Source: The Teaching Company
24 lectures: Year Released: 2014
The early Christian claim that Jesus of Nazareth was God completely changed the course of Western civilization. In fact, without the Christian declaration of Jesus as God, Western history as we know it would have never happened.
By Dr. Bart D. Ehrman, who is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He completed his undergraduate work at Wheaton College and earned his M.Div. and Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary. Professor Ehrman has written or edited 27 books, including four best sellers on The New York Times list: Misquoting Jesus: The Story behind Who Changed the Bible
If Jesus had not been declared God, his followers would have remained a sect within Judaism, and the massive conversion of Gentiles, the Roman adoption of Christianity, and the subsequent unfolding of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Reformation, and modernity would never have taken place. For that reason, the question of how Jesus became God is one of the most significant historical questions of Western civilization.
This world-shaping occurrence, viewed historically, was monumentally unlikely. Within Judaism, there could be no question that Jesus was not the Messiah, who was envisioned as a powerful warrior-king. Jesus’s own followers, in fact, did not conceive of him as divine during his lifetime. His crucifixion, ignominious and degrading, ended his life in a way reserved for the lowliest criminals.
And yet—within a short time after his death, this crucified “enemy of Rome” was named the Son of God and the savior of humanity, and within four centuries he was believed by millions to be coequal and coeternal with God the Father.
How could something this unforeseeable, this improbable, have occurred at all—much less with a momentum that would shape Western history? What exactly happened, such that Jesus came to be considered God?
To ask this question is to delve into a fascinating, multilayered historical puzzle—one that offers a richly illuminating look into the origins of the Western worldview and the theological underpinnings of our civilization. This fundamental historical question and its complex answer speak penetratingly to the spiritual impulses, concerns, and beliefs that have played a seminal role in our world, even as they reveal the foundation of history’s most global religious movement, and fresh insights into the Western world’s single most influential human being.
Tackling all of these matters and more, Great Courses favorite Professor Bart D. Ehrman returns with the unprecedented historical inquiry of How Jesus Became God. In 24 provocative lectures, Professor Ehrman takes you deeply into the process by which the divinity of Jesus was first conceived by his followers, demonstrating how this conception was refined over time to become the core of the Christian theology that has so significantly shaped our civilization.
A distinguished scholar of Christianity and New York Times best-selling author, Professor Ehrman develops the inquiry with meticulous research and in-depth analysis of texts. In these lectures, Ehrman reveals that the theological understanding of Jesus as God came about through a complex series of factors and events, each of which must be understood in order to grasp this most extraordinary and historically pivotal story.
Intersections: The Human and the Divine
In assembling the pieces of the course’s extraordinary narrative, you’ll explore the historical background of ancient understandings of the divine. Here you discover that Jesus’s ascension as an object of faith was fundamentally underlain by ancient beliefs in interpenetration between the human and divine worlds.
You’ll dig deeply into human/divine intersections in Greco-Roman religions, as well as in ancient Judaism, finding that
- The ancient world was suffused with accounts of divine mortals—gods who took on human form as well as humans who were exalted to divine status.
- Greco-Roman cultures considered certain actual historical persons to have been born of the sexual union of gods and mortals, and earthly pagan rulers were at times worshipped as gods.
- In the Hebrew scriptures, God and the Holy Spirit both appear on earth in human form, and the human Enoch, among others, is elevated to become a divine being.
Divinity and the Historical Jesus
As another integral element of the story, you’ll investigate what the historical Jesus said or indicated about himself, digging into these questions:
- What were the elements of Jesus’s teaching with regard to his own role in the world?
- Did Jesus view himself as divine?
You’ll look into these matters rigorously, reading key passages from the four canonical Gospels to determine whether, historically, Jesus’s public message proclaimed him as divine. You’ll also evaluate whether Jesus’s earthly actions—including accounts of miracles he performed—would have qualified him as divine in the eyes of his contemporaries.
You’ll study the circumstances surrounding Jesus’s death and burial, exploring exactly how early Christians came to believe he was raised from the dead. By examining the “pre-literary” Christian creeds quoted in the New Testament, you’ll uncover the disciples’ original conception that, at his resurrection, Jesus was “made” a divine being by God.
The Son of God Eternal
With the conception of Jesus as divine now established, you’ll enter the minefield of opposing views that developed as early Christians sought to understand how Jesus could be the Son of God. In excerpts from the New Testament Gospels, you’ll identify conflicting notions of when Jesus became the divine Son, following how Christian thinkers began to push this event further and further back into history.
Within the developing faith, you’ll investigate the range of views of Jesus’s divinity that held sway during the 2nd and 3rd centuries. You’ll study the beliefs and implications of radically different schools of thought, such as
- the “docetists”, who held that Jesus was fully divine and only seemed human;
- the Gnostic view that the divine Christ was a god who temporarily “inhabited” the human Jesus; and
- the “modalist” conception that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are three modes of a single being.
The Trinity and the Divine Christ
In the culmination of the course, you’ll trace the development of the Trinity, the theological doctrine at the heart of Christian orthodoxy. Through close reading of biblical texts, you’ll observe how the conception of the Holy Spirit came into being, and you’ll learn how third-century theologians such as Hippolytus and Tertullian arrived at the singular paradox of the Trinity: that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each individually God—yet there is only one God.
The concluding lectures bring alive the fiercely contested Arian controversy, which pitted the view that Jesus was a subordinate deity created by God the Father against the contention that he was coeternal and fully equal with God. Flowing from this debate, you’ll study the historic events of the famous Council of Nicea, called in 325 CE by the Roman Emperor Constantine to resolve the matter of the divine nature of Christ. You’ll learn how the edicts of the Council formally established the view of Jesus that has defined the Christian faith to the present day.
In the enthralling inquiry of How Jesus Became God, Professor Ehrman lays bare the diverse elements that combined to produce both an astonishing true-life story and one of history’s most significant happenings. Join a renowned biblical scholar in grappling with this pivot point of Western civilization that has indelibly shaped our culture, our thought, and the world we know.
24 lectures: Year Released: 2014
1Jesus – The Man Who Became GodFirst, consider the huge historical significance of the Christian belief in Jesus’s divinity, in terms of its effects on Western civilization as well as today’s world. Learn about different scholarly views of the historical Jesus, and trace the remarkable diversity of early Christian thought regarding Christian identity, scripture, and theological understandings of Jesus. x
2Greco-Roman Gods Who Became HumanIn the ancient world, there were many accounts of “divine” mortals. Track this phenomenon in the Greco-Roman polytheistic religions, noting the overlap between the human and divine worlds. Explore three ancient models of divine men, in both mythology and Christian scripture, as gods take on human form and humans enter the heavenly realm. x
3Humans as Gods in the Greco-Roman WorldDelve further into the interface between the human and the divine in pagan cultures. Examine narratives describing people born of the sexual union of gods with mortals, highlighting examples such as Alexander the Great. In the Roman and Egyptian worlds, look at cases of humans who were exalted to the status of gods. x
4Gods Who Were Human in Ancient JudaismHere, discover accounts of divine humans and other godlike beings within ancient Judaism. In Genesis and Exodus, explore conceptions of divine beings that appear in human form. In other Jewish texts, study narratives of humans who become angelic beings, as well as stories of the offspring of angels and humans. x
5Ancient Jews Who Were GodsIn ancient Judaism, beings other than the one true God could be considered to be or even called God. Learn about the divine figure of the Son of Man, and the Jewish conception of a “second God”. Observe how divine attributes of God were personified, and how humans such as the kings of Israel were deified. x
6The Life and Teachings of JesusIn approaching the historical Jesus, consider why the New Testament Gospels are the only useful early sources on his life, and study the criteria used by scholars for evaluating the Gospels as history. Then investigate Jesus’s apocalyptic worldview, which envisioned the imminent end of history and a coming kingdom of God. x
7Did Jesus Think He Was God?This lecture explores what Jesus said about himself, as well as what he specifically preached. Grasp the nature and purpose of Jesus’s ethical teachings, and his view of himself as a prophet of the coming kingdom. Study the Jewish conception of the Messiah as a warrior-king who would overthrow the enemies of Israel. x
8The Death of Jesus – Historical CertaintiesRegarding Jesus’s final days, review the events that we know about with relative certainty. Learn about his reasons for being in Jerusalem, and the political tensions surrounding the Passover celebration there. Consider what led to his arrest, the nature of the charges against him, and what we can infer about his trial. x
9Jesus’s Death – What Historians Can’t KnowLook now at events surrounding Jesus’s death that we cannot know about with certainty. Assess the plausibility of the Gospels’ accounts of his arrival in Jerusalem, the date of his crucifixion, and the matter of his burial. Grasp how Christian writers made changes in the accounts of his death to serve theological ends. x
10The Resurrection – What Historians Can’t KnowJesus’s resurrection stands as the basis for the entire Christian faith. But what can we know historically about the resurrection? Here, dig deeply into the question of what historians can and cannot demonstrate about the past, and consider aspects of the stories of Jesus’s resurrection that are historically doubtful or unknowable. x
11What History Reveals about the ResurrectionWhat was it that caused Jesus’s followers to believe he had been raised from the dead? Investigate the disciples’ visions of Jesus, alive again after his death, as reflected in Paul and the Gospels. Learn also about the tradition of doubt in the resurrection, and the meaning to early Christians of being resurrected. x
12The Disciples’ Visions of JesusIn exploring the first claims about Jesus’s resurrection, this lecture discusses the phenomenon of visionary experience as understood by modern researchers. Learn about the variety of religious and bereavement visions people experience, and the ways in which the disciples’ visions and beliefs about Jesus combined to impact their conception of him as divine. x
13Jesus’s Exaltation – Earliest Christian ViewsWhat did the earliest Christians believe about Jesus’s divinity? Delve into Romans and Acts for what they may tell us about early Christian thought, identifying the “pre-literary” creeds they quote from. Observe how these creeds indicate a view that Jesus was adopted as the Son of God precisely upon his resurrection. x
14The Backward Movement of ChristologyOver time, Christian thought pushed the origin of Jesus’s divinity further and further back in history. Trace this development by looking at views of Jesus in the New Testament Gospels. Focus on the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke, noting their differing versions of when Jesus became the Son of God. x
15Paul’s View – Christ’s Elevated DivinityPaul’s theology represents a transition between early conceptions of Christ as exalted by God upon his death and later views of his innate or eternal divinity. Trace Paul’s seminal role within the early church, and his view of Jesus as a divine being whose actions raised him to a higher level of divinity. x
16John’s View – The Word Made HumanThe Gospel of John differs significantly from the other three canonical Gospels in its conception of Jesus. Investigate John’s contention that Jesus had always been the Son of God and the equal of God the Father. Contemplate John’s identification of Christ as the embodiment of the word of God, or “logos”. x
17Was Christ Human? The Docetic ViewIn the second and third centuries, Christian groups followed radically different beliefs and theologies. Learn about the “docetists”, who believed Jesus was not human, but only appeared to be so, highlighting Marcion, a docetist who conceived of two distinct gods—a God of the Jews and a God of Jesus. x
18The Divided Christ of the SeparationistsAmong early Christian groups, the Gnostics demonstrate yet another view of the divinity of Jesus. Explore the fundamental tenets of Gnosticism, with its notion of secret knowledge as the source of salvation. Discover the Gnostic “separationist” view of Christ, according to which the divine Christ inhabited, temporarily, the human Jesus. x
19Christ’s Dual Nature – Proto-OrthodoxyBy the fourth century, the theological understanding known as “orthodoxy” became predominant. Investigate the relationship between orthodoxy and “heresy”, or conflicting conceptions of the faith, and evidence that orthodoxy was not the original form of Christianity. Learn about early “proto-orthodox” writers, and their contention that Jesus was both fully God and fully human. x
20The Birth of the TrinityThe doctrine of the Trinity asserts that God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit are all individually God. Look into the origins of this mysterious claim, noting that the Trinity appears nowhere in the Bible. Learn about the conception of “modalism”, which proposed that the three are manifestations of one being, and modalism’s opponents. x
21The Arian ControversyIn the third century, sharp divisions existed between Christians, involving how to explain the relation of God the Father to Christ and the Holy Spirit. Examine the proto-orthodox thought of Novatian, and learn about the “Arian controversy” stemming from the highly divisive view of Christ as a subordinate deity created by God. x
22The Conversion of ConstantineThe Christian conversion of the Roman emperor Constantine was a momentous turning point for the faith. Learn about the relationship of the Roman Empire to early Christianity, and the specific reasons why Christians were persecuted by Rome. Grasp Constantine’s motives for converting to Christianity and for becoming directly involved in theological controversies. x
23The Council of NiceaConstantine called the famous Council of Nicea in 325 CE, to resolve the conflicting views of Christ’s divinity. Examine the theological issues at stake, pitting the Christological views of Arius against those of Alexander of Alexandria. Contemplate the political implications of the outcome, and the resulting orthodox creed, establishing Jesus fully as God. x
24Once Jesus Became God
— The Muslim Times (@The_MuslimTimes) June 8, 2016