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From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity

From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity

Professor Bart D. Ehrman, Ph.D., M.Div.
The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

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From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity

Course No. 6577
Professor Bart D. Ehrman, Ph.D., M.Div.
The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
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4.1 out of 5
78 Reviews
60% of reviewers would recommend this series
Course No. 6577
  • Audio or Video?
  • You should buy audio if you would enjoy the convenience of experiencing this course while driving, exercising, etc. While the video does contain visual elements, the professor presents the material in an engaging and clear manner, so the visuals are not necessary to understand the concepts. Additionally, the audio audience may refer to the accompanying course guidebook for names, works, and examples that are cited throughout the course.
  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. The video version is not heavily illustrated, featuring around 60 portraits, maps, and photographs. Portraits include historical representations of Jesus and the apostles; maps help outline the spread of Christianity during its formative years; and photographs bring you up close with historical Gospel pages. There are on-screen spellings and definitions to help reinforce material for visual learners.
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Course Overview

In a world where Christianity has been, in the words of Professor Bart D. Ehrman, "the most powerful religious, political, social, cultural, economic, and intellectual institution in the history of Western civilization," most of us have grown up believing we know the answers to these questions:

  • Were the early Christians really hunted down and martyred, with repeated persecutions for an illegal religion forcing them to hide in the catacombs of Rome?
  • Did the ancient Jews of Jesus' time always believe in a single, all-powerful God?
  • How did breaking away from their Jewish roots make Christians more vulnerable in the Roman world?
  • What were the origins of what we now consider the distinctively Christian liturgical practices of baptism and the Eucharist?

But do we know the answers? As this course shows, the answers are, in fact, quite surprising.

See How Today's Christianity Emerged

The traditional form of Christianity we know today includes beliefs, practices, a canon of sacred scripture, and even its own stated history, but it emerged only after many years of transition and conflict—with Judaism and with what can now only be called the "lost Christianities."

That term, of course, is familiar to anyone who has taken Professor Ehrman's earlier course, Lost Christianities: Christian Scriptures and the Battles over Authentication.

And now Professor Ehrman, whose previous and popular efforts for The Teaching Company also include The Historical Jesus and The New Testament, has created a course that places those forgotten forms of the faith in an even broader context.

From the Religion of Jesus to a Religion about Jesus

These lectures take you back to Christianity's first three centuries to explain its transition from the religion of Jesus to a religion about Jesus.

It introduces you to lost Christianities and their sacred writings. And it shows how many of those writings were originally proscribed or destroyed, only to be rediscovered in modern times.

You also learn how a single group from among many won the struggle for dominance, which allowed it to:

  • Establish the beliefs central to the faith
  • Rewrite the history of Christianity's internal conflicts
  • Produce a canon of sacred texts—the New Testament—that supported its own views.

From 20 Followers … to Two Billion

These lectures offer a fresh and provocative perspective on what are perhaps the most intriguing questions of all:

How could a movement originally made up of perhaps only 20 low-class followers of a Jewish apocalyptic preacher crucified as an enemy of the state grow to include nearly four million adherents in only 300 years?

And how would it eventually become the largest religion in the world, with some two billion adherents?

To answer those questions, Professor Ehrman examines Christianity from several directions:

  • The faith's beginnings, starting with the historical Jesus and the other individuals and traditions that formed the foundation of the emerging religion
  • Jewish-Christian relations, including the rise of anti-Judaism within the Christian church and the emergence of Christianity as a religion different from and ultimately opposed to the Jewish religion from which it emerged
  • The way Paul and other Christians spread the new faith, including the message they proclaimed and their approaches to winning converts
  • Hostility to the Christian mission from those who were not persuaded to convert and who considered Christianity to be dangerous or antisocial, leading to the persecutions of the 2nd and 3rd centuries
  • Internal struggles within the faith, as Christians with divergent understandings sought to make their beliefs the ones that defined the one "true" faith
  • The factors that led to the formation of traditional Christianity we know today, with its canon of New Testament scriptures, set creeds, liturgical practices such as baptism and the Eucharist, and church hierarchy.

Christianity's Evolution from Judaism

In tracing the process by which Christianity evolved from its origins within Judaism to become something dramatically different, Professor Ehrman discusses how most Jews simply weren't willing to accept Jesus as the Messiah.

Professor Ehrman conveys the Jewish perspective on what the Messiah would be like. And you learn how much of it was based on Jesus' own teachings, which the early Christians were attempting to alter in trying to gain Jewish converts.

But he also explains how early Christianity, even though it was increasingly at odds with Judaism, also found a degree of legitimacy under its umbrella.

Professor Ehrman points out that this was a time when ancientness itself was essential for a faith seeking acceptance. So as Christianity separated from Judaism, it sought a means of asserting ancient roots in its own right.

Learn Christianity's Argument for Its Ancient Roots

Christianity argued its ancient roots by retaining the Jewish scriptures and arguing that it was, in fact, the fulfillment of what those scriptures had promised.

Throughout these lectures, Professor Ehrman challenges old misconceptions and offers fresh perspectives on aspects of Christianity and its roots that many of us might have thought we already understood. For example:

  • The five common myths about early Christianity, including that it was illegal in the early empire and that Christians were pursued and persecuted: It was not declared illegal until the middle of the 3rd century, and was tolerated in most places, just as other religions were.
  • The belief that early Judaism was exclusively monotheistic: Although Judaism was unusual in the Roman world in that Jews insisted on worshipping only one god, you learn that there is good evidence that at different periods in history, Jews—like others in those pagan times—believed in the existence of multiple gods.
  • The development of the New Testament canon was as a way to both differentiate Christians from Jews and also create a body of text substantiating their views.
  • The roots of baptism and the Eucharist are in Jewish liturgical traditions and rumors about the alleged licentiousness of the baptism ceremony led apologists such as Justin Martyr and Tertullian to write publicly about those heretofore secret practices.
  • Wild charges of child sacrifices, cannibalism, and licentiousness were often made against Christians, and the persecutions that did occur.
  • Walter Bauer's research revealed that many forms of Christianity deemed heretical were, in fact, the earliest forms that could found in most places.
  • The movement by church scholars of the early 16th century to once again create from surviving Greek texts a New Testament in the original Greek, and how forgery often reared its head.

These lectures are an engaging experience that will increase your understanding of Christianity today. They offer you a scholar's perspective on the origins of what Professor Ehrman describes as the most important institution in Western civilization.

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24 lectures
 |  30 minutes each
  • 1
    The Birth of Christianity
    This lecture introduces some issues essential to understanding how Christianity began, grew away from its Jewish roots, and ultimately became the most important religion of our civilization. x
  • 2
    The Religious World of Early Christianity
    This lecture introduces the pagan, polytheistic religions that dominated the early world and the most important Roman religion for the birth of Christianity: Judaism, the religion of Jesus and his followers. x
  • 3
    The Historical Jesus
    In the first of three lectures on the "birth" of Christianity, Professor Ehrman examines the life of Jesus of Nazareth, as referred to both outside the New Testament and within the Gospels themselves. x
  • 4
    Oral and Written Traditions about Jesus
    This lecture looks at how four anonymous authors who lived decades after Jesus recorded traditions that had been circulating orally over the intervening years, and examines the extent to which those traditions had been modified in the retelling. x
  • 5
    The Apostle Paul
    Based on a visionary experience of the resurrected Jesus, a Jewish Pharisee converts to Christianity and begins an intense missionary experience to win over non-Jews to faith in Jesus. x
  • 6
    The Beginning of Jewish-Christian Relations
    In the first of three lectures dealing with the relationship of Jews and Christians in the ancient world, we consider how Christianity started as a sect within Judaism, yet quickly became a religion separate from Judaism. x
  • 7
    The Anti-Jewish Use of the Old Testament
    How could most early Christians, who held on to the Jewish Scriptures as revelations from God, claim these Scriptures for their own when they did not follow many of the laws set forth in them? This lecture considers two key figures in the early Christian-Jewish debates. x
  • 8
    The Rise of Christian Anti-Judaism
    This lecture explores the social and historical situations that led to the rejection of Judaism by many Christians in the centuries after Christ. x
  • 9
    The Early Christian Mission
    This is the first of two lectures specifically exploring how Christianity became, in only 300 years, a world religion that commanded the attention and, eventually, respect of the Roman society and government. x
  • 10
    The Christianization of the Roman Empire
    In this lecture, we will move into the periods of the Christian mission after Paul to see how far and how quickly the religion spread, the reasons for its success, and its ultimate reach to the upper echelons of the Roman government. x
  • 11
    The Early Persecutions of the State
    In the first of four lectures dealing with persecution and martyrdom in the early church, Professor Ehrman examines some graphic early accounts and considers why these persecutions took place and the Christian reaction to them. x
  • 12
    The Causes of Christian Persecution
    This lecture provides a historical sketch of the course of persecution from the 1st to 3rd centuries, asking what motivated the two most common kinds of violence against Christians: grassroots persecutions and those ordered by the state. x
  • 13
    Christian Reactions to Persecution
    Many early Christians recanted their faith in the face of persecution, but many others stayed faithful to what they believed. x
  • 14
    The Early Christian Apologists
    This lecture examines the strategies of an elite group of Christian intellectuals who defended Christianity against the charges of atheism and immorality commonly leveled against them, focusing on the work of one of the most interesting of them, Athenagoras. x
  • 15
    The Diversity of Early Christian Communities
    This is the first of four lectures that will consider the wide-ranging theological diversity of early Christianity and the internal conflicts that emerged as Christians tried to determine once and for all the "right" beliefs and practices. x
  • 16
    Christianities of the Second Century
    Many groups of Christians in the 2nd century claimed to have the only true understanding of the faith, including three that are the focus of this lecture: Ebionites, Marcionites, and Gnostics. x
  • 17
    The Role of Pseudepigrapha
    This lecture considers several of the supporting—and usually forged—"sacred texts" possessed by the various groups of Christians arguing for their own version of the faith. x
  • 18
    The Victory of the Proto-Orthodox
    This lecture examines how the conflicts were waged between "heretical" forms of Christianity and the proto-orthodox Christians who eventually established themselves as dominant. x
  • 19
    The New Testament Canon
    This is the first of five lectures devoted to the question of how traditional Christianity—with its canon of Scripture, creeds, liturgy, and church offices—emerged out of the conflicts of the 2nd and 3rd centuries. x
  • 20
    The Development of Church Offices
    This lecture considers the movement from the charismatic organization of the early churches founded by Paul to the official church hierarchy in place by the end of the 4th century, with its elders, deacons, priests, and bishops. x
  • 21
    The Rise of Christian Liturgy
    This is an in-depth look at how Christian liturgical practices arose, particularly those that became virtually universal throughout the church: baptism and the Eucharist. x
  • 22
    The Beginnings of Normative Theology
    This lecture considers the development of a normative theology among the proto-orthodox, who insisted that believing the "right" things was essential for salvation and who took care, therefore, to formulate correct doctrine and differentiate it from false doctrine. x
  • 23
    The Doctrine of the Trinity
    This lecture considers the most distinctive theological development of early Christianity, the doctrine of the Trinity: God exists in three entities—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—who are equal and distinct but make up one God. x
  • 24
    Christianity and the Conquest of Empire
    This concluding lecture considers the character of Christianity at the beginning of the 4th century and its enormous consequences for the history of Western civilization. x

Lecture Titles

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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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From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity is rated 4.1 out of 5 by 78.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Evolution of Christianity It helped me piece together the development of different pre Constantine Christian groups to the resulting religion we experience today. Their creeds and beliefs were put together for me by Professor Ehrman. I ordered this course for my grandson as a present. He found it very informative too.
Date published: 2017-11-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great as Usual This is more in-depth than many of my Seminary Classes. I also get to play them again and again. I'm on my third time.
Date published: 2017-09-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My bible study group is using this series but I bought it for myself also. I find that the lectures are very interesting and very well presented. The series is outstanding!
Date published: 2017-06-27
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Pro-church Johnson acknowledges he's a believer, and officially lays out the need to examine his material according to the principles of academic history--but in the end this comes across as a pro-church polemic. As such, it was deeply disappointing, and at times even offensive, as he seems to slide into a tacit assumption that his audience sees the church (and often we're talking the Catholic Church) in the same positive light he does. Not trustworthy or, ultimately, very interesting. Plus, his delivery grates--too much over-intonation and over-enunciation. Skip it.
Date published: 2017-04-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I Listened to These Episodes I had read a few of Ehrman's books, so I thought I would give his lecture episodes a shot. He covers much of the same information in his books, but I appreciated the breadth, depth, and scope of these lectures. A lot of historical research and source criticism went into these lectures. I think a lot of negative reviewers here misunderstand the academic project that Ehrman and scholars like him are engaged in. The starting point is not an assumption that Christianity or Christian scriptures represent the inerrant word of God; instead, Christianity is treated as a historical phenomenon and scriptures as literary and cultural productions. There is no attempt to "prove" any particular belief right or wrong. Instead, there is careful consideration of the evidence, and while one might quibble with particular interpretations of evidence, it seems that's not what negative reviewers here are doing. Instead, they are objecting to the very notion of religious studies as a non-devotional enterprise. Anyhow, I recommend these courses. But before you take my word for it, you should know that I also recommended the 1976 film "Bagley Falls Out The Window", and in retrospect, it's clear that film was really quite bad. In other words, my judgment is suspect, so listen to these episodes and decide for yourself. Also for a while I thought I was the reincarnation of the Emperor Constantine. After listening to Ehrman's lectures, I no longer think that. It was a mistake. Well, I think I'm going to end this review. The best part of these episodes is that there is a clear explanation of just what sorts of sources are out there for Early Christianity. As I said, time to end this review.
Date published: 2017-01-22
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not a history, but a well sustained point of view This course greatly disappointed me: not because it presented a well-argued and considered point of view that I personally disagree with, but because it presented this opinion as objective history. It is therefore tendentious in the strict sense of the word: the lecturer assumes the truth of his preferred reading of a complex set of historical materials, and then builds his narrative on that base. I waited for a degree of scholarly humility and perspective, for 'on the other hand', for 'according to other readings', for 'this point of view of course assumes....' but was disappointed, although I found it stimulating to identify those points on which the lecturer relies on assertion over demonstrable fact (ironically all the while endeavouring to apply a sceptical and objective standard himself). The historical narrative he provides is a compelling and internally coherent one, but it is just one narrow band of what is necessarily - objectively, historically (without venturing into matters of faith) - a broad spectrum of possibilities. Without engaging in armchair analysis, one is tempted to suspect that the lecturer has been on a complex personal pathway towards a more sceptical and agnostic position, from the 'pleasant harbourage of Faith', and - in a way that is wholly understandable, even sympathetic - wishes to illuminate this personal journey for others to follow. But this material would be more accurately presented as a more direct first person narrative than a formal 'history' as such. The course has at least led me to take up and read some of the standard histories of the early church - e.g. the Cambridge History of Christianity (Vol I), or even Henry Chadwick - with much greater appreciation and insight. There are some tremendous, rich, historiographical questions at stake here which merit a more systematic and inclusive account than this course provides.
Date published: 2016-03-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thought provoking and enjoyable A balanced historical approach to understanding a critical period in world history that still impacts every aspect of our world today. Fascinating to learn more about the actual sources of what I "know" about Jesus.
Date published: 2016-01-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Learned plenty This is a course in Christian and religious history, which gives an eye-opening knowledge of religion and its perspective in history. It helped me understand more on the Roman government. This course got me to a sequential understanding of emperors, and the ways they ruled.
Date published: 2016-01-22
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