If I had my way, Dr. Gary Rendsburg’s course on “The Book of Genesis” would be mandatory for every Christian, Jew, historian, lover of language, and student of the human spirit. Let’s start this review by giving the course five stars.
(Just a note: The Teaching Company puts each course on sale once a year on a regular cycle. When this course is on sale, it’s about $50. Right now it’s listed at $250. Wait a while and it’ll drop in price. I may repost this review when I notice that’s happened.)
Background: I had the privilege of taking two courses with Dr. Rendsburg in Cornell University’s Near Eastern Studies department, and they were the best two classes I took in college. When this course became available through The Teaching Company, I made sure to snatch it up. It took a while to get to it after that, but I’m thrilled.
Overview: Dr. Rendsburg analyzes The Book of Genesis from a religious, literary, historical and sociological perspective. He draws on every tool for this analysis, including the archaeological record, other ancient texts, modern illustrative examples, and an encyclopedic understanding of the ancient world.
My only complaint: it’s too short. I would have the same complaint even if it were 48 one-hour lectures. Well, one more: during the first lecture he sounds a bit stilted and uncomfortable with the microphone. He warms up during the second lecture.
The good stuff: Everything!
Hah. Okay, first, he treats the Book of Genesis primarily as an academic text. He feels free to analyze every aspect of it, view it in the context of the time/place in which it was written and the people for whom it was intended, but at the same time is absolutely respectful of the religious value of the text. While he is himself Jewish, he does not disparage the Christian reading of the text nor does he force his religious views on the listeners. When he makes a point, he backs it up (often multiple ways) and presents the opposing viewpoint for controversial subjects (such as JEDP theory and the dating of the events in the Book of Genesis.)
I had forgotten until I listened that even more than an academic respect, Dr. Rendsburg has an actual love for the writing. He is actively delighted by the word play, the textual tricks, the parallels, the rich imagery and the wordcraft involved in the writing.
And perhaps because of this love of the text, he dives deep into the text to point out puns, the lyrical writing in the original Hebrew, and parallels that lie beneath the surface.
For example, Jacob deceives Isaac; later, Jacob is deceived by Judah (who lies about the death of Joseph) and then Judah is deceived by Tamar. All three of these deceptions use the same props and the same verbiage. I’d known these stories all my life, but I’d never made the connection. Then he moves beyond the literary to point out the theological subtext, that God has stepped in to exact justice.
I could write for hours about this, but really, don’t listen to me. Go pick up a copy of the course and listen for yourself to an amazing scholar analyzing an amazing book.