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Searching for the Historical Jesus

Join historian, biblical scholar, and best-selling author Jean-Pierre Isbouts to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.
Searching for the Historical Jesus is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 6.
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Rated 3 out of 5 by from A Swing and a Miss This course is by Wondrium, the subscription service offered by The Great Courses (TGC). Oddly, it departs from TGC production standards. There are 15 lectures instead of the more common 24 lectures. The lectures vary between 17 minutes and 24 minutes instead of the more common 30 minutes. This course is a cross between a traditional TGC academic presentation and a travelog. Dr. Isbouts says he takes what he calls a “critical” approach, which is to say that he analyzes Christian writings (mostly Gospels) from a literary or historical perspective and not as authoritative documents of faith. He also clarifies that, by “searching for the historical Jesus,” he focuses on the Jesus of history, which he distinguishes from the Jesus of faith. Thus, Dr. Isbouts follows the tradition of TGC lecturer Dr. Bart Ehrman. In the TGC course “Jesus and the Gospels” (which I recommend), Dr. Luke Timothy Johnson addresses what he considers limitations of this approach. The point of the course is to visually present the land from which so much of Western and Middle Eastern Civilization (and perhaps dozens of TGC offerings) springs. It turns out that the visuals are not as connected to the lecture and I had imagined they would be. I would say that more than half of the cinematography is beautiful but does not add to what is being said. Between the beautiful, panoramic cinematography and the soothing, inspirational-centric message, I felt I was watching an infomercial for Jesus. The course guide is below average compared with other TGC course guides. It was written in paragraph-narrative format, which I consider better than either the outline format or the bullet format used in some other course guides. There is a bibliography although it did not include a sentence describing what the student might gain from each reference. Although there was technical language in the course including Greek and Hebrew, there was no glossary. There was no timeline. I counted 14 pictures of Dr. Isbouts and 0 maps. I used the audio streaming. It is also available as a DVD set. I supposed that since the point of the course is to show the setting in which Jesus lived, using an audio-only format (such as when commuting or jogging) should significantly detract from the value of the course. However, since the visuals often do not illustrate what is being said, audio-only works better than it should in my opinion. Incidentally, when Dr. Isbouts is shown sitting and speaking, the candelabra behind him is not a menorah, which was the symbol of Judea during the lifetime of the historical Jesus, but rather a hanukkiah. The course was published in 2022. I applaud TGC for venturing into a new type of offering. Sometimes these kinds of ventures work and sometimes they don’t. This one didn’t.
Date published: 2022-12-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A beautiful story I enjoyed this course a great deal. Narrated in an engaging manner, full of historical facts and beautiful scenes from the Holy Land. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2022-12-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from unbiased history of Jesus I am an atheist, I do not believe in any supreme god or gods, yet this truly gave me an insight into a spectacular man that is almost palpable to grasp and comprehend. Away from the fantastic, this is a story of love and a changing point of how people interact with the divine beyond. Back to the basics brings us closer to peace.
Date published: 2022-12-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent and informative documentary! The lecturer is an eminent scholar who treated his subject matter with great knowledge, wisdom, and compassion. I would love to see him present a sequel on the subsequent development of Christianity.
Date published: 2022-11-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enjoyable! I thoroughly enjoyed this small course! As a non-christian it is a good tour of Jesus' life and early christianity. Videos are short, informative and shot in on-location. I hope Wondrium can do more of these on-location type series. I'd recommend this course for novices like myself.
Date published: 2022-11-29
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting production, idiosyncratic views Dr. Isbouts is without a doubt a great and engaging presenter. The production of this course is slick and very well done. He is easy to understand and follow, and the visuals keep one engaged in the material. At the same time, Dr. Isbouts is quite idiosyncratic in many of his views. Some startling bombs he drops include: taking Jesus' references to the Son of Man as both self-referential and self-consciously messianic; preferring Luke's 'Sermon on the Plain' to Matthew's 'Sermon on the Mount' because it is 'less legalistic'; repeating the tired and thoroughly discredited idea that Jesus' demonstration in the Temple had anything to do with a disapproval of economic activity in the Temple court; and in the last video (perhaps most shockingly of all) claiming that Paul excluded women from his Jesus-communities, that is, relying on 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 the Pastoral Epistles as coming from Paul himself. This last one really is a doozy. Apart from these idiosyncratic academic views, he does a poor job connecting his presentation to what he claims is his overarching theme: the diversity of current Christian expression and communities (which he views as a negative, though the basis for this judgement is never explored). Still, what we have is a learned and gifted man presenting what is obviously his passion. It's hard to go too wrong with that kind of raw material. 3.5/5
Date published: 2022-11-26
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Overview

Searching for the Historical Jesus takes you back two millennia to explore the history, context, and character of a humble carpenter who changed the world. Taught by Dr. Jean-Pierre Isbouts, a professor emeritus at Fielding Graduate University, these 15 thought-provoking episodes, filmed in the Holy Land, bring Jesus and his world to life with vivid detail, offering an excellent companion piece for anyone wrestling with history or with walking in faith.

About

Jean-Pierre Isbouts

INSTITUTION

Fielding Graduate University

Jean-Pierre Isbouts is a historian, biblical scholar, and best-selling National Geographic author. After earning his DLitt at Leiden University, he served as a member of the doctoral faculty at Fielding Graduate University for more than 15 years and now holds the title of Faculty Emeritus. He gained worldwide renown with his National Geographic book The Biblical World and also wrote Archaeology of the Bible, In the Footsteps of Jesus, and Young Jesus. His course The History and Archaeology of the Bible is one of Wondrium’s most popular.

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Searching for the Historical Jesus

Trailer

The Historical Jesus

01: The Historical Jesus

Begin your exploration by considering the diversity of Christianity today. With so many denominations around the world, what ties everyone together? What can a study of the historical figure of Jesus teach us? Let’s go back 2,000 years to meet the “historical Jesus” through historical and archaeological records.

23 min
Rome and Herod the Great

02: Rome and Herod the Great

To understand the life and times of Jesus, you must first understand the world of the Roman Empire. After surveying the big-picture story of Rome, Jean-Pierre zooms in on the historical circumstances of Galilee, which included onerous taxation, hungry citizens, and something of a police state under Herod.

20 min
Mary and Joseph in Galilee

03: Mary and Joseph in Galilee

What can we know about Joseph the Carpenter and the Virgin Mary? Continue your study of Galilee to see what the life of Jesus’s parents would have been like. In all probability, Joseph would have been a farmer, as well as a tradesman laboring on public works projects throughout the region.

18 min
The Birth of Jesus

04: The Birth of Jesus

Imagine what it would have been like to be a young woman having a child out of wedlock, at that time. Reflect on what Joseph and Mary may have thought about their circumstances, and then see how those circumstances evolved into the mystery of the Virgin Mary. Finally, consider how Jesus’s birth lines up with biblical prophecies.

21 min
Growing Up in Galilee

05: Growing Up in Galilee

The New Testament Gospels say little about Jesus’s upbringing, but a look at the political world offers clues as to what his childhood may have been like. As you will learn here, the kingdom of Judea suffered revolts and civil wars after King Herod’s death. Get to know the fervor and zealotry of the times.

20 min
Rabbi Jesus

06: Rabbi Jesus

At some point, we know Jesus became a rabbi, but where did he get his education? Leaning on evidence from history recorded in the Jewish Mishnah, Jean-Pierre speculates about the philosophies Jesus may have studied, his possible relationship with his family, and the influence of the Greco-Roman world on Galilee.

22 min
John the Baptist in the Jordan

07: John the Baptist in the Jordan

The political fervor of the era helps explain the story of John the Baptist, a preacher who represented a threat to the power structure. Examine the administration of Pontius Pilate, the way tax collectors tapped into the Temple treasury, and the rebellious message of John the Baptist.

22 min
The Ministry Begins

08: The Ministry Begins

After the death of John the Baptist, Jesus began his ministry in earnest. Using the words of the Gospels, as well as the histories of Josephus, you will compare Jesus’s message with the apocalyptic screeds of John the Baptist. See what Jesus’s ministry looked like, from traveling around Galilee to performing exorcisms and miracles.

20 min
In the Kingdom of God

09: In the Kingdom of God

Perhaps the apex of Jesus’s ministry is the Sermon on the Mount. Explicating this great sermon offers insight into the way Jesus, possibly, was working to reform Judaism through a grassroots movement. Trace the phases of his ministry, from roaming near Capernaum to sailing around the Sea of Galilee.

20 min
The Mystery of the Miracles

10: The Mystery of the Miracles

Continue your exploration of Jesus’s ministry with a deep dive into his miracles. After reviewing how the miracles align Jesus with Hebrew Bible prophets such as Elisha, you will reflect on the sick, malnourished world of Galilee in the first century. Consider a few scientific explanations for Jesus’s supernatural acts.

22 min
The Conspiracy against Jesus

11: The Conspiracy against Jesus

It is unclear from the Gospels whether there was a true conspiracy against Jesus, or whether he was a victim of unfortunate events. To tackle this issue, Jean-Pierre introduces you to the Sadducees; the Pharisees; the legal scribes; and Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee. See how they each would have viewed Jesus—and what made Jesus seem dangerous to them.

23 min
The Road to Jerusalem

12: The Road to Jerusalem

Round out your study of Jesus’s ministry by following him south to Jerusalem. By then, he had widened his preaching to include gentiles, and he perhaps hoped to reach a large audience in Jerusalem. What he found, however, was a Temple corrupted by sacrifices and money changers.

23 min
The Arrest and Trial

13: The Arrest and Trial

From the Last Supper to the meeting with the high priest Caiaphas to the trial under Pontius Pilate, follow Jesus through his last days at key locations in Jerusalem. Reflect on the challenge of authorship of the Gospels. Who wrote them? Who were they writing for? What biases might they have introduced into the story?

22 min
The Jesus Movement in Crisis

14: The Jesus Movement in Crisis

Move from the historical Jesus—a man gruesomely crucified—to a religious movement. After witnessing Jesus’s final days, shift your attention to the apostle Paul, the man whose evangelism created the Christian religion as he spread the word throughout the Roman Empire.

22 min
The Rise of Christianity

15: The Rise of Christianity

The church calls Jesus the Son of God. Jesus called himself the Son of Man. But before he was either, he was a man in a particular time and place. Jean-Pierre rounds out this course by following Paul into Asia Minor and the spread of the Jesus movement into a world religion.

25 min