Jun 26, 2022
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People who think that anything they can get at no cost is not worth having are wrong! An Israeli university has just reopened a free, online course on The Bible in Light of the Ancient Middle East

Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv, has opened the nine-week massive open online course in Bible. Each student should devote two to four hours per week to the course. 

Since first being offered in 2017, some 10,000 students from around the world have taken the course, among them residents of many African, Asian and South American countries, including several dozen from Nigeria, approximately a dozen from Morocco, several hundred from Brazil and about 100 from India.  

There have also been participants from many countries in the Middle East, including Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran, but most course participants live in the US, the United Kingdom and Israel itself. 

Offered by the Zalman Shamir Department of Bible at Bar-Ilan, the course offers introduction to the Bible set against the background of the rich archeological findings from the Ancient Near East. The goal of the course is to introduce students to the fascinating world of Israel’s neighboring civilizations in biblical times and offer a comparative study that examines the relationship between the Bible and these civilizations.

Students will obtain a new understanding of the ancient Near Eastern context of such central biblical themes and genres as creation traditions, flood stories, the Tower of Babel story, law literature, prophecy and wisdom. The professionally-produced course combines videos filmed at the British Museum, images of many relevant findings and a variety of online activities. 

“Students engage in discussions of the course material in the course forums. This is also where students tell other learners about themselves and what sparked their interest in this topic. The variety of backgrounds and approaches is fascinating,” explained Prof. Nili Samet who teaches the course.  

“We will discuss a selection of biblical traditions, genres, and themes from a comparative perspective and show how the ancient Near Eastern materials shed new light on these topics,” she said. “While the course will refer to a variety of civilizations, a special focus will be placed on Mesopotamia and its relationship to the Bible.”

A member of the Bar-Ilan faculty since 2011, Samet teaches Bible and Assyriology.  Her research interests include the study of the Bible in its ancient Near Eastern context, Biblical and Mesopotamian Wisdom and Lamentation literature, Sumerian language and culture, as well as and biblical Hebrew. Samet has received numerous honors, including the Alon Fellowship for Outstanding Young Researchers and the Harry Starr Fellowship at Harvard University.


Participants should register at https://www.edx.org/course/the-bible-in-light-of-the-ancient-near-east-2


The lessons are: 

1: The Ancient Near East: Historical and Cultural Introduction.

2: Biblical Creation Traditions in their Ancient Near Eastern Context.

3: The Biblical Flood Story in its Ancient Near Eastern Context.

4: A Theological Perspective on the Creator God: Between the Biblical God and the Ancient Near Eastern Gods.

5: The Biblical Tower of Babel Story in its Ancient Near Eastern Context.

6: Biblical Legal Literature in its Ancient Near Eastern Context, Part I.

7: Biblical Legal Literature in its Ancient Near Eastern Context, Part II.

8: Biblical Prophecy in its Ancient Near Eastern Context.

9: Biblical Wisdom in its Ancient Near Eastern Context.