Constantine and the Christian Faith: My Fourth Smithsonian Lecture

I have found over the years that lots of people have mistaken ideas about Constantine the Great, the early fourth century Roman Emperor who converted to Christianity.  I used to have mistaken ideas myself, until I started reading the sources and examining the scholarship.   For example, Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the empire, right?  (Wrong.)  Constantine is the reason Christianity took over the empire, right?  (Wrong again).  Constantine didn’t really convert to Christianity: it was a political move ...

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Why Did Christianity Take Over the World? Smithsonian Lecture 3.

Here is Lecture 3 (out of 4) that I came at the Smithsonian Associates in Washington DC on Feb. 10, 2018, based, again, on my book The Triumph of Christianity.   This lecture deals with the key aspects of the early Christian movement to try to explain its success.  What was it about Christianity that allowed it to take over the entire Christian empire?   People have all sorts of “common sense” answers to the question — as did I for many ...

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Who Were The “Pagans” Christians Were Converting?

PART TWO of FOUR: Pagan Converts and the Power of God

This is the second lecture I gave at the Smithsonian on Feb. 10, 2018, based on my book The Triumph of Christianity: How A Forbidden Religion Swept the World.  The premise behind the lecture: as Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire, it converted almost entirely pagans (after the first couple of decades).   Who were these people, and what were they converting *from*?  And why?

Paganism is not and was ...

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Christianity’s Most Important Convert: Lecture at the Smithsonian

PART ONE of FOUR: Christianity’s Most Important Convert: The Apostle Paul

In February 2018 I gave a series of four lectures for the Smithsonian Associates in Washington DC, based on my book The Triumph of Christianity.   It was a bit tricky, as these things always are, figuring out which parts of the book to focus on, since each lecture could really be only on one thing, not lots of things.  I decided to give the first lecture on the most important ...

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The Rise of the Roman Empire

I want to suspend for a time – not cancel altogether! – the thread I have been pursuing on how I came to be interested in the textual criticism of the New Testament, which itself is a spin-off (using roughly similar metaphors) of the bigger thread that I started, which at the time of inception I anticipated would be all of two posts long, of why I ended up being equipped to write trade books more than most of my ...

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How Constantine Became Emperor

As background to the conversion of the emperor Constantine I have been explaining how Diocletian had set up the Tetrarchy with a sensible order of succession, so that the Roman emperors would be chosen on a rational basis rather than simply because of accidents of birth or the whims of the army.   His plan ended up not working.

Because of health issues, after a long and successful reign of over two decades, Diocletian decided to retire from office on May 1, ...

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Preface to Constantine: The Rule of the Four

In this post I want to explain how Constantine came to power.  It is an unusually complicated story, with all kinds of names and dates that only inveterate historians could love.   I’ll give a simple version of it here, more suitable for those of us who are mere mortals.

The reason it matters is that Constantine’s predecessor’s Diocletian vision of a Tetrarchy (= Rule of Four), in which the empire would be ruled by two senior emperor (each called an Augustus) ...

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The Emperor Constantine: Some Background

Time for something new, about as different from the Pentateuch as you can get while still staying in the ancient world.

I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about the Emperor Constantine over the past ten months and have decided to devote a thread to him on the blog.   His conversion to Christianity is usually considered a major turning point in the history of the Christian religion. Before he became Christian all the Roman emperors were, of course, pagan, and some ...

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Did Roman Laws Require Decent Burials?

In my previous post I tried to show why Craig’s argument that Roman governors on (widely!) isolated occasions showed clemency to prisoners (those not sentenced to death) has no relevance to the question of whether Jesus, condemned to crucifixion for treason against the Roman state, would have been allowed a decent burial, contrary to Roman practice.   The “clemency” argument – even in the sources that Craig himself cites, only seems to show that in cases that were completely unlike that ...

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Did Roman Authorities Show Clemency?

In my previous post I began to discuss Craig Evan’s essay “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right,” which was his attempt to show that the views I set forth in How Jesus Became God were flawed.   In his view, the New Testament portrayal of Jesus’ burial is almost certainly historical: Jesus really was buried, in a known tomb, on the afternoon of his death, immediately after he expired, by Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish ...

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