I was pleased a couple of weeks ago to see that my new course for the Great Courses (formerly called the Teaching Company; now called Wondrium [??]) “The Triumph of Christianity” has now seen the light of published day. This is my ninth course for them and is obviously based on my book of the same name.
Do you know about the Great Courses? If not, you should. They are *terrific*. I don’t mean mine – I mean in general. I’ve watched a ton of them, on Classical music, astronomy, psychology, neurology, Roman history, and and and. They get really fine lecturers (except for the ones they hired a long time ago) (not to name names) and all but one course I’ve seen has been superb.
I did my first course for the Company in 1999, published, I think in 2000. In fact, I did two courses at virtually the same time, an Introduction to the New Testament and a Life of the Historical Jesus. I was absolutely convinced, and told them up and down, that the Jesus course would far outsell the NT course. They were equally convinced and adamant that it would be the other way around. Oh boy, were they right.
My two best selling courses are the New Testament and Lost Christianities. But all of them have been good to do. I was going to say “fun” to do but, well, they weren’t. None of them. They were incredibly hard. These courses are the hardest things I’ve ever done professionally. By a long shot.
It’s just not easy preparing thirty-minute lectures that cannot be relatively loose and casual, but are to be very tight, well worded, interesting, and sufficiently informative on BIG topics. (Here: tell us all we need to know about the Gospel of John in 30 minutes!). And there is enormous pressure in the delivery of the lectures. It’s not like a classroom where you can putz around a bit and off the cuff at times and possibly stop now and then to take questions.
It’s 30 minutes of intensity. You’re in a TV studio with a set, and lights, and cameras, and camera-people, and a director, and a producers, and a content-director, and if you misspeak a word you have to do it again and the timing has to be right and … and it’s intense. And for my courses it means doing 24 of these things.
The lectures all have to be prepared months in advance; they are gone over, checked, suggestions are made, changes are pushed, you edit them, go over them again, provide outlines, and reading suggestions, and biographies, and key terms, and maps and charts, and ….
Virtually ALL the professors who do these write out their lectures and then literally read them off a teleprompter (pretending to be giving them off the top of their heads). Not me. I have to talk my producer into not making me do that. I go off detailed outlines. The VALUE of writing them out (and the reason everyone does it) is that you never have to worry about missing a beat, forgetting a point, or having any problems with the timing. Especially that timing thing: you know exactly how long it will take, and they are to take 28-32 minutes.
Me? I don’t like lecturing that way, so I don’t do it. I have my outlines on the teleprompter (no notes allowed!) and go for it, almost always with lectures I’ve never ever given before. That’s why they’re so tense.
Part of the problem is that the teleprompter has only a small amount of text on it, and in my case it’s an outline. How am I supposed to get the timing down? I do it by inserting numbers into the outline in the margin, indicating how many minutes I’m supposed to have used at this point and how many minutes I have left, so I can decide whether to add an example or two, cut something out, explain something more or less – depending on the time. So if the marginal note says: 14/16 it means: you better be at about the 14 minute mark just now because you have 16 minutes of material left and if you are already at 20 minutes or only at 6 minutes you better think of something quick!
I’ve always found that a lot of pressure. 24 times in a row. Most presenters do four lectures a day over the course of six days. I don’t like that. My view of every unpleasant task I do (there seems to be a lot of them) is to get them done and out of the way as quickly as possible.
So this time I went for it. I had to do one lecture twice (the first one is usually not good, because you haven’t hit your stride yet, so you often do it again later after you’ve warmed up). This time I did 25 lectures in 4 days. Yikes. Now THAT was a lot. Oh my god was I glad when that was over.
In any event, I like very much how the course came out. Just look up “Great Courses Bart Ehrman” and you’ll find it. Hint: NEVER EVER buy any of the Great Courses at full price. They are ALWAYS going on sale (70% off!). If a course is not on sale when you want it, wait a few weeks.
The course is organized differently from my book. Much of the material is the same, but it’s organized and presented differently. Here are the 24 lectures:
1 The Christian Conquest of Rome
2 Pagan Religions in the Roman World
3 Judaism in the Roman World
4 Christianity in the Roman World: An Overview
5 The Life and Teachings of Jesus
6 The Beginning of Christianity
7 The Earliest Christian Missions
8 The Conversion of Paul
9 Paul: The Apostle of the Gentiles
10 The Christian Mission to the Jews
11 Early Christianities
12 Reasons for Christianity’s Success
13 Miraculous Incentives for Conversion
14 The Exponential Growth of the Church
15 Early Opposition to the Christian Message
16 Imperial Persecution of the Early Christians
17 Early Christian Apologists
18 Major Imperial Persecutions of Christians
19 The Conversion of Constantine
20 Did Constantine Really Convert?
21 Constantine’s Interactions with the Church
22 Imperial Christianity after Constantine
23 The Beginnings of a Christian Roman Empire
24 The Triumph of Christianity: Gains and Losses