Out of Zion, the Torah really comes forth – again. Later this week, a popular online course in Bible returns to the world stage thanks to Bar-Ilan University (BIU) in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv.
The nine-week massive open online course (MOOC), titled “The Bible in Light of the Ancient Near East,” is being offered by BIU’s Zalman Shamir Department of Bible. It is an introduction to the Bible set against the background of the rich archaeological findings from the ancient Near East. The course’s goal 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.
Since first being offered 18 months ago, 6,000 students from around the world – including 10 from Egypt, four from Iran, three from Saudi Arabia and seven from Iraq (countries not know for their friendship for Israel – have participated.
The nine-week course will also provide 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.
The free course can be accessed at https://www.edx.org/course/the-bible-in-light-of-the-ancient-near-east-1#!. To take the course, one should expect to invest two to four hours a week in it.
It is taught by Dr. Nili Samet, who teaches Bible and Assyriology at BIU’s Shamir Bible Department. A member of the Bar-Ilan faculty since 2011, 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 and Biblical Hebrew. She has received numerous honors, including the Alon Fellowship for Outstanding Young Researchers and the Harry Starr Fellowship at Harvard University.
The course was produced as part of an innovative program of the Council for Higher Education and the council’s Planning and Budgeting Committee, together with Digital Israel, as part of the effort to make Israeli academia accessible to the interested public around the world. It is presented via edX, an online learning and MOOC provider founded by Harvard University and MIT that offers high-quality courses from the world’s leading universities and institutions to learners around the globe.
The Zalman Shamir Department of Bible at Bar-Ilan University is the largest of its kind in the world devoted to the study of the Hebrew Bible. Dedicated to the teaching and critical study of the plain meaning of the text of the Hebrew Bible, the department also imparts tools for the study of the entire tradition of classical commentators – the ancient translations from the second-Temple period, Talmudic writings, medieval and early modern rabbinic commentators. The department’s faculty of scholars covers a wide range of sub-disciplines and contributes broadly to the scholarly community.