The Fall of the Pagans and the Origins of Medieval Christianity

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Prof Harl makes this so interesting I learned so much from this course. This isn't my first course with this professor and he didn't disappoint. After watching this course, I developed such a better understanding of the drivers of behavior and culture during those turbulent times. Thank You Professor Harl!
Date published: 2019-04-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from ARRR! Very important course, highly-recommended! This series of 24 lectures is an important addition to The Teaching Company's stable of many courses on ancient history and Christianity. It fills a critical niche, for pagan religions were very much alive, strong, and in fact, thriving even to the time when Emperor Constantine converted. However, Christianity was growing geometrically, and by the time of Constantine it was a force that was impossible to ignore; we may easily infer that Constantine saw the writing on the wall, and decided that Rome should join the winning team! We can now see, with the help of Dr Harl, the exact ways in which the new religion relatively-remarkably-quickly "took over", and, of course, virtually every convert meant a corresponding loss to a pagan religion! The Christians must have been thinking, with each new convert: "One more for us, one less for them"! Professor Harl begins by examining ancient Greek and Roman societies, cultures, literature, philosophies and religious beliefs, laying the groundwork for the oncoming competition of, and onslaught by Christianity, which was to be outlawed in AD64, though they did not revolt, unlike the Jews. Now, if you have not encountered Professor Harl already, be ready for a fellow who likes to SHOUT and GROWL ~ and say ARRR ! I kid you not. He also produces a guttural drawn-out A-A-A-N-D frequently. Thankfully, he eases off somewhat after the first 6 lectures. These "tics" can be extremely annoying & irritating (even infuriating); I found them a real trial at first, then concentrated on "shutting them out"! I must add that when he deems it necessary, Dr. Harl goes into great detail, to help explain his points; he never becomes hampered by trivia, though. This lecturer has a sporty little habit of popping in a quick quip, but he's fast: don't miss them! This course is not, in itself, a study of Christianity ~ many other of the Great Courses' professors tackle this subject in depth; I particularly recommend Dr. Bart Ehrman who is a historian and agnostic. I own about 20 Great Courses on Judaism, Christianity and ancient history, and find this series by Dr Kenneth Harl fits into a neat slot, treating in depth areas that the other courses do not firmly address, by definition. This is a strongly-recommended course, in which the lecturer amply displays the breadth and depth of his knowledge over the six centuries in question, from Jesus to Justinian! Dr. Harl is easy to follow, plus the visual aids are strategically helpful, particularly the many explanatory maps. ARRR!
Date published: 2019-02-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Knowledgeable Presenter was obviously knowledgeable. He hadn’t just read about the places and things he talked about...he’d been there. I liked his use of vocabulary (I learned the word spolia). He explained without sounding condescending. But he didn’t dumb it down so far as to be boring.
Date published: 2018-11-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Worthwhile. Thank you. I only needed to see Lectures 1 – 8. Lectures 9 – 24 were optional for me. Lecture 1: Religious Conflict in the Roman World With the pagan definition of divine, Zeus always intermingled with the human world. Connection I made: In a sense, then, the local Hebrew God of the Hebrew Bible is a pagan god as well, intermingling with Hebrew humans but not so much as we approach the first century–nope, the lack of obedience is not the problem creating the God of Moses’ lack of existence during our exiles and worse, our being ruled by empires of different religions. Lecture 2: Gods and Their Cities in the Roman Empire kosmos: the clothes you put on a statue Cult statue decked out with its kosmos, is paraded to a theater where there is an epiphany, prayers, and sacrifices. Expensive religious practices were paid for by the upper classes. All the gods needed to be Roman protectors (empire and emperor). Lecture 3: The Roman Imperial Cult Augustus started the imperial cult with the veneration of Julius Caesar. The provinces totally accepted ruler worship while the Roman Republic was against monarchy, averse to it. An eagle, bird of Jupiter, carries the deified emperor up to the gods. Lecture 4: The Mystery Cults Franz Cumont 1868 - 1947 Mystery Cults as per Cumont - a dying or creator god who acted on behalf of humanity - notions of an afterlife and redemption - seen as ecstatic/enthusiastic, irrational, and non-classical, more exciting (better music) - Initiates chose to join the cult and there were rites - Proselytize to recruit members Given the characteristics of mystery cults, the mystery cults prefigure Christianity. E. R. Dodds 1893 - 1979 - The communal and family cults were not fulfilling. Mystery cults fulfilled the need. Serapis is also Zeus, not just Osiris and Apis the Bull When the followers of Jesus try to interpret his death, they do so along the lines of the characteristics of mystery cults (with the mystery cult of Mithra arriving in Rome during the Flavian Age when the canonical gospels were being written). Lecture 5: Platonism and Stoicism Roman Stoic Doctrines - The creator-god is the logos - Identified with Jupiter of Roman religion - A logical order created by the logos (There's an overall divine plan. Accept your position. Optimistic. Not against the physical world as the Gnostics were. We have a divine spark from the Logos. A certain capacity for divination. “I was born into it, I should do it dutifully.”) So St. Paul is a stoic. Connection I made: So, the triumph of Christianity (St. Paul and the gospel of John, especially) is based on an attempt to lift Judaism out of notions of revolting messianism and up through salvation based on redemption by a dying creator god who acted on behalf of humanity (mystery cult tenet) into Roman Platonism and Roman Stoicism, or if not Judaism whole cloth, an offshoot moment to do the same. Prompted me to discover: Stoicism in Early Christianity Edited by Tuomas Rasimus et al. – Chapter 1: Setting the Scene: Stoicism and Platonism in the Transitional Period in Ancient Philosophy – Chapter 2: Stoicism as a Key to Pauline Ethics in Romans – Chapter 3: Stoic Law in Paul? – Chapter 4: Jesus the Teacher and Stoic Ethics in the Gospel of Matthew Lecture 6: Jews in the Roman Empire 63 BC - Pompey the Great dismantles the Seleucid Empire Lecture 7: Christian Challenge - First Conversions eschaton: the final kingdom; the final event in the divine plan; the end of the world. Lecture 8: Pagan Response - First Persecutions Questions: Peter and Paul died in 67 AD, really? How do we know the persecutions needed to continue beyond 64 to 67? I disagree with Professor Harl’s treatment of the Fire of Rome in 64 and prefer the following alternative shared in the Fagan Great Course, Emperors of Rome: ...but the chaff he will burn with unquencahable fire. Matthew 13: 12 So, with the full scale Jewish Revolt around the corner, we have the fire committed by Jewish-like Christians, then Apocalyptic Zealots attacking the Roman Legion at the beginning of the Jewish Revolt, then the Revolt itself. (Paul and Peter died in the fire?) I have come to ignite a fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! Jesus - Luke 12:49 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which is from God. The authorities that exist have been appointed by God. Consequently, the one who resists authority is opposing what God has set in place, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. ROMANS 13: 1-2; so, Paul knew about the attack and tried to talk down the Zealots in Rome. The Christians captured actually confessed their guilt of arson. Loeb Classical Library, Tacitus, Vol. V, Annals, Book 15, Section XLIV: The Christians were convicted "not so much on the count of arson, as for hatred of the human race." So it is not so much Nero fiddled while Rome burned but the Christians said nothing when the Apocalyptic Zealots burned down Rome. (Every time there's a tragedy, we sing Amazing Grace. Why can't Nero, a trained musician use music and word during his tragedy?) The Christians were guilty. In praise and rapture, some of the Christians did plead guilty likely because, 1) “You crucified Jesus and Jesus’ eschatology begins here;” and 2) “This is the fire of destruction God promised Noah in Genesis and in the gospel (Mt 13: 12 and Luke 12: 49.” The behavior of the Christians was so unreasonable that their inability to sympathetically see the crime, the loss of life and property on a grand scale, so much so that some of them pled guilty, was remorseless, an exhibition of depraved indifference, and a mindset of aiding and abetting criminal activity. = = = If one thought that Jesus acquired his knowledge and content only from God the Father, or if one thought the Gospel of Matthew did not put Stoic elements in the teachings of Jesus, one would be mistaken. The Stoic Cleanthes’ Hymn to Zeus informs the Our Father Prayer with the Matthean phrase deliver us from evil which is not in Luke. The Golden Rule: “A noble and high-minded spirit will assist others and help them out. Those who confer benefits imitate the gods; those who seek repayment imitate loan sharks.” Seneca, On Benefits (Ben) Book 3, 15.4 translated by Miriam Griffin and Brad Inwood p. 68 In the context of Jewish ethics in general and Jesus’ teachings in particular, the Golden Rule has more to do with the elaboration of the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself than with the ethic of reciprocity and inciting beneficent reciprocal relationships. Luke correctly understands that the Golden Rule is indeed moving the hearers beyond the ethos of reciprocity … toward an ethos of imitating God’s self-motivated, self-sustained beneficence. [Luke 6:30-34, not just Luke 6: 31] The understanding of giving as a means of provoking generous response was censured by Seneca (in one case, shown above) as a poor way to engage even the social practice of reciprocity. The Jewish Teachers of Jesus, James, and Jude ps 278-279
Date published: 2018-10-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good course, with a few caveats Though this is a subject that I have studied myself, I found Harl's course generally well done, and it was a good review of the subject for me. There are a few points about the lecture that make it difficult for me to give it five stars. First, Harl's delivery is often irritating, and though his hollering is perhaps a token of his enthusiasm for the subject, with which I sympathize, that, along with endless "ums" and "ahs" and an occasionally rattly, forced voice, makes for difficult listening. His lectures start out in a clear and balanced tone of delivery, but sometimes very quickly end up sounding like a politician on the stump. Second, Harl's pronunciation of Greek and Latin names is inconsistent. Perhaps these details are misplaced in his zeal, but "Theodosius" should not be pronounced "Theodosus," nor "Mamaea" as "Maima," (or something like that), and there are a few other examples that gave me pause, which I can't recall just at this moment. These slips seem odd for an expert on the period. Third, possibly late antique literature is not Harl's specialty, and I know plenty of Classics scholars who wouldn't read them if their lives depended on it (or, more likely, they have no time to do so), but his descriptions of Nonnus and Quintus Smyrnaeus were way off. Not so much their subject matter, but Harl went on about how Quintus's work was the longest in antiquity, at 20,000 lines. This is incorrect: it is Nonnus's "Dionysiaca" that is 20,000+ lines; Quintus' "Posthomerica" is somewhere in the neighborhood of a mere 8700 lines. Also, I think it is rude to say that the latter is "only interesting to specialists," as there are several good translations of Quintus's works, and it is indeed a readable and entertaining account of what happened between Homer's "Iliad" and "Odyssey," and has other remarkable features as well. Nonnus, I must admit, is a hard slog, but I, at least, found it worthwhile. Fourth, it seems that a large gap was left in the last two lectures between Theodosius and Justinian. There is a lot that happened in there that could have at least been summarized, even if Harl felt that it wasn't relevant to his theme. Also, it would have been useful to mention that pockets of paganism existed well after Justinian; his summary made it seem that the last pagan disappeared during Justinian's reign, which is not so. The general listener may not care about these things, but I find them to take something away from the polish of Harl's scholarship, which on the whole seems very well attuned to his subject, even though, as another reviewer said, there was ore emphasis than was perhaps necessary on Asia Minor. That is apparently where Harl did much of his archaeological research, however, and I found that his examples from Asia Minor were interesting in themselves, and fittingly illuminated his points quite well. More visuals, also, might have been helpful, besides coins, which, as he (I think) rightly pointed out, give valuable evidence that is sometimes overlooked. All in all, and in spite of my caveats, I learned and/or refreshed my memory about several important points in Harl's lecture, and I think his approached was generally well balanced and valuable.
Date published: 2018-10-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good content, but the speaker shouts. The content is interesting. I bought the video, but you might find the audio-only adequate. I recommend the video, because you get graphics that add vividness to the lecture, and because the professor shouts at the microphone. I am curious how he does that without ruining his voice, but I found it irritating, and there were times when I thought shouting simplified his thinking. However, I am elderly, and an audience of people in their late teens might need that simplification. I completed the course because the content is sufficient to hold my interest, although I'd studied the topic on my own before taking this course. (By the way, I continued afterward with a more vivid and complete understanding.) However, I will advise you that if I'd known that this professor shouts all the way through his lectures, I probably would not have started this course. He should re-record the course.
Date published: 2018-09-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent! Excellent course. Very engaging lecturer. I'll definitely listen to this one again in the future.
Date published: 2018-09-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting perspective I love all of Professor Harl's course, because he is organized, funny, enthusiastic and he conveys spontaneity while providing a wealth of relevant detail. I particularly appreciate getting the pagan of view. The pagans lost out to the Christians and unfortunately it can be hard to get the point of view of the culture that didn't survive. But Professor Harl gave details from this losing side of history not just the winners.
Date published: 2018-09-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A good perspective: Pagans falling, not Rome Professor Harl is one of the best 5-star teacher. Please note; no disrespect meant for the many other TGC teachers I have listened to. Professor Harl can definitely present his point of view in strong ways. However, I disagree with the 1, 2, and 3 star ratings. All teaches bring their education, area of specialty, and experience to the class room. The more teachers you listen to the greater your perspective on the subject matter. Professor Harl attempts to explain one of the most difficult things to explain in history; how did Christianity take over Europe and prevail over Pagan religions. The "triumph" of Christianity is a rather complicated, long drawn out process. History is a series of events, often occurring simultaneously and intermingling with each other. In addition individual leaders often make decisions that create those most important events. Professor Harl does a fine job of explaining the inter-play of Pagan and Christian leaders and apologists. In just 12 hours of lecture Professor Harl explains many of the factors and maneuverings of various leaders that eventually resulted in the "triumph" of Christianity.
Date published: 2018-09-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fall the Pagans and the Origins of Medieval ... This is my third course with Professor Harl. Obviously I appreciate his teaching methods. As a student of history for my entire life I nevertheless find the detail of Dr. Hale's knowledge and understanding of his subjects his way of presentation to be most informative. I have read extensively in this particular subject but have learned a great deal of what had previously eluded me and he has clarified some the lessons I thought knew. A delight I look forward to daily.
Date published: 2018-06-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Quite interesting I take these courses as reviews of past college courses and to learn new and different. This course has certainly introduced me to some new thoughts on the subject.
Date published: 2018-01-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful content Once I discovered the Great Courses app, the downloading of the course was easy. Now that I have watched several of the lectures, the course is fully as fascinating as I thought it would be, and the professor is outstanding!
Date published: 2018-01-02
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Bias Should a scholar refer to an ancient as a 'Saint'?
Date published: 2018-01-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from fall of the pagans and origins of medieval My favorite teacher and a course that fit so well into a space I needed information to fill.
Date published: 2017-10-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thought provoking. The course was well organize and the material was thought provoking. The professor's presentation was interesting and matched the course description in the catalogue. The information presented gave me new interest in the subject.
Date published: 2017-10-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Got the course a couple weeks ago. Professor uses words unfamiliar to me and I fall asleep during each lesson
Date published: 2017-09-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good perspective on the late Roman Empire. Somewhat stiff presentation, but filled in a lot of information about the era. Dr. Harl's knowledge is encyclopedic, and he indicates where he differs from other scholars on some of the conclusions he draws.
Date published: 2017-09-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Balanced and interesting Kenneth Harl is always excellent and this course was no exception. The lectures were well balanced and interesting. The course provided information on the Roman's reactions to the Christians that I either didn't know or was misled about.
Date published: 2017-08-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Most credible I have attended courses, read books and listened to lectures about the Christianisation of the West but this is the most credible and easily listened to account I have encountered.
Date published: 2017-08-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Five stars! This is the most informative and interesting discussion on early Christianity I have seen. Well worth the money and the time invested. Professor's Harl's breadth of knowledge the Roman Empire and the emergence of Christianity is amazing. He seems to have no axe to grind, he does not insert political or religious views, just fascinating facts and conclusions based on his extensive research. I will buy more of his courses.
Date published: 2017-07-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The depth and breath of Dr. Harl's knowledge continues to astound me. It is only matched by his ability to relate this information in such a comfortable and entertaining manner. I particularly enjoy his way of interrelating events happening in different areas and different times.
Date published: 2017-07-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic overview of the fall of pagan worship! I've listened to several Great Courses and this has been by far my favorite. Dr. Harl is wonderful to listen to and provides in depth understanding of how Christianity basically conquered Rome and overthrew pagan worship for Christian worship. You will get a lot from this course in regards to understanding!
Date published: 2017-06-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The title is exactly what we expected This is the third course we have seen with Professor Harl. Every one of them has been informative and entertaining. He is very good both in his presentation of the lectures and his obvious knowledge. I would highly recommend this course and any others Professor Harl does.
Date published: 2017-03-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I bought this course a week ago. I reepy loved ot
Date published: 2017-03-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Filling in history The transition from Paganism to Christianity in the Roman world is historically under reported, in my view. It is essential to understand just how it came to be that Christianity ended up the dominant religion in the western world and how easily it might have died out except for one Roman Emperor who decided the Christian God was more powerful than the Roman Gods. I appreciated the detail of the lectures in explaining just what was happening to both Pagans and Christians at each phase of this unexpected transition.
Date published: 2017-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well worth viewing I was drawn to the title of this course as I am researching the issue of the persecution of Christians in the Roman world of the first three centuries for a University paper I am doing. I was interested to know why Christians were being persecuted, and made some interesting discoveries regarding the personalities of the Roman leaders under whom the persecution occurred as well as the political realities of the various periods in which persecution took place. I have also been prompted to extend the research further, and this course has provided me with some leads with which to do that.
Date published: 2016-10-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another great Harl course Many have already reviewed this, and I would only like to add that you can't go wrong with Kenneth Harl, whose vast knowledge and infectious enthusiasm make this course, like others of his that I have enjoyed, a real treat. Excellent visuals, too, including - inevitably - those coins!
Date published: 2016-09-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another home run I enjoy Dr. Harl's courses. This is another success in my opinion. He tells the story in an interesting manner with enough enthusiasm to really make it interesting. This is a historical perspective on the start of the christian religion. It compliments a more philosophical/religious approach that you find in other courses. What this course brings home is how religions blend and change over time to suit the trends and traditions of the past.
Date published: 2016-08-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from erudition This is a very ambitious in essence interdisciplinary project. Harl's erudition is impressive, his style is that of a fabulous story-teller and the viewer is bombarded with a wealth of information and is, therefore, never bored. Prior knowledge of Roman and Greek history is an advantage as one is better able to absorb and appreciate this great wealth. The structure of the presentation is not linear--in my view it couldn't possibly be--as the subject matter is tackled from many different angles. This course taken together with Harl's Rome and the Barbarians covers similar ground with Prof. Noble's Late Antiquity--but miraculously it escapes Prof. Noble's tendency (just a slight tendency) towards a dry, unimaginative, presentation. Back to Prof. Harl's Pagans...Lectures, here, are illustrated quite respectably, pictures of coins--if one thinks about it they are sort of photographs from Late Antiquity--are good. There could be more by way of maps, timelines, pictures, etc. The lectures on philosophy--I am referring mainly to lecture 5 but also lecture 11--are weaker, in my view, than the rest, they seem a bit "elliptical" lacking in depth and in the end one goes away having taken-in very little. They could be enriched in a second edition I suppose.
Date published: 2016-05-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent In Every Way! AUDIO: CDs This course is yet another home run with Professor Harl at bat. I have already been captivated by his TC courses on the Peloponnesian War and Alexander the Great, but was not sure if I was going to find this subject as compelling. I had, however, the same experience as with the other two courses, swept along from lecture to lecture, and sad to see that Professor Harl was coming to the end of these twenty-four sessions. Aside from Professor Harl’s evident mastery of the subject and his willingness to discuss other scholarly and popular interpretations (notably the 2009 movie ‘Agora’), his presentation style is highly engaging, peppered with good common-sense observations and humor, and includes exceptional discussions of how the coins of the period reveal significant aspects about the topics discussed. As with the other TC courses, Professor Harl makes regular reference to the work of other scholars and points upon which he disagrees, always providing detailed justifications. For me, two of the most interesting examples to cite are Professor Harl’s denial that the pagan mystery cults were a “parallel to Christianity” (Course Guidebook, Page 33), and that the triumph of Christianity cannot be attributed to an assumed Roman economic and/or spiritual crisis. In addition to these fine lectures, there is an equally impressive three hundred page guidebook, containing excellent lecture summaries, a timeline, a glossary, biographical notes, and annotated bibliography. I learned a lot about the early centuries of Christianity’s development, much of which I had only as a hazy and impressionistic understanding. Professor Harl gets the point across that there was nothing inevitable about Christianity’s ascendency, and shows this not only in focusing on the early Christians, but also on the life, beliefs and practices of the pagans. Relevant Roman social, political, cultural, and military matters are also discussed. Though he touches on Christian beliefs and, most notably, the conflicts between Arian and Nicene Christians, Professor Harl leaves theological issues to other TC courses. The many interesting things for me in this course include how few of the early Christians there were, and how persistent paganism was, even to the fifth century; the nature and extent of persecution of Christians, and the extent to which pagans later suffered at the hands of the Christians; how Diocletian’s third century administrative reforms had the unintended consequence of smoothing the way for Christianity’s rise; the absolutely critical roles of the emperors Constantine, Theodosius, and Justinian and how truly important for Christianity was the empire’s division between Rome and Constantinople; how Christian ascetics and monks played a larger role in Christianity’s expansion than the examples of the early martyrs; and, how significant were such often forgotten individuals as the Christian theologian Origen (important in helping establish the Christian canon and reconciling Christian and classical philosophy), and the fourth century emperor Julian, referred to as the Apostate (Constantine’s nephew, raised as a Christian), who tried to turn the empire back to paganism. Finally, Professor Harl ties things together at the end by noting in what ways Justinian’s sixth century world “was the basis for the religious and ethical values of the West down to this day” (Course Guidebook, page 195). You are in for a real treat with this TC course. Very highly recommended!
Date published: 2016-01-02
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The Fall of the Pagans and the Origins of Medieval Christianity
Course Trailer
Religious Conflict in the Roman World
1: Religious Conflict in the Roman World

The Christianization of the Roman world is one of the most important turning points in Western civilization. This lecture introduces you to the issues you will consider and the scholars whose seminal theories serve as the gateways to the course's different lines of exploration....

32 min
Gods and Their Cities in the Roman Empire
2: Gods and Their Cities in the Roman Empire

How were pagan gods worshiped in ancient Rome? Using evidence both literary and archaeological, grasp the diverse assortment of religious practices in an empire that ranged from Britain to Egypt and comprised a fifth of the world's population....

30 min
The Roman Imperial Cult
3: The Roman Imperial Cult

Learn how Rome's first emperor, Augustus, established an institution to venerate an emperor's spirit, or genius, which would then reside as a god on Mount Olympus. See how emperors took pains to deify their predecessors so as to position themselves next among that honored line....

31 min
The Mystery Cults
4: The Mystery Cults

Mystery cults were believed to be the worship to a particular god and involved the choice to join and undergo an initiation rite. You examine specific cults and the controversial question of whether they did, in fact, form a bridge between paganism and Christianity, as some scholars maintain....

30 min
Platonism and Stoicism
5: Platonism and Stoicism

Understand the powerful influence of philosophy-particular Platonism and Stoicism-on the morality and conduct of Rome's ruling classes. It was an influence rarely matched in the Western tradition, with even Christian theologians employing the doctrines of these two philosophical schools in defining their own faith....

31 min
Jews in the Roman Empire
6: Jews in the Roman Empire

What role did Judaism play in the Roman Empire? Learn how Rome's experience with this stalwart monotheistic faith-the first it had encountered-differed from the challenge of the Christian faith that would emerge from it....

30 min
Christian Challenge-First Conversions
7: Christian Challenge-First Conversions

Experience the first years of efforts to convert people to Christianity. Begin with the early leadership by James of those who were often called Jewish Christians and continue with the career of Paul, from his own conversion after a vision to his work propagating the message of Jesus....

31 min
Pagan Response-First Persecutions
8: Pagan Response-First Persecutions

Learn about early responses to Christianity, from the violent persecutions in Rome under Nero to the legalistic and easily avoided persecutions under later emperors. Grasp, too, the consequences of Roman ignorance of Christianity and the eventual momentum that ignorance would eventually give the new faith....

31 min
Christian Bishops and Apostolic Churches
9: Christian Bishops and Apostolic Churches

Nero's outlawing of a specific religion-unprecedented in Roman history-forced Christians to discover new ways to proselytize. Discover how the ideas of apostolic succession and a recognized canon shaped the voice with which Christianity could speak to the world....

31 min
Pagan Critics and Christian Apologists
10: Pagan Critics and Christian Apologists

Explore how both Christianity's pagan critics and its apologists reveals not only an evolution in pagan understanding of the new faith but a corresponding increase in the sophistication of the writings set forth by those defending it....

31 min
First Christian Theologians
11: First Christian Theologians

Examine the work of Saint Clement, who established Christianity's claim to equality with the pagans as heirs to classical intellectual culture, and of Origen, whose ability to argue in Platonic terms and contributions to defining the canon make him one of the most important thinkers in Christian history....

30 min
Imperial Crisis and Spiritual Crisis
12: Imperial Crisis and Spiritual Crisis

The stability and peace of the Roman Empire was shattered with the assassination of Severus Alexander, and the ensuing political and military crisis transformed the Roman world. Many have maintained that this crisis paved the way for large-scale Christian conversion, but there are tantalizing arguments to the contrary....

32 min
The Great Persecutions
13: The Great Persecutions

Analyze two great periods of empire-wide persecution distinct from the largely localized ones examined earlier. Learn how Christian martyrdom was perceived very differently by the pagan and Christian communities, and that its ability to bring about conversions may have been minimal....

32 min
The Spirit of Late Paganism
14: The Spirit of Late Paganism

Explore how the spiritual life of paganism fared during the political and military crises examined in the preceding lectures. See how these had an impact on not only pagan worship but also the intellectual work of pagan philosophers like Plotinus and the emergence of an independent religion known as Manichaeism....

31 min
Imperial Recovery under the Tetrarchs
15: Imperial Recovery under the Tetrarchs

The 20-year period known as the Tetrarchy-during which the emperor Diocletian shared imperial power with three colleagues--was critical to the Roman Empire, ending civil war and invasion, restoring order and prosperity, and giving Rome something it had never had: a principle of succession....

33 min
The Conversion of Constantine
16: The Conversion of Constantine

Analyze one of the most decisive turning points in Roman history and of Western civilization. Interpret the legendary story as it has come down to us in light of recent scholarship and what we now understand about Constantine's world and the forces that would have motivated him....

32 min
Constantine and the Bishops
17: Constantine and the Bishops

See how the same principle that had always steered Rome's efficient use of power-absorbing institutions rather than simply crushing them-was used to create a new hierarchy within the Roman imperial system from the existing network of apostolic churches....

33 min
Christianizing the Roman World
18: Christianizing the Roman World

How and why did Constantine set about making the Christian faith central to Roman life? See how his vision unfolded in multiple areas, including the reshaping of the urban landscape to claim public and religious space, economic changes, and the use of pilgrimages and Christian missionary activity....

31 min
The Birth of Christian Aesthetics and Letters
19: The Birth of Christian Aesthetics and Letters

Explore how Christians managed to alter the cultural heritage of their pagan past-including architecture and the visual and literary arts-in ways that made this heritage distinctly Christian while still preserving as much of it as possible....

31 min
The Emperor Julian and the Pagan Reaction
20: The Emperor Julian and the Pagan Reaction

Experience what happened when a Christianizing Roman world was told by their new emperor that decades of change would be undone and that Rome's religious and cultural history would again be reversed, this time turning back to paganism and a restoration of the old gods....

32 min
Struggle over Faith and Culture
21: Struggle over Faith and Culture

Grasp how the death of Julian the Apostate-and the end of his short-lived program to restore paganism's dominant role-forced the empire to grapple with two all-encompassing questions: Could the Constantinian revolution in fact be reversed? What religion would take charge in the Roman world?...

31 min
New Christian Warriors-Ascetics and Monks
22: New Christian Warriors-Ascetics and Monks

Take in the different perceptions of asceticism by pagans and Christians and how Christian ascetics and monks, in particular, proselytized and won conversions to Christianity with a power and influence that even the Roman Empire could not have matched....

31 min
Turning Point-Theodosius I
23: Turning Point-Theodosius I

Witness the crucial turning point in the spread of Christianity in the Roman world. Three new laws opened the floodgates for the destruction of pagan sanctuaries, a ban on public sacrifices, and the declaration of Nicene Christianity as the only legitimate faith and a requirement for citizenship....

31 min
Justinian and the Demise of Paganism
24: Justinian and the Demise of Paganism

Learn how Justinian, even in a Roman world still predominantly pagan, implemented a "persecuting society" that would ensure, by the time of his death, a Western world where being civilized was defined as being Christian, as were its notions of the divine and the ethical....

35 min
Kenneth W. Harl

We will be looking largely at archeological evidence and analysis done by anthropologists because we are operating largely in a world without writing.


Yale University


Tulane University

About Kenneth W. Harl

Dr. Kenneth W. Harl is Professor of Classical and Byzantine History at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he teaches courses in Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Crusader history. He earned his B.A. from Trinity College and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Yale University. Recognized as an outstanding lecturer, Professor Harl has received numerous teaching awards at Tulane, including the coveted Sheldon H. Hackney Award. He has earned Tulane's annual Student Body Award for Excellence in Teaching nine times and is the recipient of Baylor University's nationwide Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teachers. In 2007, he was the Lewis P. Jones Visiting Professor in History at Wofford College. An expert on classical Anatolia, he has taken students with him into the field on excursions and to assist in excavations of Hellenistic and Roman sites in Turkey. Professor Harl has also published a wide variety of articles and books, including his current work on coins unearthed in an excavation of Gordion, Turkey, and a new book on Rome and her Iranian foes. A fellow and trustee of the American Numismatic Society, Professor Harl is well known for his studies of ancient coinage. He is the author of Civic Coins and Civic Politics in the Roman East, A.D. 180-275 and Coinage in the Roman Economy, 300 B.C. to A.D. 700.

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