Saturday, 2 August 2014

The Wright Stuff

I downloaded my 'Statement of Accomplishment' from Coursera the other day, having completed the Emory University offering "The Bible's Prehistory, Purpose, and Political Future".

Taught by the very articulate (and sartorially flamboyant) Jacob Wright, this was my first encounter with MOOCs - Massive Open Online Courses. It was an interesting experience, and I'd be up for it again if something similar comes along.

  • it was completely free
  • it was accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world, with access to the Internet. How remarkable is that!
  • there was a generous time frame to view lecture segments and complete quizzes
  • any course at this level is usually under-girded with sound scholarship (and this one certainly was)
  • it provided a dash of intellectual ginger, coming from a perspective I might not have otherwise encountered, providing an intriguing balance between Jewish and Christian approaches, something that must have been a bit of a shock to some of the more earnest Bible-belt students
And yes, the positives definitely outweighed the negatives. I guess my chief reservation was that Dr Wright, despite his impressive scholarship and a nuanced approach, was nonetheless articulating a fairly Pollyanna-like, exceptionalist view of the Hebrew Bible. I don't really think you come to that kind of conclusion apart from a pre-existing commitment, whether cultural or religious. But then, hey, what do I know.

One thing intrigued me about some of my fellow students; an often-expressed "yes, but" reaction to the more challenging information they were encountering. Yes, the Bible might not be quite as inerrant as I thought it was, but you really need to read this particular apologetics website to get a different (i.e. more 'correct') slant on things.

One woman even posted a link to a United Church of God booklet! Gimme a break!

It's a bit like getting a concession from your brother-in-law that his political opinion might be potentially flawed based on the hard evidence. You feel good that you carried the argument, but know beyond any shadow of doubt that he'll still vote the same old way regardless. (I hasten to add that my brother-in-law is not in mind, being an eminently reasonable, enlightened and open-minded bloke.) But for others, praise be, these sorts of experiences create a wedge, ready to - at the appropriate time - crack open their thinking to new possibilities. 


  1. So glad someone else had the same reaction. Great class, great learning. But the way I put it, Wright is a bit the romantic in his reception and proposal of the biblical "project."

    You should check out the Oded Lipschits course that starts in October on "The Fall and Rise of Jerusalem." He'll be a little harder to listen to, I think, because there is still a decided accent -- the but I expect the substance to stand on its own.

  2. I agree with your positive assessment of the course. Nevertheless, I think that those of the non-exceptionalist persuasion also bring a good many pre-existing commitments to the table of any assessment of Scripture. True objectivity is difficult irrespective of which door you use to enter the discussion.

  3. " ..articulating a fairly Pollyanna-like, exceptionalist view of the Hebrew Bible"

    In other words he's a Jew. Christians owe a lot to Judaism - a religion they brutally hijacked using the Christ Myth.

  4. >any course at this level is usually under-girded with sound scholarship (and this one certainly was)<

    "Sound scholarship?" I bet the course was replete with terms and phrases such as, perhaps, maybe, it is believed, we think, the consenous of opinion is, etc., etc. Not to memtion the inevitable speculations, suspositions and conjectures that underpinned the original hypothesis.

    "Sound scholarships" means that the course was underpinned by facts, that cannot be disputed.

    1. Tom would have known better if he had actually engaged the material, but in this days of fools posting factless opinions....

    2. >... but in this days of fools posting factless opinions....<

      "This days?" I wonder why Gavin didn't suggest that you needed to buy a book that teaches basic syntax and grammar? I can't believe that the great man is not impartial.

    3. And are we expected to believe YOU are impartial, Tom? With no more than an "I bet" you make assumptions as to what the course includes. How do you expect anyone reading your comments to give them any credibility?

    4. I don't need to read all the material. I know from both experience and reflection, that much of what is taught in schools, colleges and universities are the received opinions of men. Note the words of Plato thus: "We must lay hold of the best human opinion in order that borne by it as on a raft, we may sail over the dangerous sea of life, unless we can find a stronger boat, or some sure word of God, which will more surely and safely carry us."

      I have found that sure word of God, or to be more accurate, it was revealed to me!