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Publisher's Summary

Explore the dramatic interaction between Judaism, Christianity, and paganism in Rome from the 1st to the 6th centuries. Why did pagan Rome clash with the early Christians? What was it like to be a Jew or a Christian under Roman law? And how did Christianity ultimately achieve dominance in the Roman Empire?

Over the course of 24 lectures, Professor Harl enables you to grasp the full historical sweep of this critically important era and its key figures. You'll examine why Christianity was able to emerge and endure and, in turn, spark a critical transition for religion, culture, and politics that underpins much of how today's Western world - both Christian and non-Christian alike - thinks about ethics, sin, redemption, forgiveness, progress, and so much more.

While the Judeo-Christian values that have shaped society's ideas are ones we might today take for granted, their emergence from an ancient era dominated by loyalties to a vast array of gods would once have seemed the most unlikely of narratives. Even after the Roman emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in A.D. 312, it would not be until the 6th-century reign of Justinian that medieval Christianity would emerge and this new historical pathway confirmed.

In this magnificent course, Professor Harl brings to life some of the most important and fascinating episodes of the era, taking you on a vibrant trek through the past - one that will lead you to a deeper understanding of the bedrock beliefs of Western culture.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your My Library section along with the audio.

©2011 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2011 The Great Courses

What listeners say about The Fall of the Pagans and the Origins of Medieval Christianity

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A Solid C+ for Harl

I guess I was expecting more from Dr. Harl than was delivered in this course (having previously taken The Vikings). While I have several criticisms of Harl's presentation, I will admit that overall, it does contain a considerable amount of useful information on the topic/period. As for my criticisms, first, Harl spends a large amount of time discussing the conversion of Constantine and relies on three mains sources: archaeology, numismatics, and literature. In regards to literary sources, Harl relieves heavily upon the works of Eusebius and completely ignores the Panegyrici Latini, several other Pagan sources of the era and the Edict of 321 AD. In regards to archaeology and numismatics, here again Harl fails to look at the considerable amount of Pagan imagery created (in Constantine's honor) after 325 AD. In particular, Harl makes no reference to the deification of Constantine by Pagans or later Edicts protecting the temples and property of Pagans. Harl continually defines Constantinople as a 'wholly Christian' city and ignores the inclusion of several Pagan temples which were allowed to openly operate in the city- including sacrifices. In particular, Harl makes no comments regarding the dedication of the Column of Constantine- as well as the invocations to Rhea and Tyche in 330 AD as 'Protectors of the City.' A ceremony presided over by Constantine himself.

In closing, I would have like to have seen a more balanced analysis by Dr. Harl, who is nonetheless an esteemed expert on the period in question.

29 people found this helpful

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Not what they told you in Sunday School

What made the experience of listening to The Fall of the Pagans and the Origins of Medieval Christianity the most enjoyable?

I grew up in a very Christian family, but hardly knew anything about the history of my faith. Of course, I was told how the religion started in Sunday School, but years later I have grown to seek accurate information. After years of study, I've realized much of the church history presented in Sunday School is the religious equivalent of urban legends. Religion is a powerful force in our lives, and everyone, religious or not, ought to seek out scholarly works (not apologetics) that throw the light of reason and real facts into our world.

Have you listened to any of Professor Kenneth W. Harl’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

Professor Kenneth W. Harl did a fantastic job of taking all the complex social issues and weaving them into a coherent whole. It does take careful listening, and the professor never talks down to us. Sometimes you can really hear the passion in his voice.

24 people found this helpful

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An excellent and thought provoking series

Which scene was your favorite?

The "what if" moment of Julian the Apostate. Here was a pagan emperor who was born as a Christian, and attempted to turn back the clock on the Christian revolution. He knew what was necessary for a neo-pagan resurgence, and had he lived it might have worked.This lecture in particular opened my eyes to the realization that the history of the West and possibly the whole world didn't have to turn out the way it did.

8 people found this helpful

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Very informative and captivating

Great scholarly presentation. Great course for Christians and secularists alike. Lecturer easy to follow throughout the course.

3 people found this helpful

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Thorough review of this period

The lecture was very good. It covers the detail of each reign of each emperor involved with the empire's creep toward Christianity from Platonism and varied pagan religions. I would suggest a good understanding of Roman history and some familiarity with the emperors. I listened to the lecture covering all of Rome be for this one. I plan to move on to the three lectures on the Middle Ages next.

3 people found this helpful

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Fascinating details

This course is rich with detail about religion and philosophy during the four hundred years or so that it took for Christianity to engulf the Roman empire. I would so loved to have been a student in this course and participated in the discussion sections!

The narration is okay, not great. (I quibbled mentally with Prof. Harl's pronunciation on many occasions.) The organization of the material is pretty good. Prof. Harl takes care to remind you of previous lectures, when he references them, and he does a nice job of hinting about interesting topics to be covered later. The timeline of events is fairly clear, although there were some gaps (the entire fifth century, for example) that I don't remember hearing anything about. At any rate, I found myself thinking about the lectures in between listening, and looking forward to my next opportunity to listen.

7 people found this helpful

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loved it but

I'm a huge fan of this professor in the great courses; I've listened to a number of his other works. Like the others, I learned a ton.

That said. It wasn't very well organized - he was constantly referencing forward and back in time. Even my very solid knowledge of this time period wasn't always enough for me to keep things straight.

This series was almost more food for thought than straight history. It's more useful to someone interested in contemplating historiography and those types of arguments than someone who wants to learn about this time period per say. If you aren't already familiar with the time period you will be confused.

That said, I learned a ton and found most of his arguments to be very believable. Glad I listened 😁

2 people found this helpful

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Bravo Professor Harl!

This course did just what I had hoped it would: fill in the historical gap between Rome and the Middle Ages. I now have a much better understanding of how our modern world came to be. Thank you Professor Harl.

2 people found this helpful

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thought-provoking perspective

Harl is one of the best Great Courses lecturers and this is a great installment. I came into it thinking I was less interested in the topic, but wanting to give it a shot because of Prof. Harl. It turned out to be a fascinating look at the evolution of the Roman, pagan world into medieval Christianity, and as a result linked the prior listening I had done on medieval and ancient history.

Even if you don't think you are interested in religious history, this is a must listen - as it also would be if you have been taught as a Christian that the early church was a fated progression to dominance. The most thought-provoking aspects to me were the many ways the story could have gone a different direction - Julian the Apostate in particular, but other ways in which the events seemed to turn on a very thin margin.

This course also helped me to glimpse (to the extent we can) the world view of the pagans and the early medieval mind - so hard for me to do from a modern, post-enlightenment and liberal Christian perspective.

1 person found this helpful

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Very thorough

Very detailed and thorough history to be found in this course. Lectures don't appear to have any type of bias which I find enjoyable because it allows the listener the ability to draw their own conclusions.

1 person found this helpful

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  • C.W
  • 10-28-19

Fills in a gap

İ really enjoyed this particular course from Mr Harl. The course fills in the gaps between the late Roman empire and the rise of Christianity. i learned that Christianity was by no means inevitable, i was introduced to new thinkers like Oregin whom İ personally was previously unaware. Mr Harl uses his own research and knowledge of sites in Modern day Turkey to inform the reader regarding the latest scholarly debate and i learned a great deal more about the rise of the faith overall. i highly recommend this book.

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  • Dave
  • 04-25-19

Fascinating!

I’ve listening to lots of Great Courses around this subject area now but I still learnt a great deal, a really fascinating series of lectuers. It is a delight to listen to - the lecturer has a wonderful growl in his voice and I could (and have!) listen to him talk for hours!

1 person found this helpful

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  • Ed
  • 01-26-16

Daunting title. Captivating analysis

If you could sum up The Fall of the Pagans and the Origins of Medieval Christianity in three words, what would they be?

Clear reasoned humble

What did you like best about this story?

Professor Harl is passionate about his subject and delivers a compelling and poised appraisal of a complex process that he sees as descernible in shape speed and direction.

Which scene did you most enjoy?

Professor Harl is careful to keep the listener away from presumptions drawn from the modern world but rather to configure the story of this transformation by careful analysis of culture economics and politics of the time.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No, there is too much material. I have listen to this book twice and will undoubtedly do so again. In addition it pays to read other authors too to see that this is a contribution to the profession of history more than an asserted viewpoint. There are other writers such as Bart Ehrman who I would read after reading Professor Harl

Any additional comments?

Professor Harl is particularly knowledgable about coinage which adds an element I have not encountered before

2 people found this helpful

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  • Aaah
  • 02-11-21

An absorbing and informative production

I absolutely loved this course. Engaging content, clearly organised and presented, and narrated by a lecturer who is clearly in love with the subject matter: what's not to like? Prior to listening to this course, I knew very little about this historical period beyond the standard story of Constantine's vision and subsequent conversion. I feel that I have learned a lot and would like to learn some more. I will definitely grab more courses by Dr. Harl; even if I don't have a particular interest in the subject matter, I am confident that I will be fascinated by the material.

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  • Faheem Tadros
  • 02-19-21

Biases detected in this course

It’s clear that the author sympathies are with the Athenian Roman classical Heroes regardless of their shortcomings over the Jerusalem Alexandrian and Constantinople ethos that gave us human rights and the principle of individual’ worthiness
Constantine is a faker ,Theodisiuos a bigot and Justinian a mini hitler and the author of the inquisition
While Tolerant Alexandrian pagans are cute intellectuals run over by unintelligent riotous Christian mobs ???
Alexandria was not a Greek city in Egyptian land it’s a city built by Greeks to benefit from the superior knowledge accumulated over centuries by the people of Egypt and thus its success over other Alexandrias built by Greeks all over their world

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  • Mark T.
  • 11-03-19

Fantastic and informative

Really enjoyed the content of this course. Great knowledge of his subject area and engaging to listen to. Made my commute painless.