from jesus to christ - the first christians

A Collection of Primary Sources


Josephus, The Jewish Historian

Josephus' work is invaluable to scholars reconstructing the ancient world. Having taken part the First Great Revolt against Rome, he was an eyewitness to many of the events he wrote about:

Excerpts from Paul's Letters"

Paul's missionary activity took him all over the Aegean basin, preaching and founding new Christian communities. He kept in touch with his new churches by writing them letters, many of which are preserved in the New Testament. The following excerpts reflect the different relationships he had with each congregation and illustrate the range of issues consuming these new communities.

  • Galatians
    Paul's impassioned letter to the Galatian church imploring them not to believe the false leaders who are challenging his teachings.

  • First Corinthians
    Paul's response to reports of sexual immorality and quarreling among the Corinthian Christians.

  • First Thessalonians
    A letter of consolation and encouragement to a frightened and anxious congregation.

Stories of Persecution

  • Letters of Pliny
    Pliny asks for, and recieves, imperial sanction for the execution of Christians brought before his court, marking the beginning of legal persecution.

  • The Acts of Paul and Thecla
    This apocryphal narrative tells the story of the young Christian woman Thecla who spurns her fiance and family in order to follow the Apostle Paul.

  • The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas
    The prison diary of a young woman who was martyred in Carthage in the year 202 or 203.


Later deemed heretical by the orthodox church, the gnostic Christians believed that they were following the "secret teachings" of Jesus which had not been revealed to other Christians. The following sampling of texts illustrates some of the variety of their scriptures.

  • Gospel of Thomas
    This "secret sayings" gospel does not tell the story of Jesus' life, but rather is a list of over 100 of his sayings, some of which are familiar to readers of the New Testament, others enigmatic and strange.

  • Gospel of Mary
    A gospel in which Mary Magdalene appears as an important disciple, singled out by Jesus for special teachings.

  • Thunder, Perfect Mind
    This mysterious poem, discovered among the gnostic manuscripts at Nag Hammadi, is narrated by a female divine revealer.

  • Explore the complete library of gnostic texts found at Nag Hammadi on the Gnostic Society web site.

symposium . jesus' many faces . a portrait of jesus' world . storytellers . first christians . why did christianity succeed?
maps, archaeology & sources . discussion . bible history quiz . behind the scenes
teachers' guide . viewers' guide . press reaction .  tapes, transcripts & events

published april 1998

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