Designing a Modern Course on Ancient Jewish History | VHS Learning

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Designing a Modern Course on Ancient Jewish History

Sharon Eretz

Nearly a year ago, I set off on a virtual journey into the past as I worked to create a course on Ancient Jewish History using a very modern platform through the Online Judaic Studies Consortium’s corner of VHS Learning network of schools.  OJSC provided a quick and painless online method for my own training via Teacher Orientation, followed by a more in-depth training for Online Course Development.  After many months of pulling together the materials and sources, always keeping in mind that I wanted this online experience to not be the typical online experience for students, I completed the course.  I reclined in my chair and looked at nearly sixty lessons in one glance, containing primary sources from more than two thousand years ago, all on my laptop.  I looked at the colorful images altogether, including Ancient Hebrew, Cuneiform, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Assyrian wall reliefs and more - all side by side on my desktop. It was a surreal moment in which I noted the lengthy span of time and history all in a flashing second on my bright computer screen.  Two worlds converged, the Ancient and Modern, and three thousand years passed in a blink of an eye. At the same time, I was struck by the gravity of responsibility, as the teacher/creator of the course. 

In creating this course, I came to the conclusion that the end goal was to inspire innovation, meaning self-guided inquiry (especially of primary sources). Indeed, I thought, every honest teacher realizes their students are a catalyst to their own advances in learning. I wanted students, many of whom truly would be studying the material alone, to grapple with the primary sources and think independently.  I wanted students to be able to read the ancient sources of history with a spirit of gentleness towards the ancient historical writers, who had limited information, and to always assume good intent, in comparison to many modern thinkers who would assume negligence or deception.  My goal in designing the course “Ancient Jewish History” for students studying online was to make Judaism of the ancient world relevant to a modern student. At the same time, I demanded of myself, as the creator of the course, that the primary sources - texts, images, evidence from the archaeological record - be presented in an innovative way.

Today, we have vast amounts of information at our fingertips that may be retrieved in a moment, yet for many, that information is lacking context, and mainly consists of secondary narratives. The aim of the course is to create students who are Ancient Jewish Historians of innovation - learners who use modern tools to explore, understand and interpret primary sources from long ago. Doing so not only relieves me of the egocentricity that can be inherent in teaching but also creates a new generation of historians who will contribute to the discovery of the secrets of the ancient past.


Mrs. Eretz currently serves as a Judaic History Instructor at Frankel Jewish Academy in West Bloomfield, teaching Jewish History, Holocaust Studies, Israel Advocacy, and History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict.  She also works part-time for the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) of Michigan facilitating "Words to Action" which includes Anti-Semitism education/action at local synagogues and Jewish organizations.  She co-published the first English Translation of the Samaritan Pentateuch while completing her MA (Bible and the Ancient Near East Program) at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and lived in Israel for four years.