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.
Searching for the Historical Jesus
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.