This course was probably the worst that I have taken at Columbia in terms of the teacher's attitude. The readings were interesting some weeks, but the lectures were dry and boring and the grading was quite arbitrary. For example on the midterm I received a 20/45 on the essay portion, although she most likely had not read it (the comments stating I needed to certain address periods that I had dealt with such periods in great detail). I rewrote the essay but did not add more than five words and it suddenly changed to a 43/45, with the comments now being how it was a good essay for addressing all periods relevant to the question. If you are interested in the subject matter, I suggest you Pass/Fail or R the class, as no matter how well you do in your other classes or how much you study, you may be surprised by the final grade you get in this one. However, you really don't get much out of lecture, so it may just be better to do the reading on your own.
Professor Segal is a great professor and this class is always packed. Judiasm in the Time of Jesus explores many of the traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and the Biblical or historical stories behind them. Some students might be a little surprised by some of the thing Prof. Segal says, or maybe a little unwilling to admit that some of the things they have believed their entire life are very different in reality. He also examines the historical Jesus as opposed to the official institutional version of Jesus. He points out descrepancies in the Bible and uses his very critical approach in some instances to show that a story is unlikely to be true, and in others to show that something from a traditional story very likely did take place. His lectures are very interesting and the reading is not too bad at all. The essay topics also allow the students a lot of room to explore what interests them. I definitely recommend this class to anyone, especially if this is not your area of study and you want to learn about something new-the class is manageable and it might also open up your eyes!
In response to the previous review, he does not hate orthodox Jews. He just disagrees with them. He said that the author of one of the texts, who happens to be an orthodox Jew, is one of his good friends, and one of the guest lecturers, also a friend, was from an orthodox background. i think he's an ordained rabbi, or however you get to be a rabbi, too, so i think he just selects bits and pieces that he disagrees with in the orthodox philosophy, but harbors no general disdain. He is brilliant, but he doens't shove it in your face. He knows German, Hebrew, Greek, French, pieces of Italian, and of course, English. He knows everything there is to know about ancient Jewish civilization, and if you pay attention, you'll realize this. The material is pretty interesting, but i have a hard time caring sometimes because everything is so easy, and there's absolutely no motivation to do the reading except for overzealousness and extra time. He is incredibly sarcastic, so when he told one of the previous reviewers he aims to prove that religion is full of crap, he probably meant that any intellectual human being should ask questions about his or her religion and actively try to find answers, with the knowledge that sometimes there won't be any. Having taken Massad's class on Palestinian and Israeli politics and societies, this class was total cake in terms of offensiveness, except when the orthodox people in the class started spouting their "always right" views. That was more difficult than listening to Joseph Massad.