The Jewish Bible: Its History As A Physical Artifact

Explore beyond the words on the page

Join Harvard faculty in this online course to discover the physical history of the Jewish bible.

Featuring faculty from:
6 weeks
2–4 hours a week
Certificate Price
Program Dates
Start The Jewish Bible Today

What You'll Learn

When studying the Jewish Bible and other historical works, the physical attributes—the form of the writing, whether it be scroll, codex, or simply a printed page layout, in addition to the size and shape—determine how we read the book and understand its meaning. Whether you are interested in literature or history, ancient or religious art and texts, or looking to deepen your understanding of religion and its impact on the world, this course will delve deeper into the Jewish Book as a physical object and spark desire to learn more about the materials as both artifact and religious content—enriching your understanding of the Jewish Bible, how it came to be, and its place today in a digital age.

In The Jewish Bible: Its History as a Physical Artifact, you will focus largely on the Torah Scroll—elaborate, handwritten scrolls that share the first five books of Moses, the first books of the Jewish Bible. The physical Torah has been a revered part of the Jewish community for centuries; there is even a tradition of touching the Torah as it is brought around the congregation as a sign of respect and paying homage to its history. In this course you will learn about the birth of the scrolls; their evolution from scrolls to codex; and the Jewish Bible through culture, history, and religion.

By exploring the ancient Hebrew Bibles that Jews have held in their hands, chanted in the synagogue, and studied in school and at home, you will be immersed in the history of the book as an artifact of other religions, and how Jews transformed the Bible over centuries using cultural and religious context. As you study the Bible as a physical book, you will learn how the materiality of the Jewish Book serves as an interface between the Hebrew text, history, and the modern world.

The course will be delivered via edX and connect learners around the world. By the end of the course, participants will be able to:

  • The importance of the Jewish Bible as a physical object
  • What the Jewish Book meant and still means for the Jewish people, from the earliest rendering to the most complex layouts of Jewish Study Bible pages
  • How the shape, script, and layout represent the cultural, political, intellectual, and religious changes of the Jewish community in the context of the non-Jewish cultures
  • How to read and interpret the context and meaning of the pages, from the earliest forms of Codex through the digital age
  • The differences in the books that make up the Jewish Bible, and the page formats of the codex throughout history, encouraging your own reading and comparison between instances
  • How to appreciate ancient texts, using the Bible as a physical object, through touch, smell, and written word—enhancing your appreciation for ancient wisdom, rituals, and Rabbinic law

Your Instructor

David Stern joined the Harvard faculty in 2015, after teaching at the University of Pennsylvania for many years. He was the recipient of a junior fellowship in Harvard’s Society of Fellows and a Radcliffe Institute fellowship, and received grants from the ACLS, the NEH, and the Guggenheim Foundation. He has been a visiting professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Princeton University, among others. The main topic of Stern's scholarship is the nature of Jewish literary creativity within its larger historical and cultural contexts. Stern’s teaching focuses both on Jewish Studies and the history of the book. His Jewish Studies courses include seminars on reading Jewish texts like Midrash and Talmud, both in the original language and in translation, and thematic courses that span the entire length of Jewish literary history, from the Bible to the present (e.g. “The Binding of Isaac in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Culture”).

Ways to take this course

When you enroll in this course, you will have the option of pursuing a Verified Certificate or Auditing the Course.

A Verified Certificate costs $149 and provides unlimited access to full course materials, activities, tests, and forums. At the end of the course, learners who earn a passing grade can receive a certificate. 

Alternatively, learners can Audit the course for free and have access to select course material, activities, tests, and forums. Please note that this track does not offer a certificate for learners who earn a passing grade.

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