Jesus and His Jewish Influences

Course No. 6281
Professor Jodi Magness, Ph.D.
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
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Course No. 6281
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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
 |  Average 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 4.3 out of 5 by 124.
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Could have been much shorter While there is some very good material presented here, many of the lectures could easily have been condensed: I think this is really a 12-lecture course, not 24 lectures. It sometimes seemed to me that the professor was trying to find ways to fill the available time. I appreciated her explorations of the Essenes and Dead Sea Scrolls.
Date published: 2018-10-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from For the serious student I received my degree in Religious Studies, not Theology, there is a difference in the two. If you want to study in the historical critical method then you will not be disappointed in this course. If you are looking a "bible study" course, in the christian religion sense of the word, then you may not be to happy. Although I would encourage everyone to keep an open mind. This course did bring into perspective what was going on during these ancient times in Judea.
Date published: 2018-10-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Anthropology + History puts much into context We used this series at my church last year in the fall for Adult Education. Each week I felt more and more comfortable with Jodi to the point I would love to be her on-campus student.
Date published: 2018-08-21
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing in Content and Cohesion This course felt disjointed and it's subject matter forced to some extent. I was often left puzzling at the end of a lecture just how it all tied together, other than in the flimsiest of ways. There is a lot of information contained in the lectures and some interesting perspective and detail. But, having said that, neither the lectures themselves, nor the structure of the overall course seemed to hang together in a particularly logical manner. Moreover, I am not a great religionist (and I suspect if one were, the course might well be troubling), but I found the professor's tendency to take some portions of the Bible literally, while in other contexts as allegorical downright baffling and annoying. I agree that the title is somewhat misleading and would call it something along the lines of Early Christianity and its Jewish Influences. But that is a minor issue.
Date published: 2018-08-17
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Superficial A very superficial coverage of historical Israel with almost no mention of Jesus at all. A A very superficial coverage of historical Israel with almost no mention of Jesus at all. The historical content is far better treated by other courses, especially Prof. Gafni’s Great Course, The Beginnings of Judaism. Magness does not have a deep understanding of biblical textual criticism. She takes the Hasmonean propaganda of the books of Maccabees as historical truth. In the few places in which she discussed Jesus at all, she does not even question the reliability of the New Testament texts. For example, she assumes that the gospels present their stories in a reliable chronology. She discusses the Jesus’ use of the term “Son of Man” but ignores the vast scholarly literature debating the meaning of this ambiguous and enigmatic phrase. The Great Courses by Bart Ehrman are vastly more scholarly and informative. She only discusses Jesus’ influences as a distinct topic in the last two lectures. But she views him exclusively through the lens of Qumran, especially the community’s near obsession with ritual purity and physical perfection as a requirement for Temple priests. She states that the purpose of Jesus’ healings and exorcisms was to “cleanse” as many Jews as possible for entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven, which she insists will require ritual purity. She presents no justification for this claim except extrapolation from Quran, ignoring both the unique priestly requirements adopted by the Qumranites and Jesus’ multiply-attested association with “unclean” Jews, even at table. She obviously understands Jesus though her archeological experience at Qumran. Even her discussion of Jesus’ “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off …” metaphor is colored by her professional expertise in Qumranite toilet practices (cf. her Great Course, The Holy Land Revealed).
Date published: 2018-05-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Getting a better understanding I wanted to get a grasp of what the environment was like in Galilee when Jesus of Nazrareth lived. We tend to believe that we live in such perilous times. People in the USA who lived during the Reconstruction era (1865 to 1877) thought that way also. Going back to the 1st century BC to the 1st century AD and living in Galilee had to be no picnic either based on the information this course provided. I thought that lecture 10: Apocalyptic Works and the "Son of Man" held my attention. I always wanted to know more about what was meant by the phrase "Son of Man." I thought I was given some intelligbible insights. Lecture 15 was another presentation that held my focus by covering the issue of trying to determine whether Jesus of Nazareth perhaps was a part of the Qumran sect [Essenes]. From the Dead Sea scrolls that is associated with this group, I now realize that this sect used nicknames that covered such issues as "The teacher of righteousness", the temple scroll, thanksgiving hymns etc.
Date published: 2018-03-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well knowledgeable and know how to present She presented the lecture in a detailed and chained all the way to the birth of Jesus. This forms a knowledge of how Jesus became who he was and how much the Jewish history influenced him. So, I have had some moderate understanding of the Jewish influence to the backdrop of Jesus, but Prof. Jodi gave me much more detailed and concrete knowledge. She is Phenomenal!
Date published: 2018-03-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Incisive and intelligent Terrific lecture series by a superb scholar. One important caveat: the title is mostly misleading. This course is an excellent overview of Jewish history from antiquity through the Roman era. Jesus factors only slightly in the discussion, but the professor makes valuable use of New Testament references to inform the discussion of Jewish history. This was actually what I was looking for, so I'm very satisfied.
Date published: 2018-03-06
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