Richard A. Slone has never missed a lecture by Shaye J.D. Cohen, Littauer Professor of Hebrew Literature and Philosophy. Like certain unnamed students in Cohen’s Culture and Belief course, he doesn’t make it to 10 a.m. class. He knows that they are taped. However, unlike most of the students in the class, he listens to them on his bike as he trains for triathlons. Also, he’s “semi-retired,” which I guess most of us aren’t.
Slone is the grandfather of Josh A. Goldstein (FM staff writer), and one of thousands of people outside of Harvard who listen to Cohen’s lectures remotely, either on Harvard iSites or on iTunesU. Though Goldstein was enrolled in one of Cohen’s courses last semester when his grandfather began to follow along, Slone has not yet had his fill of Cohen’s expertise on Judaic history. He continues to watch Cohen’s spring set of lectures—Culture and Belief 23: “From the Hebrew Bible to Judaism, From the Old Testament to Christianity.” He listens to the videos, racking up his data usage, while pedalling along and occasionally emailing Cohen questions.
He calls me from Boca Raton, Fla., eager to talk about what he deems “one of the best courses he has ever taken.” And he has taken a lot. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia University, he went to both law school and business school. He is a self-described “make-believe modern Biblical scholar.” Perfect, perhaps, for my study group. I, along with over 400 other undergraduates, am enrolled in the course.
“So you listen to every lecture?” I ask.
“I listen to every one of them.” I am impressed; this is more than my roommate, also enrolled in the course, has ever attended. But does he do the reading?
“Now listen,” he continues, “Kugel, I read Kugel’s book. Now, you know he references Kugel in some of the lectures, right?”
“Uh, yeah.” I did not.
“I read the entire Kugel book,” he said.
However, as he tells me multiple times, it is very difficult to take notes while riding a bike. He has no notes from the Friday lecture.
“I was hoping that you would be taking notes.” I try one last time.
“I don’t have any notes to give you, I’m sorry.”
As it turns out, Slone has not taken the course to provide a study aid for his grandson (or other unnamed FM staff). Rather, he took the course as a way to stay active in Goldstein’s life. “My feeling is that when [students] go off to college, there is a tendency to lose touch, parents and grandparents get shucked to the side,” he said.
“I’m not a support system for them.” he says, but he does like to bounce ideas around with them and talk about the material. He even offers to discuss biblical interpretation with me.
“No, it’s fine,” I say, “maybe another time.” Instead, I give him my father’s email. My dad, for the record, is also watching the courses online.