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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 by a savvy politician who remained, at heart, a pagan, right?  (Well, uh, sorry...) It is true, though that the conversion of Emperor Constantine in 312 CE is one of Christianity’s pivotal events, and that by the end of the 4th century, Christianity was proclaimed the official religion throughout Rome, leading to the suppression of other religious traditions. Here is a lecture I gave on Constantine and Christianity at the Smithsonian on Feb. 10, 2018.  It is the last of the series of four that I have given here on the blog, based on my [...]

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 years, even as a professional scholar -- which are probably wrong (e.g., Christianity was naturally superior to all the other religions, because of its strict monotheism and strong ethical stance, so naturally people were inclined to convert). The first time I realized the actual answer to the question was when, long ago, I read Roman social historian and Yale professor Ramsay MacMullen's brilliant analysis The Christianization of the Roman Empire.  I pondered the matter for years, read massively on it, and here is what I ended up concluding (very much in line with MacMullen, but [...]

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 not really a "thing."  The term was designed (by Christians) simply to designate all the ancient religious practices that were not either Jewish or Christian -- that is, it lumped together all kinds of religious practices, thousands of them, as some"thing" opposed to the faith in the Jewish god. But is there anything all these religions spread throughout the  Roman world had in common?  And how did Christians approach people from these traditional religions, religions that each individual would have always assumed was simply right, involving rituals and ideas that had always been part of [...]

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 convert in the history of Christianity -- not Constantine (as I argue in the book) but the apostle Paul.  Without that conversion, would we even have *had* Christianity as a world-wide religion?  Good question!   It's hard to know.  But it *is* clear that this was a conversion of massive importance.  Here is the lecture: Viewing for blog members only!  If you'd like to join the blog, we'd like to have you.  Doesn't cost much and you get tons of value -- and every penny goes to charity.  So go for it! Please adjust [...]

2020-04-03T11:14:56-04:00April 8th, 2019|Book Discussions, Spread of Christianity, Video Media|
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