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The Greatest Controversies of Early Christian History  By  cover art

The Greatest Controversies of Early Christian History

By: Bart D. Ehrman,The Great Courses
Narrated by: Bart D. Ehrman
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Publisher's Summary

Without the presence of Christianity, our world would be considerably different. Whether we view it in religious, social, or political terms, Christianity has deeply and integrally influenced the Western worldview and way of life. Yet, throughout Christian history, compelling controversies have existed surrounding the faith's first three centuries, when it grew from a persecuted sect into a powerful religion. These controversies bring into question many commonly accepted beliefs about Christianity.

In this course, an award-winning professor and New York Times best-selling author offers a penetrating investigation of the 24 most pivotal controversies, shedding light on fallacies that obscure an accurate view of the religion and how it evolved into what it is today. In each lecture, you'll delve into a key issue in Christianity's early development:

  • Did the Jews Kill Jesus?
  • Was Jesus Raised from the Dead?
  • Did the Disciples Write the Gospels?
  • Did Early Christians Accept the Trinity?
  • Is the Book of Revelation about Our Future?
  • Who Chose the Books of the New Testament?
You'll delve into the conception of the meshiach (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. 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. Explore these and other intriguing questions in this unique inquiry into the core of Christian tradition.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2013 The Great Courses (P)2013 The Teaching Company, LLC

What listeners say about The Greatest Controversies of Early Christian History

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A Lackluster Survey

What disappointed you about The Greatest Controversies of Early Christian History?

Ehrman begins by presenting clear contradictions in the Bible and assessing them in terms of what possible truths might lay behind such inconsistencies. His lecture unfortunately degrades from this sort of analysis of the fractures within biblical canon into a survey and consideration of post-biblical Christian legends and what amounts to fan-fiction. He is overtly selective about what material he presents and analyzes in his treatment of each topic so as to present only the material that supports his presupposed conclusions. His lecture comes across as partisan and dishonest--more fitting to be read from a pulpit rather than a classroom.

What could The Great Courses have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

The course had the potential to be something interesting and worthwhile if it had avoided the assumptions and biases of faith in favor of evidence-based historical analysis focused around fact rather than opinion.

What did you like about the performance? What did you dislike?

Attempts were made to acknowledge when opinions were being presented early in the series, but as the series progressed opinions were presented with increased frequency, and their acknowledgement as such became weaker and weaker. The overall tone was one of a sermon, often repeating ideas being presented as key points multiple times almost as if to convince the listener by means of insistence rather than reason.

24 people found this helpful

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Essential early Christian history

Ehrman is an erudite scholar of Biblical history, especially as it pertains to early Christian history. This course was so interesting and informative that when I finished it, I started it again. If you are interested in the topics in the above description, listen to this course.

Note: This is not a devotional course. It covers the topics from the perspective of a historian, not from a theologian.

21 people found this helpful

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A remarkable look at 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 (unlikely) or that contrary to what many modern readers think, the Book of Revelation is not unique and the subject was 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. Ehrman states early on:

"In these lectures, we will approach controversies of early Christianity not from the perspective of faith but from the perspective of history. We will not deny or affirm Christian belief or the approach to the Bible by faith; instead, we will take the approach of the historian— one who tries to reconstruct what actually happened in the past without assuming any particular faith commitments.

You may or may not feel that the conclusions we reach about controversial issues will have any bearing on your faith. But the fact that so many issues have been in dispute in Christianity from the earliest days of the faith is interesting in itself. What makes Christianity so subject to controversy on so many points? Why have those issues persisted for so long, and why have they so often been divisive? As we look for ways to resolve the disputes that are the subject of this course, we’ll look for answers to those fundamental questions, as well

18 people found this helpful

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Not even-handed

The professor has a strong bias against Christianity that shows in how he selectively uses material. He frequently tries to place the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the same category as clearly spurious non-canonical gospels that were written much later and rejected by the Church.

He completely ignores the widely-accepted Q Hypothesis in order to claim that the Canonical Gospels were based purely on oral tradition rather than on any pre-existing written sources. Therefore he accepts the writings of Josephus while rejecting anything in the Canonical Gospels as "not historical".

He also uses the lack of literacy in the ancient world as an argument to support the idea that the early Christian Church could not have had written records, but many historical people dictated to scribes, and anyway he accepts several of Paul's letters as historical. Why would Paul be writing to churches if no one could read?

17 people found this helpful

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  • x
  • 10-31-14

New Title Suggestion: Deconstruction of Christian

What would have made The Greatest Controversies of Early Christian History better?

Read this at the risk of weakening of your faith. If you are already godless, no worries. This book will not risk a relationship with God.

Would you ever listen to anything by The Great Courses and Bart D. Ehrman again?

no

What about Professor Bart D. Ehrman’s performance did you like?

nothing

What character would you cut from The Greatest Controversies of Early Christian History?

The Author.

11 people found this helpful

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And the Controversies Go On!

The Great Courses offers several lecture series by Bart Ehrman and I have enjoyed each one I've encountered. He has great command of the subjects of early Christianity, and his approach is clear and understandable.

Ehrman begins the course with an explanation of his purpose. Not a religious interpretation, this is an attempt to explore the historical realities and the context in which early Christians lived, told their stories, and advanced their faith.

So the controversies include not only the questions Ehrman confronts about the historical probabilities of the Christian Bible and beliefs, but also about how listeners will react to the approach itself. As a scholar, the Professor challenges areas which most of us have encountered only in a religious context. If the listener's mind is not open to different ways of looking at Christianity, he/she will most likely not appreciate this course.

Anyone willing to listen will learn a lot.

9 people found this helpful

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Fascinating journey through Early Christianity

This series of lectures explores some of the biggest controversies of early Christianity, ranging from the serious questions (do we still have the original New Testament?) to the borderline crazy (did Jesus have a twin brother?)

If you take it with a grain of salt, it's an interesting journey through some of the most hotly debated issues of the faith.

9 people found this helpful

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Excellent Ehrman

If you are already familiar with Dr Ehrman's work, nothing really stands out here. It's excellent work, but most of the information can be found in some of his other works.

6 people found this helpful

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Biased

I know people like his style, so do I; but he comes across as pedantic, and clearly thinks he is the one that has everything right.

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Sure interesting but long

Any additional comments?

What I enjoyed a lot was how he pointed out a lot of "facts" that didn't turned out to be facts at all, without disrespecting those who believe.
I truly believe he is not out to prove the bible wrong, but to straighten facts out.
I found it vey interesting, but a bit too long ( happens to me with most courses, so that might just be me....)

5 people found this helpful

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  • Paul Forrest
  • 10-21-19

INACCURATE TITLE

If you are looking for information about early church heresies and schism, this isn't the book you want. These lectures are nothing more than a rehearsal of all the attacks on Christianity you can find in two seconds on Google. He is not disinterested, but heartily presents Jesus as a mere man, and one who didn't really know what was going on. There's so much more that's faulty. If you're looking for ammo to throw at unsuspecting Christians for a cheap thrill, this will give you it. However, if you plan to go head to head with a believer who's more educated, you'll make a fool of yourself.

5 people found this helpful

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  • geoff nemec
  • 02-06-18

A respectful challenge to Christian beliefs

Loved this book. a great piece of work wonderfully presented. interesting and challenging. not for the faint hearted Christian though, as your core beliefs will be challenged in a way that keeps you engaged. But stick it out to the end. It's worth the journey.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Karl
  • 12-31-14

Thank one of the gods for Bart Ehrman

What made the experience of listening to The Greatest Controversies of Early Christian History the most enjoyable?

For me, Bart Ehrman makes very deep subjects easy to understand and this set of lectures is very well broken down so the various topics are easy to access and replay as required.

What did you like best about this story?

It's not a story as such. As an atheist myself I liked the wealth of knowledge obtained from this to discuss with my Christian friends.

Have you listened to any of Professor Bart D. Ehrman’s other performances? How does this one compare?

I've several books by him...they're always wonderfully narrated and clear to understand. This is certainly one of my favourites.

If you made a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

A film to hopefully make Christians actually read their books and think

Any additional comments?

If you are religious or an atheist like me, I recommend everything by Bart Ehrman.This is maybe not the best starter though.

2 people found this helpful

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  • A
  • 06-22-21

A mistitled, vapid mess

This course is a lesson in not judging a book by its title. I'd naively supposed that it would cover information about controversies in early Christian history, such as the many debates by early leaders of the various churches as to what Christian dogma and ethics should be and who should be tasked with establishing and circulating them. Instead, it's a series of lectures on whether common pop factoids about Jesus and his apostles are historically accurate (spoiler alert: given that we can't even conclusively prove that Jesus ever existed, you can draw your own conclusions).

I persevered with the course because my mama didn't raise no quitter, but it just doesn't get better. The information provided can be charitably described as superficial - I covered most of it in Junior High, so I cannot understand how this can qualify as "university level" course. The information that isn't provided is just as damning: the author mentions apocryphal works a number of times, but never qualifies what "apocryphal" means, or how the early Church came to choose the works that comprise the modern canon. He invites the reader to carry out a parallel reading of the four Gospels, but doesn't bother to mention that the differences between them can be attributed to differences in the intended audiences. All the time he saves in this manner is devoted to endless repetitions of what a historian cannot do (TL/DR: guesswork), intersected with long, vivid chapters where the author does precisely that.

To cap it all, the author somehow managed to have an entire career lecturing on a subject whose name ends in S without ever learning that the possessive " 's " is omitted in writing those circumstances, but is pronounced. "Jesus' death" is turned into "Jesus death", "Jesus' mother" into "Jesus mother", and so on and so forth. This may sound petty, but having to hear it time and time again makes it flat out excruciating. More than that, it leads me to question whether the author has never listened to anyone else talk about the same subject, or whether he believes that he alone holds the key to correct English pronunciation. Either way, it doesn't say much about him - or rather, it suggests a lot, and none of it is good.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Anon
  • 10-04-22

Not really historical analysis

This has lots of interesting facts about what it says in the Bible. However, although the lecturer made a point of talking about the distinction between historical fact and religious belief he didn't practice what he preached. He was very ready to accept things as having really happened without sufficient evidence, for example because they occurred in early gospels or seemed the most likely of several unlikely theories. If someone did this with works about Heracles or Robin Hood no one would claim it was scholarship. Compared with other Great Courses it was unsophisticated and not academically rigorous.

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  • placidhead
  • 10-03-22

A bit stale

So, I like Bart Ehrman, I've read a lot of his books and listened to several of his lecture series from the great courses, and he is, to be sure, an interesting guy with a broad knowledge base. Consistent too, really good when talking about forgeries and redaction criticism, but when his subject is 'The Historical Jesus,' his arguments seem a little... I don't know - tired maybe. Sometimes he asserts certain things are incontestable, and I can't help thinking, "Strange, I've heard other scholars contesting exactly this point, and being very convincing about it too." If you're new to the search for the historical Jesus then you'll find a lot of the basically-intetesting-but-a-little-pedestrian stuff here. A little familiarity with the field, however, and you may find that Bart's just a warm up act for folks like Richard Carrier & Robert M Price.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 02-08-22

Easy way to learn important history

Answers pretty much every major question i had about the subject. Easy to understand for religious and non-religious people.

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  • Barleyman
  • 12-19-20

Makes you think

A lot of alternative ideas about Christianity and the bible, enough to upset some people and make others thing long and hard about their faith.
A good book.

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  • Rogayah
  • 12-09-15

Horizontal thinking

It is good to hear how thinking about Christianity was shaped, why and what actually happened in the life of Christ as can be gleaned from the gospels and other written evidence.

It will be interesting to follow this theme with more investigation.

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  • P
  • 10-02-15

Very well researched

Great research and held my attention throughout and doesn't duck the obvious questions except that if God is masculine what about the feminine God etc

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  • Mark Freeman
  • 12-24-19

No glory without guts.

These lectures are careful. The information is good but the lecturer never draws a conclusion that is heresy, even though he delivers almost all of the information. He does reach many obvious; if Christian confronting; statements (e.g. Jesus was born in Nazarrus) but carefully limits his pronouncements in most accuracy judgments. I suppose that if you live in bible belt America you need caution. It does make you wonder about the differences between fundamental Islam and fundamentalist middle America.
Sadly, a university lecturer is not there only to deliver information, and carefully safe conclusions - but also to espouse truth as proved on their own information. To withhold it sniffs of charletanism.

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  • Zac
  • 08-13-19

A fabulous listen

The short lectures are fabulously narrated and give a well curated approach to the controversies and schisms that influenced early Christianity.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Mars
  • 10-10-15

compelling

What made the experience of listening to The Greatest Controversies of Early Christian History the most enjoyable?

Engrossing and eye-opening. Engaging narration.

What about Professor Bart D. Ehrman’s performance did you like?

Skillful narratation with a natural and engaging style.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Absolutely!

Any additional comments?

Should be manadatory for anyone that claims to be a devout Christian!

1 person found this helpful