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Publisher's Summary

Improve your biblical literacy with these 24 insightful lectures about the cast of vivid characters in the New Testament. From the well-known figures of Jesus, John the Baptist, and the disciples to important but lesser known figures, such as the Syro-Phoenician woman who must turn Jesus's own words back on him to gain the healing of her daughter, Professor Levine paints vivid portraits of Christianity's founding generation.

You'll learn about such figures as:

  • The elderly couple Elizabeth and Zechariah and their son, John the Baptist;
  • Jesus's friends, the contemplative Mary and the vocal Martha, as well as their brother, Lazarus;
  • The apostles Peter and Thomas, James and John, and Judas Iscariot;
  • Mary Magdalene, who becomes known as the apostle to the apostles;
  • Paul the apostle, as presented in Acts of the Apostles and what can be determined about him from his letters;
  • A number of strong and interesting women, including the unnamed Samaritan and a repentant sinner who anoints Jesus;
  • Jesus's interlocutors, including the centurion with a paralyzed son and the desperate Canaanite mother with a demon-possessed daughter.

Rather than promoting any particular religious worldview, this course seeks to read the ancient texts anew to discover what they really say and how they were interpreted by both the secular culture and the faithful church.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2002 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2002 The Great Courses

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Deceptively Modest Theme Chock Full of Knowledge

What made the experience of listening to Great Figures of the New Testament the most enjoyable?

I enjoyed the realization of how little I (and probably 90+ percent of US Christians) really know about 1) the figures of the New Testament, 2) the historical contexts of the (ancient) times, 3) how many myths and falsehoods lifelong Christians take for inviolable truth and 4) some of the unfortunate consequences of our faith that have been swept under the rug.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Not only has Mary of Magdala's reputation taken a completely undeserved beating for the last 2000 years, but her enormous contributions to the Christian faith have been grossly understated as well. If there was any justice in this world, she would be named the 13th Apostle forthwith.

What about Professor Amy-Jill Levine’s performance did you like?

Professor Levine's deep reservoir of historical and scholarly knowledge never obscures her passion for this material, and her wry bits of humor never disrespect it. For thinner-skinned adherents to rigid orthodoxy though, enjoyment levels may vary.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

There were many wonderful, sad, touching, courageous and tragic moments throughout the lectures, but after listening to this entire course, I keep coming back to one nagging question: "What the heck was 'saint' Stephen thinking?"

9 people found this helpful

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Well-grounded

There are many sentimentalized surveys of New Testament figures: this isn't one of them. Amy Jill Levine describes the bit players (Nicodemus, the Syro-Phoenician woman, the centurion) and the major figures (Paul and Jesus get two lessons each). For each figure, she gives the New Testament account and then fills in the historical and textual background. Her lessons are well-grounded in mainstream New Testament research, and her delivery is rapid and enthusiastic. This is not a systematic course on the New Testament, but it's engrossing and informative.

6 people found this helpful

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A fascinating who's who of First Century Palestine

When hearing this course' title "Great Figures of the New Testament," I conjured up an image of someone discussing some literary figures from the New Testament. What I found was surprisingly and excitingly different. Prof. Amy-Jill Levine, the well-known Jewish New Testament Scholar, gives an important overview of of various characters and historical figures from the Christian New Testament. On the one hand you will meet the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son, while you will also learn of Peter, Herod the Great, Paul, Josephus and various other historical figures. She asks "Who is who in the first century living in and around Palestine?"

If you thought that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, you might be surprised to find out that she wasn't. Prof. Levine is not hesitant to dissect the layers of tradition that surrounds various of the historical figures she presents in this course. She presents her insights and that of other scholars in a non-threatening way while minimising typically scholarly jargon. If I did not know that she was Jewish, I might never have guessed it, the way she presented it. She brings together a vast array of knowledge about different figures, that enables the listener to think differently about various topics.Her careful phrasing of ideas and sentences makes this course very accessible. Her respect for her subject matter is praiseworthy.

If you want a critical overview of the New Testament, this course comes highly recommended. She is very fair in most of her comments her unique blend of historical-critical scholarship and literary analysis of texts shines through. Her redeeming of the Jews and of females are also two important aspects that shines through in these lectures.

I heartily recommend this course, if you need an overview of the New Testament. Prof. Levine gives profound insights throughout this course. Some of it will keep your mind occupied for some time.

5 people found this helpful

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Wonderful!

A great study in the people and places of the New Testament. Provides strong encouragement in the faith by identifying what many call contradictions in the faith and making them powerful statements of how we each have a personal relationship with God, and how over time that relationship reflects culture and environmental influences. Awesome!

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Promotes Skepticism Unnecessarily

Would have preferred a more conservative approach or at least given conservative scholarship and their approach more credit. This prof presupposes items such as dating without making a case for it. Troubling when hers are often a century more than conservative dating. Introduces wildly speculative interpretations of the text and history that are unjustified and don't even warrant mentioning in a serious discussion except in jest or for entertainment. Did enjoy much of it though...interesting background information provided to the characters. I'd recommend, but with caution.

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Don't agree with every opinion but overall good

Interesting and informative. I don't agree with everything the professor says but that doesn't mean I didn't walk away with a better understanding of characters and events. Very good listen and well worth the time and energy.

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Thoughtful, funny, excellent

As with Prof. Levine's lectures on the Old Testament, this series is entertaining and informative. She's funny. That helps.

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Good stuff

Not as great as her Old Testament lecture, but still insightful and entertaining. I feel her specialty is textual interpretation while her discussion on characters end up shallow as she tries to cover so much ground with too little time.

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Provocative and compelling!

Amy-Jill Levine has shined beautiful new light on the New Testament through these engaging, insightful, unique, and often hilarious stories of people known little and wide. Finishing a series of Levine’s feels like saying goodbye to a good friend. She is extremely well read and brings so much perspective to stories that I will never see the same way again. Amy-Jill Levine is a great mind and a great story teller of our day, and days to come I am sure!

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Made Me Want to Read Book of Acts

Up until Prof. Levine’s lectures in this course, the Book of Acts in particular, was a tough, boring slog. Now it’s full of interesting characters, incidents, tensions that blended together make for the primordial soup out of which rose the first Christian church.
Four instead of five stars for performance because the good professor read the lectures to us. She certainly reads well, but also a bit fast for my taste.

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  • Jonathan
  • 01-03-15

Unusual and Interesting Approach to New Testament

Whether you know the New Testament very well or have just a rough memory of the key stories and books, this course is an interesting and worthwhile listen. As with all Great Courses I recommend looking at the Great Courses web site for details of content, but I think that it is worth mentioning that the title is in some ways a bit misleading. Some of the "Great Figures" are those one would expect (disciples, Paul, Jesus etc) but lectures concern categories of people rather than specific individuals, e.g. Roman soldiers. What each lecture does is discuss the role(s) of the person or people in question within the New Testament, and then discuss their role in subsequent literary and other culture. I found this an effective and interesting format. Professor Levine is a very enthusiastic lecturer. Sometimes her diction is not optimal (she swallows key words sometimes) and she tends to sigh rather a lot, but this did not get in the way of me enjoying this course.

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  • David Schutz
  • 02-20-16

Amy-Jill Levine

Anything more need not be said. A great teacher. Recommended for both beginners in bible study and scripture scholars. A unique way of approaching the New Testament via the characters.