Sunday, May 25, 2014

Review: The Great Courses offers an intriguing and informative series of lectures on various topics. Lecture by Amy-Jill Levine...

Professor Amy-Jill Levine, lecturing
Professor Amy-Jill Levine, lecturing

 by Peter Menkin
For the interested learner who wants to know, The Great Courses offers an intriguing and informative series of lectures on various topics. The lectures are given by excellent university level teachers and as the following selection of subjects from their website shows, they are diverse in subject and often intriguing:

The Art of Negotiating the Best Deal; Medical School for Everyone; Heroes and Legends: The Most Influential Characters of Literature; Fundamentals of Photography; Thermodynamics: Four Laws That Move the Universe

These are but a few of the dozens of titles available in history, literature, science and religion. Their cost can be two hundred dollars and less for a DVD or streaming media oral version. The system works, so no fear in getting something in the mail that will not be technically competent. The professors are skilled and handpicked lecturers from Universities across America.

In this review of the lectures of Professor Amy-Jill Levine’s talk on Great Figures of the New Testament we take a look at her style and presentation. You as reader will get some highlights from her work and a taste of her delivery. The Great Courses is available online at this address:

Ed Leon, Executive, The Great Courses
Ed Leon, Executive, The Great Courses


Ed Leon calls by phone: 10 a.m. me in Mill Valley at home. Ed is in his offices of the company in The Great Courses Chantilly, Virginia. The interview encompasses one hour.

  • In general, people like to know, “What is the response to a usual lesson group?” In other words, tell us a little about letters and questions an instructor may receive. May we see some sample emails or letters received by your organization about lessons or to instructors?

Our customers have questions and some customers pose questions in thecustomer review section of our website, The Great Every course has its own review section, including Amy’s courses.… Sometimes, questions come to us via emails and letters from customers and we’ll forward them along to the professors. It’s a touch point for the professor. Mostprofessors do answer them, most do, but they are not required to do so.
This laudatory review by a customer talks about how happy they are with the series:
“Having completed courses on the New Testament already I was attracted to this course as a way to better understand some of the major figures in more depth. The course permitted me to do this and the Professor delivered a superb series of lectures on each of the figures covered. She gave a good overview and context for each and was very balanced and fair in summarising the various academic/scholarly interpretations regarding each figure as well as sharing her own view and supporting this with argument and evidence. The Professor delivers each lecture at a fast clip and is clearly on top of her game and one needs to be focused to keep pace at times! Overall a superb course that wonderfully compliments others on the New Testament. Would love to have further courses from this Professor perhaps a re-issue of her Great Figures of the Old Testament.”

Still, not everyone is without criticism. I found the comments by this customer valid, too, if dramatic:
“I am so frustrated that I feel like pulling my hair out. I have had this course for 3 years, and each time I take it out, about twice a year, I have to remind myself why I have never finished it. Even though I want the information and love my Bible… Her delivery is like a reading of a grocery list, no stopping, no breath, no time to take in anything…like she is telling us to listen and take notes as she is running a race , each sentence spoke last is lost by the rapidity of the next. I sense there is a great deal I could learn from this course, and that is what causes my frustration. I can’t believe she gets called back to speak if this is how she does it all the time…either have to torture myself by listening to this, no way of slowing it down…or sending it back.”

  • When you look for an instructor, what characteristics do you seek? Is there a screening process a lecturer must go through prior to his going live? And also, how do you record his lecture? Is he really in a classroom situation?

We are looking for the top experts in the field. We are looking for thetop communicators. We want them to be the most gifted lecturers and communicators in the world. As part of our course development process, we come up with course ideas and then we poll our customers to see if they have interest in the idea. Then,we scour universities and to find the best communicators and they need to be superior in their field. We’ll invite that professor tocreate a sample lecture and we send that to a sample audience who gives us feedback… Only when we get good feedback do we move forward to develop a course with that professor. In fact, there is an informational graphic on our website that details this entire process. It’s under Our Approach. In many ways just one in 5000 is invited to teach a course… We record our lectures at our studios here in Chantilly, Virginia. They are not classrooms. Years ago the company brought in a small audience to hear the lectures. We no longer do that. We understand the true audience is on the other side of the screen,or the headphones.
  • Probably the first question that comes to some peoples mind is, “Will I make some money if Great Courses takes me on as a lecturer?” Talk a little bit about the fee structure for a lecturer. Is payment on a royalty basis? How many years will a lecture be made available? And who owns the lecture? Probably something that only a writer or teacher wonders, does the teacher have to submit an outline prior to being accepted or is the lecture really something taught in a classroom prior to being given as a DVD or CD by Great Courses? Is the lecture a live reading or is read from a teleprompter?

We provide our professors an attractive incentive. It is much like writing a book, very akin to a publishing contract. Many of our professors are pleasantly surprised at the longevity of the royalty stream. A typical book publishing deal will give you an advance and most authors are hard pressed to see any money after the advance. Much of our content is evergreen, and because we will actively market a course for several years, many of our professors are getting a royalty stream that can amount to morethan writing a book.But they earn it, It’s a substantial job to prepare a course. They put in the kind of effort that it takes to write a book. We give eachprofessora highly experiencedteam to work with.The team includes an instructional designer, editors, producers, graphic artists, an entire content and media support team.Our courses take 12 to 18 months from concept to release. It’s a highly collaborative process.(Their 2 and a half million life-long learners may find these facts of author royalties fascinating.)
[Ed, please tell us who are three of the most popular lecturers over the years and the titles of their lectures!]
We have a diverse and stellar group of over 200 Professors. They include astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson whose course “Inexplicable Universe” rivals some of the work he is currently doing on television with “Cosmos;” Robert Greenberg, our most prolific professor who has created 27 Great Courses on classical music; and engineering Professor Stephen Ressler whose course “Understanding the World’s Greatest Structures” holds the distinction of amassing well over one hundred consecutive 5-star reviews.
  • Some people wonder how you get your wonderful lecturers. Who’s your talent scout? If you have one, tell us something about him or her. Tell us something about how they go about their scouting business. Do they scour colleges, or do you get referrals from college deans?

We have an in house team of Professor Recruiters led by William Schmidt, Director of Professor Recruiting. He and histeam scours the internetfor ideas, and go to colleges and universities to meet professors and sit in on classes; we like tosee the teachers in action. They’ve been to Georgetown, crisscrossing the country to UCLA, Harvard, NYU…you name the university, it they’ve been there. Also, people often suggest great professors to us, as well as course ideas via the email address:

  • I’ve always wondered what kind of people chose to be in this kind of Great Courses business. Are the people involved in it former University teachers? What about the founders and the leaders of the company? Tell us something about your Chief Officers and the role they play. Are they actually active in choosing or participating in the way the lecturers are picked, and the way the distribution is organized?

Of all the places I’ve ever worked this is the most intellectual and diverse group I’ve ever been around. Employees at The Great Courses value education and the personal growth that comes from learning, Curiosityisan important DNA you needto work at this company. We have people with PhDs and teaching backgrounds. People with communication backgrounds and media backgrounds. But the thing they all share in common is an insatiable curiosity about the world, a desireto go deeper and to go on that journey of intellectual discoverythat everyone here loves undertaking. Our customers are the same way. There is nothing more profound than that.
  • I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to ask questions of you, Ed. Thank you for taking your time from your duties as Chief Brand Officer. Please take a moment now, though, to talk about anything I’ve missed. And again, it’s been a pleasure.

Like our customers, The Great Courses is committed to Lifelong Learning, and we recommit to that mission with every Great Course that we create. We release 3-5 new courses every month. Our newest releases are:
The Decisive Battles of World History
How The Stock Market Works
Understanding Multivariable Calculus


Conducted by email.

  • Amy-Jill Levine, Professor at Vanderbilt University and accomplished lecturer
    Amy-Jill Levine, Professor at Vanderbilt University and accomplished lecturer
  • There is a contemporary story of Mary Magdalene being lover or wife of Jesus. Do you find these popular stories of any kind of merit worth study? Are the current stories of Jesus frivolous and detract from his stature and teachings, let alone status as God? I am thinking of the news reports of Jesus being married to Mary Magdelene.

  1. Interest in new stories of Jesus’ personal life show our own culture’s fascination with him. The verdict on the recent fragment purporting that Jesus is married is still out; scholars have yet to reach consensus on whether the text is authentic or a forgery. If it is authentic, it tells us nothing about the Jesus of history, but it does tell us something about how one later writer retold his story.
  • Do you think your special study of gender gives you an additional understanding of women in the Bible? I thought you gave a fuller view of the actions of women, as in Mary’s letting down her hair to wipe Jesus’ feet. My question is more about the role of women and if you find your education and study of gender makes for a fuller explanation of women’s roles in the Bible. This includes a woman’s reading of the Bible. Will you give us an examples? 

  1. A number of Christian readers presume that first-century Judaism epitomized misogyny, and that Jesus invented feminism. This view incorrectly and negatively stereotypes Judaism. The Gospels, as well as other Jewish sources of antiquity, show Jewish women owning their own homes, running businesses, appearing in synagogues and the Jerusalem Temple, having freedom of travel, and having access to their own funds. Women followed Jesus for the same reasons that men did. However, we find that most of the women, and men, who followed him did so without spousal accompaniment. Thus, it is likely that the initial movement had a strong element of celibacy.
  2. Women appear throughout the biblical text, from the first chapter of Genesis to the Book of Revelation. To ignore biblical women is to ignore many of the Bible’s most profound stories. Women appear as prophets and leaders, wives and mothers, sages and sirens, deacons and apostles.
  • Are you lecturing outside your work at Vanderbilt University where you teach? Talk to us some about your lecture work at other schools, how those lectures are greeted, and especially their subject matter. This includes your lectures at Cambridge, which I believe are relatively new for you? 

  1. Subjects of the talks range from biblical material to the intersection of religion, gender and sexuality, to Jewish-Christian relations, including discussions of the Middle East.
  2. I lecture out of town on average of once a week. The sponsors are colleges and universities, churches and synagogues. This year, along with numerous programs in the US and Canada, I shall be in London in June, Australia in July-August, Birmingham in November-December, and Manchester this coming April. I also hold an affiliated faculty position at the Woolf Institute, Centre for the Study of Jewish-Christian Relations, at Cambridge.
  • What brought you to participate in The Great Courses Lecture series? Was the preparation for them in any way arduous? Tell us what other series you have done for The Great Courses, and which you recommend most and why. 

  1. Along with “Introduction to the Old Testament” (which I wanted to call “Introduction to the Old Testament/Tanakh”), I have done “Great Figures of the Old Testament” and “Great Figures of the New Testament.” The invitation is open to do another series; the problem for me is finding the time to prepare the lectures. The preparation is a joy – I find the material both fascinating and challenging — but a time-consuming one.
  2. The Teaching Company invited me to participate in their programs. The only caveats they gave me, before issuing the contract, was that they did not want me to be quite so feminist, and they did not want me to be quite so funny. Whether I adhered to these strictures would be up to Teaching Company clients to determine.
  • It has been a pleasure to make your acquaintance. Now as we come to the end of this series of questions, talk about what we may have missed. That is, have you anything you would like to add?

Thank you.
The Bible is an extraordinary collection of works that are open to multiple interpretations. It has been used far too often as a rock thrown to do damage: to condemn people of differing religious beliefs; to promote sexism, homophobia, and racism; to endorse complacency. It is better read as a rock on which one can stand in order to celebrate diverse beliefs; to honor all people as created in the image and likeness of the divine; to promote both love of neighbor and love of stranger and to teach us to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly.


The Scope of the lecture on John the Baptist is described by Professor Levine in the Study Guide this way. It gives a flavor of the completeness of each of the 24 half hour lectures in this series about The Great Figures in the New Testament. I listened to the entire series and these notes, brief as they are, comment on the Professor’s style and her delivery of the lectures themselves. In this way you might find some ways to decide if you, too, want to view the DVD or hear the streaming media to get the full picture in this remarkable and excellent set of lectures. I enjoyed them very much. Now the notes on John the Baptist:

John, called “Baptist” because he dipped (Gk: baptizw) people in
the Jordan River as a sign that they had repented from their sins,
appears in the Gospels and the writings of the Jewish historian
Josephus. The gaps and varying emphases in these historical
records, coupled with an appreciation for how John’s story is
presented from different perspectives, offer the ideal opportunity
to explore the means by which scholars of the New Testament
address questions of history. This lecture looks at the story of
John’s miraculous and, indeed, humorous birth; his connection to
the Prophet Elijah; his possible associations not only with the
Qumran community and, thus, the Dead Sea Scrolls but also with
other charismatic religious leaders of the early first century C.E.;
the various descriptions of his own message in light of both
political and religious import; his remarkably unclear relationship
to Jesus; and the different versions of his beheading at the
command of Herod Antipas. We conclude with a brief review of
how the Baptist has fared at the hands of theologians and artists,
playwrights and filmmakers.

Professor Levine has the good sense to start at the beginning. So shall I.
(Note that the people who are part of the Help desk are very good at getting a needy person settled. I had the good fortune to use them at the start of setting up my pages and they got me started in the right direction. This included even finding where my files were on The Great Courses site. So they aren’t adverse to even getting one going with the basic procedures…The whole process didn’t take too long, either…that is getting them on the phone or getting going with the lecture itself.)
Though the Professor does not follow the Sunday school line as I remember it, I can follow her rendition without too much trouble. But I suggest that as she speaks you keep the outline close at hand anyway. Not because of what I say about her not following my own Sunday school version, but that her rendition is all the richer for it. At least it was for me. My Assistant Linda, who from time to time, listened to these lectures along with me and is something of a Bible buff, that is has been going to Bible study on a regular basis for many years in various groups on a regular basis, had no trouble following the Professor. She referred to the Course Outline along the way not at all. So much for who knows more about the Bible, the assistant or the writer. But really, this is not a true gauge of Bible knowledge. This is really a matter of paying attention and getting used to the way Professor Levine has of making her excellent Biblical presentation. Remember, she is a Bible scholar and teaches in the Divinity School at Vanderbilt University. No small matter.

I think a great strength of her presentation is her taste for and appreciation of story. I want to add that remark in these notes before I forget making the remark.

To be a Prophet in the first Century was to risk one’s life, so was the fate of John the Baptist. He risked his life and lost it. Professor Levine makes an instructional statement that is itself a kind of prophecy after the fact. Or to make it more a statement in the present, she states a truism of the Bible. More, though, she tells the story of the why his prophecy, what his prophecy consisted of, and the debauchery of the era that was his to observe as witness. That alone was enough to cause lose John the Baptist to lose his head. So she says. The Professor gets the story, as was mentioned earlier. At least she emphasizes the story line in this section. That is the more sophisticated way than teaching at an abstract level. She is a brilliant lecturer in this section and in all of them.


For the traditional believer, this section on Mary seems provocative. But it covers a lot of ground in myth, discussion, and controversy and if you ask me borders on a kind of look at gossip when it comes to the story of Mary (The Virgin Mary). These Study Guide notes on the Scope will introduce you to the general thrust of the lecture:

Unwed mother or Mother goddess, Mary the mother of Jesus
inspires loyalty even as she provokes controversy. This lecture
addresses those elements of her life and legend that continue to
stimulate historical and theological debate. From the canonical
materials we explore the prediction of a Virgin Birth, her
relationship to her cousin Elizabeth (the mother of John the
Baptist), questions of her “perpetual virginity,” her understanding
of Jesus’ mission, and her life following the Crucifixion. We then
turn to the development of “Mariology”: accounts of her
childhood; the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and
Assumption of the Virgin; her roles as new Eve, Mediatrix, Bride
of Christ, and Queen of Heaven; as well as her reception in pagan,
Jewish, and Islamic writings; and her current role in Orthodox,
Protestant, and Catholic thought. We end with observations on the
increasingly common phenomenon of Marian apparitions,
including those at Lourdes, Fatima, Medjugorje, and Conyers,

Sound quality is very good. This lecture was heard through iTunes on Bose Speakers on a PC. We understood what Professor Levine said without any problem. Her diction was distinct enough for our ears. This was helpful. This lecture was on The Virgin Mary.

The Professor speaks to so many dimensions and stories of Mary including the Virgin birth. She is the mother of God, how the spirit of God overshadows the birth of God. She speaks too of how the spirit of God overshadows the births of others in the Bible. In taking the many aspects of the Mary story, she touches on the secular aspect of Mary even being considered by some as the single mother. Was it not a fear of Joseph’s that he would be shamed that Mary was pregnant and he was not the father. Yet he married her anyway. He has been credited as a good man and a dream told him so for he was urged through a dream to remain with Mary. This was a great comfort to him, the dream. But I am getting ahead of the lecture for that is to come in the next one.

Professor Amy-Jill Levine offers outside reading in her Course Guidebook. I listened to the streaming media version of the lectures to begin with and it is accompanied with a Course Guidebook in PDF version. There is a biographic section on Doctor Levine in the Guidebook. As an example of notes, this from the notes on the section on The Virgin Mary in the Guidebook:
(Regarding The Magnificat, the notes read…)

Immediately after Gabriel tells her of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, Mary
responds: “Behold, I am the slave (Gk: doule) of the Lord; let it be
to me according to your word” (Luke 1:36–38).
©2002 The Teaching Company. 17
1. Translations of “handmaid” are more genteel than Luke’s
Greek (see also 1:48).
2. Mary “went with haste into the hill country” to visit Elizabeth
(1:39). Some interpreters suggest that she needed Elizabeth’s
support given her state of unwed pregnancy.
B. Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, greets her: “Blessed are you
among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (1:42), and
Mary replies with the “Magnificat,” Luke 1:46–55, a hymn named
for the Latin first word.
  1. The hymn echoes Hannah’s song in 1 Sam. 2:1–10…
It is fair to say that Professor Levine makes statements about how the Biblical stories about Mary are theological for she says the stories themselves are theological in the series. She says this in another of the lectures. So of course in parts of the lecture in its explanation of teaching, which is done so well, it is done seamlessly. It is done that way throughout all the Bible in all its stories.


Here I want to provide the Study Guide notes to Peter for your edification. But know too that the Magi are covered in this set of lectures. I cannot cover all the lectures in my commentary on Professor Amy-Jill Levine’s work as Lecturer. It is neither my intent nor purpose. But one does through this review get a real sense of her work as Lecturer. Now the notes on Peter after the notes on the Scope for the Magi from the Study Guide outlining the Scope of her lecture as the Professor sets it forth:

No Christmas scene is complete today without Mary’s husband,
Joseph; the Magi who followed the miraculous star; and the
shepherds told by angels that the messiah is born in Bethlehem.
But all these figures give rise to both historical debate and later
legend. This lecture begins with Joseph, from his brief and
enigmatic function in the Gospels to later legends of his own
perpetual virginity. We turn next to the Magi to see how these
characters, whose profession many in the ancient world would
have regarded as foolishness, came to be known as both kings and
“wise men” (and, in some medieval depictions, women as well),
and eventually to receive a set of numbers, names, and physical
descriptions. Finally, we discuss the idea that in antiquity, the
shepherds would have been expected attendants at the birth of a
god. Throughout, we address how the Gospels of Matthew and
Luke, and their later interpreters, depicted these figures to promote
their own views of history, theology, and even politics.

The transformation of a headstrong Galilean fisherman into the
first leader of the Jerusalem church and, ultimately, according to
medieval Roman Catholic teaching, the first pope, is an
astounding, inspirational, and frequently confusing story. This
lecture follows the Gospels’ presentations of Simon the son of
Jonah from his fishing business in Capernaum and possible
association with John the Baptist to his role as leader of the
Twelve (disciples) and leader of the church. Scenes addressed
include his call, his being given the nickname “Peter” (i.e.,
“Rocky”), his denial of Jesus, and his restoration as witness to the
Resurrection. We next investigate his role in the early church,
including his struggles with the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem, as
well as with Paul; his conversion of Cornelius; and his role in the
Jerusalem Council. Finally, we address his post-canonical fate,
including legends of his crucifixion during Nero’s persecution.

At this point I began viewing DVD disks and in so doing watched Professor Levine in the flesh as it were standing in a tailored violet suit speaking at a lectern. It is a dignified and sophisticated look. Her appearance and dress is appropriate, as it is in the Peter lecture where she wears a lovely peach pant suit. My intent is not to say her fashion statement as a woman is paramount, though let us not overlook her good taste which plays out in her demeanor, if I may say so. Her way of speaking has emphasis both through facial expression and body language, so she is not stiff as a lecturer. She has panache. The lectern does not hide her body nor her dress. You can see what the Professor looks like in the DVD unlike the audio version only in the streaming media version. The DVD set costs more money.

She tells us about what children over look in the travels of the Magi, and it is a sophisticated lecture she gives. I cannot write notes on all these lectures, nor go into great detail even on so favorite a subject as The Magi or even Peter, as I wish I could. This article would be just too long. But I am going to go ahead and view the DVD, listening to the Professor. Suffice it to say she has much to say of value and interest, and she says it all well. Her body language speaks of sincerity and honesty in value system and she as scholar holds depth of knowledge of subject. How can one know this? I think if you choose the DVD you will agree, she appears to know of what she speaks. Her credentials also tell of her excellent background in her study of the Bible and New Testament. Previously, I’d said she was not offering her lecture in the manner of the Sunday school lesson as I knew it. I thought this good, for she was going beyond it and providing more perspective and a different approach. In her lesson on Peter she was closer to the Sunday school lesson as I knew it, even from my time in the seminary, The School for Deacons now in Berkeley, California. And when I say the Sunday school lesson I also mean in Bible study at my Church and places like Churches elsewhere where I have attended lesson giving. Listeners won’t be disappointed with Professor Levine this time in this Lesson or in other Lessons that are so content rich.

I think it important to indicate how Christian is this lesson of Peter, how miraculous is the “tale,” and how true to the Bible in my opinion is her lesson. I am just delighted as listener to have the opportunity to hear this lesson taught again so well that I am delighted with the kind of joy she transmits with her lecture—a kind of enthusiasm for the references given in the very translations and specifics of the different references and narrative itself as given by the Books of the New Testament. This takes real skill, to my way of thinking as a student. (I want to add that Professor Amy-Jill Levine is an Orthodox Jew. She instructs Christian students at Vanderbilt University in preparation for Christian ministry.) In this lesson about Peter I also listened to her remarks on Acts.


In this my last review of two of the 24 lectures, again I quote from the Study Guide. I do not go further in my review of other lectures. These reviews are enough to give readers a flavor of Professor Amy-Jill Levine at work.

Pharisees and Sadducees

Members of these two Jewish movements, prominent in the first
century, as well as in the Gospel texts, typically serve as foils to, if
not enemies of, Jesus and his followers. This lecture introduces the
two movements by reconstructing their beliefs and practices on the
basis of the New Testament (both the Gospels and Paul, who
identifies himself as a Pharisee), the writings of the historian
Josephus, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and rabbinic literature. We next
turn to the rivalry between these groups and those who followed
Jesus of Nazareth to seek both the sources of disagreement
between them and the possible explanations for the Gospels’
sometimes strident polemic. We conclude with observations on
individual Sadducees and Pharisees, with a particular focus on
Paul’s Pharisaic teacher, Gamaliel, who appears in the Acts of the
Apostles, and Hillel, often viewed as a Pharisee and seen as
proclaiming a message similar to that of Jesus.

Like the Pharisees and Sadducees, the Herodian family also
receives generally negative treatment in the New Testament.
Herod the Great, made king by Rome over Palestine and, thus,
replacing the Hasmonean (Maccabean) dynasty, appears in the
Gospel of Matthew as a new pharaoh who orders the “slaughter of
the innocents”; Jesus is, in turn, the new Moses who escapes death.
Herod Antipas, one of Herod’s few sons to survive his father’s
murderous designs, became tetrarch of the Galilee; in the Gospels,
John the Baptist condemns Antipas for marrying his brother’s
wife, and Antipas beheads the Baptist to fulfill a promise made to
his dancing daughter (named Salome in later tradition). Herod
Agrippa I, appointed king over Judea by Caligula, executed the
Apostle James. His own death is dramatically described by both
Luke and Josephus. Agrippa I’s children, Herod Agrippa II and his
sister, Berenice, appear in Acts as conversing with Paul. This
lecture provides background information about the family and
explains how and why they appear in both the New Testament

There is little doubt in my mind after listening to the streaming audio and now the DVD video lessons that the DVD video lessons are the superior of the two. They are the superior of the two in my opinion because they are more engaging. I enjoy seeing Professor Levine in “action.” By action I mean seeing her facial expression, her gestures, and her body language speak as does her speaking inflection and manner.

In the lecture on the Pharisees, an excellent statement of history and comparison of texts of history and the Bible, and in the Lecture on Herodias especially, the sense of perspective occasionally driven by irony is brought home well. As said before, there is not enough room for me on the pages of this report to say all there is to say. And I know I have not said enough about her statements on the Bible itself. But I do want to remark on her end statement on the Lecture on Herodias without spoiling the language of how she says it for that would be unfair to the DVD watcher. Suffice it to say it is a statement on power and greed, a theme throughout the section that is so true of the dictator and of the governing nature of the governing world in which the Jews and Christians lived at the time. I think the way she tells of this historic feature of governance in general is done in a surprising way that is near painless and woven so well into the Bible and the texts of history that we find ourselves understanding that the Bible is a book of history. She gives us the taste of the times. The lecture does have much to offer about how life was lived and how people lived their lives in the higher sense of the governing class and their values of living lives at the time. It spills into the nature of lives lived throughout history by humans even to today.

For those of us surprised by this fact, as I remain today surprised, this truism is part of the truth of the Bible itself and of history and the human condition. It is history that illumines the Bible text as much as anything, and that is a kind of irony in her lecture as they work hand in glove. Professor Levine’s lecture is relevant to the way our lives are lived today.

One proof is the chill one gets at the danger and evil of the horror of the events of history as she casts that history. Was there not a story of 72 people killed in Nigeria by a bomb blast in a town reported in today’s newspaper? Monstrosity of event is not yesterday’s event of history alone.
Again, these two lectures are a brilliant set by Professor Amy-Jill Levine. Top marks to her for her scholarly knowledge and skill of presentation and delivery. Be prepared, by the way, for know this is not run-of-the-mill content. If you want that, choose another set of lectures. Choose another 24 lectures, in fact. Regarding these two, choose others if you want the norm and I don’t mean because of the horror, but because of the history and the irony, and the thought. But I mean mostly choose these lectures for the uniqueness of approach and point of view. Without going the full 24 lectures, it is apparent Professor Levine sheds profound and fascinating light on her subject of Great Figures of the New Testament that will fascinate the viewer or listener; I say viewer or listener for such is a matter of depending on the media you choose: DVD for sight and sound, or streaming media for sound alone.

A final note just thought of is that figures in this story of Herodias get their come-uppance and if you ask me the Professor implies they deserved it for they were evil men and evil women. I was glad she was willing to make such judgments in her talk, and did so without any kind of hysteria of loud statement. But that was pretty much the kind of tone expected that continued the character of her delivery in the lecture throughout this particular section, one that was quite chilling in its detail and on occasion, and not so frequent occasion, even graphic for my taste. Let’s face it, worms were one of the results of sin—body parts being eaten by them. It came alive. The Professor is even handed in her lecture style and content, though engaging.

Destruction of the Temple in 70 was a terrible act, and it was reported without terrible detail, but as if from a history book. This was sufficient for my taste. It came alive.
I think in the section on Pharisees where Piety was actually spoken of with a kind of respect rather than simple distaste, giving it a different dimension of character and understanding. I cannot provide the measure of this particular area of appreciation in the lecture section on the Pharisees in this short piece regarding the section and their role in relation to Christians and within their own Jewish faith here. But that was the area of instruction spoken about in the lecture for reasons of giving perspective. An eye opening viewpoint by Professor Levine, certainly.


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