This week’s give-away is a treat for several reasons.  First, this resource is brand new.  When I received it in the mail a couple of weeks ago, it was not even listed on the publisher’s website

Second, the value of this resource is much higher than any previous (or likely, future) give-away item.  The retail value is $375, though it is on sale until the 28th for $99.95.  Third, I have two copies to give away.

I would assume that most of my readers are familiar with The Great Courses.  This company finds the best professors to teach on popular subjects and then makes the audio and/or video lectures available for a fraction of the cost of tuition.  You don’t get credit, but you may save more than a thousand dollars from a comparable university course.

The latest course to be produced is entitled “The Holy Land Revealed.”  The instructor is Jodi Magness, professor at U of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  She is well regarded for her historical and archaeological research, including her excellent book, The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls


The course is only available in video DVD format, and the set includes 36 half-hour lectures on 6 DVDs.  You can see a complete list of the lectures in the right sidebar on this page, but I’ll just note a few of particular interest here.

  • Biblical Jerusalem’s Ancient Water Systems
  • Samaria and the Northern Kingdom of Israel
  • Discovery and Site of the Dead Sea Scrolls
  • Herod as Builder—Jerusalem’s Temple Mount
  • Monumental Tombs in the Time of Jesus
  • Masada—Herod’s Desert Palace and the Siege

I’ve only had time so far to watch three of the lectures.  I chose one of Magness’ specialities:
“Discovery and Site of the Dead Sea Scrolls.”  When that finished, I continued into “The Sectarian Settlement at Qumran.”  (The third: “Synagogues in the Time of Jesus.”)  Because I’ve studied this subject in some measure (and read Magness’ book), I did not expect to learn much.  But I wanted to see how the information was covered, how visual aids were used, and how effective I would judge the course to be overall for people without graduate degrees in the field.  Overall, I would rate these lectures at 9 out of 10.  The information was solid (no surprise) and the visual aids were generally helpful (but why no photo of Cave 1 when she was describing the discovery?).  The presentation was good too, though my first impressions were that it must be hard to lecture directly into the lens of a camera.  I think when The Great Courses calls me up, I’ll request to have a live audience.  (I’m not holding my breath!) 

Another quibble: the course is entitled “The Holy Land Revealed.”  This is a potentially ambiguous title.  I was expecting more of a geography-type course.  But this is clearly focused on archaeological discoveries that illuminate the land’s history.  Not only that, you should know that it is not evenly balanced across the periods.  This is not surprising if you know Magness’ expertise.  Naturally she is going to teach at greater length what she knows best. 

What that means is that only eight of the lectures cover the Old Testament period.  Four are from the Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic periods, leaving twenty-four covering the Second Temple period. 

That means that those who watch this course are going to get a great education in Pharisees, Maccabees, synagogues, Herod, and Jewish revolts.  But if your interest is exploring the archaeological world of the Old Testament in depth, you may want to wait for the next course.  I found on Magness’ university bio that she was preparing a 36-lecture course for The Teaching

Company entitled “The World of Jesus.”  I’m guessing that this is the same course, but they changed titles without modifying the content very much.  So if you think of this as a course primarily on “The World of Jesus,” I think you’ll be very satisfied.

There is much more information about the course here, and you can sign up for the free copies below.  The rules: one entry per person, deadline is Friday noon (PST), and after the winners are notified, all names and email addresses will be deleted.

UPDATE (12/3): Congratulations to winners Etti and Alexander.


Nature has a good article about the collaboration between archaeologists and scientists on an excavation. 

Important evidence relating to this debate is being unearthed by a unique collaboration between archaeologists and natural scientists, working shoulder-to-shoulder at Tel Megiddo and several other important Israeli sites. "In the past, all too often, archaeologists and scientists worked together, but it was two parallel lines," says archaeologist Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. It could take months or even years before finds were sent away to the lab, he says, with results taking just as long to come back. "On top of that, sometimes the samples weren’t taken correctly." The Tel Megiddo dig is different. Chemists make up half of the two dozen excavators on the team, which is being led by Finkelstein and Steve Weiner, a structural biologist specializing in mineralized tissues who is director of the Kimmel Center for Archaeological Science at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel. Funded by a European Research Council grant worth €3 million (US$4 million) over five years, the pair hope that their work at Tel Megiddo and elsewhere will show that this model of close collaboration should become the norm for archaeology. […] When Nature visited Tel Megiddo in October, excavators were working with brushes, tweezers and teaspoons to gather sediment samples into small plastic vials before taking them to an infrared spectrometer set up on a folding table at the edge of the site. The chemical clues yielded by the spectrometer gave immediate feedback to the diggers as they collected further samples. Chemical analysis can distinguish between soil layers that look identical to the naked eye, explains Weiner. In a paper published this month, for example, he and his colleagues show how infrared spectrometry can reveal the distinctive origins of seemingly identical layers of calcite, a form of calcium carbonate (L. Regev et al. J. Archaeol. Sci. 37, 3022–3029; 2010). Wood burnt at above 500 °C produces calcite, although the mineral can also come from limestone slaked to make lime for construction, and is found in the soil used to make mud bricks. Each type of calcite has a distinctive infrared signature, providing information that helps archaeologists to distinguish between a floor, a wall or a kiln.

The whole article is worth reading.