Shaye Cohen: The Hebrew Scriptures in Judaism and Christianity


Professor Shaye Cohen, of Harvard University, delivers an introduction to both early Judaism and early Christianity, through the lens of their respective interpretations of the Bible.

The Hebrew Scriptures in Judaism and Christianity” is available on iTunes. The course includes a syllabus and notes for each lecture, and exam papers. There are 26 lectures in total.

In 70CE the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. Second Temple Judaism, whose worship consisted of animal sacrifice permitted by biblical command only at the Temple, would have to reinvent itself as Rabbinic Judaism.  Contemporaneously, the authors of the New Testament Gospels were writing about the Jewish apocalyptic prophet whom they believed was the awaited messiah.  For both the rabbis and the gospel writers, for both ancient Jews and ancient Christians, the central authoritative text was the Torah and the other books we now call the Hebrew Scriptures.  This course surveys how the interpretation (and reinterpretation) of these books spawned two rival cultural systems, Judaism and Christianity.  The issues addressed are: 1) What are the truth claims of Judaism and Christianity?  2) In the first centuries of our era, how did Jewish biblical interpretation differ from Christian?  3) What differences resulted in “the parting of the ways” between Judaism and Christianity?  4) How does each culture deal with the biblical passages concerning: circumcision, the food laws, the Sabbath, Passover, the manifestations of the deity (e.g., Logos), the messiah, atonement/redemption, and the concept of Israel as the chosen of God?


1. Introduction to the Course
2. What is the Bible?
3. What is Judaism?
4. What is Christianity?
5. Jewish Bible Interpretation in Antiquity
6. Christian Bible Interpretation in Antiquity
7. The Parting of the Ways
8. Justine Martyr and Early Christianity
9. Circumcision: The Jewish Understanding
10. Circumcision: The Christian Understanding
11. The Food Laws: The Jewish View
12. The Food Laws: The Christian View
13. The Sabbath
14. From Shabbat to Sunday
15. Pesah/Passover
16. The Seder
17. From Psah to Pascha
18. Melito of Sardis and the Christian Passover
19. The One God, Torah, and Logos
20. The One God who is Two
21. Messiah: The Restoration of the Davidic King
22. Christ as King and Messiah
23. Atonement through Sacrifice and its Surrogates
24. Atonement through the Sacrifice of Christ
25. Israel, the People of God
26. Who is the True Israel?