“The History and Archaeology of the Bible” by Jean-Pierre Isbouts


I finally finished all 24 lectures of The History and Archaeology of the Bible by Jean-Pierre Isbouts. For me, this National Geographic / Great Courses production is a cut above most of the Great Courses I’ve seen, perhaps because it strikes a good balance between detail and accessibility.

Some of the other Great Courses start off fine but get a bit tedious after a while. Not because they’re not good lectures, but because without things like eye contact and the ability to ask questions, most taped lectures are doomed to be dull after the initial novelty wears off. At least, that’s how I find them.

Not so with this course. Jean-Pierre Isbouts was probably chosen by National Geographic not just for his knowledge but also for his ability to communicate. Unlike some biblical lecturers in academia, you don’t get the impression that behind a forceful tone and lack of smiles, some wounded child is still yelling at their dad or mom for making them go to church as a kid.

Isbouts seems to believe in something. He hasn’t fallen into sheer academic cynicism and yet he’s not afraid to consider multiple perspectives.

Personally, I found the Old Testament a bit more engaging than the New Testament lectures. Although a few points made in reference to the Romans, Jews and Jesus did compel me to rethink some of my assumptions.

The one shortcoming, as I saw it, with Isbout’s beliefs came with his discussion of Gnosticism. Isbouts mentions Elaine Pagels more than once (she’s probably more famous than him) and seems to emphasize the view that Jesus made key decisions more on the basis of his human judgment instead of via divine intervention. Not always. But sometimes. And maybe Isbouts is right. But I found his characterization of Jesus as a “trial and error” sleuth a bit banal. As I’ve often said, it’s entirely possible that Jesus went to certain places, said and did certain things not because he found it “worked well” but because he was instructed to do so by his Heavenly Father.

And this is one of the problems I have with some aspects of Gnosticism. Generally speaking, Gnostics believe that God is within. Well yes, but when God comes within us, it is in the form of God’s immanence. God himself/herself is much greater than any person glowing like a Halloween lantern.

I felt I discerned this theological difference in Isbouts’ approach to the New Testament. Nothing wrong with believing in Gnosticism at the expense of Orthodoxy but it’s not quite what I believe.

So instead of seeing Jesus as an “energy healer” as Isbouts put it, I would say Jesus healed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

It’s a pretty common mistake these days to confuse the concepts of energy and spirit. But alas, it seems Isbouts, despite all the great things he does in this course, sometimes doesn’t quite get what the Bible is most importantly telling us.

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3 thoughts on ““The History and Archaeology of the Bible” by Jean-Pierre Isbouts

    1. Thanks for your comments E. Now that I’m more in society I’m also picking up all sorts of non-Covid bugs that I didn’t have during the pandemic peak. Hence my delay in responding. I hope all your endeavors are going well.

      Liked by 1 person

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