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The Greatest Controversies of Early Christian History

Uncover secrets and learn the truth behind some of the most persistent and provocative controversies of early Christianity in this gripping course by noted biblical scholar and New York Times best-selling author Bart D. Ehrman.
The Greatest Controversies of Early Christian History is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 65.
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Rated 1 out of 5 by from Ehrman is only interested in his own biases There are many brilliant and renown, unbiased scholars of both Old Testament and New Testament. Ehrman is not one of them.
Date published: 2023-05-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very interesting course As with all of Dr. Ehrman’s courses, this is very educational. The course is well organized. It presents interesting historical aspects of the Bible and early Christianity that are rarely taught in church or Bible study. I highly recommend it to those seeking a greater understanding of Christianity and its origins.
Date published: 2022-11-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Not as Controversial as Dr. Ehrman Perhaps the only thing in which I delight more than listening to Professor Ehrman is to read some of the diverse critical reviews on one of his courses. This is, as I recall the fifth course of Dr. Ehrman's I’ve taken and surprisingly, perhaps the least controversial. There are of course the usual reviews complaining about his lack of belief in the Christian religion and his academic and historical approach to scripture, but those objections seem both fewer in number and somewhat more muted in tone, than I have come to expect. Perhaps this is because the title of the course itself might well discourage many literal believers from taking the course (as opposed to his course on the New Testament). Of course, as always there are many believers who comment favorably on the course and Dr. Ehrman’s approach. Strangley with the title, I was expecting much more of a polemic approach. Each lecture concentrated on a single, controversial issue, and for me some of them seemed to not be controversial at all. For example lectiure 20, “Was Christianity an Illegal Religion”, pretty much just gave the facts, but in this I found nothing new. Or the concluding lecture on who chose the books of the New Testament, was just a brief rehash of his full course on the New Testament Canon. Still and as always, there is much to learn and admire. For example, the series of lectures devoted to Paul and who wrote the Gospels was quite interesting and his lecture on Revelation was revealing. My favorite topic was the one on Judas and the secrets that he might have betrayed. I’ve never quite understood why it was so important that he identified Jesus to the Romans, as they had plenty of other ways of knowing his identity. Here Professor Ehrman helped see the issue in an entirely new way. As always his delivery is on point and his arguments sound. Perhaps less emphatic and antimated than is some of his other courses, and all the more effective for that. My only regreat was the emphasis on “Early” Christianity. There might have been more robust debates, were more recent contraverises been included. I took the course on audio. I don’t think that video would have added much. Recommended even for true believers.
Date published: 2020-02-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Ehrman does not always accept Biblical texts Erhman follows the Bible and history, but stays away from myth embedded in scripture. For example, Christ takes on lunar characteristics on his death and resurrection. The old moon dies and on the third day is reborn. There is much more of this in Christianity. Ehrman in two or three instances seems not up to par in history. He states that the Romans would not have been interested in Christ's apocalyptic teaching. Mircea Eliade wrote: "Several times in the course of their history, the Romans underwent the terror of an imminent end to their city...." The soldiers probably would have been interested to hear what Christ had to say of an apocalypse. Romans soldiers throughout the empire, too, followed the rites of Mithra underground. Why treat them like wooden soldiers? Ehrman tells us that the authorities were fearful of putting Christ on trial with the many people there who followed him. But then the people wanted Barabbas freed and Christ crucified. Whatever analysis fits the situation. The authorities would not have feared the people. Roman soldiers routed the Egyptian messiah and his followers with little difficulty. Finally, Ehrman brings up the question of whether Christ existed. Certainly, there was something going on. The many questionable writings and the approved texts point this out. Those who have studied the origin of myths and legends (King Arthur, Macbeth) might be able to find the nucleus of Christ in Josephus in the early, rather than late, rule of Herod.
Date published: 2019-12-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very informative. This was my first time buying an audio download. It works perfectly.
Date published: 2019-07-02
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I am not happy that I bought this course. As a matter of fact I have been thinking about returning it regardless of whether I get a refund. It is one thing to come across from the point of view of controversy, it is entirely another to just bash theologically based scripture. I understand that the viewpoint is from the historical perspective, but this perspective is skewed with an agenda to prove Christianity wrong.
Date published: 2019-03-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Eye-Opening I purchased this course a few years ago, and have returned to it several times as a resource when involved in discussions with both believers and skeptics. Mr. Ehrman provides and open-minded, fair, and in-depth assessment of Biblical texts from a historical viewpoint. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2019-01-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from I have other courses by the same professor and it sees like many of the lectures are repeats. That is why I graded it 3 stars for content and value
Date published: 2019-01-24
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Whether we view it in religious, social, political, or economic terms, Christianity has deeply and integrally influenced the Western worldview, our way of life, and our most basic notions of selfhood, morality, and ethics. But compelling controversies surrounding the development of Christianity in its first three centuries bring into question common beliefs about the faith. Now, in The Greatest Controversies of Early Christian History, join award-winning Professor Bart D. Ehrman 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.


Bart D. Ehrman

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


The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Dr. Bart D. Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He completed his undergraduate work at Wheaton College and earned his M.Div. and Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary. Professor Ehrman has written or edited 27 books, including four best sellers on The New York Times list: Misquoting Jesus: The Story behind Who Changed the Bible and Why; God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question-Why We Suffer; Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don't Know about Them);and Forged: Writing in the Name of God-Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are. Professor Ehrman also served as president of the Society of Biblical Literature, Southeastern Region; book review editor of the Journal of Biblical Literature; editor of the Scholars' Press monograph series The New Testament in the Greek Fathers;and coeditor-in-chief for the journal Vigiliae Christianae. Professor Ehrman received the John William Pope Center Spirit of Inquiry Award, the UNC Students' Undergraduate Teaching Award, the Phillip and Ruth Hettleman Prize for Artistic and Scholarly Achievement by Young Faculty, and the Bowman and Gordon Gray Professorship (awarded for excellence in undergraduate teaching).

By This Professor

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


Was Jesus Born in Bethlehem?

01: 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.

33 min
Was Jesus’s Mother a Virgin?

02: 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.

30 min
Did Jesus Have a Twin Brother?

03: 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.

28 min
Is Jesus in the Dead Sea Scrolls?

04: 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.

31 min
Did Jesus Expect to See the World’s End?

05: 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.

30 min
How Close Were Jesus and Mary Magdalene?

06: 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.

30 min
Was Jesus Married?

07: 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.

30 min
What Secrets Did Judas Betray?

08: 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.

30 min
Did the Jews Kill Jesus?

09: 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.

27 min
Was Pontius Pilate a Secret Christian?

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.

29 min
Was Jesus Raised from the Dead?

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.

28 min
Did the Jews Expect a Suffering Messiah?

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.

28 min
Is Paul the Real Founder of Christianity?

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.

29 min
Did the Disciples Write the Gospels?

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.

29 min
Does the New Testament Contain Forgeries?

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.

28 min
Is the Book of Revelation about Our Future?

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.

30 min
Who Were the Original Christians?

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.

29 min
Is the True Jesus in the Gnostic Gospels?

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.

31 min
What Happened to the Apostles?

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.

29 min
Was Christianity an Illegal Religion?

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.

29 min
Is the Old Testament a Christian Book?

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.

29 min
Did Early Christians Accept the Trinity?

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.

30 min
Do We Have the Original New Testament?

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.

29 min
Who Chose the Books of the New Testament?

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.

29 min