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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|

Jesus the Superboy: A Blast From the Past

As is my wont, this time of year, I've been thinking about the stories of Jesus' birth and early life for a few days now.  And just this instant I was looking at some old posts on the blog, from years ago -- and this one turned up from 2013.  A matter of ongoing interest: if Jesus was the miracle working Son of God as an adult, what was he like as a kid?  We have stories about that from the early church.  Here's the post, occasioned by some lectures I was giving: ***************************************************************************** I just (now) flew into Washington D.C., to give four lectures tomorrow (count them, four) on “The Other Gospels” at the Smithsonian. Each lecture is about an hour, followed by 15 minutes of Q & A. It’ll be a grueling day. I do these Smithsonian things once or twice a year on average. They’re great – 160 adults who have paid good money and devoted an entire day to hearing lectures on a topic important to them. It’s a terrific audience, [...]

2020-04-03T02:47:19-04:00December 9th, 2016|Christian Apocrypha, Public Forum|

Talks at the Smithsonian, March 21

My friends at the Biblical Archaeology Society sent this around to some people on their mailing list, announcing my talks on March 21 in Washington DC – talks not for them (the Biblical Archaeology Society) but for the Smithsonian.   Here is the announcement, with the blurb and description of the talks.  Maybe some of you can come!  *********************************************** If you plan to be in Washington DC during March you might try to catch his lectures while you are here. To register for his appearance at the Smithsonian in Washington DC All-Day Seminar Great Controversies in Early Christianity: The Life and Death of Jesus: Saturday, March 21, 2015 - 9:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. : If you are a registered  member of the Smithsonian the cost is $90.00 else the cost for Gen. Admission will be $130.00.   Description of lectures Jesus of Nazareth is perennially in the news. Over the course of the past year, two books about his life and death became No. 1 New York Times bestsellers: Zealot by Reza Aslan and Killing Jesus [...]

2017-12-09T11:08:37-05:00January 28th, 2015|Bart’s Biography, Public Forum|

Upcoming Lectures at the Smithsonian

Now that the government is back in business, the Smithsonian Associates has resumed its work; they sponsor lectures and lecture series in Washington D.C., every week, all the time, and I usually do a day long series of lectures for them once or twice a year, based on a book I have coming out.   I’m scheduled for the Spring 2014 in conjunction with my book How Jesus Became God.   But I’ll also be doing one this December for the English-only version of the apocryphal Gospels that is to be published by then (edited from the original-language + English version that came out last year; this new one, like the old one, was written, edited, and translated with my colleague at UNC, Zlatko Plese). This first event is scheduled for Saturday Dec. 7; there will be four lectures, two in the morning and two in the afternoon.  It’s a killer of a day (for me at least).   But anyone in the area should consider attending.  You can get further information at their website: The following [...]

2018-01-14T22:57:13-05:00October 25th, 2013|Book Discussions, Christian Apocrypha, Historical Jesus|
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