Free Knowledge!

Now that I have your attention, I will interrupt our conversation about the ontological proof, Anselm, Gaunilo, the mythical “Lost Island” and the search for an answer to the Ultimate Question (next up: Kant!) to give you a tardy Thanksgiving gift.

For the past 4-5 years, as we resignedly slogged our way through the subways of New York on the way to our digital marketing job, we listened to lectures about Judaism, Christianity, Old Testament and New Testament studies, the sociology of religion, basically anything undogmatic and informative. Thousands of hours and the wealth of centuries of learning, presented by men and women of nearly terrifying intelligence and style.

Some cost money. Some were free. Some had a clear (usually Evangelical) bias. Most did not. Today, we’ll point you toward some of the free stuff and save the paid for another, longer day:

  1. Yale’s Open University has a truly excellent course, recorded in 2006, on the Old Testament aka The Hebrew Bible. Taught by Professor Christine Hayes, it presents an intelligent undergraduate-level introduction to the main currents of scholarship, including the documentary hypothesis, source criticism, form criticism, archaeology and historical sources, etc. Both audio and video formats. Link here
  2. Stanford University offers a couple of free courses on Religion. The most popular is a 20-hour examination of the “Historical Jesus,” taught by Thomas Sheehan. The title is a bit misleading – it’s not really a methodical excavation of the life of Jesus so much as a spirited, free-wheeling riff on some interesting themes such as apocalypticism, power politics in 1st century Palestine, the Resurrection, etc. Sheehan is a big fan of John Dominic Crossan, a smart and feisty little man who shows up on the History Channel as a Jesus expert but is really on the fringe: he thinks parts of the Gospel of Peter pre-date Mark, Jesus was eaten by dogs, and so on. Still, a fun course if you skip the students’ Q&A and don’t expect meticulous, mainstream history. Link here
  3. iTunes U offers a number of courses on Religion, including Sheehan’s. A large number of them are from Reformed Theological Seminary, which is a very conservative Protestant institution – i.e., their “History of Christianity” was taught by Dr. Frank James, who is a Biblical literalist who believes in the inerrancy of scripture. Still, there’s a lot more actual history than propaganda in there – and it’s free! Link here
  4. Finally, a plug for Rock Star Theologian Bart Ehrman. He may be a skeptic, but he’s an awfully clear and fascinating lecturer with (it seems to me) a lot of eye-opening stuff to say. An example is this lecture he delivered at the National Cathedral on just how unreliable manuscript transmission could be: Link here
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2 responses to “Free Knowledge!

  1. The Shelly Kagan Yale Course on Death is superb! Best thing I have found on ITunes U.

  2. Those Yale courses are great – there’s a new(ish) one on the New Testament I just downloaded – looking forward to it.

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