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Community Lectures

For upcoming or current community lectures, check out the Upcoming Events page*

I’ve had the pleasure of lecturing within the wider community in every city I’ve lived, and I often travel to deliver lectures to interested communities elsewhere.  I’ve had lots of positive feedback letting me know that the audience enjoys the experience as much as I do.  Please peruse the list of presentations below and contact me if you’d like to book one of these – or suggest something different – for presentation in your community today!

NOTE: All of the topics below can be presented either as 1 to 1.5 hour lectures or broken into 2 or more 1 to 1.5 hour lectures.

How The Bible Came To Be

How did the fables, histories, laws, and customs of one tiny group of people living 2500 years ago come to define cornerstones of Western civilization ever after?  Why did they even get written down and preserved in the first place?   Modern theories of the development of the Hebrew Bible incorporate literary analysis, source and text criticism, and archaeological discoveries.  Discussions about who wrote the Bible, when, and why – and then who preserved it and why – will form the basis of this lecture.

The Bible and the Ancient Near East

The Hebrew Bible is a compilation of stories, laws, history, prophecy, poetry, and wisdom literature spanning a 1000 year period of ancient Israelite and early Jewish thought.  We will explore its development in the larger context of ancient Near Eastern literatures, liturgies, and laws to see the ways in which biblical texts incorporate, appropriate, and modify the ideas from the broader cultural environment in which they were written.

The Bible, God, & Sex

The popular conception today is that the Bible sees sex as sinful.  But the God of the Hebrew Bible – whose first words to the humans he creates are to be fruitful and multiply – does not hate sex.  He is, however, understood as needing to regulate it, and it is those regulations that this lecture explores.  Sex laws in the Hebrew Bible existed within a very different social, religious, and cultural framework than our own; why did these laws exist, and what did they mean?

Scroll and Spade: Where the Bible and Archaeology Do – And Do Not – Intersect

This lecture reviews some major finds that intersect either positively or negatively with the biblical text.  After examining a variety of artifacts and sites and discussing the ways in which they impact – or are impacted by – our understanding of the biblical text, we find that while archaeology may not always “prove” the bible, with archaeology we can definitely improve our understanding of the history and religions of the people who produced it.

Was Moses a Monotheist?

Tricky question.  Who was Moses anyway – a historical figure, a fictional creation of later authors, a prince of Egypt – and how can we know?  And what exactly do we mean by “monotheism”?  This lecture unpacks some of the major issues behind the question of the historicity of the Exodus story, but largely focuses on the religious beliefs of the ancient Israelites, and the methods – both textual and archaeological – that we can apply to learning about what those religious beliefs may have been.

Dating Ruth

A “how-to” session – for scholars, not bachelors – in which we will take a new look at an old book to understand “dating” in both senses of the word.  First we will work toward dating the book by attempting to place it in its original historical context.  Then we will use our knowledge of that ancient context to try to understand what “dating Ruth” meant for Boaz; the what, why, and how of Ruth’s bizarre courtship and marriage.  Ultimately, both meanings become intertwined as we use our “dating” knowledge to speculate on what the book is about; why it was written, and why it was preserved in the canon of the Tanakh.

Genesis as Myth and History

The book of Genesis is often dismissed as pure myth by biblical scholars; and in the technical sense of the term “mythology,” that is exactly what Genesis contains.  But in looking at the stories as myths, we can in fact learn a lot about the history (as well as the worldviews, cultures, values, and ideals) of the people who recounted them.  This lecture samples various stories from Genesis with a view to understanding the culture, and sense of history, of those who originally recorded them.

Ethical Monotheism and the Meaning of Life

I grew up thinking that the greatest answer to the question of the meaning of life was “42,” but once I reached grad school the book of Ecclesiastes gave the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy a run for its money.  The books of Ecclesiastes and especially Job are each in their own ways extremely subversive and cynical, explaining why we have to accept that bad things happen to good people – and the fact that we can’t expect to ever understand why.  If you thought existentialism was a modern invention, think again!  The authors of the biblical Wisdom Literature (and the earlier Epic of Gilgamesh) anticipated Sartre by two and a half millennia!

Genesis and Gender

There tend to be two ways that people think about the portrayal of gender in the book of Genesis: they either condemn it for being irredeemably patriarchal, or they extol the virtues of returning to the “family values” portrayed in that book.  I’m willing to bet that most people in the latter group haven’t actually read the whole book themselves.  But those in the former may have missed a few things too.  The stories portray a society dominated in different ways by both men and women, and in the end illustrate a  much more nuanced sense of “patriarchy” than traditional definitions allow.

The Fall of Eve

A talking snake, magic trees, and the name of earth’s first woman are just some of the clues that Eden has an interesting back-story, rooted in ancient Near Eastern mythology, that differs markedly from its final written version recorded in the Bible.  Comparative literature reveals a hidden tale of a goddess demoted and estranged from her once powerful symbols of fertility and life in this reconstruction of the pre-history of Adam and Eve.

The Biblical Ten Commandments

Many of us can recite at least some of the famous list of “Thou shalt nots.”  But few of us ever think about whether or not the prohibitions refer to what we think they refer to.  What was actually meant by such concepts that we translate as “adultery,” “graven image,” “bearing false witness,” “taking the Lord’s name in vain,” and “only one God?”  Written thousands of years ago in a place and language very different from ours, many of the laws don’t actually discuss – or prohibit – the things we might think they do.

The Original Story of Hanukah

My title is misleading.  It implies that there is one “original” story of Hanukah.  But that’s not the case.  The books of the Maccabees contain two original stories of Hanukah; and then there are also many more original stories about Hanukah that are told by subsequent generations.  The Hanukah story we tell today, and the meanings we associate with it, amalgamate, in fact, many “original” stories told over the years.

The Divine Feminine: From Biblical Israel to The Da Vinci Code

Judaism and Christianity consider themselves to be monotheistic religions, and throughout their history it has been understood that the one God worshiped is a male God.    We will trace the movement from polytheism to monotheism in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), and from there into early Judaism and Christianity.  Interestingly, with the development of the rule of one male God alone, we will see that divine feminine images do not entirely disappear.  Some were combined into the figure of God; others found expression in the concepts of Wisdom and Mary.  In fact, throughout the histories of both Judaism and Christianity, the divine feminine has played a prominent role in mediation between God and humanity in a variety of forms.

From Old Testament to New: The Birth of Christianity

Christianity began as a sect within Judaism, out of the same social and religious upheaval from which Rabbinic Judaism emerged.  But it went in a very different direction.  This class will explore the origins of Christianity within and against its Jewish environment, and examine how it grew and moved outside of Judaism to become the dominant religion of the Roman Empire.  Through an examination of the writings in the New Testament – and a few writings that didn’t make it into the New Testament – we will explore the ways in which early Christians drew on various Jewish concepts and symbols to craft a variety of Christianities that flourished in the first few centuries CE.

Exodus: Myth or History?

The Bible commands its readers to tell their children the story of the Exodus; but biblical scholarship and archaeology of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have increasingly cast doubt on the fact that the Exodus actually happened historically.  This lecture reviews the biblical story in light of the archaeological evidence – or lack thereof – to determine possible ways in which the foundational events of Israel may have actually occurred.

Life in Biblical Israel

What was life like for the people who wrote the Bible?  The stories they tell and the laws they record, combined with analysis of the material culture they left behind for archaeologists to find, can tell us a lot.  Reading the Bible in its ancient context rather than thinking about it in terms of what it means for living faith communities today, we can see that despite the vast differences in areas like law, politics, and technology, the ancient Israelites were people just like us – people who worked, ate, loved, thought, and lived.  Understanding their experiences from an inside perspective sheds a lot of light on the universals that make us all human, transcending space, time, culture, and language.

Priests, Prophets, and the Politics of Magic in Ancient Israel

Diviners, soothsayers, sorcerers – they are all prohibited in ancient Israel.  The Israelites know all about them – they’ve got an extensive vocabulary to describe a variety of magical practitioners – but that’s something the OTHER nations do.  For Israelites, such practices are forbidden.  But biblical heroes – Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Elijah, Elisha – all perform actions that look suspiciously like magic.  How do we reconcile this – not as theologians, but as historians?