Week 1: Origins
In what sense was Jesus the founder of Christianity? Was he even a Christian? Was the bridge between him and the religion attributed to him “independent of his activity,” as has been claimed? Christ’s death signaled failure to his followers, yet within a generation they rallied, believing his resurrection was the key to eternal life. How did a man executed as a criminal come to be worshipped, and what lay behind the earliest accounts of his death and resurrection?
Week 2: Paul
From Paul we have the earliest writings about Jesus and the person responsible, some claim, for turning the religion of Jesus into a religion about Jesus. Was he the “apostle of love,” “the greatest of all missionaries,” or “the first… corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus,” who “hijacked” the Jesus movement, preaching intolerance and misogyny? We will look at the controversies surrounding him: his background and conversion, his views on women, his travels, and his relationship to Judaism and the Law.
Week 3: Jews and Christians, Christians and Christians
The Jesus Movement began as a Jewish sect but by the end of the first century Jews and Christians displayed mutual hostility. Why? Was the break inevitable? Was the anti-Judaism of early Christianity an example of a uniquely Christian intolerance?
Week 4: Pagans and Christians
How did Christians fit within the Roman Empire’s religious pluralism? What were their relations with their neighbours and with the Roman authorities? Were they a perpetually hounded minority, driven underground by unremitting persecutions? And what rifts developed within their ranks?
Week 5: Conversion
From a few hundred members in 100 CE Christianity had grown to an estimated 5,000,000 to 7,000,000 by the year 300. How can we account for this? We’ll look at the pace, method and nature of conversion and the possible reasons for it: the Christian message of a personal, loving god and an afterlife; and the ethical teachings and practices (social inclusiveness, charity and health care) in Christian communities.
Week 6: Constantine
The beginning of the 4th century saw the “Great Persecution” and then a remarkable turnabout as Christianity became at first tolerated, then favoured and, by the end of the century, the only legal religion of the Roman Empire. Why did this happen and what were the results? Finally, what can we conclude about why Christianity happened?