Eight main installments on the origins and evolution of Christianity, from across the different playlists of Historiansplaining, along with eight closely-related recordings:
Roots of Religion: Who Wrote the Bible? – New Testament
We consider the long ideological struggles in the early church that led to the gradual collection of a canon of Christian writings that we now call the New Testament. We trace when, where, and why the various gospels and letters in the New Testament were written (hint: Matthew was not the first, not even close) and how they present different theological views. All in all, though, the New Testament writings were created to respond to the dilemma that as the years dragged on and Jesus’ disciples died off, the Second Coming that early Christians anticipated simply wasn’t happening.
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Roots of Religion: The Historical Jesus
We join in the ongoing quest for the historical Jesus — the struggle to unearth and understand who Jesus really was, what he said and did, and how he inspired a movement. We trace the basic bare-bones facts that can be deduced from early Christian writings and brief references in other texts, including Jesus’ baptism and crucifixion. We throw out the flimsy theories of hacks like Reza Aslan and Bill O’Reilly, as well as the junk theory that no Jesus existed at all, and instead examine the new archeological evidence that helps to account for some of the strangest passages in the Gospels.
Roots of Religion: The Early Church, pt. 1 – Christianity on the Road
How did a small movement of Jewish fanatics, devastated by the ignominious demise of their leader, rise to become the official state religion of the Roman empire, Armenia, Georgia, and Ethiopia? We trace the dramatic rise of the new faith through three centuries of preaching, prophesy, and persecution. Image: fresco of a woman at the 3rd-century house-church of Dura-Europos.
Roots of Religion: The early church, pt. 2 – Houses Divided
How did the early church hammer out a shared set of practices and teachings out of the welter of confusion and bitter contestation among Montanists, Docetists, Donatists, Paulines, Gnostics, and Ebionites? Why did it take 300 years just for the church to settle on the “creed” that most of us now understand as the core of the faith? image: earliest known manuscript of the Didachesuggested reading: E. Glenn Hinson, “The Early Church”
Middle Ages 5: The Crusades – Why Did They Happen?
We examine the forces that led the Pope to put forward the far-fetched scheme of mobilizing Christian knights to reclaim Jerusalem in 1095, and briefly consider what lesson the launching of the first Crusade holds for our own world almost 1,000 years later.
Becoming Modern: Martin Luther – Shout at the Devil
Exactly five centuries ago this month, Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on a church door in Wittenberg, thus sparking the Protestant Reformation. He was concerned not with freedom of thought nor with abuse of power by the Pope, as moderns might like to think, but with exposing the false doctrine that a person’s good actions can earn them a place in Heaven. Wracked by guilt and fear of going to hell, Luther had found relief only in the idea of a free, unmerited salvation. We consider Luther’s tactics in his war to reform the church, from his obsession with excrement to his attacks on Jews, all of which stemmed from his fundamental belief that he was engaged in a war for the soul of the Church against Satan and the Anti-Christ. [Contains adult language]
Becoming Modern: The Century of Splintering – The Reformation in its Swiss and Radical Phases, 1519-1619
We explore the new, contending forms of Protestant Christianity that sprang up in the wake of Luther, including the strict, austere Swiss Reform embodied in John Calvin’s Geneva, and the radical anabaptism that burst onto the scene in the failed millennial kingdom at Munster. We consider how the new Reformed movement hammered out a shared orthodoxy emphasizing original sin and predestination, which we now (somewhat inaccurately) call “Calvinism,” and we trace the roots of some of the more extreme ascetic pacifist sects that have persisted down to our own time. Suggested Further reading: Euan Cameron, “The European Reformation”; Diarmaid MacCulloch, “The Reformation: A History”
Becoming Modern: The Catholic Reformation
We examine the long movement for reform stretching from the Middle Ages through the 1600s, in which Catholic leaders strove to centralize and standardize church teachings. Mystics like Teresa of Avila and artists like Bernini inspired a physically and emotionally compelling form of worship centering on the sufferings of Christ and the Virgin Mary, while the elite special forces of the new piety were the Jesuits, whose schools and missions spread the new Catholicism within Europe and around the world, as far away as China. The Catholic Reformation, much more than just a negative response to the Protestant Reformation, served to further many of the same ideas and aspirations as its Protestant counterpart. Suggested Further Reading: Bireley, “The Refashioning of Catholicism”