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The Triumph of Christianity

From Jesus of Nazareth to the Holy Roman Empire, explore the rise of Christianity.

The Triumph of Christianity is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 54.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from BEYOND EXCELLENT. MERITS HIGHEST PRAISE. Sets the mark for research and explanations of the subject, and the presentation humanizes but retains grit. The credits alone impress and show a huge effort. A great peace of work.
Date published: 2023-01-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Triumph of Criterion Another triumph by the titan historian Ehrman, extending an opportune hand to us mere mortals mired in the quotidian quagmire of blissful ignorance, for a chance to join his journey upon the stone roads of Rome, well-worn, yet, thanks to his curatorial devotion to truth and academic rigor, surprisingly yielding profound new revelations, exceedingly poignant in our present perspective, through this religious revolution. Given the chance, if anyone is to foot a pagan bill, to sacrifice armadillo upon the grill, for the placated Professor, I certainly will.
Date published: 2022-12-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A subject of interest to me currently. After watching Dr. Ehrman's "How Jesus Became God" I was impressed by his teaching style and erudite knowledge. As a retired history professor, courses such as this keep me abreast of current historical scholarship. I will add this to my Great Courses digital library.
Date published: 2022-09-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent material and presenter Very interesting material and a great presenter. One of the best of about a dozen Great Courses that I have viewed.
Date published: 2022-07-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Explains Without Oversimplifying Prof Ehrman is an excellent teacher. He provided enough background material to place the events in historical context while concentrating on the main topic. The chaos of the Roman Empire in this period was important information in explaining how Christianity gained traction so rapidly. This course explained how the Triumph of Christianity was multifactorial, and not due to single causes, secular or supernatural, as often proposed in Christian education classes. Dr. Ehrman also showed that there were some downsides to the events (e.g., loss of pagan culture) while still being the single most formative event in Western civilization.
Date published: 2022-07-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Great Courses is not a church! All those fanatical and fundamentalist Christian believers do not need to be so frustrated about this course. For one thing, it is not a believer's course or a non-believer's guide. It is an academic subject. Get it???
Date published: 2022-06-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Triumph of Christianity I really enjoyed the course. I really enjoyed the insights in to the subject.
Date published: 2022-06-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Triumph Doesn't Mean What You May Think This course is both engaging and enlightening. I almost didn't purchase it because I saw its title and assumed it was a celebration of the greatness of Christianity. That's not what is meant. Instead, the course charts how Christianity achieved dominance in the West and discusses both the good and the troubling about this outcome. How in the world could about 20 followers of the Jesus Movement after the death of Christ have transformed Western Civilization within 500 years? The course addresses questions I have always had, like, what did Paul literally do and say when he entered a foreign city that resulted in the establishment of a church? What about Christian doctrine caused it to ascend? I have taken several of the Great Courses and this is by far the best.
Date published: 2022-06-01
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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.


Bart D. Ehrman

After his crucifixion, Jesus' disciples came to believe he'd been raised from the dead and made a divine being. What had seemed like defeat became for them the ultimate cosmic victory.


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 Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question-Why We Suffer; Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don't Know about Them);and Forged: Writing in the Name of God-Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are. Professor Ehrman also served as president of the Society of Biblical Literature, Southeastern Region; book review editor of the Journal of Biblical Literature; editor of the Scholars' Press monograph series The New Testament in the Greek Fathers;and coeditor-in-chief for the journal Vigiliae Christianae. Professor Ehrman received the John William Pope Center Spirit of Inquiry Award, the UNC Students' Undergraduate Teaching Award, the Phillip and Ruth Hettleman Prize for Artistic and Scholarly Achievement by Young Faculty, and the Bowman and Gordon Gray Professorship (awarded for excellence in undergraduate teaching).

By This Professor

How Jesus Became God
The New Testament
Lost Christianities: Christian Scriptures and the Battles over Authentication
The Triumph of Christianity
The Triumph of Christianity


The Christian Conquest of Rome

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.

24 min
Pagan Religions in the Roman World

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.

32 min
Judaism in the 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.

35 min
Christianity in the Roman World: An Overview

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.

29 min
The Life and Teachings of Jesus

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.

30 min
The Beginning of Christianity

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.

30 min
The Earliest Christian Missions

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.

29 min
The Conversion of Paul

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.

31 min
Paul: The Apostle of the Gentiles

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.

30 min
The Christian Mission to the Jews

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.

30 min
Early Christianities

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.

27 min
Reasons for Christianity’s Success

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.

29 min
Miraculous Incentives for Conversion

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.

28 min
The Exponential Growth of the Church

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.

26 min
Early Opposition to the Christian Message

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.

28 min
Imperial Persecution of the Early Christians

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.

26 min
Early Christian Apologists

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.

26 min
Major Imperial Persecutions of Christians

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.

28 min
The Conversion of Constantine

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.

26 min
Did Constantine Really Convert?

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.

28 min
Constantine’s Interactions with the Church

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.

28 min
Imperial Christianity after Constantine

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.

26 min
The Beginnings of a Christian Roman Empire

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?

26 min
The Triumph of Christianity: Gains and Losses

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?

29 min