The History and Archaeology of the Bible
Jean-Pierre Isbouts is a National Geographic Historian and a member of the Doctoral Faculty in the School of Leadership Studies at Fielding Graduate University. He earned his DLitt at Leiden University.
In 2014, Professor Isbouts evaluated a recently discovered canvas in Geneva, Switzerland, which he believes is Leonardo da Vinci’s first version of the Mona Lisa, prompting several publications on the subject. In 2017, he discovered that da Vinci and his workshop produced a second version of da Vinci’s famous Last Supper fresco, and he traced the work to a remote abbey in Belgium. As a musicologist, he has produced recordings by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, and other ensembles and soloists.
Professor Isbouts is an award-winning filmmaker and best-selling author who gained worldwide renown with his book The Biblical World. His books on biblical history include In the Footsteps of Jesus, Who’s Who in the Bible, The Story of Christianity, and Archaeology of the Bible. He has also coauthored several books on art with Christopher Heath Brown, including Young Leonardo, The da Vinci Legacy, and The Dalí Legacy. His films include Van Gogh Revisited with Leonard Nimoy; Walt: The Man behind the Myth with Dick Van Dyke; Inside the Cold War with David Frost; and The “Mona Lisa” Myth with Morgan Freeman. His website is www.jpisbouts.org.
01: The World of Genesis
Consider the nature and scope of biblical archaeology, as it explores the intersection between biblical tradition and the historical record. Observe how the book of Genesis uses the legends of earlier faith traditions to make its case for the existence of a single God. Note archaeological evidence for a great flood in ancient times, and its possible connection to the biblical story of Noah.
02: The Tower of Babel
Explore the symbolism of the tower and pyramid in ancient architecture, beginning with the famous Egyptian step pyramid at Saqqara. Learn about the Mesopotamian ziggurat, a tower-like structure composed of receding platforms, and its role in religious life and ritual. Discover parallels between the building of ziggurats and the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis.
03: The Journeys of Abraham
Trace the life of Abraham, the iconic father of three faiths, from his origins in the Mesopotamian city of Ur. Witness how Abraham followed the call of God in traveling to Canaan (Palestine) to found a new nation. Take account of historical evidence related to the events of Abraham’s journey, and follow the narrative of Abraham’s search for an heir to his clan and to God’s covenant.
04: Joseph in Egypt
Uncover archaeological traces of Abraham’s descendants, beginning with the tragic events surrounding Dinah, daughter of Jacob, and how their clan was forced to leave Canaan. Learn the extraordinary story of Joseph’s bondage in Egypt, and his eventual reversal of fortune. See what the historical context tells us about the plausibility of Joseph’s rise to become the grand vizier to the Pharaoh.
05: The Story of Moses
Examine parallels between the history of ancient Egypt and the book of Exodus. Observe historical evidence that the Hebrews living in Egypt were forced into slave labor for the Pharaoh. See how the biblical story of Moses correlates with earlier legends and Theban history, and how the event of the Burning Bush is connected with a physical location and the life of the prophet Muhammad.
06: The Mystery of the Exodus
Grasp how the biblical story of the turning of the Nile to blood and the plagues of flies, locusts, and hailstorms brought by God may have been inspired by actual events within Egypt’s ecosystem. Then follow the exact route of the Exodus, and study historical perspectives on Moses’s parting of the waters, the rain of bread from heaven, and other key features of the Israelites’s journey.
07: The Settlement in the Promised Land
In the Book of Joshua, learn how Joshua succeeded Moses as a military commander, and note what archaeological evidence tells us about the heroic saga of Joshua’s conquests. Then witness the rise of the Philistines as a military force and their aggression against both the Egyptians and the Canaanites. Study evidence that the Israelites settled in the highlands of Canaan during these conflicts.
08: The Rise of the Israelite Monarchy
This lecture traces the transformation of the Israelite tribes into the beginnings of a nation. Study how the tribes spread across Canaan, where they suffered constant threats from armed enemies, as archaeology shows. See how the tribes coalesced around a supreme commander, making Saul the first Israelite king. Follow the rise of David as a military hero and ultimately successor to Saul.
09: The Kingdom of David
Explore the momentous period of David’s kingship, beginning with his selection of Jerusalem as the Israelite capital, and examine excavation evidence at ancient sites that relate to the story. Chart the dramatic events within the house of David: the story of David and Bathsheba, the tragedy of Absalom, and the struggle over succession that led to the anointing of David’s son Solomon as king.
10: The Temple of Solomon
Follow the arc of Solomon’s life, as he reorganizes his kingdom and develops trade, making the kingdom wealthy and powerful. Examine archaeological finds that may be traceable to Solomon’s reign. Then learn about the design and building of Solomon’s magnificent Temple, based in the architectural form of a Greek “megaron.” Witness the fortunes of the temple and the trials of Solomon’s rule.
11: The Northern Kingdom of Israel
After Solomon’s reign, grasp how the kingdom of Israel divided into a Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Observe how the Northern Kingdom became dominant under the powerful King Omri, creator of the capital of Samaria, excavated in the early 20th century. Learn of the divisive rule and tragic fate of Omri’s son, Ahab, and how the kingdom fell to aggression by the Assyrian Empire.
12: The Rise of Assyria
In the 9th century BCE, Assyria emerged as a near-invincible military power. Trace the motives behind their major wars of conquest, and view the majestic bas-reliefs that recount the empire’s triumphs. See how new military technology drove their conquests, and how the empire continued to expand, forcing mass deportations of the peoples held in captivity. Assess the Assyrians’ contributions to astronomy.
13: The Rise and Fall of Judah
Now delve into the history of the second Hebrew nation, Judah. Track the expansion of Judah under its early kings, and note how Judah and Babylon suffered as vassals of the Assyrians. Examine the historical record of their ill-fated rebellion against Assyrian rule. Then witness how Judah again challenged the Assyrians, whose successors, the Babylonians, dealt a death blow to the kingdom.
14: The Persian Era
During their Babylonian exile, learn how the Israelites became a distinct community in religious terms. Then follow the rise of the Persian Empire under Cyrus the Great. Grasp the singular character of Cyrus’s rule, as he built fair trade and raised the quality of life for all within his realm, allowing full religious freedom for subjected peoples and restoring their religious shrines.
15: The Empire of Alexander the Great
The two biblical books of the Maccabees recount the Greek period in Judea (Judah). Trace the process by which the vast influence of Greek culture, called Hellenism, reached Judea. In the wake of Alexander’s short-lived empire, learn how the Judeans came under the rule of the Egyptian Ptolemies, an era which led to the creation of synagogues and the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek.
16: Judea in the Early Roman Empire
Rome played a pivotal role in the development of both Judaism and Christianity. Study Rome’s social and political structure, and witness its rapid ascent to become a major empire, a time when Judean society became fragmented into the factions of the Sadducees, the Pharisees, and the Essenes. Follow the resulting tensions within Judea, and how the kingdom eventually fell to the Romans.
17: The Kingdom of Herod the Great
Track the events through which Herod became the Roman ruler of Galilee following the assassination of Julius Caesar. Note how Herod secured his kingdom, and visit key sites from the period, including Scythopolis and Herod’s great city of Sebaste. Take account of how Herod ruled, forestalling rebellion by offering employment, repressing dissent, and expanding the Second Temple.
18: The World of the Gospels
Learn how accounts of Jesus’s life spread through oral tradition following his death, forming source material for the Gospels along with early Christian writings. Examine the question of who wrote the Gospels, and how they originated in Christian communities that sought scripture and liturgy for their worship. Note the key differences between the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John.
19: The Birth of Jesus
Consider how both prophesy and miraculous signs figured in the birth of Jesus, and why it was essential that Jesus be born in Bethlehem. Grasp the tensions within the story related to Mary’s immaculate conception. Note how Matthew and Luke explained the journey to Bethlehem, and the ways in which their Gospels serve to frame Jesus’s birth with a divine purpose.
20: Young Jesus
In a departure from traditional assumptions about Jesus’s youth, examine evidence suggesting that Joseph and Jesus were actually farmers. Learn of the strife and violence that consumed Galilee at this time, surrounding bloody peasant revolts against Rome, events that would undoubtedly have impacted Jesus’s family. Also consider where Jesus may have learned the Torah and become a rabbi.
21: Jesus and John the Baptist
Take the measure of the dissident figure of John the Baptist, who preached in the wake of repression and violence against the Judeans by the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate. Learn about John’s role as an apocalyptic prophet, and grasp Jesus’s motives in seeking John and being baptized by him. See how John came into conflict with the Roman authorities, leading to his death at the behest of Salome.
22: The Ministry of Jesus
Study three phases of Jesus’s ministry, as he cast a wider and wider net with his message. Take account of Jesus’s role as a healer, and of his central vision of the Kingdom of Heaven as social change. See how his ministry responded to the humanitarian crisis of brutal taxation and dispossession of the Judeans, and how, in its final phase, he determined to take his message to Jerusalem.
23: The Passover Events in Jerusalem
Travel in detail into the highly charged events of Jesus’s arrival in Jerusalem. Grasp why Jesus reacted with anger to the presence of moneychangers in the Temple, and why his actions led the Temple’s high priest to seek his death. Visit the palace likely to be the place where Jesus was tried by Pontius Pilate, and follow the highly unusual sequence leading to Jesus’s Condemnation to Crucifixion.
24: The Rise of Christianity
Observe the process through which the Christian movement gathered force in the decades following Jesus’s death. Learn how Paul undertook three missionary journeys across the Mediterranean world, finding particular receptiveness among Gentiles. Note how Christianity’s message of universal redemption resonated with many in the Roman world, ultimately becoming the sole religion of the Empire.