Fall of the Pagans and the Origins of Medieval Christianity

Course No. 3466
Professor Kenneth W. Harl, Ph.D.
Tulane University
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Course No. 3466
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Course Overview

Why did pagan Rome, which had a history of tolerating other faiths, clash with early Christians? What was it like, under Roman law, to be a Jew or a Christian? What led to the great persecutions of Christians? Above all else, how did Christianity ultimately achieve dominance in the Roman Empire, eclipsing paganism in one of the most influential turning points in the history of Western civilization?

Answers to these and similar questions are important for the sheer fact that much of today's world is still governed by principles drawn from the Judeo-Christian heritage that gained primacy as a result of Christianity's triumph over the paganism of ancient Rome. Two thousand years after this earth-shattering change, many of these principles still determine how most of today's Western world—both Christian and non-Christian alike—thinks about ethics, sin, redemption, forgiveness, progress, and so much more.

Discover the true story behind this ethical and religious legacy with The Fall of the Pagans and the Origins of Medieval Christianity, a historically focused discussion of the dramatic interaction between Judaism, Christianity, and paganism from the 1st to the 6th centuries. Presented by Professor Kenneth W. Harl of Tulane University—an award-winning teacher, classical scholar, and one of the most esteemed historians on The Great Courses faculty—these 24 lectures allow you to explore in great depth the historical reasons that Christianity was able to emerge and endure and, in turn, spark a critical transition for religion, culture, and politics.

An All-Encompassing Picture of a Critical Era

While the Judeo-Christian values that have shaped society's ideas are ones we might today take for granted, their emergence from an ancient era dominated by loyalties to a vast array of gods would once have seemed the most unlikely of narratives. Even after the Roman emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in A.D. 312, it would not be until the 6th-century reign of Justinian that medieval Christianity would emerge and this new historical pathway would finally be confirmed.

Professor Harl's magnificent course enables you to grasp the full historical sweep of this monumental transition by creating an all-encompassing picture of this critically important era. While some philosophical and theological content is included to clarify important points of transition, the focus of The Fall of the Pagans and the Origins of Medieval Christianity is—above all else—on its most important and fascinating episodes, among which are these:

  • Emperor Nero's rescript in A.D. 64, which not only ordered the persecution of Christians in the city of Rome but also made the faith illegal throughout the empire. As the first religion ever banned in the Roman world, Christianity would be forced to develop new institutions and new ways of spreading its message.
  • The Battle of the Milvian Bridge in A.D. 312, where Emperor Constantine won a victory described in the only two literary accounts—both written by Christian authors—as having been deliberately fought under the Christian symbol of the Chi Ro. Professor Harl offers a probing analysis of what he believes Emperor Constantine's real motives were for fighting in this battle.
  • The reign of Theodosius I (A.D. 379 to 395), under which laws were passed banning public sacrifice throughout the Roman Empire and making Christianity the only legitimate religion. This crucial reign, according to Professor Harl, signified not only the death knell of Roman paganism but the first steps in the creation of the persecuting society of medieval Europe.

New Insights into the Sources of Western Beliefs

The Fall of the Pagans and the Origins of Medieval Christianity also introduces you to a wide variety of individuals whose actions helped shape the history of this turbulent time, including these:

  • Rulers like Augustus and Justinian, whose decisions would define—and redefine—the relationship between paganism, Judaism, and Christianity and how Jews and Christians would subsequently respond through words, deeds, and rituals
  • Proselytizers for the new faith, including James and Paul, and the different viewpoints they represented in the development of early Christianity
  • Religious thinkers such as Clement and Origen, who would go on to become the first theologians of the emerging Christian faith
  • Ascetics such as Saint Anthony and Barsauma, a warlike monk said to be so terrifying that he could inspire conversions in the villages of Syria and Phoenicia through the sheer fear raised by his arrival
  • Philosophical thinkers such as Galen, who was also a noted pagan critic of the new Christian faith and thus an active participant in the exchanges with Christian apologists that served to educate and hone the arguments put forth by both sides

You'll also witness Christianity's growing influence on not only the visual arts (including architecture and the redesignation of pagan temples for Christian uses) but on the world of letters, including, ironically, the preservation of the classical writings of ancient Greece so important to understanding the pagan world.

A Masterful Historian, an Exceptional Teacher

Professor Harl is the ideal choice for crafting such an all-encompassing picture of this critically important era. In addition to garnering honors for his skills as a lecturer—which include two-time recognition as the recipient of Tulane University's Sheldon Hackney Award for Excellence in Teaching, voted on by both students and faculty—he regularly leads students to Turkey on educational excursions or as assistants on excavations of Hellenistic and Roman sites.

His own photographs of temples and other architectural features, cult statues, coins, and other telling artifacts bring the history and the events in this course to vivid life. Combined with a rich array of other visual aids, including maps, illustrations, and animations, these features help make The Fall of the Pagans and the Origins of Medieval Christianity a vibrant trek through the past—one that will lead you to a deeper understanding of the bedrock beliefs of Western culture.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    Religious Conflict in the Roman World
    The Christianization of the Roman world is one of the most important turning points in Western civilization. This lecture introduces you to the issues you will consider and the scholars whose seminal theories serve as the gateways to the course's different lines of exploration. x
  • 2
    Gods and Their Cities in the Roman Empire
    How were pagan gods worshiped in ancient Rome? Using evidence both literary and archaeological, grasp the diverse assortment of religious practices in an empire that ranged from Britain to Egypt and comprised a fifth of the world's population. x
  • 3
    The Roman Imperial Cult
    Learn how Rome's first emperor, Augustus, established an institution to venerate an emperor's spirit, or genius, which would then reside as a god on Mount Olympus. See how emperors took pains to deify their predecessors so as to position themselves next among that honored line. x
  • 4
    The Mystery Cults
    Mystery cults were believed to be the worship to a particular god and involved the choice to join and undergo an initiation rite. You examine specific cults and the controversial question of whether they did, in fact, form a bridge between paganism and Christianity, as some scholars maintain. x
  • 5
    Platonism and Stoicism
    Understand the powerful influence of philosophy—particular Platonism and Stoicism—on the morality and conduct of Rome's ruling classes. It was an influence rarely matched in the Western tradition, with even Christian theologians employing the doctrines of these two philosophical schools in defining their own faith. x
  • 6
    Jews in the Roman Empire
    What role did Judaism play in the Roman Empire? Learn how Rome's experience with this stalwart monotheistic faith—the first it had encountered—differed from the challenge of the Christian faith that would emerge from it. x
  • 7
    Christian Challenge—First Conversions
    Experience the first years of efforts to convert people to Christianity. Begin with the early leadership by James of those who were often called Jewish Christians and continue with the career of Paul, from his own conversion after a vision to his work propagating the message of Jesus. x
  • 8
    Pagan Response—First Persecutions
    Learn about early responses to Christianity, from the violent persecutions in Rome under Nero to the legalistic and easily avoided persecutions under later emperors. Grasp, too, the consequences of Roman ignorance of Christianity and the eventual momentum that ignorance would eventually give the new faith. x
  • 9
    Christian Bishops and Apostolic Churches
    Nero's outlawing of a specific religion—unprecedented in Roman history—forced Christians to discover new ways to proselytize. Discover how the ideas of apostolic succession and a recognized canon shaped the voice with which Christianity could speak to the world. x
  • 10
    Pagan Critics and Christian Apologists
    Explore how both Christianity's pagan critics and its apologists reveals not only an evolution in pagan understanding of the new faith but a corresponding increase in the sophistication of the writings set forth by those defending it. x
  • 11
    First Christian Theologians
    Examine the work of Saint Clement, who established Christianity's claim to equality with the pagans as heirs to classical intellectual culture, and of Origen, whose ability to argue in Platonic terms and contributions to defining the canon make him one of the most important thinkers in Christian history. x
  • 12
    Imperial Crisis and Spiritual Crisis
    The stability and peace of the Roman Empire was shattered with the assassination of Severus Alexander, and the ensuing political and military crisis transformed the Roman world. Many have maintained that this crisis paved the way for large-scale Christian conversion, but there are tantalizing arguments to the contrary. x
  • 13
    The Great Persecutions
    Analyze two great periods of empire-wide persecution distinct from the largely localized ones examined earlier. Learn how Christian martyrdom was perceived very differently by the pagan and Christian communities, and that its ability to bring about conversions may have been minimal. x
  • 14
    The Spirit of Late Paganism
    Explore how the spiritual life of paganism fared during the political and military crises examined in the preceding lectures. See how these had an impact on not only pagan worship but also the intellectual work of pagan philosophers like Plotinus and the emergence of an independent religion known as Manichaeism. x
  • 15
    Imperial Recovery under the Tetrarchs
    The 20-year period known as the Tetrarchy—during which the emperor Diocletian shared imperial power with three colleagues--was critical to the Roman Empire, ending civil war and invasion, restoring order and prosperity, and giving Rome something it had never had: a principle of succession. x
  • 16
    The Conversion of Constantine
    Analyze one of the most decisive turning points in Roman history and of Western civilization. Interpret the legendary story as it has come down to us in light of recent scholarship and what we now understand about Constantine's world and the forces that would have motivated him. x
  • 17
    Constantine and the Bishops
    See how the same principle that had always steered Rome's efficient use of power—absorbing institutions rather than simply crushing them—was used to create a new hierarchy within the Roman imperial system from the existing network of apostolic churches. x
  • 18
    Christianizing the Roman World
    How and why did Constantine set about making the Christian faith central to Roman life? See how his vision unfolded in multiple areas, including the reshaping of the urban landscape to claim public and religious space, economic changes, and the use of pilgrimages and Christian missionary activity. x
  • 19
    The Birth of Christian Aesthetics and Letters
    Explore how Christians managed to alter the cultural heritage of their pagan past—including architecture and the visual and literary arts—in ways that made this heritage distinctly Christian while still preserving as much of it as possible. x
  • 20
    The Emperor Julian and the Pagan Reaction
    Experience what happened when a Christianizing Roman world was told by their new emperor that decades of change would be undone and that Rome's religious and cultural history would again be reversed, this time turning back to paganism and a restoration of the old gods. x
  • 21
    Struggle over Faith and Culture
    Grasp how the death of Julian the Apostate—and the end of his short-lived program to restore paganism's dominant role—forced the empire to grapple with two all-encompassing questions: Could the Constantinian revolution in fact be reversed? What religion would take charge in the Roman world? x
  • 22
    New Christian Warriors—Ascetics and Monks
    Take in the different perceptions of asceticism by pagans and Christians and how Christian ascetics and monks, in particular, proselytized and won conversions to Christianity with a power and influence that even the Roman Empire could not have matched. x
  • 23
    Turning Point—Theodosius I
    Witness the crucial turning point in the spread of Christianity in the Roman world. Three new laws opened the floodgates for the destruction of pagan sanctuaries, a ban on public sacrifices, and the declaration of Nicene Christianity as the only legitimate faith and a requirement for citizenship. x
  • 24
    Justinian and the Demise of Paganism
    Learn how Justinian, even in a Roman world still predominantly pagan, implemented a "persecuting society" that would ensure, by the time of his death, a Western world where being civilized was defined as being Christian, as were its notions of the divine and the ethical. x

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Your professor

Kenneth W. Harl

About Your Professor

Kenneth W. Harl, Ph.D.
Tulane University
Dr. Kenneth W. Harl is Professor of Classical and Byzantine History at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he teaches courses in Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Crusader history. He earned his B.A. from Trinity College and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Yale University. Recognized as an outstanding lecturer, Professor Harl has received numerous teaching awards at Tulane, including the coveted Sheldon H. Hackney Award. He has...
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Reviews

Fall of the Pagans and the Origins of Medieval Christianity is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 80.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent! Excellent course. Very engaging lecturer. I'll definitely listen to this one again in the future.
Date published: 2018-09-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting perspective I love all of Professor Harl's course, because he is organized, funny, enthusiastic and he conveys spontaneity while providing a wealth of relevant detail. I particularly appreciate getting the pagan of view. The pagans lost out to the Christians and unfortunately it can be hard to get the point of view of the culture that didn't survive. But Professor Harl gave details from this losing side of history not just the winners.
Date published: 2018-09-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A good perspective: Pagans falling, not Rome Professor Harl is one of the best 5-star teacher. Please note; no disrespect meant for the many other TGC teachers I have listened to. Professor Harl can definitely present his point of view in strong ways. However, I disagree with the 1, 2, and 3 star ratings. All teaches bring their education, area of specialty, and experience to the class room. The more teachers you listen to the greater your perspective on the subject matter. Professor Harl attempts to explain one of the most difficult things to explain in history; how did Christianity take over Europe and prevail over Pagan religions. The "triumph" of Christianity is a rather complicated, long drawn out process. History is a series of events, often occurring simultaneously and intermingling with each other. In addition individual leaders often make decisions that create those most important events. Professor Harl does a fine job of explaining the inter-play of Pagan and Christian leaders and apologists. In just 12 hours of lecture Professor Harl explains many of the factors and maneuverings of various leaders that eventually resulted in the "triumph" of Christianity.
Date published: 2018-09-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fall the Pagans and the Origins of Medieval ... This is my third course with Professor Harl. Obviously I appreciate his teaching methods. As a student of history for my entire life I nevertheless find the detail of Dr. Hale's knowledge and understanding of his subjects his way of presentation to be most informative. I have read extensively in this particular subject but have learned a great deal of what had previously eluded me and he has clarified some the lessons I thought knew. A delight I look forward to daily.
Date published: 2018-06-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Quite interesting I take these courses as reviews of past college courses and to learn new and different. This course has certainly introduced me to some new thoughts on the subject.
Date published: 2018-01-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful content Once I discovered the Great Courses app, the downloading of the course was easy. Now that I have watched several of the lectures, the course is fully as fascinating as I thought it would be, and the professor is outstanding!
Date published: 2018-01-02
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Bias Should a scholar refer to an ancient as a 'Saint'?
Date published: 2018-01-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from fall of the pagans and origins of medieval My favorite teacher and a course that fit so well into a space I needed information to fill.
Date published: 2017-10-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thought provoking. The course was well organize and the material was thought provoking. The professor's presentation was interesting and matched the course description in the catalogue. The information presented gave me new interest in the subject.
Date published: 2017-10-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Got the course a couple weeks ago. Professor uses words unfamiliar to me and I fall asleep during each lesson
Date published: 2017-09-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good perspective on the late Roman Empire. Somewhat stiff presentation, but filled in a lot of information about the era. Dr. Harl's knowledge is encyclopedic, and he indicates where he differs from other scholars on some of the conclusions he draws.
Date published: 2017-09-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Balanced and interesting Kenneth Harl is always excellent and this course was no exception. The lectures were well balanced and interesting. The course provided information on the Roman's reactions to the Christians that I either didn't know or was misled about.
Date published: 2017-08-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Most credible I have attended courses, read books and listened to lectures about the Christianisation of the West but this is the most credible and easily listened to account I have encountered.
Date published: 2017-08-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Five stars! This is the most informative and interesting discussion on early Christianity I have seen. Well worth the money and the time invested. Professor's Harl's breadth of knowledge the Roman Empire and the emergence of Christianity is amazing. He seems to have no axe to grind, he does not insert political or religious views, just fascinating facts and conclusions based on his extensive research. I will buy more of his courses.
Date published: 2017-07-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The depth and breath of Dr. Harl's knowledge continues to astound me. It is only matched by his ability to relate this information in such a comfortable and entertaining manner. I particularly enjoy his way of interrelating events happening in different areas and different times.
Date published: 2017-07-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic overview of the fall of pagan worship! I've listened to several Great Courses and this has been by far my favorite. Dr. Harl is wonderful to listen to and provides in depth understanding of how Christianity basically conquered Rome and overthrew pagan worship for Christian worship. You will get a lot from this course in regards to understanding!
Date published: 2017-06-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The title is exactly what we expected This is the third course we have seen with Professor Harl. Every one of them has been informative and entertaining. He is very good both in his presentation of the lectures and his obvious knowledge. I would highly recommend this course and any others Professor Harl does.
Date published: 2017-03-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I bought this course a week ago. I reepy loved ot
Date published: 2017-03-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Filling in history The transition from Paganism to Christianity in the Roman world is historically under reported, in my view. It is essential to understand just how it came to be that Christianity ended up the dominant religion in the western world and how easily it might have died out except for one Roman Emperor who decided the Christian God was more powerful than the Roman Gods. I appreciated the detail of the lectures in explaining just what was happening to both Pagans and Christians at each phase of this unexpected transition.
Date published: 2017-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well worth viewing I was drawn to the title of this course as I am researching the issue of the persecution of Christians in the Roman world of the first three centuries for a University paper I am doing. I was interested to know why Christians were being persecuted, and made some interesting discoveries regarding the personalities of the Roman leaders under whom the persecution occurred as well as the political realities of the various periods in which persecution took place. I have also been prompted to extend the research further, and this course has provided me with some leads with which to do that.
Date published: 2016-10-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another great Harl course Many have already reviewed this, and I would only like to add that you can't go wrong with Kenneth Harl, whose vast knowledge and infectious enthusiasm make this course, like others of his that I have enjoyed, a real treat. Excellent visuals, too, including - inevitably - those coins!
Date published: 2016-09-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another home run I enjoy Dr. Harl's courses. This is another success in my opinion. He tells the story in an interesting manner with enough enthusiasm to really make it interesting. This is a historical perspective on the start of the christian religion. It compliments a more philosophical/religious approach that you find in other courses. What this course brings home is how religions blend and change over time to suit the trends and traditions of the past.
Date published: 2016-08-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from erudition This is a very ambitious in essence interdisciplinary project. Harl's erudition is impressive, his style is that of a fabulous story-teller and the viewer is bombarded with a wealth of information and is, therefore, never bored. Prior knowledge of Roman and Greek history is an advantage as one is better able to absorb and appreciate this great wealth. The structure of the presentation is not linear--in my view it couldn't possibly be--as the subject matter is tackled from many different angles. This course taken together with Harl's Rome and the Barbarians covers similar ground with Prof. Noble's Late Antiquity--but miraculously it escapes Prof. Noble's tendency (just a slight tendency) towards a dry, unimaginative, presentation. Back to Prof. Harl's Pagans...Lectures, here, are illustrated quite respectably, pictures of coins--if one thinks about it they are sort of photographs from Late Antiquity--are good. There could be more by way of maps, timelines, pictures, etc. The lectures on philosophy--I am referring mainly to lecture 5 but also lecture 11--are weaker, in my view, than the rest, they seem a bit "elliptical" lacking in depth and in the end one goes away having taken-in very little. They could be enriched in a second edition I suppose.
Date published: 2016-05-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent In Every Way! AUDIO: CDs This course is yet another home run with Professor Harl at bat. I have already been captivated by his TC courses on the Peloponnesian War and Alexander the Great, but was not sure if I was going to find this subject as compelling. I had, however, the same experience as with the other two courses, swept along from lecture to lecture, and sad to see that Professor Harl was coming to the end of these twenty-four sessions. Aside from Professor Harl’s evident mastery of the subject and his willingness to discuss other scholarly and popular interpretations (notably the 2009 movie ‘Agora’), his presentation style is highly engaging, peppered with good common-sense observations and humor, and includes exceptional discussions of how the coins of the period reveal significant aspects about the topics discussed. As with the other TC courses, Professor Harl makes regular reference to the work of other scholars and points upon which he disagrees, always providing detailed justifications. For me, two of the most interesting examples to cite are Professor Harl’s denial that the pagan mystery cults were a “parallel to Christianity” (Course Guidebook, Page 33), and that the triumph of Christianity cannot be attributed to an assumed Roman economic and/or spiritual crisis. In addition to these fine lectures, there is an equally impressive three hundred page guidebook, containing excellent lecture summaries, a timeline, a glossary, biographical notes, and annotated bibliography. I learned a lot about the early centuries of Christianity’s development, much of which I had only as a hazy and impressionistic understanding. Professor Harl gets the point across that there was nothing inevitable about Christianity’s ascendency, and shows this not only in focusing on the early Christians, but also on the life, beliefs and practices of the pagans. Relevant Roman social, political, cultural, and military matters are also discussed. Though he touches on Christian beliefs and, most notably, the conflicts between Arian and Nicene Christians, Professor Harl leaves theological issues to other TC courses. The many interesting things for me in this course include how few of the early Christians there were, and how persistent paganism was, even to the fifth century; the nature and extent of persecution of Christians, and the extent to which pagans later suffered at the hands of the Christians; how Diocletian’s third century administrative reforms had the unintended consequence of smoothing the way for Christianity’s rise; the absolutely critical roles of the emperors Constantine, Theodosius, and Justinian and how truly important for Christianity was the empire’s division between Rome and Constantinople; how Christian ascetics and monks played a larger role in Christianity’s expansion than the examples of the early martyrs; and, how significant were such often forgotten individuals as the Christian theologian Origen (important in helping establish the Christian canon and reconciling Christian and classical philosophy), and the fourth century emperor Julian, referred to as the Apostate (Constantine’s nephew, raised as a Christian), who tried to turn the empire back to paganism. Finally, Professor Harl ties things together at the end by noting in what ways Justinian’s sixth century world “was the basis for the religious and ethical values of the West down to this day” (Course Guidebook, page 195). You are in for a real treat with this TC course. Very highly recommended!
Date published: 2016-01-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Expansive But Perhaps Overly So I've thoroughly enjoyed Prof. Harl's histories and loved Vikings and Barbarians. I've also poured through a number of courses on the origins of Christianity, Jesus, and the Catholic Church. I figured this course would be a perfect supplement to those religious histories. In a way, it was. It is expansive and delves into the transition to Christianity from the pagan Roman world. It is loaded with information. My only issue with Harl is that, at times, his delivery becomes somewhat unfocused or tangential and overwhelms the listener with information. The tangents are great anecdotes that sort of help deliver the historical message, but also create the feeling of a somewhat disorganized presentation of a truly enormous amount of historical information. Perhaps that wouldn't have been the case had I bought and used the hard copy course guide, but I listen to the presentations on my commute every day. The delivery made this a bit hard to follow. It did not seem to be broken into linear time periods, often referenced back in time with long stories about figures and anecdotes I thought we'd moved past, and seemed at times to focus on the pine needles, as opposed to even the trees instead of the forests.
Date published: 2015-11-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Must Take Course from Professor Harl This is another excellent course from Professor Harl and is a course that is highly recommended for everybody. Professor Harl’s style of teaching brings entertainment and humor as well as knowledge and enlightenment. This course describes the early days of Christianity and how it evolved and developed over the first several centuries. The early Christianity is different than the modern day Christianity or even the Christianity of the middle ages such as during the time of the Crusades. This course provides excellent information about the environment of the Pagans and other religions such as the Jews and how these interacted with the budding Christianity. For example, the Romans knew how to handle the Jews but were totally puzzled by the Christians and, consequently, did not know to manage, control, or interact with the Christians. The visual aids such as the maps with arrows of direction for the activities or movements are very usual in these lectures.
Date published: 2015-06-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from It's Harl; of Course This Offering is Excellent I've no doubt that Professor Kenneth W. Harl must drive a great many god-haters nuts, because they probably buy this course with the expectation that Harl will hurl invective upon Christians and the church for their role and methodology in transforming Western civilization from pagan to Christian. Instead, Harl is ever the true scholar, adhering closely to the facts, and where the facts lead; not allowing bias or prejudice to influence his delivery. This is a typical masterful Harl overview of the subject matter and I can no find no fault with it, only praise.
Date published: 2014-12-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fall of Pagans...Birth of Intolerance. Audio download (according to some trusted reviewers, it might be worthwhile to spend a little more for the video/DVD version). Dr Harl presents a social history of the Roman Empire from the time of Augustus to Justinian, focusing on the evolution from polytheism to christian monotheism. His presentation is both well-organized and direct...a style I much prefer in lecturers. The course notes are very well done lacking only maps and images that may have been included in the video versions. As many of the reviewers have noted (even Dr Harl says many times) this course is not an exhaustive treatment of this time period, but addresses the sometimes peculiar aspects of the spread of Christianity, particularly due to the early organizational characteristics of the bishoprics...and how that morphed into early Roman law, thanks largely to Constantine. I was impressed more with the last few (Lectures 22-24) lectures, most particularly the last. From the notes, Dr Harl summarizes that from the time of Justinian: "For the next 12 centuries, the notions of the divine and of ethics came out of the age of Justinian. His world was the basis for the religious and ethical values of the West down to this day. ". And regarding the Justinian-authorized treatment of the Jews: "...beginning a dreary record of anti-Sem*tism that continued throughout the Middle Ages and into the modern age." Maybe the pagans did some things right.... Highly recommended and well worth revisiting...watch for a sale and a coupon.
Date published: 2014-12-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from From Pagan To Christian: Reference & Devotion These lectures form one of four major turning points in The Western tradition -- the others being CLASSICAL GREECE & ROME / (Self-Government), THE AGE OF DISCOVERY / (The New World), and THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION / (Modernity) according to the professor. Although not a theology or a philosophy course, these lectures survey: philosophical / religious ideas, sacrifice tests / Christian persecutions; ancient mystery cults / rituals; theological concepts / ecumenical councils; literary / architectural forms, etc.; they are all explained in historical context -- the Roman Empire from the 1st – 6th centuries. Literary and historical sources from Christian, Jewish, and pagan authors are discussed and correlated with supplemental data from archaeology, epigraphy, and numismatics. THE FALL OF THE PAGANS AND THE ORIGINS OF MEDIEVAL CHRISTIANITY from Professor Kenneth W. Harl is a masterpiece of scholarship. It erects and responds to a major social and historical transformation: how did Christianity rise to such heights of secular power and spiritual prestige throughout the Roman Empire radically transforming classical pagan civilization, to becoming the foundations of Western civilization itself? Survey the empire’s pagan cults, stoic morality, Platonic ideas, and the early Christian conversions. Here GRECO-ROMAN PAGANISM is understood intellectually as concerning scholarly knowledge in high Platonic-Greek / Ciceronian-Latin language and in no way less meaningful than Christian ideas originally in vernacular-Greek still not unified, codified, nor intellectualized in its philosophy, theology, and dogma and so is taken much less seriously by the ruling-elites; the JEWISH RELIGION / war (66 – 73 A.D.), its temple sacrifices, an ancient set of ritual-beliefs which Rome sees as strange (no images / statues) but historically legitimate; CHRISTIANITY is even more appalling to the Romans since it is new and without a long established history (Crucifixion 30 A.D.), it is a pacifistic-sect of Judaism that refuses to honor the traditional gods and the emperor-cult which is political-treason and leads to its outlawing throughout the empire beginning with Emperor Nero’s rescript (64 A.D.). This is a legal precedent for the Roman Empire which historically allowed all religious sects / provincials to practice their rituals if they honored and sacrificed to the traditional gods and the emperor cult of Rome; this refusal forced Christianity to develop new institutional means and ways of spreading its faith. Read about Pagan-Rome and CHRISTIAN CLASHES which at first is sporadic and eventually becomes the empire-wide persecutions of the 3rd century. Witness: conversions, persecutions, and heresies; the growing authority of bishops, the early apostolic church, Christian apologists and theologians; the growth in new literary forms: epistle, apology, theology, sermon (Clement, Origen, Eusebius & Augustine), pagan critics, henotheism, and esoteric theurgists (Galen, Celsus, & Plotinus), and evolving an increasingly intellectual depth of Christian theology and pagan Neo-Platonism; CRISIS OF THE 3rd CENTURY in its spiritual and imperial forms: GREAT PERSECUTIONS 250-251, 258-260, & 303-313 A.D. (Decius, Valerian, & Galerius), Persian-wars (Ardashir & Shapur), Germanic-threat of Goths and Vandals, civil unrest and rise of soldier-emperors, economic dislocations, the dualistic challenge to pagan and Christians of Manichaeism, and the transformation of the Empire under the TETRARCHY 284 – 305 A.D. (Diocletian’s Rule of Four) which will become the institutional rock of Constantine’s Imperial Church onto when historical Christianity is erected and legalized. Finally, these summarized events must be noted before The Fall of the Pagans and the Origins of Medieval Christianity is understood historically: the Battle of Milvian Bridge (312 A.D.), the CONVERSION of Emperor CONSTANTINE (Edict of Milan 313 A.D.), the source of Christian Doctrine (Council of Nicaea 325 A.D.), the creation of a new Christian capital at Constantinople vs. traditional pagan Rome, the Christianization of basilicas, mosaics, frescoes and cathedral churches as an architecture of the interior life (Hagia Sophia); JULIAN THE APOSTATE who orders the pagan temples reopened (361-363 A.D.) and issues massive reforms for the Empire but are short lived; the growth of asceticism / monasteries 4th – 6th centuries (Anthony & Pachomius); Emperor THEODOSIUS outlaws paganism (391 -392 A.D.) and declares Nicene Christianity as the sole legitimate religion of the Empire, The Battle of the Frigidus in A.D. 394 as another Milvian Bridge experience of conversion. From the professor: “JUSTINIAN completes the logic of Theodosius ensuring the world became medieval Europe.” Now, paganism is spoken of as Hellene, barbarian, and heathen in nature -- Plato’s Academy at Athens comes to an end. To let the professor close “the preservation of the classical writings giving the West the dual traditions of Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian cultural treasures are preserved; Europe becomes the heir to classical Rome. The classical arts and writing survived, but in a Christian world…” The themes of these lectures are profound, transforming, and enlightening *** EXCELLENT & HIGHLY RECOMMENDED ***
Date published: 2014-10-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A must on the gains of early Christianity I generally adore any course that Kenneth Harl teaches -- he packs his courses full of information, as well as wonderfully enlightening asides, and I am riveted. The information in this course was, as always, wonderfully presented and fascinating, but it felt as if at times Professor Harl was stretching to create a coherent whole. The course felt a little disjointed (and I emphasize "a little"). As is often the case with his courses, it is almost necessary to listen to each lecture twice to ensure that your mind captures all the tidbits of information Professor Harl throws out. Worthwhile, despite some editing issues.
Date published: 2014-08-06
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