HS/AH/RL 253 - From Pontius Pilate to Theodosius: The Advent of Christianity

From the time of the first persecution under the Emperor Nero (64 AD), Christianity gradually became a decisive force to contend within the Roman world and developed into a structured monotheistic religion that ultimately became the official religion of the Empire. At a time when the sheen and polish of Rome’s imperial splendors were in fact fading, the city of Rome became the center of this extraordinary transformation and ultimately the seat of the Chair of Peter. How did the Empire go from pagan to Christian? How did a minor sect of Judaism develop into the Rome-centered Catholic Church? How was orthodoxy established in light of the many differing cultural and theological tenets that distinguished and divided the early Christian communities? And what did Rome have to do with it? The course seeks to explore fundamental issues concerning the birth of a worldwide religion also within the context of the cultural, historical, social and political framework of the environment into which Christianity developed. In examining the particular context of this transformation it will be useful to understand events and conditions in the latter centuries of the Roman Empire; investigate the political climate in Rome on the eve of Constantine’s accession to power; determine the social tensions within the cities of the Empire; establish the import of political, financial and military instability in the III and IV centuries AD.

In order to understand how Christianity developed and set itself apart from the Judaism of its roots the course will study how the Jewish messianic cult that was Christianity had then to integrate the Greco-Roman worldview in order to realize Paul’s goal of converting Gentiles.  A radical translation occurred from a Semitic to a Greco-Roman context, and many of the religious practices and beliefs of the Greco-Roman world were integrated into Christianity. The course will make extensive use of field studies in an attempt to investigate Late Antique Rome and how the advent of Christianity gradually but significantly altered the urban landscape of the city; transformed the iconography of public and private art, yet at the same time maintaining astonishing elements of continuity in painting, sculpture and architecture.

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Art History
Religious Studies

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