Posted by: aboutalbion | October 8, 2012

BBC History of the World (continued)

Last night’s episode addressed religious developments within some of the ancient empires.  It included, among many others, the emergence of Christianity on the fringe of the Roman Empire.

The three chief scenes featured the martyrdom of Stephen, the conversion of Saul/Paul, and the martyrdom of Perpetua.

Some Christians have taken the BBC to task for the programme’s failure to mention the life of Jesus of Nazareth or to explain his teachings.

The author (and narrator) of the series has replied to the effect that he is starting with “Saint Paul” because (in his judgment) it was his literary influence that transformed a nascent Christianity (which seemed to be just a reform movement within Judaism) into a world religion that now has about two billion Christians.

It is a dispute like this that shows why research in the field of ‘new testament studies’ is in a confused state.

I find that the field is in a state of transition between an older generation of scholars who assume that Jesus is a central figure in human political history and a younger generation of historically informed scholars whose starting pointing is that Jesus is a central figure in literary history.

The argument of the programme was that (1) the martyrdom of people such as Perpetua was interpreted as a victory for faith, and (2) the Emperor Constantine’s conversion (around 337 CE) transformed Christianity into a military religion within the territory of the Roman Empire.

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