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The History and Archaeology of the Bible

Delve into the iconic stories of the Bible through the eyes of historians and archaeologists, and discover how their findings bring fascinating and revealing perspectives to the world-shaping texts of scripture.
The History and Archaeology of the Bible is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 141.
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Rated 4 out of 5 by from Atheists make the best bible guides I am reading Isaac Asimov’s “Asimov’s Guide to the Bible” and I was intrigued to see how Jean-Pierre Isbouts’ (JPI) lecture series would compare. Of course, Asimov is legendary for his sci-fi fiction, but he is also a devout atheist. To me, atheism is a prerequisite for being a credible guide to the bible. In this regard, JPI also doesn’t let his personal faith (if any) insert any bias into this series that I could perceive. For a topic as loaded as religion, this is very important. As a storyteller, JPI does a commendable job. I suspect that producing a series on this topic runs the risk of being dry and boring, given the source material. But JPI does a good job of telling these stories in a colloquial fashion while maintaining a scholarly manner. He even managed to insert a little humor here and there, which definitely helped. I was pleased with JPI’s (or the content developer) inclusion of other, non-biblical, writings & histories into the series to better tell this story. The Egyptian pharaohs were contemporaries for a lot of this history—mostly the Old Testament—and JPI used their ample records to flesh out the bible stories. Where he could, JPI makes an attempt to reconcile biblical stories with archeological records, as with the story of the destruction of the cities of Sodom & Gomorrah. Archeological records correspond to an earthquake in that region at that time, so those cities were likely violently destroyed. Those connections between fable and fact served to strengthen his narrative. Unfortunately, JPI also goes overboard at times, searching for correlations that are clearly a stretch. For example, he attempted to explain that Lot’s wife being turned into a pillar of salt has some validity because, to this day, the shores of the Dead Sea (which borders those cities) are covered in salt. While it is true that the Dead Sea has unusually high salinity, the environmental mechanism causing this is well understood (Asimov covers this in detail the aforementioned book). In this regard, I felt that JPI went too far at times. I found it odd (and depressing at times) how JPI would completely ignore certain thorny issues as he discussed them, as if they were perfectly acceptable: slaves, concubines, sexual abuse, human sacrifice, etc. In Episode 23, I was sickened by how calmly JPI describes a scene in the court of the Gentiles (part of the temple sanctuary) which was jammed with “sellers of sacrificial animals.” These poor animals, mostly sheep only one year old, (or pigeons if you were too poor to afford a sheep) were sold to pilgrims as sacrificial offerings. Selling animals as trinkets to tourists for the express purpose of killing them is hideous. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad JPI included this (people should be horrified by this) but a little more sensitivity would have been appropriate. As far as visual content, the producers used a lot of beautiful art and paintings from many eras. There was one painting in particular that depicted the flood in the story of Noah that really captivated me. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any info on the paintings. Alternatively, when JPI discussed the archeological ruins shown in the videos, he always referenced the location. I wish captions were used to credit the art in the video, or perhaps listed in the end credits. Overall, this was a balanced and informative series—well done, Jean-Pierre!
Date published: 2024-01-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Atheists make the best bible guides I am reading Isaac Asimov’s “Asimov’s Guide to the Bible” and I was intrigued to see how Jean-Pierre Isbouts’ (JPI) lecture series would compare. Of course, Asimov is legendary for his sci-fi fiction, but he is also a devout atheist. To me, atheism is a prerequisite for being a credible guide to the bible.
Date published: 2024-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Reverent and Factual A very informative description of the story and history of the bible. A measured and carefully considered set of lectures that I rewatched more than once. I will watch them again as I am beginning to understand the actual history of the biblical times and the meaning of the biblical story.
Date published: 2023-12-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course! This is one of the best courses I did in Wondrium. It is easy-going, well researched and delivered by the professor who is a researcher and traveller himself. As a non-christian or non-jewish this course is pretty much enough to understand the basics of bibilical archeology fields with room for more readings and self-research further your own knowedge.
Date published: 2023-08-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A very informative perspective Connecting archaeology with the Bible's account was enlightening.
Date published: 2023-07-30
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not recommended This is the worst Great Course I have seen. NO Illustrations and NO Archaeology. Instead he just tells ancient tales and tries to justify them as somehow telling true tales of the past.
Date published: 2023-06-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Extraordinarily Great Work Professor Isbouts does an outstanding job of walking the line between faith and science. He maintains a respect for the beliefs of Christians while revealing the many archeological facts that support how the natural can be seen as supernatural and how that the beliefs in our society can shape reality in a miraculous way. Well done!
Date published: 2023-04-22
Rated 1 out of 5 by from The World of Genesis Unfortunately, I stopped watching the moment the phrase "climate change" was mentioned.
Date published: 2023-04-09
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The work of historians and archaeologists opens a thrilling world of discovery as they bring their methods and insights to the iconic stories of the Bible. In this course, you'll discover ancient evidence related to the Flood and the Tower of Babel, the actual path of the Exodus from Egypt, excavations related to the life of Jesus, and many other findings that throw fresh and revealing light on the scriptures.


Jean-Pierre Isbouts


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.

By This Professor

The History and Archaeology of the Bible
Searching for the Historical Jesus
In the Footsteps of Vincent van Gogh
The History and Archaeology of the Bible


The World of Genesis

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.

30 min
The Tower of Babel

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.

26 min
The Journeys of Abraham

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.

28 min
Joseph in Egypt

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.

27 min
The Story of Moses

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.

28 min
The Mystery of the Exodus

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.

32 min
The Settlement in the Promised Land

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.

29 min
The Rise of the Israelite Monarchy

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.

24 min
The Kingdom of David

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.

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