Free Hebrew Bible Course with Shaye Cohen

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published in 2015.—Ed.

Learn about the Hebrew Bible in a free course of 25 video lectures by Shaye Cohen, Littauer Professor of Hebrew Literature and Philosophy at Harvard University. This course, which you can start and stop any time, surveys the major books and ideas of the Hebrew Bible (also called the Old Testament), examining the historical context in which the texts emerged and were redacted.

A major subtext of this free Hebrew Bible course is the distinction between how the Bible was read by ancient interpreters (whose interpretations became the basis for many iconic literary and artistic works of Western Civilization) and how it is approached by modern Bible scholarship. James Kugel, former Harvard professor and author of the course’s textbook, contends that these ways of reading the Bible are mutually exclusive. Professor Shaye Cohen respectfully disagrees.

The course syllabus is your primary road map; it contains general information about the course and lists the topics covered and assigned readings for each of the 25 lectures. Video recordings of each lecture can be viewed alongside Professor Cohen’s lecture notes. A series of timelines is available to illustrate aspects of the course which unfold over time.

Click here to start the free Hebrew Bible course!

Sample the course by watching Professor Shaye Cohen’s first lecture:


Click here to check out Professor Shaye Cohen’s free Hebrew Bible course!


This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on February 25, 2015.

In the free eBook Exploring Genesis: The Bible’s Ancient Traditions in Context, discover the cultural contexts for many of Israel’s earliest traditions. Explore Mesopotamian creation myths, Joseph’s relationship with Egyptian temple practices and three different takes on the location of Ur of the Chaldees, the birthplace of Abraham.

Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Defining Biblical Hermeneutics

Who Are the Nephilim?

The Man Moses by Peter Machinist

Searching for Biblical Mt. Sinai

Did I Find King David’s Palace? by Eilat Mazar


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  1. carole says

    I am going to greatly enjoy the free Hebrew Bible course by Proffesor Shaye Cohen. Have always had a deep love for the Jews. Thank you for this wonderful offer. Shalom.


    The first class was painfully elementary.

  3. Nancy says

    Looking forward to our next class!

  4. CB says

    Only 16 mins in – and already somewhat bored! It might have helped if I had been shown the screen behind Prof Cohen rather than just the learned gentleman himself! Switched off! I also tend to agree with Harold D.

  5. Kathleen says

    Thank you. I look forward to listening to more this year for personal study and clarification of things I have wondered about.

  6. eugene says

    yes it was elementary to knowledgeable people but it did present clearly the contrast between traditionalists and their opponents. I look forward to see how exactly Prof. Cohen resolves these contradictions.

  7. Max says

    Dear Naysayers;

    I’m going to assume you did not click on the links to the actual course, rather you clicked the video watched five minutes and made a comment.

    If you had actually did more than watch five minutes you would have noted this is a course offered at Harvard College (I believe recorded in 2013) complete with 78 pages of notes, 24 other lectures, 2 papers, a mid-term and final exam. Perhaps the word “elementary” is a bit harsh considering this is a brief introduction to his course.

    I’m just sayin’…

  8. Eliezer says

    As Prof Cohen emphasizes in the syllabus, the biblical texts must be read s-l-o-w-l-y and in conjunction with their annotations. You will miss more than half of the value of the course if you fail to do the reading before viewing a lecture.

  9. Josh says

    As the article states, the course syllabus is the roadmap for this course. I have always found that you can identify the biases of many professors of religion/philosophy/history by study of the syllabus and course notes. I have to say that this professor seems to approach the course with an unapologetic humanist approach. The title of the course, “The Hebrew Bible,” seems a bit misleading, as if your going to study the Hebrew Bible within its own context, rather than try and pick it apart by forcing it into the context of the rest of the world at that time. The point of the Hebrew Bible was, in fact, to make a separation between a group of people from the rest of the world. Approaching the Hebrew Bible from a humanist stance will obviously not enlighten the reader to the merits of the text, but rather only give value to those who choose to criticize it. A better name for this course would seem to be, “Critiquing the Hebrew Bible against the ANE.”

  10. Molly says

    I’d love to take the course but have internet via a satellite. Slow download and not enough bandwidth to download so many. Can I possibility get them on DVDs?

  11. Eliezer says

    Yo, Molly. Why not just watch them online when it is convenient for you to do so?

  12. darlene says

    I reallly like this course. After Lesson 17 I couldn’t get the notes to pull up on my screen

  13. Barbara says

    One’s first lecture in a series would necessarily be establishing elementary foundations.Makes sense to me.

  14. clifford says

    I enjoy lesson one when is lesson two

  15. Beardsley says

    You may listen to all the lectures at your own pace from the course website at: Go to it!

  16. Beardsley says

    Darlene: That was a bug (our fault, not yours) and the fix will be made in the next day or two. You can then see the missing notes!

  17. darlene says

    Thanks for the help. This is a marvelous course and I am going through it at least twice
    and give it more attention.

  18. carolyn says

    I am on lesson 18, and the one thing that makes me sad, is that “Bible Scholars” have missed the message of the Bible.

  19. Vicki says

    I really enjoyed this first lecture!

  20. Carmen says

    When i get my new computer I will take this course. Please add me to your mailing list.

  21. Paul says

    Very engaging lecturer presenting the stories and traditional and modern interpretations

  22. Israel says

    Shaye Cohen lectures with an underlying sense of humor that some people don’t really pick up. He is very fair-minded to traditional and modern viewpoints.

    If you go into this series with a stubborn conviction that you’ve got everything figured out, you will miss out on many intriguing observations. Even so, if you believe in the transcendence of G-d’s Word, there’s nothing to fear from exploring the motivations of those who authored, edited, and collected the anthology of material that we now call ‘The Bible’.

  23. olga says

    thank you for this opportunity to learn more about the Hebrews stories.

  24. Len says

    Excellent introduction to what is a very complex subject. Prof. Cohen’s presentation is entertaining with wit and some dry humour. As a Theology PhD (from the UK) I find these lectures are filling some gaps in my knowledge of Jewish history and belief which will be useful for my studies in the Jewish origins of the New testament.

  25. Carol says

    Why does he say that the protestant bible has apocryphal books?I thought only catholic bibles have the apocrypha.

  26. ndu says

    I just got to now of the free Bible Course. As one engaged in ministry work, I am interested in it. It is my hope that i will be better informed at the end of the course. At the end of the course will there be a certificate issued? Thank you.

  27. youngkyu says

    thank you

  28. Margaret says

    Thank you so very much for posting Dr. Cohen’s series of lectures. I have listened carefully to each one and am studying the lecture notes. Dr. Cohen does an excellent job of examining the varying viewpoints of traditionalists and modern biblical scholars. I am writing a book of historical fiction about various women in the Hebrew and Christian bibles and I now have a much deeper understanding of biblical history and context. Thank you for offering intelligent and provocative insights that are understandable to those of us who are trained in fields other than biblical history and archaeology.

  29. MALINDA says


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