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Jesus and His Jewish Influences  By  cover art

Jesus and His Jewish Influences

By: Jodi Magness,The Great Courses
Narrated by: Jodi Magness
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Publisher's Summary

Jesus - a Jewish man from first-century Judea - was perhaps the most influential person in world history. His life and beliefs sparked a movement that influenced the course of global civilization, and his teachings gave rise to a faith currently practiced by over two billion people around the world. And yet, as revolutionary and lasting as his ideas are, few of us think to ask: Where did they come from?

It's important to realize that Jesus' actions and teachings didn't emerge from a vacuum. Rather, they were the products of a fascinating dialogue with - and reaction to - the traditions, cultures, and historical developments of ancient Jewish beliefs. In search of a more complete comprehension of Jesus' legacy, this course explores fundamental questions such as: How was early Judaism different from the Rabbinic Judaism practiced today? What kind of world did early Jewish sects envision, and how does Jesus' worldview 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' time?

Follow an acclaimed archaeologist to unearth the roots of Jesus' actions and teachings within the traditions and beliefs of ancient Judaism. These fascinating 24 lectures approach the subject of Jesus from a historical rather than scriptural perspective - one rooted in ancient texts and archaeological discoveries. This investigation reveals hidden insights into how the tumultuous events of early Jewish history shaped an individual - and a movement - whose legacy endures to this day.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2016 The Great Courses (P)2016 The Teaching Company, LLC

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Christianity's cradle explored in early Judaism

When you hear the title of the course "Jesus and His Jewish Influences" you might think, "Another course on Jesus!" Prof Jodi Magness, Kenan Distinguished Professor for Teaching Excellence in Early Judaism, UNC at Chapel Hill, surprises with a course that is actually more about first century Judaism - of which early Christianity was a part - than about Jesus.

In 24 half an hour lectures she introduces the listener to the Jewish world in which Jesus lived in. Early on you will come to understand the importance and significance of mountains to Jews, whereafter you will be introduced to a concise historical overview of second temple period Judaism. At the end of each lecture she will link it to Jesus.

Some of the more interesting lectures to me, was that of Alexander the Great's Impact on the Jews (lecture 7), especially the parallels she drew between Alexander and Jesus. In Lecture 11 she challenges the general view that Jesus came from the lineage of David, arguing forcably that as a Galilean his forebears probably was forcefully converted to Judaism, similarly as what happened to Herod the Great's parents. In lectures to follow she discusses the various Jewish sects from which Jesus could have come. She looks at the arguments for and against these origins for Jesus. I found lecture 18 about Pontius Pilate also very interesting, as she properly de-romantised him and places him in a convincing historical context.

At long last The Great Courses guides are also available in PDF format for download after you have purchased the title. I found that the guide was a good refresher after listening to the lectures. It helps you remember and revise the contents. For each lecture it contains questions about the contents and reading suggestions. The bibliography has an added explantion to each book quoted or used in the lecture series. I though the guide was not only very helpful, it brings a new dimention to the way I listened to the lectures. Furthermore it is informative as a stand-alone book also.

I can highly recommend this lecture series, as a window on the time around Jesus. It is just as important to understand Jesus' time as his words. Enjoy this listen!

23 people found this helpful

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Very Bias view of the Bible

What would have made Jesus and His Jewish Influences better?

Should have focused more on what the Bible actually teaches. I will compare this book to a movie about the Exodus but instead of attributing the plagues to the power of God they attribute it to natural events and make every attempt to state how scholars found no evidence of such plagues. Basically it is a course that says "believe the professors and throw away belief in the Bible as it is written". There is plenty of evidence that states many of the things that the author says are "debatable"... in this book every good thing is debatable. why listen to this book if everything is debatable... what's the point. I listened to the history of the world audio book.. and only some things were debatable. Author uses every chance they get to state how scholars disagree. I just want to know how the Bible as it is written compares to what the Jews practiced in ancient times and how Jesus understood it. That was what i thought I was getting but instead it is just a big knock on Biblical faith. After listening to this you may wonder if the bible is worth reading at all. To sum it up I see this book as a clever way to remove trust in the Biblical account of things.

You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

Got worse and worse. I have studied the Bible for a long time and never found such obvious nonsense contradictions such as these. Author neglected to use common sense reason when explaining Bible passages and the understanding of the Bible. It's like she threw common sense out of the window and relied only on scholars that obviously do not believe int the Bible.

Any additional comments?

1. The Author states that some authors of the Bible are anti-Northern Israel and pro-Southern Israel. That's ridiculous. The author of the Bible are just pro-Truth as established by God given to Israel mainly through Moses. The Northern tribes rebelled against God or the law, or the books of the then Bible. That's all... the authors of the Bible are very consistent all the way through... They are pro-Bible and no matter if you were from the south or north they spoke against breaking the commandments of God and especially worshiping other gods. The Bible downs David and Solomon and other great men in the Bible... there is no favoritism going on.

2. The Author states that a practice of not intermarrying was established in the time of Nehemiah and Ezra... There was no law forbidding marrying woman of other lands. only woman of other religions. it's very obvious if you read the Bible. any prohibition was early on when they were establishing their country and it was only against the current (7) nations in Canaan land. The Bible makes it clear why... because they will draw your heart from worshiping the true God.
Ezra 10:2 And Shechaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, answered and said unto Ezra, We have trespassed against our God, and have taken strange wives of the people of the land: yet now there is hope in Israel concerning this thing. 3 Now therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives, and such as are born of them, according to the counsel of my lord, and of those that tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law.
Shechaniah is the one who decided to do this and it was because he knew they married strange woman... women that did not worship the God of Israel. But God forbade divorce.

But God made it plain that he loved people of other nations and Israel was not to forbid true worshipers from coming to the temple to worship at Jerusalem. example: Leviticus 19:34, and Isiah 56:6 Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the LORD, to serve him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant;
David's great grandfather married a foreigner, Moses married a foreigner, Israel became a nation focused on it's bloodline and prejudiced against other nations as a result but that is not what the Bible teaches. and that is what Jesus points out.

3. The author is very confused about the story of The Good Samaritan. It is obvious the story is about the Jews prejudice against other nations and especially the Samaritans. The Levite and the priests were not following any type of Old Testament law when they decided not to help the wounded man. How can you be a worshiper of a God full of mercy and kindness as stated over and over again in the Old Testament and not desire to help a wounded man. Being that the ones that ignored a wounded man was a priest and a Levite means they did know or should have known the God they worshiped. Jesus was clearly making a point of what the Jewish religion had become and not what it actually was. If you read the Bible you would know the teachers of Israel taught their own customs and traditions and not the actual Bible. As is still common today. Jesus made the point that the teachers would rather help a wounded animal but not a person on the Sabbath day.
The author of this book states that they did not know if the man was dead or not... first off that would be just stupid. Either way you would have to go see if the man is dead... you do not have to touch him if he is dead. According to the passage Jesus made the point that they seen a half dead man. Plus how could the Samaritan know he was alive and not the other two. So the author of this book seems to have done too much so called scholarly learning from the elites of the world who don't have a good handle on common sense.

4. The author seems not to know if the Bible teaches the worship of one God or not. It is obvious that whenever the Jews in any geographical area or time worshiped false gods the Bible forbade it. Just because the people of Israel worshiped other gods including so called worshiping the God of Israel at the same time does not make it a standard or a precedent as an OK way to worship nor acceptable by the followers of the Bible. They were just stating what actually happened in Israel.

The Bible is more authentic because it does not hold back the mistakes of the people, the priests, nor the kings of Israel. Why the authors of this book cannot see that is mind boggling.

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Fascinating; gives context to gospel AND history

Who or what is a Pharisee? A Samaritan? Where else in the ancient world of the middle east do we hear a phrase like "Son of Man"? How many other great flood stories were floating around in the context of the Noah story? What were these temples, and where?
I appreciate some Christian believers seem to be rolling their eyes and drumming their fingers waiting for a simpler story that neatly fits their limited cognitive maps of what Jesus supposedly was or is. Those with short attention spans need not apply. However, for me there is plenty of colorful story to keep my eyelids from drooping. This professor has a quality I admire, a wonderful clear cadence, scarcely ever fumbling. (I cannot stand a professor who inserts a lot of "uhhh" and "you know" in the delivery.) This has deepened and widened my comprehension of the ancient middle east considerably. All sorts of peoples and places and beliefs are discussed. The politics and religions of various dynasties and groups are made clear. It's well worth it!

15 people found this helpful

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Poorest great course I've listened to

The title is "Jesus and His Jewish Influences," but this doesn't accurately describe the content, in terms of proportion, of the course. Most of the time in the lectures was spent giving historical overview and cultural overview, then perhaps 5 minutes, usually 2-3 minutes are spent wrapping up and making statements about the influence of these events on what we read about Jesus or His followers. The lectures could be very dry - presenting facts, not key ideas, concepts, or unique and stimulating thought. As a Christian I disagree with much of the content in many of theses religion/theology courses, but I can appreciate, most of the time, their logic, argument, and scholarship. However, this course was almost incoherent at times. It took me several lectures to catch on to the "approach." That is, give 25 minutes of history and tie it to a saying or account of Jesus. I felt the analysis of how it was tied to Jesus oftentimes very lacking. It was almost a foregone conclusion that the presented conclusion was correct. I'm sure Dr. Magness is a very bright scholar, but I do not think I will be getting another of her courses. I have high expectations from the great courses, and this one did not meet those expectations in the least.

15 people found this helpful

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Not entirely what I expected, but still a great course.

The professor is very knowledgable and keeps the course easy to follow, however I felt the title was a bit misleading. This course could easily have been called, "A History of Judea before Christ". Very informative, but I though the professor would present a more concrete connection throughout the entire course.

14 people found this helpful

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Fascinating

Professor Magness is not the most dynamic of The Great Courses professors, but the insights, scholarship, and organization she brings to this series are outstanding, making it a fascinating listen.

Whether you are religious or not, whether you are Jewish or Christian or Muslim, if you are at all curious about how history is made, you will surely find this series riveting. I thought I knew a few things about biblical Israel, Roman antiquity, Jesus and ancient Judaism... but Professor Magness pulls it all together into a context that makes all of it make sense.

13 people found this helpful

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Great Jewish history. . Barely any Jesus

these lectures provided an excellent background to ancient Judaism. However, there is very little about Jesus in it by comparison. Almost all the lectures are focused on an aspect of Jewish history with a tiny tiny tiny bit of Jesus put in at the end of each lecture. The very last lecture is almost all about Jesus, although the Dead Sea Scrolls also play a prominent role. I don't necessarily agree with the professor's conclusions, but that's not the problem. It's really that the lectures are mistitled. It's really Judaism with a tiny bit of Jesus stuck on.

12 people found this helpful

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Not What I Expected

If you could sum up Jesus and His Jewish Influences in three words, what would they be?

Not about Jesus

What was one of the most memorable moments of Jesus and His Jewish Influences?

None

Which scene was your favorite?

None

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No

Any additional comments?

An excellent in depth history of the Jewish people. But it was not what I was looking for.

9 people found this helpful

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not quite what I was expecting

a lot of good information on the Jews before and after Jesus but not much relating specifically to Jesus. what there was was excellent but only a few chapters.

8 people found this helpful

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Fascinating and Riveting

The lecturer kept me engaged throughout the course, exceptionally well prepared and presented , with this indepth account of the Jewish influences in which Jesus carried out his ministry. Entire course is well founded in solid scholarship of early Judaism and early Christian thought.

7 people found this helpful

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  • Rustler Balfe
  • 12-31-15

Fascinating insights into ancient Jewish world

What did you like most about Jesus and His Jewish Influences?

The structure is rather satisfying in that individual chapters cover seperate topics that are interesting enough to standalone, but when stacked one after another - like lego - fit together to build a more and more '3D' model of the Jewish world and culture that shaped Jesus. It's quite an objective portrait that is neither Christian or Jewish in slant, but rather historical - insofar as that is possible for such a far-removed time.

Who was your favorite character and why?

It's too obvious to say Jesus, so I'll give a special mention to Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, because he is such an important source for first century Jewish history, which was particulary violent and traumatic for the Jews and culminated in their sacred temple being destroyed. Interestingly, Jews themselves were not much interested in Josephus, being somewhat of a traitor, and as his writings were historical in nature rather than religiously inclined. Thus, it was Christians who preserved his writings.

Which character – as performed by Professor Jodi Magness – was your favourite?

The audiobook is historical in nature, so the characters are not 'performed' as such, but there are many important historical figures featured relevant to the Jewish story. And what a tumultuous story it is! Uprisings, conquests, schisms, exiles. Biblical Patriarchs, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Assenes, Pharisees, Maccabees, Samaritans, Galileeans. Whilst it's historical and academic, it still manages to be dramatic and fascinating with many colourful characters and villains.

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Emotional is probably not the right word, but I was certainly intrigued. Everyone will draw something different from this course based on their perspective, but I'd highly recommend it to anyone interested in Jewish history from early Biblical times leading up to the destruction of the Second Temple and/or anyone interested in finally getting to the bottom of what the enigma wrapped inside a riddle that is Jesus Christ was like. Or even just ancient history or religion in general. Some key questions you might have about him will be answered outright. Some other ones will probably spring to mind, but that's part of the fun of it.

Any additional comments?

I found the narration irritatingly slow at first - almost patronisingly so. However, I came to appreciate the delivery and structure after a few chapters. There's a lot of info. packed into each chapter, and you need to concentrate to a certain extent to join up the dots. Long periods pass where Christ is not mentioned at all. Cultural and historical context is key. If you chopped Christ and Christian sources such as the New Testament out of this book, most of the audiobook would still be intact as a fascinating insight into Jewish history and culture - Torah, ritual purity, prophets, apocalyptic and messianic fervour, foreign rulers and persecution, exile, different sects such as the austere Essenes, ordinary peoples' lives etc. It's terrific.

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  • Tyrone
  • 04-13-17

just a voice crying from the internetness

Although she is a secular professor it would seem, the series came across very unbiased and very relevant to the facts which I haven't completely be convinced the other professor have been doing amongst the other series. this is a very good listen. as a matter of fact it's the second time I've listen to this in a month. I really do recommend to all in all walks of life!

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  • M. R. Frost
  • 04-10-16

Quite Outstanding

These series of lectures will appeal to anyone interested in the historical background of both the Old and New Testaments. They compliment the lectures of Prof. Ehrman and also open up a whole new field of biblical studies. I just hope Prof. Magness is invited to do another series.


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  • Amy
  • 04-16-22

Should be titled ‘Jesus in His Historical Context’

I was hoping to learn about them relationship of Jesus to Rabbinic Judaism, but this isn’t that course. Instead of talking about the relationship of the theology of the gospels to the rich context of contemporary Jewish theology, this is another historical Jesus course. It’s fine in its way, but I wish that it were more like what it’s title suggests.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 12-21-20

Very good, but found Title a little misleading

I enjoyed listening to this and learn't a lot, but expected it to be more about the second temple/first century background to Jesus.
Seemed at points to me to have dogmatic atheistic presumptions applied where more nuance would have been more welcome to me. For example I found the frequent repetition of the preface "According to the biblical writer" in a tone implying "This is what was written but of course we can't rely on it" off-putting - especially when this preface didn't seem to be consistently applied to other ancient material.
The Course title gave me the impression that the material on Jesus & his Jewish Influences would be a bigger focus, whereas I found it a minor part of the course. I found some of the conclusions re Jesus weak, but others very helpful - I especially liked her take on the purpose of the miracles of Jesus & some of the Qumran insights.
Her bible knowledge seemed very strong but not as if she was immersed in it, it felt at times as if she was coming at it from a distance. I found some assertions unnecessarily dogmatic - eg Dating of book of Daniel, Esther was fiction , Dating of book of Matthew, reasons for the Jesus birth narratives in Matthew & Luke, & the presumed Evolution of the Jewish religion from Polytheism to Monotheism.
Overall though despite my quibbles it gives a great general background to Jesus (oh yes & the Jewish revolt against the Romans was very interesting) & recommend the book for anyone interested in general Jewish history

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  • Ed
  • 06-04-17

fascinating

For any person interested in the origins and development of religion, this is essential reading.

it would be nice to have a further work around the place that the Jewish people had in the Greco-Roman world generally as this is very concentrated on Judea, but that's the inevitable wish for more having read something so important.

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  • jason b
  • 02-05-20

Worth a listen

overall these are interesting lectures. The lecturer does state initially that she is not a theologian, but does make a number of theological assertions.
Whilst everyone has a bias and complete objectivity is impossible. it is clear that Dr Magness does not beleive in the deity of Jesus, sometimes stating the difference between the "historical Jesus" and the "mythical Jesus".
Having said that Dr Magness does a fine job in her field of expertise.
great for expanding your knowledge on the new and old testament especially the 2nd Temple period.