By: Jacob L. Wright 

A new phenomenon is changing the face of education, making first-rate courses from the world’s best universities available to all, wherever they live. The phenomenon is often subsumed under the umbrella term “Massive Open Online Course” (MOOC). Emory University professor Jacob L. Wright will be teaching the free seven-week Coursera course “The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose, and Political Future” beginning May 26. More information is provided at the bottom of this page.

Discovered in the caves above Qumran, the Dead Sea Scrolls have provided scholars with important information about the Bible in the first century. How was the Bible formed, and why did a text from a defeated people blossom into the Bible?

Last fall I was selected to teach one of Coursera’s first course offerings on religion—and its very first on the Hebrew Bible as a whole. Entitled “The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose, and Political Future,” the course will expose students, whether they’re beginners or experts, to an abundance of new research on the history of Israel and on the formation of the Bible. But this is no typical introductory course. My objective is not simply to present various theories for the origins of Israel and the Bible, beginning with Genesis and continuing through various parts of the canon. Instead, my lectures focus on the most basic—and I think most important—question that students often ask, yet instructors rarely address: Why?

Why do we have a Bible from ancient Israel and Judah? Could something like it have existed among the Philistines, the Moabites, the Assyrians, the Babylonians or the Persians? If so, why haven’t they been transmitted throughout the ages and been translated into thousands of languages, as the Hebrew Scriptures have been? And why would such a sophisticated corpus of literature as the Bible have its origins in a remote region of the world (the southern Levantine hill country), rather than at the centers of ancient civilization (Mesopotamia and Egypt)? After all, these civilization centers boasted technological supremacy and military superiority. They were the ones who invented writing and easily conquered the population that produced the Bible. Finally, why has the Bible had such a huge impact on world history, shaping the identities of a very wide array of societies across the globe?…

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