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HarvardX: The Jewish Bible: Its History As A Physical Artifact

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Can a book teach us more than just what is written inside of it? Beyond the words on a page, physical texts provide insights into the history, culture, and people of a time. One such text is the Jewish Bible, which has a physical history as storied and diasporic as that of the Jewish people.

6 weeks
2–4 hours per week
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Starts Apr 19
Ends Dec 11

About this course

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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.

At a glance

  • Language: English
  • Video Transcript: English

What you'll learn

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  • 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

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