The Emergence of Christianity

This is a course from a previous year. View the current courses

There is, perhaps, no one who has not heard the name of a seemingly obscure carpenter’s son executed by the Romans around 33 CE. Why? The religion we call Christianity has shaped the Western world for at least 1,500 years. In this course, we will study the origins of this tradition. As we study the origins of this movement, we will explore Judaism in the strange and fertile Second Temple period (515 BCE-70 CE). We will encounter the learned societies of holy men like the Pharisees and the Qumran sectarians, as well as the freedom fighters/terrorists called the Zealots. Our main source will be the New Testament of the Christian Bible, although this will be supplemented by other primary materials. Excerpts from the Dead Sea Scrolls, rabbinic literature, and Hellenistic texts from this period provide the cultural backdrop in which Christianity has its roots. We will learn about the spread of the new movement of “Christians,” as it was called by its detractors in Antioch. How did this movement, which began among the Jews of the Eastern Mediterranean, come to be wholly associated with Gentiles by the end of the second century? Who became Christian? Why were they hated so much by the greater Greco-Roman society? What did they believe? How did they behave? What are the origins of “Christian anti-Semitism”? What kind of social world, with its senses of hierarchy and gender relations, did these people envision for themselves?