The Greatest Controversies of Early Christian History

Course No. 6410
Professor Bart D. Ehrman, Ph.D., M.Div.
The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
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Course No. 6410
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Course Overview

Christianity has arguably been the most important force in the history of Western civilization. Whether we view it in religious, social, political, or economic terms, Christianity has deeply and integrally influenced the Western worldview and way of life, as well as our most basic notions of selfhood, morality, and ethics. Without the presence and role of Christianity, our world would be considerably different. As such, understanding Christianity is fundamental to understanding our civilization, our culture, and our origins.

In reaching that understanding, no era is more relevant than the faith’s first three centuries, when Christianity grew from a persecuted sect into a powerful religion. Throughout Christian history, compelling controversies have existed surrounding that early era. These controversies continue to puzzle scholars, theologians, and laypeople, bringing into question many common beliefs about the faith. Exploring them sheds light on myths and historical fallacies that obscure an accurate view of the religion. In their content, implications, and scope, the controversies are foundational for grasping how Christianity evolved to become what it is today.

The individual controversies covered in this course highlight disputed questions concerning both faith and history:

  • Was Jesus married?
  • Was Jesus the messiah predicted in the Jewish scriptures?
  • Was Paul—not Jesus—the real founder of Christianity?
  • Can the Old Testament be considered a Christian book?
  • Does the book of Revelation predict humanity’s future?

As a subject of study, the controversies of early Christianity serve as a window on the development of a global religion, and on the theological thought that forged its defining doctrines. In each case, the matters in question are historically significant, whether we are Christians, members of other religions, or nonbelievers.

Now, in The Greatest Controversies of Early Christian History, award-winning professor and New York Times best-selling author Bart D. Ehrman invites you to join him in a penetrating investigation of these provocative issues of Christianity. In this revealing inquiry, you’ll tackle 24 pivotal controversies from the most important formative era of the faith, investigating them with the tools of the historian and aiming to resolve them with academic rigor.

Applying probing detective work to the controversies of the early church, these lectures pierce historical fictions, distortions, and misconceptions that come to us not only from common understandings of the faith but from contemporary sources such as popular novels and films.

Drawing on the latest scholarship from many sources, this course examines a rich spectrum of subject matter, ranging from the circumstances surrounding Jesus’s birth to his death and resurrection, and from Christian experience in the crucial era following his death to important doctrinal controversies of the 4th century. Each lecture unfolds as a historical mystery, as you compare religious tradition, early Christian texts, and legend with the historical record, illuminating these highly charged matters of faith.

Witness the Dawning of a Global Faith

In each lecture of this course, you delve into a key issue in Christianity’s early development, highlighting contentious topics such as these:

  • Did the Jews Kill Jesus? In shedding light on this divisive question, study the political events surrounding Jesus’s arrest and trial in Jerusalem, and uncover the precise motives and role of the Jewish authorities.
  • Was Jesus Raised from the Dead? Learn about the theological meaning of resurrection in Jesus’s time, and grasp what underlay the extraordinary claim that he was raised from the dead and exalted by God.
  • Did the Disciples Write the Gospels? Explore the dating and attribution of the New Testament Gospels, our historical knowledge of the disciples, and the question of whether these men possessed the skills to create literary accounts of Jesus’s life.
  • Did Early Christians Accept the Trinity? Investigate the conception of Jesus held by his earliest followers, subsequent views of his divinity, and the evolution of the Trinity as a core doctrine of Christian faith.
  • Is the Book of Revelation about Our Future? Unpack this powerfully provocative text by studying the genre of ancient apocalyptic literature, Revelation’s connection to that tradition, and its intended meaning in the time of its writing.
  • Who Chose the Books of the New Testament? Penetrate myth and fiction concerning the formation of the New Testament, and trace how, when, and by whom the 27 books were chosen.

Gain Rich Insight into Christian Thought

Under Professor Ehrman’s incisive guidance, you analyze and clarify many of the primary elements of Christian theology. You dig deeply into the conception of the mashiach (messiah) in Jewish tradition, and the basis for the core Christian claim that a suffering messiah was predicted in the Jewish scriptures. In grasping Paul’s role in the early faith, you contemplate the key differences between the teachings of Jesus himself and the Christian view of his death and resurrection that has defined the religion. You also learn about the differing views of Jesus held by early Christian groups such as the Adoptionists, Marcionists, and Gnostics, and their role in what became Christian orthodoxy.

In assessing the role of early Christian literature, you learn about the earliest surviving versions of the New Testament, their numerous inconsistencies, and what can be said about their authenticity. You also look closely at the authorship of the New Testament writings, and the evidence of forgeries and false attribution within this iconic text. And you trace the ambiguous role in early Christianity of the Jewish scriptures, and how these books came to be accepted as the Christian Old Testament.

A Riveting Encounter with History and Faith

As a historical sleuth, Professor Ehrman takes the inquiry down many intriguing paths of discovery. In the course’s opening section you investigate provocative questions about the historical Jesus. Was Jesus actually born in Bethlehem? Was Mary Magdalene, in fact, a prostitute, and what was her true role in Jesus’s life and ministry? Is it possible that Jesus was married, to her or to someone else?

Among colorful and surprising episodes in Christianity’s rise, you probe the mystery of Didymus Judas Thomas, portrayed in the non-canonical Acts of Thomas as Jesus’s identical twin brother. You look closely at the record concerning Judas Iscariot to determine exactly what damning information he betrayed to the Jewish authorities. And you examine the accounts proposing that Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who presided over Jesus’s trial, was actually a secret follower of Jesus.

In The Greatest Controversies of Early Christian History, the issues you reckon with shed important light on the foundational texts of Christianity, the historical Jesus, the first Christians, and the remarkable story of the faith’s unfolding in its first critical centuries. With more than 1 billion Christians in the world today, these controversies intersect deeply with the living faith as it’s practiced today around the world, and with contemporary Christian thought in all of its facets.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 29 minutes each
  • 1
    Was Jesus Born in Bethlehem?
    Begin by considering why the controversies of early Christianity matter, and explore the critical difference between the perspective of the historian and the perspective of faith. Then grapple with the controversy over where Jesus was born, the historical indications, and the faith-based motives for affirming Bethlehem as his birthplace. x
  • 2
    Was Jesus’s Mother a Virgin?
    Belief in the virgin birth has been enormously important throughout the history of Christianity. Here, assess the theological underpinnings of this belief and the role of Mary as a divine figure. Investigate accounts of the Annunciation in Matthew and Luke, and grasp their reasons for claiming Mary conceived as a virgin. x
  • 3
    Did Jesus Have a Twin Brother?
    The question of whether Jesus had siblings divided early Christians, a controversy that survives to this day. Learn about the non-canonical Acts of Thomas and its account of the missionary Didymus Judas Thomas, portrayed as Jesus’s identical twin brother, and consider how early Christians might have thought about this. x
  • 4
    Is Jesus in the Dead Sea Scrolls?
    Discover the Dead Sea Scrolls as they shed important light on the historical Jesus and on Jewish life in his time. Learn how the scrolls express the worldview of Jewish apocalypticism, shared by Jesus, which anticipated the end of the age and the establishment of a new kingdom on Earth. x
  • 5
    Did Jesus Expect to See the World’s End?
    Grasp how scholars and historians have approached the historical accuracy of the Gospels, and track the developing critical view of Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet. Contemplate the core tenets of Jesus’s teachings regarding the coming kingdom of God, and how his views threatened the social order of his time. x
  • 6
    How Close Were Jesus and Mary Magdalene?
    First assess the inaccurate portrayal of Mary Magdalene in novels and film, and trace the church tradition regarding her as a prostitute. Then review the known facts concerning Jesus’s female followers, Mary’s place in his ministry, and her likely role in his legacy both within his lifetime and afterward. x
  • 7
    Was Jesus Married?
    The idea that Jesus was married is purportedly supported by statements in the Talmud on ancient Jewish life. Investigate the marriage practices of early Judaism and the social reality of celibacy. Examine the role of apocalyptic thinking in affirming a life of celibacy, as seen in the teachings of Paul, the Essenes, and Jesus himself. x
  • 8
    What Secrets Did Judas Betray?
    For the last century, scholars have disagreed on the nature of Judas’s betrayal of Jesus. Delve into the historical record concerning the figure of Judas, and trace contrasting views of his motives. Review pertinent facts surrounding Jesus’s death and evidence that what Judas divulged to the authorities was a justification for destroying Jesus. x
  • 9
    Did the Jews Kill Jesus?
    The issue of the Jewish role in Jesus’s death became the basis for Christian anti-Semitism. To elucidate this crucial matter, investigate the events of Jesus’s final week in Jerusalem, the incendiary atmosphere surrounding the celebration of Passover, and the nature of the Jewish authorities’ response to Jesus prior to the trial and crucifixion. x
  • 10
    Was Pontius Pilate a Secret Christian?
    The ruthless Roman governor who ordered Jesus crucified has undergone a character change over the course of Christian history. Study portrayals of Pilate in Christian storytelling, the Gospels, and non-canonical writings as they seek to exonerate him from culpability in Jesus’s death. Grapple with these sources’ reasons for downplaying Pilate’s role in Jesus’s execution. x
  • 11
    Was Jesus Raised from the Dead?
    In approaching what is perhaps the greatest Christian controversy of all, learn about ancient views of the afterlife and the meaning of resurrection in the world Jesus inhabited. Investigate scholarship on visionary experience, and the role of visions in the conviction among the first believers that Jesus was in fact resurrected. x
  • 12
    Did the Jews Expect a Suffering Messiah?
    In this lecture, trace the early Jewish conception of a future mashiach as a figure of power and grandeur, and the Christian view that a suffering messiah was predicted in the Jewish scriptures. Study the relevant scriptural passages and the core arguments dividing Christians and Jews on this critical issue. x
  • 13
    Is Paul the Real Founder of Christianity?
    This lecture digs deeply into the distinction between the teachings of Jesus and the Christian view of his death and resurrection that has defined the faith. Learn about Paul’s theology and the striking differences between his and Jesus’s views of the coming kingdom, in grasping Paul’s precise role in the new religion. x
  • 14
    Did the Disciples Write the Gospels?
    The matter of the authorship of the New Testament Gospels has important ramifications for understanding the historical Jesus. Investigate the dating of the Gospels, our historical knowledge of Matthew, John, Mark, and Luke, and the question of whether they possessed the skills to have written such highly literary narratives. x
  • 15
    Does the New Testament Contain Forgeries?
    False claims of authorship for religious writings were common in the early church. First, trace the phenomenon of literary forgery in the ancient world, and its broad condemnation. Then study the range of New Testament writings of questionable authorship, and consider the motives for false attribution and how they were justified. x
  • 16
    Is the Book of Revelation about Our Future?
    The book of Revelation stands as a provocative focal point of the New Testament. To grasp its meaning and significance, learn about the genre of ancient apocalyptic literature, Revelation’s place in that tradition, and what its contents were intended to convey to people living at the time of its writing. x
  • 17
    Who Were the Original Christians?
    Here, explore the diversity of Christianity in the 2nd century, when multiple groups claimed to represent the “original” faith. Illuminate this issue by tracing the various forms of Gnosticism, the traditional conception of orthodoxy, and evidence that what we think of as Christian orthodoxy today was in fact a later development. x
  • 18
    Is the True Jesus in the Gnostic Gospels?
    This lecture highlights striking contrasts in theological conceptions of Jesus found among early Christian groups. With regard to Jesus’s divinity, uncover the views of the Adoptionists, the Marcionists, and the “separationist” view of Gnosticism in determining whether the Gnostic Gospels represent the understanding of Jesus’s earliest followers. x
  • 19
    What Happened to the Apostles?
    Stories about the later lives of Jesus’s apostles abound within the Christian tradition. Here, distinguish fact from legend by investigating the Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles, the non-canonical texts concerning Peter, Paul, Thomas, John, and Andrew. Evaluate these texts’ historical reliability and their significance for understanding Christianity. x
  • 20
    Was Christianity an Illegal Religion?
    The relationship of the early Christians to the Roman state is often obscured by historical inaccuracies and misperceptions. Learn about the variety of religious practices permitted by Rome, citizens’ obligations regarding social order and participation in the state religion, and perceptions of certain early Christian practices that led to the Christians’ persecution. x
  • 21
    Is the Old Testament a Christian Book?
    Investigate the place of the Jewish scriptures in the lives of Jesus and his followers and how Christian views of Jewish law changed during Paul’s mission. Trace diverse views of the Old Testament in the 2nd century in grasping how it became accepted as a Christian text. x
  • 22
    Did Early Christians Accept the Trinity?
    With regard to this core Christian doctrine, learn about the earliest theological understanding of Jesus by his followers, and track changing views of Jesus’s divinity in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Grasp the thrust of the “Arian controversy,” debated at the famous Council of Nicea, which clarified the Christian understanding of the Trinity. x
  • 23
    Do We Have the Original New Testament?
    Drawing on current scholarship and methodology, learn about how books were produced, copied, and circulated in the ancient world, and the role of professional scribes in preserving literary materials. Identify the earliest surviving texts of the New Testament, their inconsistencies, and what we can say about their originality. x
  • 24
    Who Chose the Books of the New Testament?
    Finally, delve into the intriguing question of how the final form of the New Testament came to be—who decided on the 27 books, when the decision was made, and on what grounds. Conclude by considering why Christianity, in particular, is prone to controversy and likely to remain so. 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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The Greatest Controversies of Early Christian History is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 62.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Not Suitable for Sunday School There is not one correct Christianity today, and there never was one. That is the thrust of this course. Since the religion’s beginning Christians have argued over the meaning of Jesus’s teachings, the significance of his crucifixion, and his relationship to God. In this course you may be surprised to learn that some believed Pontius Pilate died as a Christian martyr, that the discarded Gospel of Thomas makes out the disciple to have been the twin brother of Jesus, who sold him into slavery, that the Gospel of Mark in its original form ended without a resurrection, that the famous story of Jesus saving an adulteress from execution by calling “Let him who is without sin throw the first stone” didn’t appear in the Gospel of John until the 12th century, and that some believed the Christian God was distinct from and superior to the Jewish God, and so wished to discard the Old Testament. Along the way Professor Ehrman uses analysis of the New Testament to reconstruct the historic life of Jesus and the very early church. There WAS in fact a real Jesus contrary to mythicist claims that he was entirely fictional; no one would have fabricated a messiah who failed to mobilize Judaea against foreign occupation and then suffered execution. He was probably really born in Nazareth—an obscure backwater village--rather than Bethlehem. Jesus did preach that the Son of Man (a divine figure) would come to judge mortals and introduce a new kingdom on Earth, but when he decided that he himself would be that king and told the disciples in private, Judas betrayed him to the Sanhedrin, who turned him over to the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate, who whipped and killed him. The first generations of apostles, including Paul, fervently believed Jesus’s promise that the world would end soon. As we know now, the world refused to go away, and the church had to reshape its hierarchy and doctrines for a long-term existence. Early Christians seem to have believed that Jesus was “adopted” by God at resurrection or baptism; the idea that he—as the Son of God—was co-eternal with the Father as part of a Trinity—first appeared with Tertullian in the third century AD. The first Christians had nothing more than the Jewish scriptures, which at that time were still not solidified into today’s Hebrew Bible, and it took more than a generation before they realized they might need their own scriptures. Competing groups generated spurious gospels, pseudo-apostolic letters and apocalypses. More than three centuries passed before the church hierarchy narrowed down this body of work to the New Testament canon in its present form. There is much here to discomfit Christians who insist that the Bible is literally inerrant. The gospels were not written by any of Jesus’s disciples, who were likely illiterate Aramaic-speaking peasants with no Greek. Instead later anonymous authors drew upon stories about Jesus that circulated for a couple generations after his death. As Ehrman points out, orally transmitted tales usually change with each retelling, as in the children’s “telephone” game. For this reason, any gospel is unlikely to be an accurate account of Jesus’s life. Worse, the four gospels contradict each other at many points, as one can see with a “horizontal” reading that compares a given incident in two or more of them. Still worse, more than five thousand New Testament manuscripts that we have today contain two hundred thousand to four hundred thousand variations due to accumulated copying errors, attempts at corrections, and deliberate alterations. There is little or nothing inerrant here. My only objection to this course is that much of it repeats content in two other Ehrman courses I have watched or listened to, The New Testament and After the New Testament, as well as a third one I plan to borrow later, Lost Christianities. If you have those three courses, you probably can do without this one. There are still more courses that may overlap with this one and each other: The Historical Jesus, How Jesus Became God, and History of the Bible: Making of the New Testament Canon.
Date published: 2018-07-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Awesome Lectures!!! A must listen!!! I love this unbiased and factual lecture series. ALL non-Christians and Christians alike should hear this "message" to better understand what they are a truly ascribing to. Some of the facts will challenge our blind beliefs in our particular brand of Christianity, but this is good. All beliefs need to be tempered by solid facts and reality. This is basically a "just the facts" of early Christianity, and nothing else. An absolute must listen to by all!!
Date published: 2018-07-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting Perspective This historical perspective will not appeal to those who believe the bible is the literal word of god as it exposes these books as the work of men. I enjoyed it very much and will take more of of his courses.
Date published: 2018-06-27
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Sorry, but No This course is a waste of Dr. Ehrman’s considerable talents. Unlike his other The Great Courses (TGC) offerings, this is religion clickbait. This is a one-sided rant rather than a scholarly investigation. This course consists of 24 questions about the first three centuries of the Christian Era. Some of these questions are pertinent: Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Does the New Testament contain forgeries? Did early Christians accept the Trinity? However, as often as not, the questions seemed designed more to incite than to illumine, more salacious than scholarly: Did Jesus have a twin brother? How close were Jesus and Mary Magdalene? Was Jesus married? Was Jesus born in Bethlehem? The methodology is fundamentally flawed throughout this entire course. At the outset, Dr. Ehrman excludes all matters of “faith” and restricts his inquiry exclusively to matters of “history.” However, the fundamental essence of Christianity is its claims about a divine entity, which is precisely what a “historical” inquiry explicitly excludes from consideration. Thus, a “historical” analysis alone cannot possibly provide balanced insight into this or any other religious subject. Further, by excluding all matters of “faith,” he is imposing his standards on his subject. True historical scholarship examines its subjects in their own terms, which Dr. Ehrman adamantly avoids. It should be noted that practically all other TGC courses on religion go out of their way to examine the subject religion in its own terms; Dr. Ehrman could have done so here, too, but he refused. Thus, we learn less about the subject than we learn about Dr. Ehrman’s opinions. Also, by examining a religion solely in historical terms and by excluding all matters of “faith,” he can, at best, consider *what* happened and not *why* it happened. Thus, he neuters his own message; he deprives it of any meaning. Finally, Dr. Ehrman’s approach is anachronistic. Sometimes, when Dr. Ehrman refers to “the greatest controversies of early church history,” he is not referring to controversies that were debated in the early history of the church. Rather, he is referring to *modern* controversies using *modern* standards about assertions made during the first three centuries of the Christian Era. Further, he accepts conclusions only from what he calls “scholars,” by which he means so-called “critical scholars” (a term he often uses and with which he identifies) who contest accuracy and divine authority of the Bible. He explicitly excludes evangelical Protestant scholars, whom he derisively calls “fundamentalists,” (none of whom self-identify as “fundamentalist”) and he pretty much ignores Roman Catholic and eastern Orthodox scholars. Dr. Ehrman is a very good lecturer. I recommend his other The Great Courses offerings. He is a former evangelical who is now either agnostic or atheistic and this is woven throughout all of his offerings. This should not deter anyone from listening to him but it is important to know where he is coming from in order to hear what he wants to communicate. This is available only in audio format. Visuals would have added nothing.
Date published: 2018-05-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enlightening!!! I have studied Bart's lectures for some time and this series is probably the best. I started out on a quest for the truth and have not been disappointed. Bart lays out the facts and without an agenda, other than to educate the student, he exposes the myths and misinformation surrounding the scriptures. I heartily recommend this series to anyone who has a hunger to know the real facts behind the scriptures as we have been taught.
Date published: 2018-05-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Richly stimulating and satisfying I learned a great deal from this wonderfully informative course by a great lecturer. My only caveat is that in Lecture 19, "What happened to the Apostles?' he states, "the famous 'Quo Vadis' scene on which a very famous movie was based." I wish that Dr. Ehrman would have also said that the movie was based on the book, 'Quo Vadis" by Nobel Prize winning author, Henryk Sienkiewicz which is one of the greatest novels of all time. The movie is a pale, pale adaptation despite the perfectly cast Deborah Kerr. The book should not be forgotten! I recommend the Jeremiah Curtin translation for those who can read in the original Polish.
Date published: 2018-04-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The title says it all. There are internal and historical inconsistencies in, and modern day interpretive controversies about, the New Testament. In this course the professor discusses and explains these in a clear, objective manner as a historian, not a theologian. This is a valuable and fascinating series that any thoughtful and curious person can appreciate. The narrative presentation is outstanding.
Date published: 2018-03-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Phenomenal I highly recommend this course to everyone who enjoys learning about the foundations and history of religion. It is NOT just for those who are believers or faithful. It offers well presented information about the history of early Christianity that will be interesting for people of all faiths.
Date published: 2017-07-12
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not sure why The Teaching Company offers this. When I saw the title to this series I expected that it addressed historical controversies that developed in the early phases of the development of Christianity. Unfortunately it does not. Instead, to my mind, the series addresses the lecturer's disagreements with certain modern-day fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible. The purpose appears not to be to enlighten and expand our understanding of history but primarily to undermine fundamentalist Christianity. The title of each lecture is presented as a rhetorical question, such as "Does the book of Revelation predict humanity's future?" the answer to which signals the lecturer's preconceived bias. The lecture about the book of Revelation is also a good example of how far afield the lectures depart from what I would consider historical and academic analysis, as it ultimately devolves into the lecturer's personal interpretations of the biblical text (he even identifies the "anti-christ" as the Emperor Nero by using the number 666). As others have noted, I get the sense that the lecturer seems to have derived some pleasure in hammering his more fundamentalist students over the years, as he often recounts how he was able to shock his "Chapel Hill" charges. I also detected an occasional less-than-scholarly tendency toward derision on the lecturer's part, such as when he says that one should listen to the book of Revelation on CD, especially if it includes sound effects. I am also struck by the contrast between the lecturer's more measured tone at the beginning of each lecture and the borderline shrill/hectoring tone his voice seems often to reach by the end. According to WIkipedia the lecturer went from being a born-again, fundamentalist Christian as a teenager to an agnostic atheist as a college professor, which may account for what sounds to me like barely suppressed ire. I would be interested in an historical and objective discussion of the early controversies of Christianity, but in my opinion this series is not it.
Date published: 2017-05-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Greatest Controversies of Early Christian History A fascinating review of early Christianity from a purely historical perspective. The material is well researched and presented in a straight forward manner. Some traditional beliefs are challenged and devout believers may not be comfortable with the conclusions. But it need not lessen ones appreciation of the impact of Christian beliefs and practice on the modern world.
Date published: 2017-04-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Full of Insight and Debate - Very Well Done This is one of the better courses I've listened to and it honestly changed my life. While I still consider myself a believer of a higher power, this course really got me contemplating the history of early Christianity more form a historical perspective and allowed me to view it with new eyes and an open mind. Rather than coming at the study from a religious perspective, by taking a historical outlook on Jesus and Christianity, the professor allows one to more effectively study the events of Jesus’ life and the origins and evolution of Christianity with an open mind as opposed to blind combative faith. Pluses: • The approach of focusing on one controversy/question per lecture was an excellent presentation technique • Caused one to ponder the origins of Christianity and Jesus’ divinity with an open-mind • The convalescing of Christianity doctrine/theology in the early days of the religion was covered well Minuses: • While it was good to view Christianity from an open-minded perspective, I got the sense the professor slanted a little too much to the other side and sounded pessimistic at times with almost a hint of a former believer who became disillusioned/disgruntled over time If you can put your faith aside for 12 hours and approach the course with an open mind you will learn a tremendous amount from ancient times and may leave you open to the possibility that there is more to pursue and study than blindly follow traditional orthodoxy.
Date published: 2017-02-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Important Questions Brought to Open Discussion This is my 2nd Course of Prof. Bart and I am very satisfied with it. Prof. Bart is really an enthusiast of the subject and is very careful to not let put his own interpretation about each controversy although he gives us deep information to decide for ourselves. The "controversies" are many and Prof. Bart lectured some of the most important: The Divine Trinity, the formation of the Bible, the Resurrection of Jesus, just to enumerate few. You can listen the lecture and end it reading Guide or follow the lecture with the guidelines. Highly recommended for anyone who desires to know more about one of the pillar of our Western Civilization and how strong (or not) it is.
Date published: 2016-12-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from As usual, Dr. Ehrman is brilliant Insightful, well taught, well presented, informative, educationa, even entertaining. I like finally getting some real history instead of dogma thrown at me. Thanks for making Dr. Ehrman's work available.
Date published: 2016-11-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A remarkable overview of early Christianity This is the second set of lectures I have listened to by Professor Bart D. Ehrman. The lectures were excellent. My time was well spent in familiarizing myself with the various controversies such as was Jesus really born in Bethlehem or that contrary to what many modern readers think, the Book of Revelation is not unique and the subject was really the Roman Empire. This book is not for all people - some have no interest in ancient history and for others, their faith may make this too sensitive a topic.
Date published: 2016-09-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from I might or might not recommend this course From what I understand, Ehrman is a disillusioned former Christian and presents this material in that fashion. While the controversies he raises are interesting, they do not seem to be the greatest controversies, but rather seem to be post-fundatmentalist objections to the orthodoxy. It seems to me that he draws the wrong conclusions on things and his arguments are not very sound. There are also quite a few statements of "fact" that are more opinion than fact and there is little or no arguments for some of the conclusions. That being said, I'm glad I bought the course. Many of his arguments are transparent and have done little more than sharpen my own, but that's a good thing, I guess.
Date published: 2016-09-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thoughtful and Challenging This is clearly not designed to be an evangelic lecture on Christianity as most of the negative reviewers seemed to believe. But that is always the problem of unexamined belief, it bumps into the Law of Unintended Consequences and is stripped for examination under the light of facts. The fact that your bible and my bible are 2 of many different historical versions of the scriptures is real. These versions are all descended from a broad trove of historical documents and this lecture is an examination of them from an academic/historical perspective. It was wonderful to have a lecture series based on modern historical and interpretive methods. Believer in the religion or not, a critical assessment of the historical documents and their anthropologic place in the mixed diasporas of ancient cultures is a refreshing and stimulating way to approach the subject matter of 'What made Christianity the way it is now?' The professor is clearly not trying to sway his audience towards, or away from, faith. His is a very academic presentation of basic controversies of the formative period of Christianity that have interesting ripples through history and effect us now in the modern world. His discussions of clear, and suspected frauds, included in the gospels are very clear. His differentiation between fraud and compilation of oral traditions is very thoughtful. He makes unequivocal reference to early church leaders personal motivations and their inter-personal rivalries and it's impact on decision making regarding scripture. This is more a condemnation of Man than an attack on the religion. For the fundamentalist this may seem like a challenge to your faith, but intellectual rigor is courage. An understanding of the origins of organization, standardization and methods of dissemination of Christianity should not be able to diminish a strong faith but may lead you to a more thoughtful view of church and spirituality.
Date published: 2016-08-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from History, meet Religion! What would happen if we took the methods of a historian and applied them to the bible? This course is the answer. A great unbiased look at a religion which is usually clouded by an agenda. If you really want to know a thing, don't ask the fanclub. This course is full of answers for curious people. My only criticism is that the information here isn't as in depth as in some of Ehrman's other classes. If you haven't taken any yet, this is a great one to start!
Date published: 2016-07-14
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Worst Course I Bought I thought a course on "Greatest Controversies of Early Christianity," would be about early controversies among Christians, maybe gnosticism, circumcision, trinitarianism. Instead I got lectures dealing with controversies brought by 19th century Biblical critics of orthodox theology. Basically, this course reflects their personal controversies with the Biblical text and Christianity and has little to do with early church history. The professor is dogmatic and unbalanced in treating the texts, giving full weight and acceptance to noncanonical "gospels" and various ancient writers and treating canonical works as suspect and inaccurate on the whole. He boldly states that the stories of Jesus' birth , death, and resurrection in the four canonical gospels are irreconcilable without mentioning that believing theologians reconcile seemingly conflicting texts. One doesn't have to accept their reconciliations, but to avoid mentioning that such work exists is one-sided. Further, he seems to take pleasure and pride in denigrating Christian beliefs, the Biblical text, and his students who profess orthodox belief.
Date published: 2016-04-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Really well done I think it says everything that I couldn't listen to this in the car, as I really needed to be able to take copious notes on all of the rich content. Ehrman is a rock star in the biblical studies field. His audio presentation does a great job recapping his points and ensuring that the listener is always aware of where the exposition is headed, how side anecdotes fit into the overall lecture structure, and what the unifying theme is. He does a great job contextualizing his stories with dates and locations.
Date published: 2016-04-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good Overview Perhaps this course should be titled “The Greatest Controversies about Early Christian History” as some of the lectures deal with issues only coming to light in the 19th and 20th centuries such as “Was Jesus Born in Bethlehem?” and “Is Jesus in the Dead Sea Scrolls?”. However, Prof. Ehrman does hit upon those controversies that raged in early Christianity and does a nice job in explaining their intricacies. His other courses are much more detailed but this one is a good overview. Although he valiantly tries to separate theology from history, the agnostic historian seeps in when he speaks of Christian “apologists”; simply “Christian” would be less judgmental. This course is audio only and, for some reason, his voice is not as pleasing as it is in his video courses.
Date published: 2016-04-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb and captivating in every lecture I loved Prof Ehrman's course on early Christianity and his course on how Jesus became god, and loved this one just as much; they're all quite complementary with very little overlap. Prof. Ehrman does a great job of separating faith and theology from what we can know historically. I think this course is of real value to anyone interested in ancient history, the history of religion, or Western culture in general given the central role that Christianity has played for almost 2000 years. Prof. Ehrman is an excellent lecturer; I took this on CD and will probably buy one or more of his courses on DVD for the next viewing.
Date published: 2015-08-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Valuable but lacking balance There is no doubt that Ehrman is a good teacher. He speaks clearly and logically, and he uses examples that are analogous to the subject matter. He provided some valuable insights. His discussion of what secrets Judas might have betrayed was interesting because that question had puzzled me. His analysis of apocalypticism in the teaching of the early church is also thought provoking. Some of the topics were new to me. Even as a Christian for many years, I was not aware that there was a tradition that Pontius Pilate became a secret Christian or that Jesus had a twin brother. These are amusing sidelights but of course have nothing to do with day to day Christian study or practice. He does point out some difficulties that Christians need to confront such as the seeming differences in the birth narratives. I wish he had discussed the problem of the genealogies in Matthew and Luke instead of odd, off-the-wall subjects such as whether Jesus had a twin brother. Sometimes, however, he seems to make very little sense. In his lecture on whether Christianity was an illegal religion he tries to correct the misunderstanding that Christians were continually persecuted until the conversion of Constantine. While that error is worth correcting, he then goes on to repeatedly emphasize that Christians were not killed simply because they were Christians but because they were seen as unpatriotic or impious for not worshipping the Roman gods. This is like saying that dissidents in the USSR weren’t sent to the gulag because they advocated liberalism but because they were seen as enemies of the state. The charges are simply the oppressors’ excuses for the persecution. Christians were persecuted because Christianity forbade them from worshipping the pagan gods. They are persecuted today in many totalitarian countries because allegiance to any god other than the state is seen as threatening to the dictator’s power. I wish he had spent more time teaching us early Christian history instead of going off on such illogical tangents. I have not read any of Professor Ehrman’s books, but I understand he left Christianity for agnosticism many years ago, and his skepticism clearly comes through in the lectures. I think the best example is in the penultimate lecture on “Do we have the original New Testament?” He spends quite a bit of time outlining the many textual variations and copying errors in the manuscripts but fails to mention that there are virtually none that make a difference in the fundamental doctrines of the Christian church. In short, the course would have been better if he had made some effort to provide balance by giving at least an outline of the other side to some of the issues he raised. Perhaps the fact that nine of the references in his bibliography are to works by himself suggests that balance is not in his nature.
Date published: 2015-03-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Absolutely Brilliant! in this course each lecture is devoted to a single issue or question discussed in antiquity or by scholars today. The course is divided roughly into two major segments: issues arising out of Jesus' life and issues arising out of the subsequent church and its leaders. Professor Ehrman gives a wonderful presentation, providing context when needed, providing details when needed. More importantly the content he provides is also brilliant, causing in me deep reflection about the foundations of Christian faith. I note that his expressed goal is not to destroy faith but to analyze these important historical events using rigorous, widely accepted tools of scholarship. This course makes me want to go back to college at UNC Chapel Hill and study in his department. It is absolutely brilliant.
Date published: 2015-03-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Accessible Scholarship One characteristic of Dr. Erhman's lectures is the wealth of sources he refers to in making his arguments. Having been raised a Methodist as a child and participating in the church for several years as an adult, I continue to be amazed at the scholarship that I was unaware of while a member of the church. I, like him, fell away from the church the more I studied the Bible. My wife and I came to appreciate the mythology that developed about Jesus the Jew over time. Dr. Erhman's courses have verified our scepticism about the Christ figure.
Date published: 2015-02-26
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good presentation Brought out facts that most bible studies do not even go into. Mainly the political aspect and the way the bible was altered to fit the story they were trying to convey.
Date published: 2015-02-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Definitely food for thought This course dealt with questions that many of us have regarding the Bible and it's meaning. Professor Ehrman presented the course in a very organized and easy-to-comprehend manner, which made it interesting and understandable to the layman. The subjects discussed were explained in depth and backed by both historical evidence as well as biblical detail. I enjoyed this course immensely and have since ordered another set of courses by Professor Ehrman. Anyone interested in the mysteries of the Bible should check this out!
Date published: 2015-02-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Shaken to the Foundations Doctor Ehrman insists on analyzing early Christian traditions, beliefs, dogma, etc. as a historian, as opposed to a theologian. In example after example, where a theologian or believer will say, "Of course that is how it happened, and of course its significance is..." a historian will say, "That doesn't hold up to close scrutiny, so most likely that's not what happened at all and its significance is likewise open to question." Doctor Ehrman notes several times that he teaches "in the Bible Belt," and he sometimes tells about reactions from his students as they are asked to inspect their cherished beliefs from the historian's point of view. My guess is that most of his students assume their professor will surely go straight to Hell when he dies. When listening to Dr. Ehrman's lectures, one is forced to conclude that Christianity was built on a very shaky foundation -- that is, a shaky historical foundation, so how could it possibly have succeeded? Of course we know that Christianity is an incredibly successful religion. It carries a message so powerful that, in the end, the facts of its shaky history simply turn into interesting "by the way" footnotes.
Date published: 2015-01-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from OUTSTANDING PRESENTATION Dr. Ehrman, as before, presents an outstanding discussion of a number of important and controversial topics from early Christian history and theology. His lectures are clear, concise, well documented, and well supplemented by the accompanying course guidebook. As usual, his perspective appears to be historical rather than theological.
Date published: 2015-01-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course. Bart Ehrman best presenter I have enjoyed all of Bart Ehrman's courses, he is interesting and very knowledgeable about his subject. My only complaint is due to The Great Courses not providing video download for all of Barts courses and for this course only audio is available. The Great Courses should note that many people enjoy seeing the presenter in addition to the audio, hence the other people who were asking for video version. Personally, I would purchase more courses from Bart Ehrman and would hope The Great Courses will provide new courses from this Prof. more frequently.
Date published: 2014-12-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Clear and Concise This latest lecture is the best in the series by Dr. Erhman and all of them have been remarkably outstanding. The "Controversies" is straight-forward, well organized and concise while still be very interesting.
Date published: 2014-12-13
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