After the New Testament: The Writings of the Apostolic Fathers

Course No. 6537
Professor Bart D. Ehrman, Ph.D., M.Div.
The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
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Course No. 6537
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Course Overview

The writings that make up the New Testament stand at the very foundation of Christianity. In these 27 books that represent the earliest surviving literary works of the young church, we have what eventually came to be regarded as sacred scripture, the canon of what was to become the most powerful and influential religion in the history of Western civilization.

But while Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the other books of the New Testament are known to almost everyone, the writings that Christians produced in the decades that followed these earliest compositions remain shrouded in virtual anonymity—even though they are crucial to understanding the development of a religion that was shaped largely outside the pages of the New Testament itself.

As Professor Bart D. Ehrman points out, numerous doctrines that are familiar to Christians today, such as that of the Trinity, are not explicitly found in the New Testament. Neither are the church structures around which various Christian faiths, from Roman Catholic to Southern Baptist, are organized. And the ethical positions that form such a central part of Christian life today, such as those involving premarital sex or abortion, are likewise lacking in specific scriptural reference.

A Window to How Christianity Was Shaped

Who exactly were the Apostolic Fathers? Why were they given that name? Most important, what windows into the shaping of Christianity's canon, church hierarchy, and creed are opened for us with an understanding of works that include the letters of 1 Clement or Ignatius, the Didache of the Apostles, or the Letter to Diognetus?

In After the New Testament: The Writings of the Apostolic Fathers, Professor Ehrman answers these and many other questions as he introduces us to what is considered the most important collection of post-New Testament writings.

"The writings of the Apostolic Fathers are extremely valuable for understanding proto-orthodox theology, practice, ethics, ritual, social structure, reaction to persecution, and [Christianity's] relationship to the outside world. Without these books, our knowledge of the early Christian church is seriously impoverished. They are precious to anyone interested in learning about the history of early Christianity."

Proto-orthodoxy is the term Professor Ehrman uses to describe the theological viewpoint that would eventually win out and become the church's position. It wouldn't be accurate, though, to refer to the views represented by the Apostolic Fathers as orthodox—literally, "right opinion"—because at the time these works were being written, the argument had not yet been settled. The positions of the Apostolic Fathers represented simply one competing version of Christianity among many, and their eventual categorization as "orthodox" would be a retroactive one.

"The Apostolic Fathers are our earliest witnesses outside the New Testament for proto-orthodoxy with respect to the development of the canon, the clergy, and the creed. This form of Christianity came to be dominant, and ended up determining the shape of the Christian religion for all time," says Professor Ehrman.

Despite this key role, though, these are works whose influence has largely gone unnoticed, not only outside the faith, but within it, as well.

Largely Unread ... a Treasure Trove of Insights

"Most of these writings were unknown and unread throughout most of the history of Christianity," notes Professor Ehrman. "And, I might add, most of them are unknown and unread by most Christians today. Most Christians have never heard of these books, even though they're extremely important for understanding the development of Christianity after the New Testament period."

Professor Ehrman is the ideal candidate to rectify that situation, for Christians and non-Christians. A prolific author and lecturer whose previous offerings for The Teaching Company have ranged across the New Testament, the history of early Christianity—including the "lost" versions of the faith that were dismissed as the orthodox canon was being shaped—and the historical Jesus, he presents the material in a format that helps ensure that the importance of each work in the framework of Christianity's history comes through as clearly as its content.

Moreover, his gift for being able to make his material feel approachable and contemporary, with no sense of dryness or the lingering dust of antiquity, leaves little doubt as to why he has won several teaching awards, including the Bowman and Gordon Gray Award for Excellence in Teaching. Though always respectful of the religious weight of his subject matter, he is never timid in putting forth ideas and theories, and the result is both fascinating and provocative.

He has designed the course for maximum clarity, presenting the writings of the Apostolic Fathers in pairs, with the first lecture of each pair examining a specific written work and the second exploring the broader implications the work reveals for the development of Christianity.

The Apostolic Fathers bear that name because 17th-century scholars believed them to be companions or followers of the apostles—people from the next generation who had known the apostles earlier in their lives.

Some of the 10 or 11 authors (the eleventh, Quadratus, is survived by only a single sentence) traditionally included in the collection of Apostolic Fathers are well known, including Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna; others are anonymous. But each of them casts invaluable light onto the shaping of the religion that eventually converted the Roman Empire and became the major religious force of the Middle Ages.

A Struggle for Power and the Beginnings of Church Hierarchy

The Letter of 1 Clement is written from the Christian church of Rome to the church in Corinth in reaction to a power struggle. The Corinth church's elders had been deposed by new figures of authority, and the letter seeks to restore the former elders. Since the Corinthians had been the recipient of two letters from Paul that were later to be included in the New Testament, and since those letters indicated the then lack of a governing board of elders, 1 Clement is extremely valuable in revealing not only the movement toward a church hierarchy that would be in place by the Middle Ages, but also the clear movement of the church of Rome, in barely half a century, toward the pinnacle of that hierarchy.

The Letters of Ignatius, the early 2nd-century bishop of Antioch, have a completely different flavor. Ignatius has been arrested for Christian activities and sentenced to face the wild beasts of Rome's arena. As armed guards are escorting him to Rome, he sends seven letters to the churches that have sent supporters to meet with him along the way—letters that reveal his deep concerns for the church he will leave behind.

Most major among those concerns is a warning against "false teachers"—those teaching the "Judaizing" forms of Christianity that insisted that being fully Christian required first becoming a Jew. Such teaching had been prominent from the church's earliest times, even within some of Paul's own congregations, and may, in fact, have been the earliest form of Christian belief. By the time of Ignatius, however, it was considered heresy.

In a fascinating sidelight later in the course, Professor Ehrman tells the story of a furious 17th-century pamphlet war waged over the subject of Ignatius's letters. The debate featured a virtually unknown 32-year-old named John Milton—writing more than three decades before his great classic, Paradise Lost—and Archbishop James Ussher, the most famous and respected biblical scholar of his time.

Milton challenged Ussher's use of quotations from Ignatius, alleging that the collection of 13 letters then attributed to Ignatius was actually replete with so many forgeries that there was no way of telling what Ignatius had actually said. In the end, the quotations used by Ussher were confirmed as accurate, but Milton also received some vindication, as the number of letters shown actually to have been written by Ignatius was reduced to the seven accepted today.

The 19th-Century Discovery that Electrified Biblical Scholars

But the coming together of the writings covered in this course didn't necessarily always involve controversy. Electrifying discoveries played a part as well.

Such a discovery was made in 1873, when a Greek scholar doing research in the Library of the Holy Sepulchre in Constantinople uncovered a manuscript that some early Christians believed belonged in the New Testament itself, but which had been lost for centuries. The book, The Didache of the Apostles, contained a wealth of information, compiled from other texts that may date back as far as the year 100, about how early Christianity was actually practiced.

The word "didache" means teaching, and the teachings it contains are allegedly those of the apostles themselves. In any case, the book provides information about early Christianity about which scholars would otherwise be totally ignorant, including details about church organization, the practice of religious rituals, and rules of Christian behavior. In fact, the Didache has sometimes been called a "church manual" because of its detailed instructions.

Sometimes, though, text in the early Christian world was treated in a very different way, as Professor Ehrman brings out in his discussion of the Letter of 2 Clement. Authored by neither Clement, the bishop of Rome, nor by the author of the Letter of 1 Clement, this misnamed book is really an anonymous sermon that is based on what Professor Ehrman calls a creative reading from the Old Testament's Book of Isaiah.

Dr. Ehrman shows how the allegorical mode of interpretation used in the sermon enabled the preacher of the sermon to make the words of the original text apply to the situation affecting his own congregation, even though the subject matter was dramatically different. This kind of "presentist" interpretation was not unusual then and persists to this day in the interpretations of so-called "prophecy experts." As Professor Ehrman points out, this practice of allegorical reading eventually came under fire, as church leaders came to realize that if the meaning of a text can be taken in nonliteral ways, such readings can be used to support "false" teachings as well as true ones.

An understanding of how those teachings evolved—and how Christians put them into practice—is one of the great benefits these lectures provide. After the New Testament: The Writings of the Apostolic Fathers is an extremely useful addition to the shelves of anyone who is fascinated by the history of ancient Christianity and its evolution into the dominant religion it is today.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    Introduction to the Apostolic Fathers
    The lecture introduces a set of works from the decades after the writing of the books of the New Testament that give us important insights into how Christianity was developing in its earliest stages. x
  • 2
    The Letter of 1 Clement
    Though written anonymously, this letter, supposedly written by a bishop, is clearly written by someone in the Christian Church of Rome to the church in Corinth to solve a major problem in that community. x
  • 3
    Church Structures in Early Christianity
    The lecture discusses the obvious changes in church structure implied by 1 Clement when it is compared to earlier mentions of the community of Corinth in the letters of Paul. x
  • 4
    The Letters of Ignatius
    The letters of this early 2nd-century bishop of Antioch make interesting reading—they hold the final words of a Christian anticipating his death and imminent martyrdom. x
  • 5
    Doctrinal Problems in the Early Church
    This lecture examines "Judaizing" forms of Christianity in the early church—forms that came to be labeled heretical because they insisted that being fully Christian required becoming a Jew. x
  • 6
    Still Other Doctrinal Disputes
    We look at the problems raised by "docetic" views, which maintained that Jesus was so fully divine that he could not be a human with real flesh and blood, but only seemed human. x
  • 7
    The Letter of Polycarp to the Philippians
    One of Ignatius's letters mentions a possible act of embezzlement by a church leader. Ignatius appeals extensively to the Scriptures and argues that the love of money leads to evil. x
  • 8
    The Use of Authorities in the Early Church
    Polycarp's letter to the Philippians is significant for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the extensive use it makes of earlier Christian writings as authorities. x
  • 9
    The First Martyrology—Polycarp
    Polycarp of Smyrna is arguably the best known of the Apostolic Fathers. This detailed account of his arrest, trial, and execution as a martyr, evidently written by an eyewitness, is our first surviving example of Christian "martyrology" (account of a Christian's execution). x
  • 10
    The Persecution of the Christians
    The account of Polycarp's martyrdom introduces a broader consideration of the persecution and occasional martyrdom of early Christians, and discusses the accuracy of several commonly held beliefs, including whether Christians were, in fact, widely persecuted. x
  • 11
    A Church Manual—The Didache of the Apostles
    One of the most historically influential writings of the Apostolic Fathers, the Didache (teaching) of the apostles—a work written at about the time of the New Testament writings—gave Christians ethical instructions for how to live and practice their faith. x
  • 12
    Ritual in the Early Church
    This lecture considers the early Christian rituals described in the Didache, examining how they developed in the preceding decades, starting with the life of Jesus himself, and how they came to be fixed features in the life of the early Christian community. x
  • 13
    Barnabas and the Opposition to the Jews
    We examine this long and intriguing letter—which was allegedly written by Paul's traveling companion but dates, in fact, from the early 2nd century—and consider whether it is fair to describe it as an early instance of Christian anti-Semitism. x
  • 14
    The Rise of Christian Anti-Semitism
    This lecture traces the roots of anti-Jewish attitudes among some of Jesus' early followers in considering the reasons why Christianity was so quickly transformed from a sect within Judaism to an anti-Jewish religion. x
  • 15
    2 Clement—An Early Sermon
    Not a letter and not by Clement, this work is, instead, an anonymous sermon—the first surviving sermon outside of the New Testament to come down to us from early Christianity. x
  • 16
    The Use of Scripture in the Early Church
    This lecture examines how Scripture functioned for the early Christian communities, which, rather than taking a literal approach to text, often read it in figurative ways. x
  • 17
    Papias—An Early Christian Interpreter
    Questions of interpretation discussed in the previous lecture make a natural segue into the fragmentary writings of another Apostolic Father, Papias, including a number of legendary details about Jesus and his followers. x
  • 18
    Oral Tradition in Early Christianity
    This lecture considers the issue of oral tradition versus written text, including the problem of the oral circulation of traditions, as stories tend to be changed and embellished in the process of retelling. x
  • 19
    The Shepherd of Hermas—An Apocalypse
    This lecture focuses on one of the most popular writings among the Apostolic Fathers, particularly its persistent theme of whether a Christian can have a "second" chance with God if he or she sins after being baptized. x
  • 20
    Apocalypses in Early Christianity
    The Shepherd of Hermas is thoroughly imbued in apocalyptic thought; this gives us an opportunity to consider the major tenets of apocalypticism in both Jewish and Christian sources and the importance of apocalypticism for the early Christian movement. x
  • 21
    The Letter to Diognetus—An Apology
    The final writing of the Apostolic Fathers to be considered represents one of the earliest surviving instances we have of a Christian "apology," or reasoned defense of Christianity, aimed at the faith's despisers. x
  • 22
    Apologetics in Early Christianity
    This lecture considers some of the charges leveled against Christianity and explores how Christians not only defended themselves, but went even further, maintaining that only followers of Christ could inherit eternal life with God in heaven. x
  • 23
    The Apostolic Fathers as a Collection
    We consider several of the key issues that have emerged, with particular focus on what the Apostolic Fathers can tell us about the three pillars of the emerging church: Christianity's canon, creed, and clerical hierarchy. x
  • 24
    The Apostolic Fathers and Proto-orthodoxy
    This final lecture considers the historical significance of the Apostolic Fathers, whose writings reflected views that would ultimately win out in the struggle over what the Christian religion would eventually become. x

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Your professor

Bart D. Ehrman

About Your Professor

Bart D. Ehrman, Ph.D., M.Div.
The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Dr. Bart D. Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He completed his undergraduate work at Wheaton College and earned his M.Div. and Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary. Professor Ehrman has written or edited 27 books, including four best sellers on The New York Times list: Misquoting Jesus: The Story behind Who Changed the Bible and Why; God’s...
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Reviews

After the New Testament: The Writings of the Apostolic Fathers is rated 4.1 out of 5 by 51.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A concise pertinent review of a difficult topic. Discussion of the early history of any religion is difficult. Dr. Ehrman has a unique ability to present the pertinent aspects of Christianity in a manner that most everyone can understand and still appreciate how a particular topic fits into the overall scheme of historical development of that belief system. He adds his own enthusiasm to what may otherwise be a dull topic & gives it a new life.
Date published: 2017-05-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from History or Blasphemy? I'm dismayed that we even have to consider the question that I've chosen as my title. I'll say up front that I happen to be a believing Christian. Unlike some reviewers, I did not find Prof. Ehrman dismissive of or disrespectul toward traditional Christianity. Rather, his focus is on his topic: The writings of the Apostolic Fathers (early Christian leaders). If you are looking to hear what you already believe echoed, then you will be disappointed in this course. But if you are interested in learning something, this course offers a rare peek into the apostolic writings that did not end up in the Bible. Contrary again to what is claimed in some reviews, Dr. Ehrman examines in detail the writings of ten post-New Testament Christian leaders and thinkers and touches in less detail on a number of others. The course provides a fascinating insight into early Christian concerns, practices, concepts and personalities as Christianity spread from Palestine into (and eventually conquering) the Roman world. Prof. Ehrman's style will strike different people in different ways. I found him a little awkward at times as a lecturer, especially when he tried to crack a joke. Personally, I think he could have benefited from a more scripted approach. Others, however, will appreciate his conversational and friendly style. Prof. Ehrman, a former fundamentalist who now describes himself as a "happy agnostic," does not come across to me as anti-religious. Rather, he confines his lectures to the literature at hand and his interpretation of it. On a few particulars, my interpretation naturally differs. But we're talking about peripherals. The heart of Dr. Ehrman's course, despite frequent understandable venturing into Prof. Ehrman's speciality of Gnosticism, is precisely what it is advertised to be: An examination of the post-New Testament early Christian writings. I recommend it to curious Christians and non-Christians alike.
Date published: 2017-03-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from If you want to learn and understand This course is for those who wish to gain understanding and appreciation of a penetrating view of the early Christian world.
Date published: 2016-11-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Ehrman on Apostolic Fathers As with his other lectures on biblical studies, Dr. Ehrman provides a very strong historical track of the Early Apostolic fathers, their writings, and their influence on the history of the early Christian Church. In this lecture, only very specific, and the most famous, of the writings of the early church fathers are discussed; what is not there in breadth is there in depth. Each lecture (or series of lectures) gives the listener great information on the current track of the Christian Church, and how the writings were responded to at the time and over the course of the next several centuries. For those interested in Early Church History, I can highly recommend not only this series, but any of Dr. Ehrman's other lectures on the various topics presented.
Date published: 2016-10-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another Great One from Dr Ehrman I have taken several other courses by Dr Ehrman and this one is every bit as good as the others, if not better. I learned some new stuff that wasn't in the other courses and this is exactly what I'm after as I try to understand the time & people of early Christianity. Dr Ehrman is enjoyable to watch and very thorough in his explanations. I recommend this one highly.
Date published: 2016-10-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Worthy subject and reasonable presentation My advice is to work through these lectures with Dr. Ehrman's translation available through the Loeb Classical Library for maximum benefit.
Date published: 2016-01-31
Rated 2 out of 5 by from In this course, Professor Ehrman was heavily and obviously biased against the traditional Christian view that the Bible is true and authoritative. This led him to present numerous arguments that were either irrelevant or controversial to many Christian intellectuals. This is the first and only course so far that I definitely plan to return. Some of the information is good. And exposing modern thinkers -- Christian and non-Christian -- to what the early church fathers wrote and thought is very important, and probably difficult to do well. (Thus, thanks to the TC for creating a course on this key topic!). But the teacher simply could not contain his bias, and even his mocking attitude toward the early Christians in a few cases. Yet since many people do not believe the Bible to be God's Word, some might appreciate this course. For that reason, I want to STRONGLY request that the TC enlists a conservative Christian professor to join Professor Ehrman in creating a new edition of this course. This teacher should be someone who believes in the Bible's claims about itself, and can demonstrate that belief from an intellectual and historical viewpoint. The new course could easily consume 36 lectures, with each professor teaching 18 of them from their own perspective on the apostolic fathers in particular, and thus the Bible and early Christianity in general. If the TC did this, I would eagerly repurchase this course in the future! Thank you, and God bless!
Date published: 2015-05-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Valuable Insight into Early Christian Development Anyone interested in obtaining a better idea of early Christian development -- long before the official canon of the New Testament was established -- could benefit from this informative course. Dr. Erhman's lectures are well-organized, raise fascinating -- sometimes, as in the case of early anti-Semitism, disturbing -- points, and are presented in a vigorous but never off-putting manner. The "Apostolic Fathers" were persons who were for centuries mistaken as being people who had actually known the disciples of Jesus. However, rather than being second generation Christians (i.e., middle of the first century folks), scholars have determined that they were actually writers from the very late first century into the second third of the second century and that, therefore, none of them actually did know any of the first disciples. That does not mean that their writings hold little of interest, however, as they provide interesting insights into evolving church structures and doctrines with interesting differences from what we can discern from the writings of Paul (50's and 60's) and in comparison to latter forms found after the Council of Nicea in 325. There are two principle lessons I take from this course: First, that the wide differences among today's Christians about doctrine and ritual are relatively mild compared to the turmoil (and excitement) of these earlier days. As Dr. Ehrman emphasizes, Christians have ALWAYS differed among themselves over important matters. Second, if so much of what the earliest Christian communities believed has come in our own time to seem a tad "simple" or "improbable," perhaps we should be a tad more modest about our own claims to "knowing" what Jesus actually said, taught, or meant. Is it not possible that future generations will also have evolved different understandings than we in many ways? I think this to be more probable than not. I benefited from having first taken Professor Ehrman's course, "Lost Christianities," as many of the same issues and themes are studied in this course. For instance, in "Lost Christianities" he explores the many variants within the earliest Christian communities as to how they saw Jesus: as only human, as only a divine figure, and as some kind of combination of each. Also, since Christianity evolved from within Judaism, there were many -- especially before the destruction of Jerusalem and the great Temple in the year 70 -- who believed that, since Jesus was the fulfillment of Jewish expectations of their messiah, persons who claimed to follow Jesus had to also become converted to Judaism as well. As we can see early from Paul's writings, others took the exact opposite view: it was NOT necessary to become Jewish in order to follow Jesus. In that course, as he traced some of the continuing evolution of these central disputes, Professor Ehrman cited some of the writings he gives central attention to in this course on the Apostolic Fathers. Whereas, in this course on the Apostolic Fathers, he often cites -- and more briefly states the positions of -- those understandings and persons on which he dealt with in greater depth in "Lost Christianities." In both courses, he also asks some interesting questions that are fun to ponder: How would our understanding of Jesus be different, for example, if some of these earlier -- now regarded as non-canonical -- writings had been included in what became the New Testament? Conversely, how differently would we understand Jesus if some of the books in the New Testament as we have it today had been excluded back in the 4th century? In sum, both of these courses contribute to a fresh look at what many might assume to be fixed and settled issues. How wondrous to realize that such is not so, by any means!
Date published: 2015-02-04
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Irreverent - Irrelevant I have the audio version-the only good decision I made on this course. He seems to enjoy mocking; he ridicules and makes other irreverent and irrelevant comments. The course starts out fine but then goes down hill. You wonder why he made this course and you wonder why you spent money on it. There is some information of value- but you have to wade through a lot of 'stuff' to find it. Better to buy a good theology book.
Date published: 2015-02-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from The Apostolic Fathers This course gave a wonderful overview of early Christian documents. The brief description of the themes of the early writers put a nice perspective on the development and convictions of early Christians. I would recommend this course to others if they have a strong understanding of modern textual criticism and the deficiencies that go along with textual criticism. This recommendation is due to the authors Eusebian beliefs about manuscript authenticity and formation. Overall, the course was rewarding in its discussion of the content of early Christian manuscripts.
Date published: 2015-01-14
Rated 1 out of 5 by from This course is not about the apostolic fathers. The lectures fail to deal with the text and content of the apostolic fathers. This course is not recommended. There are supposedly two 30 minutes lectures for each document in the apostolic fathers. The titles suggest that one deals with content and the other with interpretation. Unfortunately, Ehrman spends precious little time actually talking about the apostolic fathers. He instead spends much time mocking ridiculous Christian teaching and practice. One should expect an introduction to these topics: general content, manuscript evidence, sources, genre, structure, authorship, dating, interpretations, historical backgrounds, or theology of the apostolic fathers. These topics comprise about 15% of the lectures. The student is left to learn most of this material elsewhere or not at all. This is a significant failure of this video course. This is not a course on the apostolic fathers.
Date published: 2014-12-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from After the New Testament: The Writings of the Apost Just received course, being the Christmas Season, have not the study time in more detail. Quick review of the material seems to be another enjoyable experience from the Great Courses.
Date published: 2014-12-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding, As Ever - Fascinating and Instructive This is an outstanding course - as are all of Professor Ehrman's. The subject is one which I find inherently fascinating - the early history of one of the world's major religions - even though I am not religious myself. It is engrossing to follow the winding course, conflicts, and partings and joinings of the ways which characterize the first years of the remarkable institution of Christianity, which many incorrectly assume to have followed a more-or-less direct path from Jesus to the present (or at least to the Reformation.) This course has a narrower focus than those of Professor Ehrman's other contributions. Do not confuse the Apostolic Fathers with the later Greek and Latin Church Fathers who are much more widely known, including the likes of Origen, Ambrose, and Augustine. The Apostolic Fathers were earlier figures (although later than the apostles.) As the good professor notes, "most of these writings were unknown and unread throughout most of the history of Christianity" (quote from the Course Guidebook, Lecture 23), and are still unknown and unread by most of those lacking a particular interest in early church history. Yet as Professor Ehrman also notes, and demonstrates throughout the course, they are well worth studying. Although, by definition, their views are uniformly "proto-orthodox" - that is, they championed those early Christian beliefs which later became orthodox for Roman Catholicism - their writings provide insight into the myriad of conflicting beliefs and practices which contended for dominance in the first few centuries of Christianity. Professor Ehrman is an exceptional teacher, one of TGC's best. He is clear, deeply knowledgeable, and beautifully organized, and he speaks with an expressiveness and enthusiasm which will consistently hold your interest. I particularly appreciate his brief statements of where each lecture is heading, and the to-the-point summaries at each lecture's end. The Course Guidebook is very well done, with fairly complete lecture notes, as well as a timeline, glossary, and biographical notes for key figures. So - this course has my highest recommendation for any with an interest in Christian church history, or for any with a more general interest in how the major belief structures of humanity have developed.
Date published: 2014-04-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting but wanders I purchased this CD set out of interest in the history of the early church but must admit I was disappointed at the presentation. Throughout the lecture Dr. Ehrman allows his disdane for traditional Christian teachings to show through. I can deal with that, having always been open to listening to different viewpoints, even ones that differ strongly from my own. The lecturer's viewpoint aside, I was expecting the course to focus on the writings of the Apostolic fathers. This is not the case. Dr. Ehrman spends most of the course discussing material contained in the New Testament and his views regarding that material. He will begin to discuss one of the apostolic fathers then quickly change direction and begin to discuss the New Testament. When he does stick to the subject at hand the lectures are informative and I would rate them highly. I wish he had spent more of the course on this subject! There are other lectures in the Great Courses focusing on the New Testament and if that was what I had wanted to learn about I would have purchased one of those.
Date published: 2012-11-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another Brilliant Course from Dr Ehrman ! This course covers a strategically important period in the development of Christianity in the two centuries following Christ's death. With his usual expertise and aplomb, Dr Bart Ehrman details some of the early writings which reflect the teachings of the new religion and its shaping after the original disciples had passed from the scene, leaving the religion in "new" hands. It's worthwhile to know in advance that Ehrman is an atheist, a former Protestant, and in fact now a very strong critic of Christianity ~ he does NOT conduct this course as a believer, it is not a sermon and treatise on the early church, and for this reason some believers may not warm to his style. However, Ehrman is fair and logical; he treats the writings objectively, as a historian, and explains all his points carefully. This lecturer is widely acclaimed as a foremost authority on Christianity, and rightly so. He has a hugely powerful academic background, including a grounding in ancient languages (Greek, Latin, Hebrew for example) and obviously has a very deep, sincere, ongoing attachment and even reverence for his subject matter. These lectures are dynamic and even revealing I'd say. For anyone wanting to learn the trends in the "teachings" of Christianity in the early years, this is an essential course. Highly recommended as are all the other Great Courses by Dr Bart Ehrman.
Date published: 2012-09-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from good followup to studies of the New Testament I definitely recommend this course. I give it a "5" in value, provided you've viewed Ehrman's New Testament course first or perhaps after you've read Ehrman's book on the New Testament. You really need that kind of background material to fully appreciate the material in this course. If you just jump into this material without the right background, it's not going to make as much sense ("4" value rating). I found Ehrman to present excellent lectures in a very confident manner. He definitely knows his material. The controversies that erupted in the very early Christian churches are not well understood by most Christians today, but some understanding of these events are really needed to appreciate how and why the Church has evolved into the present day. This course is for someone who is really serious about learning more about the development of Christian theology.
Date published: 2012-08-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great learning experience This is a fabulous course as all of Ehrman's courses have been so far. Be warned that this is not a sunday sermon, it is intended as a study of the material and the process of accumulation of choices of material to be included in the Bible. The course was very useful and we have watched it a couple of times and gotten many stimulating conversations from the content. Too many of the religious discussions seem to start by assuming the absolute validity of everything that a group of men decided to put in the Bible. This is a reasoned discussion of the process and the players involved. Thus it will necessarily seem controversial to those people. If you want history, this is the series. Other courses from Bart Ehrman are equally interesting (if you are interested in history) or offensive (if you only want a confirmation of a particular set of religious views). The first group should get this and the second group should avoid it.
Date published: 2012-06-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting Background to Christian History This course provided a discussion of a less frequently discussed area of Christian history -- the writings of those people who scholars believed to be associated with the apostles. These writings are some of the earliest writings of the Church. Prof. Ehrman discussed these writings very effectively. His lectures were clear and organized. He provided a nice guidebook and bibliography. Based on other reviewers comments, it is important to understand Prof. Ehrman's background. On archived interviews on the Colbert Report, he has described himself as an agnostic. In this course and in other courses by TTC, he indicates that his view of Jesus is that Jesus can best be viewed as an apocalyptic prophet. I would recommend this course for students who are okay listening to a professor with those views. A quick read of the other reviews for this course indicates that if one is not okay with that, then one might struggle with this course.
Date published: 2012-05-02
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Dismissive of the Christian Church When I read the course description and decided to order the course, there was no indication there, that Professor Ehrman has a very unsympathetic attitude toward the early Church, and to what he calls proto-Christianity. He in fact seems quite skeptical and dismissive about the validity of the early Church’s development, and its struggle to stay true to the proclamation of Jesus Christ, crucified. Ehrman's interpretations of the writings seem to be based on his opinion that there was no continuity between the early Church’s origins and doctrines, and the Jewish Tradition out of which they arose, or the growth of a coherent faith, practice, and doctrine, based on the teachings of the Apostles. He seems to interpret the early apostolic fathers’ writings from the perspective that most early "Christians" were gentiles, just doing their own thing, creating various different interpretations of the Good news, rather than trying to stay true to the faith as depicted in the testimony of the New Testament writings. He even makes statements about what was supposedly "in the mind of Jesus", Jesus' personal expectations, and how they just didn’t work out as he had expected. Dr. Ehrman totally ignores the contents of the Acts of the Apostles when discussing his idea that church leadership and authority were imposed only at the beginning of the 2nd century, whereas Acts speaks of the apostles choosing presbyters and deacons.
Date published: 2012-02-28
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Hoped for One Thing--Got Another I hoped to have a course that dealt with the actual writings of the early church fathers and good background information about their lives and times. The course delivered some of this, but the professor spent too much time on his personal opinions regarding the reliability of the New Testament and other bible texts. Before buying this course, you will be well advised to research the books he has authored. Then you can make an informed decision on whether or not this course is an investment you want to make.
Date published: 2011-02-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Pleasant Diversion This course is an enlightening survey of diverse Christian writings and Christian history in the first few generations after the Apostles. It is a time before a unified "orthodox" belief and before a unified Church organization. Christian communities were dealing with internal problems and occasional persecution while attempting to practice and develop their religion. It is a crucial time for Christianity, for all of the Apostles and disciples who actually knew Jesus are dead, leaving the fledgling Church to find its way without a clear "final authority," because the New Testament has not yet been compiled. Professor Ehrman guides us through a variety of not-quite-Scriptural texts, describing both the content and the context in which each was written. Ehrman intersperses his lectures on specific writings with lectures that explore particular issues of early Christianity in greater depth, providing a far more complete picture that the texts alone could provide. Ehrman's style is casual (almost a bit too casual sometimes), but at the same time he is clearly knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the subject matter, and comes over very well on audio disk. He approaches the material from the perspective of an historian, and offers analysis and conclusions based on the historical and textual evidence -- which may conflict with religious/theological interpretation and tradition. Overall, this is a short, pleasant course about a little-known topic. It is well worth the time for students of early Christian history or the history of the Roman Empire in the early Christian era.
Date published: 2010-09-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Informative View of an Unknown Topic I knew almost nothing about the Apostolic Fathers going into this course. I felt that Professor Ehrman did a good job of covering all the major writings of the time. As some other commentors mentioned, it is a little frustrating when Professor Ehrman laughs off conflicting view points. I also found it difficult to assess his positions on the topics. At some points he seems to propone certain beliefs, and at other times to discredit those very same beliefs.
Date published: 2009-07-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Valuable Background in Church History Dr. Ehrman addresses an important stretch of Christian history – that of the first century or so after the New Testament writers. New Testament commentaries frequently cite the authors about whom Dr. Ehrman teaches but I have never seen anyone bring the era and the authors together as well as he does. Before purchasing this course, the listener should be aware of Dr. Ehrman’s perspective. He is a former evangelical Protestant (attended Wheaton) who now considers himself “a liberal professor from Chapel Hill.” (Lecture 18) He says that Jesus is “best understood to be an apocalyptic prophet.” (Lecture 17) In short, Dr. Ehrman is a critic of the religion he studies. If you’re OK with that, this is a good course. If you are looking for an orthodox seminary course, you need to go to an orthodox seminary. One minor disappointment: Dr. Ehrman has an annoying habit of laughing at opinions he wants to dismiss. That’s too bad because he is a good enough scholar that he doesn’t need to mock opinions with which he disagrees.
Date published: 2009-06-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Informative This course gives us an informative view of an underappreciated chapter in Christian history.
Date published: 2009-06-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Really Good (though not great) Erhman Course This course is not as compelling as Erhman's other courses. But I'm very glad I bought it. That is, the material is bit dry at times, but it really fills in the gaps created by the other histories of Christianity and the Bible. It helps to explain in better detail how and why Christianity evolved from a diffuse collection of writings and practices into a more coherent religion, with a dominant philosophy and institutions. I'd also recommend the course "Augustine: Philosopher and Saint" Taught by Phillip Cary. Really good! It helped me understand how & why Augustine was so influential and pivotal in Christianity And also: Reason & Faith: Philosophy in the Middle Ages Taught by Thomas Williams. He explains how Christianity matured from a purely spiritual and religious impulse into a more intellectual pursuit. He describes how religious thinkers tried to reconcile and synthesize early Christianity with the ancient Greek and Roman thought that still dominated intellectual life at the time. But back to Ehrman. His lecture style is amazing. He speaks clearly and concisely. He begins each lecture with questions and puzzles, which he then goes on to answer. He discusses alternative views, and carefully weighs the evidence between different theories and explanations. In doing so, he creates an ongoing sense of creative tension in the lecture that is almost like a good intellectual drama or mystery show. I highly recommend his other lectures!
Date published: 2009-03-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from golden bridge i am a japanese woman who is a big fan of the teaching company's. i was really impressed by the review by mr./ms joer. i think he or she just hit the nail on the head, i mean, true believer. professor ehrman's work has been to analyze and historisize that kind of great human mentality by way of the greatest religion, christilanity. and i think this lecture is quite successful for that purpose. there has been no single christianity actually, and a dozen of the apostolic fathers described here were a kind of golden bridge between first and second-stage christianity. oddly enough, we have had a quite limited information about them. this lecture is playing a role of a spot light to this fathers (some of them were actually martyred). i love mr./ms joer. i study christianity because i respect him or her much.
Date published: 2009-03-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very interesting and insightful Prof. Ehrman does a great job of presenting he earliest writings outside of the Christian cannon. His presenation and insight into these writings and times was very well done and informative and done in a manner that does not require great prior knowledge. The only issue I have is with his non-writing discussion, especially at the end. He tends to take a fairly hard viewpoint and doesn't seem to allow for disagreement to his position (much like many college professors I've known). Even when it's a stretch, his style on these areas can be condescending. It doesn't take away from the wealth of knowledge you gain from these lectures, it just is a bit off-putting if you're not expecting it.
Date published: 2009-01-29
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Unorthodox Presentation This is the first Teaching Company course I have listened to that I have not thoroughly enjoyed. From very early on it was clear that Professor Ehrman is an anti-christian apologist, making it very odd why a) the Teaching Company would have him lecture on this subject and b) Bart would spend the energy of his life studying something he thought was not true rather than seeking what he thought was true. After listening to these lectures one feels that one has received "straw-man" arguments and that the content has not received a fair hearing. I have yet to take a Teaching Company course on another religion. When I do I hope that it will be taught by a proponent of the religion rather than an enemy so that I am taught a genuine position.
Date published: 2009-01-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Glimpse into an Important Period of Christianity Before listening to this course I had heard several of Prof Ehrman's courses and read one of his books. I found and find him totally captivating. This course was even more impressive to me because it gave me insights into a period of early Christianity that I was unfamilar with and I think many people are unfamiliar with. I am sure that his lectures and books will trigger strong reactions but I find that to be a positive as long the person causing the reaction is backed up by facts and careful analysis which I believe Prof Ehrman is. The Teaching Company also offers courses by Prof Johnson who approaches the issues of early Christianity in a more orthodox manner so it would be prudent to listen to both to get a balanced view.
Date published: 2009-01-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from In the Beginning Prof Ehrman isn’t the most polished lecturer. He has a slightly stiff delivery. However, Prof Ehrman has a true gift for guiding the listener through some hard-nosed historical analysis of primary sources. Do not expect a narrative history from this course. This is a course about the primary sources that scholars like Prof Ehrman use to develop the narrative histories the rest of us read. This is a fascinating series of descriptions of important writings from early Christianity which Prof Ehrman then uses to provide a window into early Christian history. Prof Ehrman argues that Christianity didn’t emerge fully formed during the lifetime of Jesus and the Apostles but required centuries of theological debate (and invective) to establish what are today core doctrines. Anything that touches the study of a living religion can be a source of offense and controversy but Prof Ehrman does an excellent job of both bracketing his personal religious opinions and being sensitive to those of others.
Date published: 2009-01-02
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