The History and Archaeology of the Bible

Rated 1 out of 5 by from History and archaeology of the Bible I was very disappointed in this course. Very little about the archaeology of the Bible. I did not expect the Bible to read to me and then try and fit the archaeology into the narrative. I could not get past the first four lectures and am returning this course. When this course is co-sponsored by NatGeo my expectations are for more fact based lectures not biblical narrative.
Date published: 2021-04-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course! I thoroughly enjoyed this course. I think Dr. Isbouts did a great job of weaving information from modern archeological finds into the well-known stories of the Bible. It was great to see footage of some of the less familiar sites. I felt his presentations were very even-handed, pointing our where information from the two sources do not fit well together. I will certainly recommend this series to my friends.
Date published: 2021-03-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating I found this series very interesting and enjoyed the short video trips to the various archeological digs and the photos of artifacts. The insights surrounding Jesus throwing the money changers out of the temple and about the politics at that time were very interesting.
Date published: 2021-03-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fine Overview of the Holy Land thru 1st Century AD As a long-time fan of historical travelogues a la Nat. Geographic, I was quite pleased with this course. Mr. Isbouts offers an excellent balance of photos, maps, on-site discussion, and studio lecture. His discussion of archeological evidence is very well supported. His speculations about motivations (e.g. what Christ was thinking when he drove the money changers from the Temple) less so, but still worth pondering. I would have welcomed another 6-12 lectures extending into late Antiquity and the Middle Ages.
Date published: 2021-03-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course! Unlike some of the other reviewers, I think this is a well-planned and well-presented course that has broad appeal regardless of faith and prior level of knowledge. Prof. Isbouts is a passionate lecturer with a deep understanding of his subject matter. The National Geographic video imagery is a major plus, and I disagree with those who contend the course is light on history or archaeology--it is chock full of both. I found this an extremely interesting and enjoyable course and was disappointed when I reached the end of the last lecture. I agree with those who praise the related course, The Holy Land Revealed--it is an excellent course as well--but I believe the two courses are complementary and that one not need pick between them. All in all, this course is well worth your time and money. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2021-03-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engaging and fascinating We own several of the Great Courses (at least 50 or 60 of them). Though all of them are excellent, I really enjoyed these 24 lectures on the history and archaeology of the Bible. Isbouts emphasizes in the first lecture that the Bible is not a history book. It is a collection of books with a spiritual intent even though the writings are frequently set in historic time and space. It is important for viewers to understand that this series is not faith based. It is, instead, grounded in the work of scholars of history, archaeology, and literature. Still, Isbouts would agree that even though the Bible is clearly not a history book, it can be read as a book of faith and is a document we all should know something about given its impact on religion, spirituality, law, literature, music, Western thought, and more. This series of lectures is an engaging and fascinating survey of biblical times and provides us with knowledge to better appreciate the Bible’s impact on our past and present. Highly recommended
Date published: 2021-03-05
Rated 3 out of 5 by from OK As with most of the joint ventures of The Great Courses with other organizations such as National Geographic or the Smithsonian, this is a notch below the pure TGC standards. As the title suggests, this is a course in the history, as illuminated by archeology, of the Ancient Near East (ANE). It is not at all a Bible study. *Dr. Isbouts announces at the beginning that he is a “practicing Christian,” although that still leaves a lot of latitude. In Lecture 3, he asks, “Was Abraham a historical figure?” and he answers, “What does it matter?” * Dr. Isbouts suggests that Moses was a composite of historical figures rather than an individual as presented in the Hebrew Bible. * Dr. Isbouts presents a naturalistic explanation of the Ten Plagues of the Exodus. For example, the Nile River may have experienced algae rather than turning to blood. (I give these examples not as a judgment but rather as a note to those who are considering this class for potential insight into what the Bible says.) In short, this course provides the secular context for the times and places of the Bible, both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament. * Dr. Isbouts teaches that the Christian gospels were not written by people who had actually worked with either Jesus or Paul. He agrees, however, that *some* of the stories in the gospel may have originated within what he calls the “apostolic circle.” * Dr. Isbouts teaches that *some* of the letters of Paul were written by Paul himself. * Dr. Isbouts teaches that the author of the Gospel of Mark wrote from Rome and had never actually visited Judea. Of particular interest for those seeking to understanding Christianity, Dr. Isbouts has three lectures on the Persian Empire, the Hellenistic Empires, and the introduction of the Roman Empire. This provides the historical context of the Christian New Testament, a background that is generally lacking in the Bible itself. Unfortunately, Dr. Isbouts says very little about the history and archeology of the Roman Empire after about 35 CE, the period in which Christianity spread from a few hundred people in Judea to a religion throughout the Empire. This is the setting for most of the Christian New Testament, which makes it an important oversight. Dr. Isbouts’s degree is DLitt and where he addresses the Bible, he takes a literary approach as opposed to an exegetical approach to it. Dr. Isbouts’s approach is based in history and archeology and is accessible to people regardless of their faith. This is both a strength and a weakness. While it makes the material accessible to many people, it does not provide insight into what that faith holds. I took the video version. However, the visuals are not essential to the course. It can be used by someone while jogging or driving a car.
Date published: 2021-03-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A must for evangelicals sending a child to college A peek into the academic bubble. If you are christian and you are going to spend $40,000 to $250,000 per child on a college, you really should spend a few hours to find out what the liberal consensus believes. Some counters to Isbouts' many, many assertions would be: New Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Josh McDowell. New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? F. F. Bruce
Date published: 2021-02-26
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The History and Archaeology of the Bible
Course Trailer
The World of Genesis
1: 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.

30 min
The Tower of Babel
2: 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.

26 min
The Journeys of Abraham
3: 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.

28 min
Joseph in Egypt
4: 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.

27 min
The Story of Moses
5: 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.

28 min
The Mystery of the Exodus
6: 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.

32 min
The Settlement in the Promised Land
7: 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.

29 min
The Rise of the Israelite Monarchy
8: 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.

24 min
The Kingdom of David
9: 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.

26 min
The Temple of Solomon
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.

29 min
The Northern Kingdom of Israel
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.

25 min
The Rise of Assyria
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.

22 min
The Rise and Fall of Judah
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.

27 min
The Persian Era
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.

26 min
The Empire of Alexander the Great
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.

26 min
Judea in the Early Roman Empire
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.

29 min
The Kingdom of Herod the Great
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.

26 min
The World of the Gospels
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.

27 min
The Birth of Jesus
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.

27 min
Young Jesus
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.

27 min
Jesus and John the Baptist
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.

31 min
The Ministry of Jesus
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.

33 min
The Passover Events in 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.

31 min
The Rise of Christianity
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.

33 min
Jean-Pierre Isbouts

Over thousands of years the Bible was shaped by some of the most powerful empires in human history.


Leiden University


Fielding Graduate University

About Jean-Pierre Isbouts

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 JesusWho’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 

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