools of Oriental Research and was one of the translators of the New American Bible Revised Edition. In 2015, he received the Teacher of the Year Award from his university’s School of Theology and Religious Studies Student Association.

By This Professor

Understanding the Old Testament
Understanding the Old Testament


The Old Testament as Literature

01: The Old Testament as Literature

Consider the historical and literary contexts of the Old Testament, and take an overview of this course. Then, study the events contained within the first six days of creation. For each day, note what was created, how God evaluated it, and how the events of the days are interconnected. Also, observe how the events establish an elaborate pattern and what that pattern meant to ancient Israelites.

28 min
The Genesis Creation Story

02: The Genesis Creation Story

Look at the creation of humanity according to Genesis Chapter 1, and in particular, at how we interpret the idea that humans were made in the image and likeness of God. Then learn about the unique seventh day— the Sabbath—and how the Sabbath was also a day of creation. Investigate the intriguing question of the authorship of the first five books of the Old Testament, known as the Pentateuch or Torah.

30 min
What God Intended for Adam and Eve

03: What God Intended for Adam and Eve

Here, delve into the story of the Garden of Eden. Grasp God’s purpose in creating humans as beings that are both material and spiritual. Consider the significance of the god-like role given to Adam to name other creatures. Learn how woman was created as a counterpart (and even rescuer) of man, and how the creation story accounts for a world that is not what God intended.

29 min
When Things Go Wrong in the Garden of Eden

04: When Things Go Wrong in the Garden of Eden

In the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, explore how ancient Israelites understood the nature of sin. Follow Adam and Eve’s transgression in eating the forbidden fruit and note how this act disrupts both the relationship between the two humans and between humanity and nature. See how the ultimate consequence of the humans’ actions is the loss of fellowship with God.

28 min
Abraham, the Father of Three Faiths

05: Abraham, the Father of Three Faiths

In a deep look at the figure of Abraham, the spiritual father of three major religions, examine the features of the Covenant made between God and Abraham as Abraham embarks on his legendary journey. Study the three promises God makes, and what God asks of Abraham. Learn about the paradox embodied in God’s command that Abraham sacrifice his son, and what this signifies about the nature of faith.

29 min
Moses and the Exodus

06: Moses and the Exodus

Read the Call of Moses to liberate the Israelites in Egypt and observe how it resonates with the call of other Biblical prophets. Investigate the Hebrew name of God, Yahweh; how God’s nature is expressed in the name; and why Jews did not speak or write it. Finally, take account of scholarly controversy regarding interpretations of the Ten Plagues and the meaning of the Exodus from Egypt.

31 min
The Ten Commandments

07: The Ten Commandments

Consider why the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments, has a significance beyond that of the other 603 commandments in the Torah, and note how the Ten are numbered within different religious traditions. Examine each of the commandments and grasp how these directives by God were intended not to constrain humanity, but to guarantee freedom, of the community and of each individual.

26 min
The Covenant Code in Exodus

08: The Covenant Code in Exodus

The Covenant Code contains some of the oldest laws of ancient Israel. Read the Code’s many laws, on subjects from religious regulations to social justice, noting that they are considered divine in origin. Compare the Code to the laws of other ancient Near Eastern societies. Learn how, more than legal codes, the laws functioned as moral education regarding notions of human justice.

28 min
Leviticus at a Crossroads

09: Leviticus at a Crossroads

The book of Leviticus sets out the ways Israelites were to live as God’s people. Delve into three sections of the text, beginning with sacrificial practices. Examine five types of ritual sacrifice and the motives or purposes of each. Investigate the Manual of Impurities, which includes dietary rules on the purity of food. Then learn about the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the year.

30 min
Deuteronomy to Kings

10: Deuteronomy to Kings

Take account of the context of Judges, within the Old Testament books that reveal the story of the Israelites in the Promised Land. Assess different accounts of how the Israelites came to the land of Canaan. Then witness the violent cycle in which they fell into idolatrous behavior, then wound up in enslavement, followed by God sending them a series of charismatic leaders (“judges”) to free them.

29 min
The Book of Judges

11: The Book of Judges

Follow the unfolding narrative of Judges, as the leaders sent to free the Israelites themselves fall from virtue. Study the stories of Gideon and his son, Abimelech, and note archaeological discoveries that show amazing similarities to the biblical story. Conclude with the trials of Jephthah and Samson, and the tragic conclusion of Judges, as Israel descends into immorality and violence.

27 min
The Books of Samuel

12: The Books of Samuel

Chart the origins of prophecy in ancient Israel, with prophecy seen during ecstatic, trancelike spiritual practices. Observe how Samuel, the last judge, initiated monarchy among the Israelites, appointing Saul as king. Trace the disastrous reign of David, and the story of Bathsheba. Then meet the wise Solomon, builder of the first temple to Israel’s God, where worship—significantly—focused on a text, not an image.

25 min
The Books of Kings

13: The Books of Kings

Examine the role of the prophet in ancient Israel as the conscience of the nation. Study the life of the prophet Elijah, his actions to affirm the supremacy of God, and his later disillusion and disobedience to God. Grasp Elijah’s role in the fall of the Israelite kingdoms of Israel and Judah to Assyria and Babylon, a story which, nevertheless, ends on a note of hope.

30 min
Biblical Short Stories: Ruth and Esther

14: Biblical Short Stories: Ruth and Esther

Discover the genre of the biblical short story: Old Testament books that recount single plots, often focusing on displaced women. Learn the story of Ruth, of the land of Moab—Israel’s hated enemy, who survived in Bethlehem through loyalty and resourcefulness. Also, encounter the Jewish, Persian Queen Esther, who saved her people by honoring her Jewishness while being queen of a gentile society.

27 min
Amos, Prophet of Justice

15: Amos, Prophet of Justice

Explore the preaching of the prophet Amos and his passionate theme of justice for the poor and vulnerable. Note how, as an outsider, Amos brings the northern kingdom of Israel to task for its crimes against the poor, seen in acts such as debt slavery, distortions of justice, and the treatment of concubines. Contemplate Amos’s “three woes” against Israel, and also his concluding vision of hope.

27 min
The Prophet Isaiah in Three Movements

16: The Prophet Isaiah in Three Movements

Examine the three distinct sections of Isaiah: first, the prophet’s stern denunciation of social injustice, and his intimation of a new era of peace under a messianic king; next, a promise of restoration and redemption for Israel, through the figure of the “Suffering Servant”; and finally, the vision of a post-exile Jerusalem, where all peoples are included within the worship of God.

28 min
Jeremiah, Persecuted Prophet

17: Jeremiah, Persecuted Prophet

Within the life and preaching of the prophet Jeremiah, study the book of Jeremiah, Chapter 7, regarding his “temple sermon” preaching against idolatry, injustice, and fraudulent worship. Witness the prophet’s response to his later persecution, and his struggle against his own call to be a prophet. Also read the hopeful prophecy in which God offers a new covenant to Israel, a covenant of forgiveness which will be everlasting.

23 min
Daniel and Apocalyptic Literature

18: Daniel and Apocalyptic Literature

In approaching the prophetic oracles and stories of the book of Daniel, delve into the genre of Apocalyptic literature—revelation which discloses a transcendent reality. Note the appearance in Daniel of the figure of “the Son of Man,” a divine, human-like being enthroned by God. Study the story of Daniel’s exile to Babylon and take account of its message for diaspora Jews.

26 min
How Scholars Study Psalms

19: How Scholars Study Psalms

Uncover the musical nature of the book of Psalms, which were prayers that were originally sung, and how the Psalms embody the words of humans to God. Study the poetic features of the Psalms, highlighting parallelism (correspondence of lines). See how these patterns structure the Psalms and help to decipher meaning. Learn about the titles of the individual Psalms and what they tell us, and how the Psalms fall into five sections or “books.”

30 min
The Music of the Psalms

20: The Music of the Psalms

In a second look at Psalms, investigate the primary psalm genres—hymns, thanksgivings, and laments— taking account, in each, of who is speaking within a given Psalm and with what intent. Also delve into lesser genres, such as wisdom psalms, pilgrimage songs, and penitential psalms. Discover how psalms are structured, and how these beloved prayers express the gamut of human emotions.

25 min
Proverbs in the Bible: Wisdom Literature

21: Proverbs in the Bible: Wisdom Literature

As context for the book of Proverbs, discover the Old Testament genre of “wisdom literature” and the varieties of knowledge it encompasses. In the first, nine sections of Proverbs, study the use of paired metaphors that guide the reader’s understanding. Examine the use of personification in Proverbs to express wisdom: as referred to as a woman, as present with God at creation, and as equivalent to the nature of the universe.

29 min
Job’s Suffering and Understanding

22: Job’s Suffering and Understanding

Immerse yourself in the mysteries of the book of Job, first identifying its biblical genre and unusual literary structure. Witness God’s wager with the accuser, who questions Job’s faith, and see the unfolding of the guiltless Job’s ensuing tribulations and reckoning with God. Contemplate the many historical explanations of God’s actions, and what the narrative suggests about divine providence and human value.

28 min
Ecclesiastes and the “Vanity of Vanities”

23: Ecclesiastes and the “Vanity of Vanities”

Grapple with the fascinating and elusive text of the book of Ecclesiastes. In the apparent bleakness of Qohelet’s words, grasp why many through the centuries have found the book depressing. With a careful and rigorous reading, plumb the verses for their deeper meaning: a singular vision of affirmation, reaching beyond the futility of human life to an authentic joy in the gifts of God.

25 min
Slaying the Dragons of the Old Testament

24: Slaying the Dragons of the Old Testament

Conclude by examining a recurrent image within the Old Testament: the figure of the dragon as the personification of evil. Look back through the entire Old Testament at the metaphor of dragon-slaying, at the hands of God, and explore its appearance within earlier mythic traditions. Through multiple textual references, see how this unusual metaphor constitutes an analogy for human suffering and redemption.

32 min