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Jesus and His Jewish Influences

Jesus and His Jewish Influences

Professor Jodi Magness, Ph.D.
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

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Jesus and His Jewish Influences

Course No. 6281
Professor Jodi Magness, Ph.D.
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
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4.4 out of 5
83 Reviews
84% of reviewers would recommend this series
Course No. 6281
  • Audio or Video?
  • You should buy audio if you would enjoy the convenience of experiencing this course while driving, exercising, etc. While the video does contain visual elements, the professor presents the material in an engaging and clear manner, so the visuals are not necessary to understand the concepts. Additionally, the audio audience may refer to the accompanying course guidebook for names, works, diagrams, illustrations, and examples that are cited throughout the course.
  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. While the video version can be considered lightly illustrated, it does feature illustrations, photos, and images of Jesus and other religious figures, as well as ancient art, architecture, and sculptures. Visual learners have the added benefit of on-screen text to help reinforce material.
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What Will You Learn?

  • Explore excerpts and passages from influential texts such as the Hebrew Bible, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Apocrypha, and more.
  • Follow the evolution of 12 Israelite tribes into a monarchy that crumbled over tensions about worshipping the God of Israel.
  • Examine how the Book of Daniel is repeated in Jesus's own prophesies about the destruction of the Temple.
  • Learn how the expansion of the Hasmonean Kingdom provides narratives of Jesus from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.
  • Unpack the hidden meaning and significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls themselves.
  • Hear the story (as related by Josephus) of the trial and execution of Jesus's brother, James the Just.

Course Overview

For anyone interested in understanding the profound effect Jesus had on the world, it’s important to realize that his actions and teachings didn’t emerge from a vacuum. Rather, they were the product of a fascinating dialogue with—and reaction to—the traditions, cultures, and historical developments of ancient Jewish beliefs. In fact, early Judaism and Jesus are two subjects so inextricably linked that one cannot arrive at a true understanding of Jesus without understanding the time in which he lived and taught.

In search of a more complete comprehension of Jesus’s legacy, this course explores fundamental questions such as:

  • How was early Judaism markedly different from the Rabbinic Judaism practiced today?

  • What kind of world did early Jewish sects envision, and how does Jesus’s world view relate to theirs?

  • How did events like the Babylonian exile and the reign of Herod the Great affect the development of Judaism up to Jesus’s time?

  • What did it really mean to be a Jew in ancient Israel—and what did it mean for Jesus?

Answers to these and other thought-provoking questions about ancient Judaism and the roots of Jesus’s ministry can be found in the 24 intriguing lectures of Jesus and His Jewish Influences. Crafted by acclaimed archaeologist and biblical scholar Jodi Magness of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, this fascinating course approaches the subject of Jesus from a historical, rather than scriptural, perspective; one rooted in the study of ancient texts and archaeological discoveries. You’ll embark upon an in-depth investigation of the ancient world that Jesus was born into, and you’ll revisit the tumultuous events of early Jewish history with the specific purpose of gleaning hidden insights into how they shaped an individual—and a movement—whose legacy endures to this very day.

Learn How Ancient Israel Gave Rise to Jesus

Instead of focusing on historically authenticating the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s sayings and activities, Jesus and His Jewish Influences is interested in exploring how the Gospel accounts are better understood through the lens of early Judaism. To this end, Professor Magness’s lectures are a veritable survey of some of the most defining moments in ancient Israel, from the establishment of Mosaic Law to the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 A.D. These include:

  • The destruction of Solomon’s Temple: In 586 B.C., the Kingdom of Judah fell to the Babylonians, and Solomon’s Temple was destroyed. Signaling the end of the First Temple Period, this traumatic event was drawn upon later by the Gospel authors as a way to illustrate Jesus’s foreshadowing of the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 A.D.

  • The Babylonian exile: After the conquest of the Kingdom of Judah, the inhabitants were forced into exile. The exile ended in 539 B.C. after the Persian king Cyrus allowed the exiled Jews return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple. This return, however, led to a powerful schism between the Jews and Samaritans—one reflected in Gospel parables about Samaritans.

  • The Maccabean Revolt: When Judaism was outlawed under the orders of Antiochus IV, a priestly clan named the Maccabees (or Hasmoneans) led a revolt in 167 B.C. to oppose this new reality. Lasting for years, the revolt was a reaction to Antiochus IV’s edict outlawing Judaism and rededicating the Jerusalem temple to the worship of Olympian Zeus. The rise of the Maccabean Kingdom also provides interesting context for understanding the Gospel birth narratives about Jesus.

Along the way, you’ll encounter a fascinating range of early Jewish sects, including the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. You’ll also meet some of the predecessors and contemporaries of Jesus who played a pivotal role in shaping or recording the world Jesus was born into, such as

  • Herod the Great, the tyrannical and murderous ruler of Judea infamous for the (historically questionable) Massacre of the Innocents;

  • Flavius Josephus, the ancient historian whose writings complement the works of the Gospel authors and who offers first-hand accounts of events during the time of Jesus and afterwards;

  • King Josiah, the ruler of Judea loved by the biblical writers (and described in glowing terms) for his religious reforms asserting the centrality of the Jerusalem Temple and its priesthood.

Draw Illuminating Connections between Jesus and Judaism

At the heart of these lectures are eye-opening, illuminating insights into the numerous historical connections between Jesus and the story of early Judaism. You’ll see firsthand how this background provides a deeper, more well-rounded context for understanding Gospel accounts of Jesus’s life and ministry—and, conversely, the Gospels themselves provide valuable information about how Judaism was lived and practiced in Jesus’s time.

Here are just a few of the many connections you’ll make in Jesus and His Jewish Influences:

  • Schismatic Samaritans: The historic schism between the Jews and Samaritans after the Babylonian exile can be found hidden within the popular parable of the Good Samaritan. The story itself puts a strange spin on the person who comes out looking good (the Samaritan) considering that Samaritans were, in the eyes of Jews during the time of Jesus, schismatics.

  • Golden rules: The passage in Matthew that recounts Jesus’s “golden rule” illustrates a broad disagreement among early Jews about whether or not to love one’s enemies. Jesus’s views about loving everyone (and healing the sick) stem not from pure kindness alone but from his view of holiness—that one can only enter the Kingdom of Heaven by emulating God’s perfection.

  • Political executions: Why was James, the brother of Jesus, not crucified but stoned to death? The answer is that he was charged with violating Jewish law, unlike Jesus, who was executed by the Romans on a charge of treason. James’s execution by the Sanhedrin (on possibly trumped-up charges) reflects the early hostility of elite Jews toward the proto-Christians.

  • Mountaintop revelations: What makes the episode of the Sermon on the Mount so interesting is its clear connection with Moses’s revelation of the law on Mount Sinai. Both revelations take place on sacred mountaintops, and both involve the establishment of new laws meant to guide an entire people

Get a Fresh Look at the Origins of History’s Most Influential Figure

Throughout the course, Professor Magness speaks directly from her hands-on experience as a classical archaeologist digging in Israel and her depth of knowledge as a scholar of early Judaism. The winner of numerous teaching awards and honors, she’s spent her entire career immersed in the rich history of the ancient Holy Land, making her the perfect professor for a course designed to place Jesus within his contemporary socio-political environs.

Every lecture of Jesus and His Jewish Influences draws on a wealth of excerpts and passages from some of the most important and influential texts ever written, including:

  • the Hebrew Bible
  • the New Testament (specifically the four canonical Gospels)
  • the Apocrypha (“hidden works”) and Pseudepigrapha (“false writings”)
  • historical accounts, including Josephus’s The Jewish War
  • the Dead Sea Scrolls

What made Jesus Jesus? How did his life and teachings reflect his Jewish roots—and break away from them? Prepare for a fresh look at Jesus that will bring you closer than ever to the dawn of a spiritual figure—and revolution—that would change the world.

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24 lectures
 |  30 minutes each
  • 1
    Jesus and Judaism
    Begin your fascinating historical adventure by developing a solid framework for your exploration of Jesus's Jewish influences. What was it like to be a Jew in the ancient world? What do we mean when we talk about Jewish temples? And how similar was ancient Judaism to other ancient religions. x
  • 2
    Sacred Mountains and Law Giving in Judaism
    In ancient Judaism, there was little distinction between religion and politics. In this lecture, explore the importance of the law (the Torah) in the Jewish religion. Then, draw some intriguing connections between the giving of the law to Moses on Mount Sinai and Jesus's own Sermon on the Mount. x
  • 3
    The United and Divided Israelite Kingdoms
    In this in-depth look at the kingdoms of David and Solomon, follow the transformation of 12 Israelite tribes into a monarchy that eventually crumbled over tensions regarding how to properly worship the God of Israel. Along the way, probe controversies that lie at the heart of modern scholarship's hottest debates. x
  • 4
    The Destruction of Solomon's Temple
    How (and why) did the First Temple Period end? First, examine the reign of King Josiah, whose popular religious reforms reasserted the importance of Jerusalem's Temple. Then, investigate the Temple's traumatic destruction - and its relationship to Gospel accounts about the destruction of the Second Temple. x
  • 5
    The Jewish and Samaritan Schism
    After the end of the Babylonian exile in 539 B.C., returning exiles began to reestablish themselves in Jerusalem under Ezra and Nehemiah. This return would lead to a dramatic schism between Jews and Samaritans - one which, as you'll learn, would influence encounters with Samaritans in Jesus's own time. x
  • 6
    The Jewish Diaspora and the Golden Rule
    What insights into the ancient Jewish diaspora communities can we glean from close readings of the Book of Tobit and the Book of Esther? What do these books say about holiness and the treatment of other people (the "golden rule" of Jesus's time)? Join the fascinating historical-literary debate. x
  • 7
    Alexander the Great's Impact on the Jews
    Alexander the Great's legendary visit to Jerusalem and Judea had a profound influence on the development of ancient Jewish traditions. Could the ancient warrior also have served as a model for the mythical Jesus? Professor Magness illuminates possible narrative parallels between these two iconic figures of Western history. x
  • 8
    Jews and Greek Rule: The Heliodorus Affair
    Investigate the strange episode known as the Heliodorus Affair. This power struggle between Jerusalem's elite families during the time of the Ptolemies and Seleucids became a key turning point in the history of Jews in Judea. We also see echoes of this conflict in Gospel accounts of taxation. x
  • 9
    Desolating Sacrilege and the Maccabean Revolt
    Follow the turbulent story of the Maccabean Revolt after the outlawing of Judaism under Antiochus IV. Then, examine how the Book of Daniel (written around the time of the revolt) dealt with the concept of desolating sacrilege," and how this is repeated in Jesus's own prophesies about the destruction of the Temple." x
  • 10
    Apocalyptic Works and the "Son of Man"
    From 1 and 2 Maccabees to the Books of Daniel and Enoch, get a close reading of apocalyptic literary works composed in the aftermath of the Maccabean Revolt. Afterwards, Professor Magness probes possible meanings of the term son of man" in both the Hebrew Bible and the Gospels." x
  • 11
    Jesus's Jewish Lineage
    Learn how the expansion of the Hasmonean Kingdom provides a sharp context for understanding the birth narratives of Jesus from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The authors of these Gospels went to great lengths to establish Jesus's descent from David. The question is: Why? x
  • 12
    Was Jesus a Pharisee?
    In this lecture, probe the rise of the Sadducees and Pharisees during the late Second Temple Period. You'll learn how the Pharisaic approach became dominant in Judaism, and you'll spend time investigating what the Gospels say about whether or not Jesus identified as a Pharisee. x
  • 13
    Jewish Ritual Purity: The Sons of Light
    Turn from the Pharisees to the Essenes, the sect associated with the Dead Sea Scrolls. In the first of three lectures on this fascinating sect, focus on how a strict system of ritual purity was a fundamental part of everyday life at Qumran (the site where the Scrolls were found). x
  • 14
    The Dead Sea Scrolls: Earliest Hebrew Bible
    Unpack the hidden meaning and significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls themselves - some of ancient history's most fascinating texts, which date back to the time of Jesus. Among the findings you'll explore here: early copies of the Hebrew Bible, fragments of a Greek translation of the Septuagint, and early biblical commentaries. x
  • 15
    Was Jesus an Essene?
    Most of what scholars know about the Essenes, and their apocalyptic outlook, comes from the ancient historians Josephus and Philo. After a deeper dive into who the Essenes were (and how Essene women lived), Professor Magness makes her case for why Jesus could not have been an Essene. x
  • 16
    The Hebrew Scriptures and the Septuagint
    First, examine the Letter of Aristeas," which describes translating the Torah into Greek. Then, meet Philo of Alexandria, whose writings (preserved by Christians) are based on an allegorical method of interpreting the Bible. Finally, using a passage from Isaiah, discover why Jews eventually came to reject the authority of the Septuagint translation." x
  • 17
    The Reign of Herod the Great
    What are the historical roots of the often-disputed Massacre of the Innocents reported in the Gospel of Matthew? Find out in this lecture on the reign of Herod the Great, a man notorious for killing members of his own family and best remembered for his biblical campaign of infanticide. x
  • 18
    Pontius Pilate: A Roman Prefect
    Following the death of Herod the Great, there began a period of direct Roman administration of Judea under prefects, the most famous of whom was Pontius Pilate, who would later oversee the trial of Jesus. Learn the historical backstory of both this figure and another contemporary of Jesus, Herod Antipas. x
  • 19
    Anarchy in Judea
    In the first half of this lecture, examine the growing anarchy that led to the First Jewish Revolt against Rome - including the rise of others who, like Jesus, claimed to be the messiah. Then, follow the story (as related by Josephus) of the trial and execution of Jesus's brother, James the Just. x
  • 20
    Jesus's Prophecy: Jerusalem's Destruction
    The First Jewish Revolt against Rome culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple. Explore how this cataclysmic event had profound aftershocks for subsequent Jewish history - as well as early traditions surrounding Jesus (for example, the Parable of the Wicked Tenants" in the Gospel of Matthew)." x
  • 21
    Flavius Josephus: Witness to 1st Century A.D .
    One cannot explore Jesus and his Jewish influences without understanding the life and works of Flavius Josephus, the ancient Jewish author who was a witness to the period during and after the life of Jesus. Here, learn how his fascinating historical writings complement what the Gospel authors relate. x
  • 22
    Rabbinic Judaism's Traditions about Jesus
    What was Jewish life like after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 A.D.? How did the religion survive this trauma? With insights from various historical sources, chart the rise of Rabbinic Judaism - the literature of Jewish sages who portray Jesus as an illegitimate child and magician. x
  • 23
    Jesus's Apocalyptic Outlook
    Join Professor Magness as she shares some of her own research into Jesus, comparing and contrasting his apocalyptic beliefs with those of the Qumran sect associated with the Dead Sea Scrolls. As you'll discover, one cannot understand Jesus's exorcisms and healings without understanding the notion of apocalyptic purity. x
  • 24
    Jesus's Teachings and Sayings in Context
    Close out this insightful course with a pointed consideration of how selected passages from the Gospels can be better understood within their Jewish context. The three passages you explore involve the concept of Hell, Jesus's cleansing of the Temple, and John's account of Jesus's healing of a blind man. x

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Your professor

Jodi Magness

About Your Professor

Jodi Magness, Ph.D.
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Dr. Jodi Magness is the Kenan Distinguished Professor for Teaching Excellence in Early Judaism in the Department of Religious Studies at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She earned her B.A. in Archaeology and History from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and her Ph.D. in Classical Archaeology from the University of Pennsylvania. For her engaging teaching, Professor Magness won the Archaeological Institute of...
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Reviews

Jesus and His Jewish Influences is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 83.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Impressed with presentation About 75% through this collection and very impressed with it. Smoothly ties history and biblical references in a logical progression. Knowing more about different religions and outlooks seems to me to be very important in todays political climate. May have more to add when the last CD has been played....
Date published: 2017-04-22
Rated 2 out of 5 by from not as expected I found the lecturer repetitious, boring and a bit patronizing. 20 - 25 min of each lecture gave a history of the topic with only the last 5 minutes on how it related to Jesus' life and ministry. Great if you want a random overview of Jewish history but of little value if you want to understand more about Jesus' life as a Jew.
Date published: 2017-04-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A more complete picture ... When I began Dr Jodi Magness's course: Jesus and his Jewish Influences, it was like one of those books that one reads and you just can't put it down. I streamed the video and found myself watching these lectures at every available opportunity. Consequently, I completed these 24 lectures faster than all previous Great Courses that I have viewed. While I was eager to leave a review (I do not write many reviews), I decided that I would first watch Dr Magness's course: The Holy Land Revealed, to see how it compared with this course, as there is a great deal of overlap in material between these courses. So, this review will necessarily offer some compare and contrast between these two courses. I enjoyed this course and found that it helped to fill in blanks in my understanding of the bible (to give me a more complete picture, if you will); especially in how the New Testament may relate to the Old Testament. This course attempts to interpret the words and deeds of "the historical Jesus" by examining the historical, political, social and cultural milieu of the Jewish people of "palastine" at the time that Jesus lived. Dr Magness argues, very effectively, that to understand that milieu you must acquaint yourself with the history of the Jewish people and the area of "the Holy Land" leading up to the life of the historical Jesus. The time period encompassing the start of the Hasmonean Dynasty (circa 140 BCE) to the destruction of the second temple (around 70 CE) receives the bulk of the focus of these lectures. It is important to understand that this is mostly a historical course and not a theological course. Consequently, it is the "historical Jesus" that is considered. If you are offended by any examination of Jesus that does not interpret him divinely (as the Son of God, the Savior of the world, etc) then you may want to skip this course. For people of faith who want to expand their understanding and are open to what the academic world has to say about the historical Jesus and his times, then this can be a very informative and rewarding lecture series. Dr Magness organizes her lectures mostly chronologically. At the end of each lecture, Dr Magness will usually conclude each lecture by examining something Jesus said or did and how it relates to the material that she covered throughout the bulk of the lecture. While her end of lecture summaries make sense, they do not always feel like they flow naturally from the rest of her material. I felt that she did a better job of teaching me the history of the Jewish people and how that influenced their relationship with their Roman rulers, during the life of Jesus, then she did at interpreting Jesus's actions and sayings with respect to those influences. She did not do a bad job at all, but it didn't feel as cohesive as I had expected it to. The pace of most of these lectures is slow, especially compared with 'The Holy Land Revealed.' In those lectures, Dr Magness feels like she is more in her own element and comfort zone. She speaks fluidly and quickly, giving the sense that she is intimately familiar with all of the material. In Jesus and his Jewish Influences, I had the feeling that Dr Magness's attempt to tie the history of the Jewish people in to Jesus's actions and sayings was newer territory for her, as evidenced by a delivery that felt less polished and smooth. In the 36 lectures of 'The Holy Land Revealed,' Dr Magness covers more history of the Jewish people (~ 1650 BCE to 200 CE). In the 24 lectures of 'Jesus and his Jewish Influences,' Dr Magness focuses mostly on the 200 year period noted above (~ 140 BCE to 70 CE) but gives much greater detail of the history of this period. Obviously, 'Jesus and his Jewish Influences' attempts to tie this history of the Jews in with the actions and sayings of Jesus, whereas the 'The Holy Land Revealed' focuses primarily on the Jewish people with only a few references to the historical Jesus. The delivery of the 'The Holy Land Revealed' was smoother than that of 'Jesus and his Jewish Influences.' I would estimate that at least 3/4 or more of the material covered in 'Jesus and Jewish Influences' is also covered in 'The Holy Land Revealed.' However, some of the material in 'Jesus and his Jewish Influences' is much more detailed and, for that reason, I consider the two courses complimentary. If you had to choose only a single course, 'The Holy Land Revealed' still gives you "most" of what 'Jesus and his Jewish Influences gives you and is a more polished presentation. While there were some images in the video that were helpful, I feel that 'Jesus and his Jewish Influences' could still easily be followed in audio only format. Overall, I did enjoy this course and found it worthwhile. I can honestly say that this course significantly improved my understanding of the events described in both the New and the Old Testaments of the Bible.
Date published: 2017-04-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Presentation Bought this series recently and I am enjoying it. I like the 'relaxed' delivery of the professor and the information provided is understandable. She has an excellent knowledge of the subject matter.
Date published: 2017-04-03
Rated 2 out of 5 by from a little disappointing I know it's not entirely fair to review the course after only listening to the first few lectures, so take that as a caveat. But I think I am going to stop listening. Basically what we are getting is a canned "history" of ancient Israel, with very little attention to Jesus. And part of the problem is that the "history" she gives is just a sort of rationalized summary of the Bible. She only rarely acknowledges the methodological issues -- that is, in biblical studies right now there is a hot debate on how much real history can be gleaned from the Bible. So, a bit misleading in a couple of ways... Also, I don't find the professor's presentation much to write home about. Not bad, but not especially interesting. So, I probably won't continue...
Date published: 2017-03-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Instructor was very good, and the course very informative.
Date published: 2017-03-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Captivating This course filled in many of the background areas of Jesus and his times. Professor Magness is a captivating scholar and speaker who holds one's interest in occasionally complicated relationships. I enjoyed this presentation and will listen to it again.
Date published: 2017-03-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from More straight history than analysis of influences I bought this because I wanted to learn about what the title promised. It fell short in that regard because it was mainly a history of the Jews from King David until several hundred years after Jesus died. The professor did link this to Jesus, but often the link seemed tenuous. Of course there was no linkage after Jesus died, unless one counts his prophesy of the destruction of the Second Temple as a link. Nevertheless, as a Unitarian Universalist, I just enjoyed learning the history. The professor has an annoying habit of stating simple points in two different ways in succession, rather like saying "The weather is bad. That is to say, it's not good."
Date published: 2017-03-06
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