In The Triumph of Christianity, you will trace the story of Christianity from its origins in a Jewish outpost of the Roman Empire to its spread throughout the entire Western world. Taught by Dr. Bart. D. Ehrman, these 24 investigative lectures provide new insights into one of the most compelling stories ever recorded.
The Triumph of Christianity
From Jesus of Nazareth to the Holy Roman Empire, explore the rise of Christianity.
01: The Christian Conquest of Rome
Your course begins with a broad view of the Christian world. Delve into the scope of Christianity today, and reflect on how it spread from the earliest followers of Jesus to the largest religion in the world. Preview a few theories for Christianity’s success, which you will unpack in the coming lectures.
02: Pagan Religions in the Roman World
To understand the spread of Christianity, you first must understand the world it grew out of. The majority of Romans were “pagan,” a slippery term that generally refers to the many polytheistic religions of the ancient world. Explore the nature of religion and religious practices in the pre-Christian Roman world.
03: Judaism in the Roman World
Not everyone in ancient Rome was a pagan, of course. The Christian faith began as a sect within Judaism. Jesus himself and his early followers were all Jews; so to properly understand Christianity, we must understand Judaism in the Roman world. Delve into ancient Israel to review the beliefs and practices of Jesus’s contemporaries.
04: Christianity in the Roman World: An Overview
Christianity’s success stems from its similarities to and differences from other religious practices. Survey the doctrines that separated Christianity from Judaism, including a sense of exclusivity—the belief that one must belong to the Christian community to the exclusion of other religions and cultic practices.
05: The Life and Teachings of Jesus
Go back to the very beginning of Christianity to explore the life of the historical Jesus. Here, you will analyze not only the man and what he preached, but also the Gospels and other sources of information that have transmitted the life of Jesus to us today. Find out what historians can tell us about the real facts of his life.
06: The Beginning of Christianity
Jesus is the wellspring of Christianity, but the Christian religion is built on more than the life of one man. Meet the disciples and discover how their views shifted from an apocalyptic belief that they were in the end times to an understanding of salvation because of Jesus’s sacrifice. Witness the transition from Christ to a Christian movement.
07: The Earliest Christian Missions
Take a deep dive into the Book of Acts, which is one of the most important texts recounting the spread of Christianity. And meet Paul, who, next to Jesus himself, is arguably the most important figure in the history of Christianity.
08: The Conversion of Paul
Continue your study of the Apostle Paul and reflect on his importance to the early Christian movement. After recounting the story of Paul’s conversion, you will review what the historical evidence tells us about the life of Paul. Bart then walks you through Paul’s conclusions about Christianity.
09: Paul: The Apostle of the Gentiles
In this third lesson on the Apostle Paul, you will discover how Paul took his message to the gentiles, whose conversions were instrumental in the triumph of Christianity. Review Paul’s theology as recounted in many of his New Testament letters, including his letters to the Corinthians and the Romans.
10: The Christian Mission to the Jews
If Jesus was a Jew, why didn’t most Jews accept him as the Messiah? Instead, why did so many pagans convert? In this lesson, you will dive into the Jewish perspective on Christianity and the Messiah. Consider the nuance between the Jewish and Christian understanding of Jesus.
11: Early Christianities
When Christianity spread like wildfire through the Roman world in the 2nd and 3rd centuries of the Common Era, numerous groups considered themselves true followers of Jesus. From “Jewish Christians” to Marcionites to Gnostics, examine the variety of Christian religions in the centuries after Jesus.
12: Reasons for Christianity’s Success
The fundamental question of this course is: How did a group of 20 or so illiterate disciples grow into the largest religion in the Roman world? Two reasons you will explore here are “exclusivity” and “evangelism.” Because one must be a Christian to find salvation, Christians believed it was important to convert as many as possible, and once a person converted, they had to abandon their other religious practices.
13: Miraculous Incentives for Conversion
How did the early Christians succeed with their evangelism? How did they convince so many people that not only was their faith true, but that others should abandon their religions? Walkthrough several possibilities, including the multitude of alleged conversion-producing miracles.
14: The Exponential Growth of the Church
One of the most vexing questions for the rise of Christianity was how quickly it happened. Crunch the numbers to see an exponential explosion of growth over 300 years, in which several million people converted to Christianity. Then consider the political implications of this rapid growth.
15: Early Opposition to the Christian Message
We have numerous stories of Christian persecution by the Roman Empire, but these stories are rife with misunderstandings and misinformation. Here, you will reflect on the political context of Christianity within the Roman world. Using the Book of Acts and other historical texts as your guide, see what it was like to be an early Christian.
16: Imperial Persecution of the Early Christians
While there were no empire-wide persecutions of Christians in the 1st and 2nd centuries, Christianity had grown enough by the middle of the 3rd century that it posed an occasional threat to imperial Rome. From Nero to Pliny the Younger, examine the relationship between Roman politics and the growth of Christianity.
17: Early Christian Apologists
Shift your attention from physical persecutions of Christians to the verbal jousting that led to popular animosity in the first place. Review some of the intellectual charges against early Christian beliefs, and then learn about the defense of those charges (“apologetics”). Along the way, you will sharpen your understanding of Christian theology.
18: Major Imperial Persecutions of Christians
Following the rapid growth of Christianity, major state-sponsored persecutions against Christians began in the middle of the 3rd century, when pagans began converting in droves. Explore Rome’s Crisis of the Third Century, a very bad time indeed, and see how the empire’s troubles played out against the Christians.
19: The Conversion of Constantine
Beyond the work of Paul, the conversion of the Roman emperor Constantine is one of the most significant moments in the history of Christianity. Recount the story of the emperor’s life and what led him to become a committed Christian. Examine several differing accounts of what happened.
20: Did Constantine Really Convert?
Though Constantine is widely recognized as the first Christian emperor of Rome, the famous story of his conversion nevertheless has its skeptics among historians today. Did he actually convert, or did he merely adopt the Christian religion as a savvy political move? Take a look at what the historical evidence says about Constantine’s sincerity.
21: Constantine’s Interactions with the Church
Round out your study of the Roman emperor Constantine, here with a detailed look at his relationship with the church. Find out about the Edict of Milan, which declared Christianity a legal religion, and then examine other controversies of church and state within the Roman Empire.
22: Imperial Christianity after Constantine
Although Constantine did not make Christianity the official state religion, the church nonetheless grew exponentially in the years following his conversion. Trace the last gasps of paganism under the emperor Julian the Apostate, a short-lived ruler whose death cleared the way for Christianity to grow unimpeded.
23: The Beginnings of a Christian Roman Empire
Following the death of Julian the Apostate, every Roman emperor was Christian. Here, you will find out about the rule of Theodosius and the ongoing battles between Christian apologists and their persecutors. Consider the nature of the state and its relationship to religion. How and when can the state compel its subjects?
24: The Triumph of Christianity: Gains and Losses
In this final lecture, you will analyze the winners and losers of Christianity’s triumph, which is not always a triumphalist narrative. What are some of the cultural impacts of Christianity? How did it affect social views and practices? How do historians weigh the victory of Christianity over the Western world?