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Publisher's Summary

Nearly everyone in the Western world is familiar with the stories in the book of Genesis. Its language is simple. Its powerful sentences are short. And its messages glisten with clarity. But is it possible that the understanding of the book of Genesis we've all grown up with isn't as complete as we'd like to believe? That its deceptively simple sentences and surface appearance hide from contemporary readers a purposeful and intricate structure designed to let its depth and detail and implication resonate with the readers and listeners of its own time?

These 24 fascinating lectures offer the necessary tools to change our perceptions of the book of Genesis, showing us how we might read, hear, think about - and feel - its words as an ancient Hebrew would have, allowing us to gain a new appreciation of "one of the most remarkable literary compositions from the ancient world," as Professor Rendsburg calls it, the book with which both Jews and Christians alike begin their Bible.

With a detailed, line-by-line literary parsing that gently probes its language, exploring how and why its effects were achieved and what the book's author-or authors-were saying, Professor Rendsburg reveals more insights than most of us have ever dreamed were there. Among those insights, you'll learn why the book of Genesis has not one but two creation stories, what hints the book's many contradictions offer about its authorship, and more.

Although this is a course whose emphasis is literary, with detailed analysis dominating, Professor Rendsburg is mindful that the book of Genesis is, for many, a theological pillar of religious faith. And he is both respectful of that reality and aware of it in an even broader historical, social, and archeological context.

©2006 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2006 The Great Courses

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  • Tommy D'Angelo
  • 2021-09-12

Beware: Linguistic Analysis to the Nth Degree

Professor Rendsburg's specialty is linguistics and translations of words. Thus he is skillful in dissecting terminology and providing insight into Genesis’ author’s intentions for certain stories based on the author's choice of one word vs. another or the sequence of a word in a phrase. At first this type of insight piqued my interest and I began wondering why the reviews for this course were lower than average. Early thought-provoking examples included:

- The phrase “earth and heaven” in the second creation account vs “heaven and earth” in the first creation account indicating that the author was trying to emphasize the story of man vs the story of the cosmos

- The omission of the words Sun and Moon when mentioning the creation of the stars that dominate the day and night suggests a refusal to name pagan gods

But as I progressed through the course I could recognize that the professor’s talent of dissecting each word selection by the author to decipher his intentions has a flip side: he uses it in too many portions of too many lectures on quite pedantic, banal, and trite matters like when he spends a whole lecture (13) explaining why Abraham’s servant chooses different words when speaking to Rebekah's family than what Abraham told him to say. Sure it’s interesting to see how clever the servant is in shaping his message to fit the situation/win over Rebekah for Isaac (and represents God’s hand in shaping affairs) but in the grand scheme of things it seems to have very little if any relevance or importance to our overall understanding of the Book of Genesis. This became so commonplace that I thought I was taking a Hebrew language course. So many of these word discussions added no real value to either deepening our historical or theological understanding of the episode in question or of our overall big picture understanding of the book of Genesis.

Additionally, I thought this would be a course in which the professor would recount the narrative of the stories in the Book of Genesis and then analyze the book from a big picture or theological perspective (like other religion courses in TGC catalog). Instead it is clear this is a course on studying the literary inventions employed by the author: why he chose certain words in order to meet his literature objectives to gain dramatic effect (along with some analysis on the author’s theological objectives---but surprisingly not as much as the literature aspect). This is evidenced by the professor not covering all of the main stories in the book of Genesis in this course:

- While The serpent in the garden of Eden is mentioned, the professor does not explicitly mention its role in talking Adam and Eve into eating from the tree of knowledge

- The full Cain and Abel story is not told

- There is a little talk of the tower of babel episode but not how it ended

- Gods mating with humans is mentioned but there is no discussion concerning their offspring being giants and their depravity

- Sodom and Gomorrah are mentioned but the episode involving them is not related

- There is no mention of Jacob’s ladder vision and him wrestling with God

How do you have a course on the Book of Genesis and not touch on these topics in a little more depth? I guess you can when the course is not so much about the content of the book but about word choice for selected episodes.

While I certainly wouldn't have noticed all of the literary inventions and tactics used by the author without the professor's insight, again I am left wondering: how does all of this matter? Apologies but my interest lies not in how the author creates tension in a story, uses dramatic effect, and employs irony. I'd have purchased any old literature course for that. When it comes to the book of Genesis I'm much more interested in what do these stories all mean in the big picture from a historical or theological perspective.

The image used for this course in The Great Courses catalog lists the topic as "Religion & Theology" and its background color is yellow to signify that designation. However, it should have a purple background: the color signifying courses classified as literature. This was an analysis on the book of Genesis from a literary perspective.

Only when Professor Rendsburg wades into historical analysis do things get interesting such as:
- Authorship theories (lecture 6)
- The history of ancient Israel, especially their transformation from polytheists to practicing monolatry to becoming monotheistic (lecture 8)
- When and where did Abraham live (lecture 10)
- Determining when the book of Genesis was written (lecture 19)

If you are interested in different Bible translations and how one Hebrew word can be rendered in multiple ways and the reasons behind doing so then I would recommend this course. If you are interested in methods the author uses to make it a dramatic story then I would recommend this course. If you want some analysis on the dating of the book and its main protagonists then I would also recommend this course. But I was surprised how little time was spent on what I would think the majority of listeners would expect: placing the historical and theological impact of this book in context.

7 people found this helpful

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  • Jamie
  • 2019-04-03

Excellent Course

I found this course to be very helpful and to the point. Dr. Rendsburg explores several different interpretations and translations of Genesis and is enjoyable to listen to. The way he weaves the history and literature of numerous cultures together is also very impressive. This has definitely been one of my favorite Great Courses–I highly recommend it.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Jacobus
  • 2013-07-22

Clear, illuminating but without a PDF study guide

What made the experience of listening to The Book of Genesis the most enjoyable?

Prof. Gary A Rendsburg uses clear and simple language to reflect on the subject matter at hand (some of which might be a bit technical to new comers to the book). He furthermore approach the Book of Genesis from a historical, theological, and archaeological angle and ultimately evaluates its quality as literature. He covers a vast amount of issues not only related to the Book of Genesis but to the Old Testament/ Torah in general.

What did you like best about this story?

It is very difficult to single out a specific part. Prof. Rendsburg was able to give an excellent overview on current scholarly insights on Genesis. His explanation of Genesis 1 is top notch. He doesn't get into nit picking about the historicity of the account but places it squarely within its Ancient Near Eastern framework. He was able to show the function of the various doublet stories in various parts of Genesis. He also challenged the JEPD hypothesis convincingly. He leaves you with a lot of food for thought.

Have you listened to any of Professor Gary A. Rendsburg’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

No I haven't. He started of a bit staccato in the first two lectures, but got more relaxed as he continued with the lectures. I think he did an excellent job.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

It more than just a beginning or a big bang, its a journey!

Any additional comments?

The Great Courses comes the study guides for easy reference. Unfortunately the Audible downloads have that lacking which is very disappointing. For that the overall rating drops with one star.

12 people found this helpful

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  • Seleena
  • 2016-01-24

Great Book

Would you listen to The Book of Genesis again? Why?

This book has a lot of relevant information that are both academic and spiritual. I'd like to go back occasionally to refresh my memory about the topics discussed as I continue my research on the stories and history of the bible.

What did you like best about this story?

I like the fact the author is very open minded and was prepared to back up his arguments and views with supportive materials. I may not agree with all his views 100% but I can respect them because he makes his reasoning clear.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

The title of the movie would be "The End Begins".

Any additional comments?

If you have questions about the bible or biblical stories in general, read this book. It doesn't really try to justify the unexplainable but it does a good job of deducing what could have caused them and though it only covers the first book, it's a start.

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  • Melaney Shaum
  • 2019-06-02

slow start

1st lesson is a bad preformance. Keep listening, they get a lot better. He knows his stuff.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Jacob
  • 2021-08-08

Good analysis of Genesis as a literary masterpiece

Prof. Rendsburg does a good job of discussing the literary themes and devices found in the Book of Genesis, which would have been understood by readers in antiquity but are largely missed by modern readers.
Genesis is portrayed by Gary Rendsburg as a unitary document, in contrast to the Documentary Hypothesis which has been the mainstay of critical Biblical scholarship for the last century and a half. He dates the Book of Genesis to the 10th century BCE, in contrast to the vast majority of Biblical scholars, who ascribe the date of the bulk of the work to the 7th - 6 centuries BCE. Though Rendsburg is successfull in portraying Genesis as a coherent literary whole, in a general sense, he fails to plausibly account for the numerous anachronisms, inconsistencies, and contradictions, as well as linguistic features, which clearly point to a later date of composition, and to more than one author at more than one time. In doing so, he fails to mention the currently favored revision of the Documentary Hypothesis for the writing of the Pentateuch, known as the Supplementary Hypothesis, which posits that Genesis (and the Pentateuch in General) is a series of direct additions to an existing corpus of work...starting with a pre-Exilic Deuteronomist source (7nth century BCE), followed by additions from a Yabwist-Elohist source in the Exilic period (6th century BCE) based on then-existing fragments (some literary, some from oral tradition), followed by additions from a post-Exilic Priestly source (c. 400 BCE).
This better explains the overall literary unity of Genesis than the old Documentary Hypothesis (which posited a bringing together of separate, complete, independent narratives), while taking into account the obvious inconsistencies and anachronisms which cannot simply be explained away in claiming that Genesis is and has always been a single, more-or-less complete document, as Prof. Rendsburg wishes to do here.

Rendsburg moreover claims to be a "maximalist", yet his dating of figures in the Genesis narrative, e.g. Abraham at 1400 BCE, are completely at variance with the Genesis narrative, which explicitly states that there would be a period of 400 years of slavery in Egypt (Gen. 15:13) . At the same time, Rendsburg sticks to a c. 1200 BCE date for Joshua's conquest of Canaan. In doing so, he relegates the period of slavery in Egypt to a footnote in Israelite history, in direct contradiction to the Genesis / Pentateuch account, as well as to his own claim of being a "maximalist".

2 people found this helpful

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  • Gene
  • 2018-08-20

Not what I expected.

Some indication of perspective (literary) in the title would be helpful. Speaker's presentation of theories besides his own was mostly balanced. Odd that the way material was presented allowed some stories to be included almost as an afterthought.

1 person found this helpful

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  • LAOGONG
  • 2017-07-07

Wish he did the whole bible! A great listen!

Kept me wanting more. Wish he would do more bible books. Will purchase them if he does!...

1 person found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2016-03-24

A nice exploration

Any additional comments?

Professor Rendsburg has an exceptional knowledge in ancient literature as well as the culture and history that surrounds it. He uses those gifts to give a fascinating and scholarly take on Genesis. Newcomers as well as seasoned studies will find new discoveries and fascinating insights. The creation accounts as well as the Abraham narrative are high points. He doesn't always conform to the scholarly norm but when he strays from it, he tells the listener, backs up his thought, and gives compelling reasons for a new look. I really enjoyed this work. Also, for those of you who want to look at a brief study on an earlier date for the Exodus, google "rendsburg exodus" and there is a pdf on that.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Phil
  • 2015-07-29

Great course! Excellent Lectures

I enjoyed listening to this course. The lectures were engaging and insightful and the professor clearly knows what he is talking about. I learned a great deal. Hope he does other books of the bible.

1 person found this helpful