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Early Christianity: The Experience of the Divine

Shed light on an enduring source of inspiration for Christianity in this insightful and interesting course on the early history of this major world religion.
Early Christianity: The Experience of the Divine is rated 4.0 out of 5 by 63.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great teacher! Another great course from TGC, I sometimes have to wait on the deals to come around for the courses I like! But never once have I been disappointed with the courses I have purchased. Professor Luke Timothy does a great job with this course. His knowledge and understanding of Christianity and it's beginnings to understanding religious experience is very on point and I am very excited to learn more from him and other great teachers when I can find them.
Date published: 2022-10-09
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not what I expected I got this course this month. I thought it would be a history of early Christianity but it was more of a more about defining terms and never got to application of the terms. Little history covered. The presenter was not very easy to follow. I found the over all course very uninteresting.
Date published: 2022-09-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Early Christian Practices sans Doctrine Do not be confused by the title. This course is not a touchy-feely or mystic analysis of early Christianity (i.e., during the first three centuries of the Common Era). Rather, it is a history of the practices of early Christianity as opposed to doctrines, heresies, political influence, etc. Thus, the heart of the lectures includes how early Christians did baptism, “speaking in tongues,” significance of sharing meals, healing and miracles, visions and prayer, communal norms, worship, sacred writings, and creeds. Unlike doctrines and belief structures, these are all observable phenomena, what Dr. Johnson calls “experiences.” In short, Dr. Johnson addresses the question: “How did early Christianity express itself?” Dr. Johnson is a former Benedictine monk. He approaches this subject as an insider and his bias shows from time to time. This is fine as long as one knows what to expect. However, he is also a widely recognized scholar who is respected by Christians and critical scholars alike. Thus, his presentation must be taken seriously albeit with consideration of his bias. The course starts slowly. The first four lectures are about abstract fundamentals such as defining religion, examining what science can say about experience, etc. The next six lectures examine the Greco-Roman and Jewish context of Christianity. He does not get to Christianity itself until Lecture 11. Lectures 12-23, the heart of the course, basically take one practice or “experience” and discusses it. The course guide is in outline form. While this may be viable for looking up where a lecture addresses a particular topic, the outline form is not as helpful as a summary paragraph form. I used the audio version. The course is available by DVD but not by video streaming. I believe the visual aids would not likely add much to the presentation. The course was published in 2002.
Date published: 2022-06-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thought provoking insightful listening I have the audio version and the professor has a pleasant and clear speaking voice as well as very realistic viewpoints on early Christianity. The Course is titled appropriately.
Date published: 2021-08-09
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Did not Meet My Expectations Prof Johnson appears to be highly knowledgeable and an expert on the subject matter. However, lectures 1-9 focuses more on his philosophical thoughts on defining religion and experiencing the divine. This could have been condensed into 1 or 2 lectures. Then lecture 10 touched on the subject, but again the later lectures strayed away from the core subject.
Date published: 2021-01-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Too 'christian' for my taste In this course Luke Johnson is trying to prove that christian religion is different from other religions that seem similar, but his arguments are not convincing. The many overlappings with judaism and the Greco-Roman religions prove to me the opposite. The first half of the course is better then the second, because the latter I would call a 'sermon', not a scientific analysis of early christianity. I'm sympathetic towards any atttempt to make spiritual experience to be taken seriously, but not if this is exclusive. There is no reason after this course to believe that the christian experiences are of a higher reality, are unique or better then those of any other schools of thought or spiritual conviction. There is a lot of interesting information here, but I feel myself resisting the catholic atmosphere... In terms of believe-system: Everything in christianity revolves around how seriously we take Paul en his statements about his experiences with the Christ (he never knew Jezus alive). If Paul was making things up, the whole religion falls to pieces. Unlike Johnson who believes that the religion followed the christian experiences, I'm convinced that the experiences followed the fabricated beliefsystem presented by Paul en his allies.
Date published: 2018-05-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Clear, learned, thorough The consistent role of power was really helpful. I also found his clear and learned integration of the main contexts convincing and helpful.
Date published: 2018-05-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from taught by Catholic professor It was overall an interesting course, especially his discussion of the Greco-Roman and Jewish world before, during, and after the life of Jesus. Parts were not so interesting, such as an entire lecture on the definition of religion. He begins lecture 23 by saying he is going to explain why the Catholic belief that saints have supernatural powers, answer prayers, and intervene in human affairs is not really a polytheistic belief system, like the Greco-Roman pagan religions. But he never does, and instead spends the time telling stories about Christian martyrs who were made saints by the Catholic Church. It's interesting how the reviewer below thought he was not religious enough and I thought he was too religious. Maybe that means he gave a balanced presentation of the topic.
Date published: 2018-04-25
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What accounts for Christianity’s continuing success in what some would characterize as a "post-Christian" world? By looking at Christianity’s early history, Professor Luke Timothy Johnson sheds light on the religion’s enduring source of inspiration.


Luke Timothy Johnson

I strive to make philosophy accessible and lovable to everyone. If everyone embraced philosophy, the world would be a much better place.


Emory University

Dr. Luke Timothy Johnson is the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Emory University's Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, Georgia. Professor Johnson earned a Ph.D. in New Testament Studies from Yale University, as well as an M.A. in Religious Studies from Indiana University, an M.Div. in Theology from Saint Meinrad School of Theology, and a B.A. in Philosophy from Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. A former Benedictine monk, Professor Johnson has taught at Yale Divinity School and Indiana University, where he received the President's Award for Distinguished Teaching, was elected a member of the Faculty Colloquium in Teaching, and won the Brown Derby Teaching Award and the Student Choice Award for teaching. At Emory University, he has twice received the On Eagle's Wings Excellence in Teaching Award. In 2007 he received the Candler School of Theology Outstanding Service Award. His most recent award is the 2011 Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion for the ideas set forth in his 2009 book, Among the Gentiles: Greco-Roman Religion and Christianity. Professor Johnson is the author of more than 20 books, including The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels and The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation, which is widely used as a textbook. He has also published several hundred scholarly articles and reviews.

By This Professor

Great World Religions: Christianity
The History of Christianity: From the Disciples to the Dawn of the Reformation
Christianity as a Religion

01: Christianity as a Religion

Among world religions, Christianity is both the best and least known. Its political and cultural importance in Western civilization is obvious. Its institutional arrangements, theological disputes, and moral teachings are familiar. Less clear is the reason that the Christian religion; despised by many and declared dead many times; continues to draw adherents from every nation. The study of Christianity precisely as a religion offers clues.

33 min
What Is a Religion?

02: What Is a Religion?

Definitions of religion disagree even on basic points. Still, they can point us toward some true elements. A look at inadequate definitions that emphasize membership, ritual, belief, and morals serves to construct a more adequate definition based on a way of life organized around the perception of ultimate power.

31 min
The Role of Religious Experience

03: The Role of Religious Experience

The topic of religious experience is problematic. Science has trouble with human experience as evidence, and the more religious studies tries to be scientific using methods; the less attractive claims to religious experience using discourse seem. However, an analysis of Joachim Wach's definition of religious experience suggests how both etic and emic evidence can enrich such study.

31 min
Sourcing Christianity

04: Sourcing Christianity

Christianity drew from religious patterns in both Greco-Roman and Jewish cultures. Access to all ancient religious traditions is limited because of the nature of those traditions, the origin and nature of the sources, and the accidents of their preservation. A phenomenological approach that uses every available source and means of analysis enables the richest sense of Christianity as a religious experience and movement.

31 min
The Imperial Context

05: The Imperial Context

Christianity was born in the Mediterranean world of the 1st century CE, whose several layers of culture; including ancient patterns resistant to fundamental change affected the development of this new religion. Politically, the world was ruled by Rome; culturally, by Greek ideals. The ancient Hebrew national religion, Judaism, had spread across the Greco-Roman world and was the context from which Christianity emerged.

31 min
Greco-Roman Polytheism

06: Greco-Roman Polytheism

Greco-Roman culture was polytheistic, and was permeated by religiosity of every sort. Religious behavior both reflected and reinforced the cultural system called patronage. The early empire saw a proliferation of such religious phenomena as prophecy, healing, and initiation into mystery cults. Even some forms of philosophy took on a religious character.

31 min
Greco-Roman Religious Experience

07: Greco-Roman Religious Experience

Extant evidence is slender, but indicates that people in Greco-Roman culture seemed to demonstrate the same range of attitudes toward ultimate power as people do today. Three examples give us a sense of genuine religious experience in antiquity.

31 min
The Symbolic World of Torah

08: The Symbolic World of Torah

Judaism in the 1st century was a vibrant and complex phenomenon. Diaspora and Palestinian Judaism show distinct characteristics, but even Palestinian Judaism was internally divided. All Jews, however, shared the same basic story, convictions, symbols, and practices, which can be called the symbolic world of Torah. The religious life of Jews in Palestine was polytheistic and revolved around three main loci: the Temple, the synagogue, and the home.

31 min
Palestinian Judaism in the Greco-Roman World

09: Palestinian Judaism in the Greco-Roman World

The competing sects of Judaism in Palestine expressed Jewish identity in response to Roman rule and Hellenistic culture through patterns of passive or active resistance. Sometimes these conflicts are so highlighted that the deep religious character of Palestinian Judaism is obscured. Four examples provide evidence for the consistency and variety of Jewish piety in Palestine.

31 min
Judaism in the Hellenistic Diaspora

10: Judaism in the Hellenistic Diaspora

Life in the Diaspora enabled Judaism to develop in distinctive ways. Most notably, it enabled an engagement with Greek culture that was more positive and pervasive. Alexandrian Judaism provides a glimpse of Jewish life in the Hellenistic Diaspora, with an increased importance of the synagogue, and a literature based on the Greek translation of Torah.

31 min
Jesus and the Gospels

11: Jesus and the Gospels

The Christian Gospels offer at best a second-hand look at the religious experience of Jesus. We cannot recover the "historical Jesus," but we can draw some broad inferences concerning the Jesus of the Gospels from the judicious use of the deeds, sayings, and traits ascribed to him by those narratives.

31 min
The Resurrection Experience

12: The Resurrection Experience

A comparison to the founders of Buddhism and Islam sharpens the distinctiveness of Christian origins. It is not so much "Jesus' experience" that begins Christianity as his followers' claim to "experience of Jesus" after his death. The character of this experience can be approached through the claims the first Christians made about themselves, which involve the experience of a personal, transforming power.

31 min
Movement Meets World—Five Key Transitions

13: Movement Meets World—Five Key Transitions

Christianity's rapid spread across the Mediterranean world in the first generation of its existence is even more remarkable given that it had to accomplish five transitions immediately: geographical, linguistic, cultural, sociological, and demographic. The Acts of the Apostles provides a narrative framework for Christianity's emergence, and shows the role played by such religious phenomena as baptism, fellowship meals, healings, speaking in tongues, visions, and prayer.

31 min
Ritual Imprinting and Politics of Perfection

14: Ritual Imprinting and Politics of Perfection

Baptism, early Christianity's ritual of initiation, can usefully be compared to such rituals in ancient Greco-Roman and other cultural systems. Such comparison provides perspective on the conflict reported in two of Paul's letters Galatians and Colossians, between the apostle and members of communities who sought circumcision in addition to baptism.

31 min
Glossolalia and the Embarrassments of Experience

15: Glossolalia and the Embarrassments of Experience

Forms of ecstatic speech were part of Hebrew and Greco-Roman tradition. It is not shocking, then, to find glossolalia, or speaking in tongues, as a manifestation of spiritual possession in earliest Christianity. More difficult to answer is why such a powerful expression of the Holy Spirit's presence should be so quickly marginalized in Christianity.

31 min
Meals Are Where the Magic Is

16: Meals Are Where the Magic Is

Evidence from Greco-Roman and Jewish cultures testifies to the peculiar power experienced by participants in meals. The cultural contexts, however, offer a number of possible antecedents to Christian practice. What, then, was the precise meaning of the Christian meal? What is the appropriate way to interpret archaeological and literary evidence?

31 min
Healing and Salvation

17: Healing and Salvation

Physical healing and exorcism are major components of Jesus' ministry in the Gospels and play a large role in the Acts of the Apostles canonical and apocryphal. In early Christianity, healing is associated with five distinct motifs. They are a sign of divine presence, of the healer's compassion, of stages of spiritual transformation, of restoration to community, and of faith.

31 min
Access to Power—Visions and Prayer

18: Access to Power—Visions and Prayer

In all ancient religions, visions and prayer represent the two-way traffic between humans and the divine. The prayer of Jesus and his followers offers clues to their perception of that larger reality. The reported visions of Jesus, Stephen, Peter, Paul, and John provide glimpses of what they experienced.

31 min
The Holy Community

19: The Holy Community

From the beginning, Christianity took the form of an organized community called the church (ekklesia). A major challenge to the new religion was establishing its boundaries. It needed to signal its distinctive character in contrast both to Greco-Roman clubs and Jewish synagogues. Metaphors for the church "God's Temple, Body of Christ" indicate some dimensions of early Christian self-understanding.

31 min
The Community’s Worship

20: The Community’s Worship

One of the most important ways in which religion organizes existence is through ritual. In the New Testament, we catch glimpses of baptism, Eucharist, kinship language, foot washing, and the holy kiss. In the 4th century, Christian worship begins to create the elaborate sanctification of time known as the liturgical year and the sacramental system.

31 min
The Transforming Word of Scripture

21: The Transforming Word of Scripture

Christianity's relationship to Scripture has always involved a tension-filled dialectic. Its first Scripture was the Torah shared with Judaism, which Christians reinterpreted in light of the paradoxical experience of the crucified and raised Messiah, Jesus. The decisive moment in forming the Christian canon came in the mid-2nd century, when Gnostics promulgated an alternative version of Christianity.

31 min
Teachers and Creeds

22: Teachers and Creeds

As religious communities expand, they tend to develop structured patterns of belief. Earliest Christianity was characteristically simple with respect to structure and creed. The Gnostic crisis of the 2nd century; together with the prophetic movement called Montanism; forced the issue of belief and structure. Orthodox Christianity located authority in the teaching office of the bishop, and developed the "rule of faith," which eventually became the creed.

31 min
The Power of the Saints

23: The Power of the Saints

Christianity has retained its original power and a radical and sometimes subversive edge in the saints, who remind Christians of the priority of religious experience. The term "saint," meaning "holy one" was applied in the New Testament to all members of the community. Over time, the term began to denote Christians of extraordinary charisma, virtue, wonderworking, or transformed life, who revealed the power of the Resurrection and the humanity of Christ.

31 min
Christianities Popular and Real

24: Christianities Popular and Real

There is an enduring tension in Christianity between official religion; which is all about controlled power and popular religion; in which power eludes official channels. Official religion claims to be real religion, tending to despise the popular. Academic study of religion tends to follow the same path. Only recently has scholarship paid due attention to popular forms of Christianity.

32 min