from jesus to christ - the first christians



FRONTLINE invites you to contribute your thoughts on "From Jesus to Christ" and the historical evidence which is yielding new understandings about the origins of Christianity.

Join others in this forum for discussion, dialogue and analysis which can grow and develop on these page in the months ahead...


Your series on the life of Jesus helped
to answer several of the mysteries surrounding the life of this historical
figure. I feel that such studies not only help to explain who Jesus really might have been, but they also may enhance scholars and layman alike to few
the life of Jesus, the mysteries contained in the Christian religion, and
a reading of the many accounts of Jesus
in a more creative way. I really do not
think that such an approach takes away from the beauty of Jesus, but helps to
give each of us a more thorough and realistic picture of who Jesus may have
been. Many mysteries remain to be discovered. This does not have to be a
scary or negative thing, but something
exciting to contemplate in the totality of the paranoma of our daily lives. Great series of discussions.

This was one
of my favorite frontline episodes yet !!

Robert Bell, III
Chapel Hill, North Carolina


Very, Very, Informative. I too wish to thank you for being respectful on this mine field of a subject.

It occurs to me that the editor has a similar dilemma when confronting the subject as did the earlier ecumenical adjudication groups. What content is to be selected, and by what authority is it to be directed.

What were his commercial motivations for example; Money or Aesthetics? Etc.

My point is that we have more to investigate that can be imagined or written and you avoid what you must. We will be entangled in religious doctrines and theologies until such time as history puts us on paper, without being any further along than the people we look back upon. Still, it was a great attempt, as I make notes on my incompleteness as a person and a student. You just report what probably happened.

In this program, it seems to me that the element that is impossible to quantify, is the spiritual discernment on the part of the people involved then, and now. We sort of know what happened, and we can guess at the dialogue, but to not acknowledge that the divine has orchestrated these developments leaves the scholars in spiritual darkness. That the Nag Hammadi papers have just recently been uncovered after 1600 or more years may speak to the timing of the capabilities of the students themselves.

I am grateful for this series, very grateful, and it was well done! I will recommend it to many friends and associates. One possible improvement would be fun, to have a flash screen on the website for those who would call themselves �Spiritual� or �Non-Spirtual� with specific content for each. This could be a very fun project for history and enlightenment.

Don Fuller
Saint Charles, MO


Very interesting articles, however, the transformation of Christianity under Constantine is not sufficiently explained, nor is there a clear description of what Christianity was in the time of the Apostles. The idea of a wandering holy man who attracted a crowd of (bemused) followers is as far from the true situation as one can get. A new book Hebrew Christians V Jesus of Rome, by Richard J Gibbs, Trafford Publishing, will fill in those gaps, and a lot more detail about early christianity and its subsequent distortion into something quite alien to the actual teachings of Jesus.

richard gibbs
Glenorchy, Tasmania


I am a late-comer to this series; I just purchased the four tapes that comprise the series and I am enjoying them immensely. As a member of, what in today's short-hand way of characterizing groups and individuals, may be thought of as a conservative Christian group I say thank you for your work. I'd rather characterize my beliefs as falling along the entire spectrum, from orthodox to liberal. It depends on the issue in question.

I find the work From Jesus to Christ a serious and yet respectful look at a subject which often tends to promote much controversy, often unnecessarily heated. It makes the work and thinking of contemporary academics in theology accessible to laypersons such as me.

I am able to view the presentations as information for me to consider and evaluate along with the received tradition about Jesus that was part of my religious upbringing.

Is the series biased in that it presents the somewhat uniform point of view of liberal scholars as some commentators on the series suggest? Are there other plausible interpretations and explanations of the archeological and historical evidence than those of the scholars presented? Perhaps. Is their somewhat singular point of view threatening to my faith as a Christian? No.

Thank you once again.

Karl Lawrence
Silver Spring, Maryland


A good try, but could be better. More emphasis on what the 1st century christians actually believed about Jesus was he just a man..divine, what about the early hymns we see in Paul's writing...were there different groups among the Jewish believers, could they have believed that Jesus was the Messiah, what did Messiah mean to Jews and Gentiles then, how does Paul see it, how about the Gospels later.... I think you skipped over the most controversial and important aspect of Christianity. . . . .

So, some nice veggies, but you left of the meat, or at least the tofu.

One comment posted bears repeating..Look, 90% of NT scholars will tell you it's a mistake to make too many firm claims about Q. Also, there are many scholars who laugh at what the Jesus seminar is doing with their "voting with coloured pebbles" stuff. That's not scholarship. But people tend not to like, "we can't be certain" as an answer...

For example, the segment I saw concerning "Q" started from the relatively reasonable and fairly uncontroversial assumption that Matthew and Luke used some of the same source material as evidenced by the Greek passages that are word-for-word the same in both gospels, but then went on to suppose a single, separate document whose contents were so well known that you could not only enumerate its chapters and verses, but also draw conclusions about what its writers did *not* teach. Given that we have no copies of "Q.", though, all we see are the parts that Matthew and Luke both decided to use; the "reconstruction" methods necessarily miss parts that only one of them used, or that didn't make it verbatim into the gospels. I've read a number of diverse opinions on the nature and importance of the hypothetical "Q.", but couldn't find this diversity in the segment I saw....

Marco Vie
Santa Monica, CA


Currently there is a raging debate concerning the racial identity of Jesus. I only have one question for students of theology: Is there conclusive ethnographic eveidence which affirms that Jesus was black?

Bill Dickens
tallahassee, florida


I have not seen the Frontline Program. My experience with this segment is here on the internet, where I have read every word on this site. I am not a scholar nor am I a particularily good Christian. I struggle with my faith as many of us do. My discovery of this site is a direct result of my "need to know more" than what I have been "fed" during my Southern Baptist upbringing. I have done as I was asked all these years and prayed for guidance as I studied a decidedly all to incomplete Biblical text. No wonder that I found so many differences in the way I felt my faith should be and what it really proves itself to be. There is so much more to the story, and the doctrine. I am thrilled and facinated.

I also must say that in no way do I see a conflict between attempting to anaylize and understand the historical story of Judeo/Christian figures and my ability to retain my faith. If anything historical evidence, no matter how we might interpret this evidence, is faith affirming! This faith is based entirely on history, from the passing on of the stories of Abraham, Issac, Moses, and Jesus down through the ages. Many people would be better served by their own thoughtful study of these historical teachings than to sit somewhere once and week and listen to some guy yell at them for how bad they have behaved all week. They just might find Christ then, and therefore find themselves.

Tamara Johnson


Before I launch into my opinion I feel it only fair to point out that I was born into a Christian family, raised in the Christian belief...

The early martyrs mentioned in Perpetua's diary, especially Perpetua herself, were - in my opinion - selfish fruitcakes. Here you have a young woman in her early twenties with an infant son and a family who loves her who is *wanting* to die. She's looking forward to her death. She wants the animals to tear her apart.

Same with Felicitas-- a young woman who is self-inducing labor during her eighth month not for the sake of the unborn child that she might have life while her mother dies but because the girl doesn't want to wait to die with the rest of the 'common criminals'.

And back to Perpetua. Granted she was most likely in some amount of shock to judge from the fact that she didn't recall being thrown in with an enraged heifer but still: Calling for a pin for her hair so that she'd be tidy and well-kept and not look like she was in mourning for her own death? Bizarre. Puts me very much in mind of any given modern cult today. Think about it. Here you have a crowded prison full of would-be martyrs just itching to get out in front of that crowd to die. They want to be well-rested and fed and 'refreshed', allowed to visit with their fellow worshippers and families to show them how pious they are for trotting off to their deaths. Fanatical and cultish behavior in my opinion...

The show was informative enough, though I have to agree with whoever it was here that said there really wasn't much new information. And the film footage was miss-able indeed. Countryside shots and a few woodcut pictures didn't compare to the Lost Civilizations series, for instance and there was so much opportunity to work with religious paraphenalia of the times. The opinions expressed were interesting though, for the most part, rather one-sided. And I found the use of the word 'pagan' a little much; a bit of a buzzword in the show. But all in all a good show as it got myself and husband to thinking and discussing and any show that spurs that is a good thing.

Cynthia Shepard
Phx, AZ


A+ to FRONTLINE! Definitely a lot of great information to absorb for anybody. That may explain why some members of the press didn't received this program too well. The "First Christians" does an outstanding job in explaining the historical contex and climate. I can only wish that the same scholars will create a fifth part of the program giving insights on the "unofficial" gospels, the Christian Gnostics, and other non-main stream Early Christians.

Laura Ventura


I have watched the "Jesus to Christ" series twice. In addition I have spent many, many hours at your website reading through the available information. You really did a credible and competent job of understanding how it all started, how it survived, and how very little we know about Jesus himself. My conclusion it that its truly a miracle that Christianity is a religion today.

Robert Krcelic
Alpharetta, GA


In your lineage of Jesus you show that Jesus has brothers and sisters. Since this is a point of debate between
Protestantism and Catholicism, shouldn't you show these
as questionable?

Richard Oboczky

Richard Oboczky
New Philadelphia, OH


Dear Frontline,

While flipping channels during a commercial break, I discovered your program "From Jesus to Christ." I was impressed with what I saw and thus decided to flip through this web site. While I have not had time to review everything, I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed the section on early Christian women. I consider myself a Conservative Christian Feminist and enjoy learning as much as I can about early Christian women and their importance. It is hard for me to describe but learning about important Christian women helps me define who I am and understand my role in society. While I may disagree with some of the things you said based on my own personal beliefs, I am greatful that you explored this area. I would really like to see further studies on Christian women both in the New Testament and Old Testament. There is a lot of material that could make very good programming. And while it could raise the eyebrow of some and be critized, it would be a step to understanding the importance of women in the scriptures and their role in society. But for now, I commend you on a job well done.

Thank You

Sariah Kell


I was very pleased with the series "From Jesus to Christ." I've learned a lot, and I 'd like to see other series on this topic. I'm a Roman catholic sister, and I often realize how people, when it comes to Religion, want to switch their brains off. I think that the work of historical criticism is extremely fascinating, because it attempts to give us back the historical Jesus.

Tradition throughout the centuries has covered Jesus with layers of doctrine, "creating" a Christ too far from human experience. For those who feel threatened in their faith by this scholarly work, I suggest to relax, pray, and open their minds. This may be a call to a deeper faith, a faith that is alive when is constantly open to the living God.

I think the series showed how religion is not the privite magic pseduodiscipline, but an intelligent attempt to correlate Bible, tradition, reason, and science. Thank you for the great work!

mabel mariotti
baltimore, maryland


Thank you for presenting some serious scholarship on the question of Christianity's origins. I have been fascinated by this subject as a key to how the religion has gotten to where it is now---and in my own attempts to understand my own origins, having been raised in a Christian milieu.

My own researches have taken me into other intriguing literature, and I am wondering about their omission. Principle among them is the Dead Sea Scrolls and the scholarship surrounding them. I have been particularly intrigued by the work of Barbara Thiering of a university in Sydney, Australia Sydney University?, who has a very deep understanding, I think, to contribute to this debate. I would like to know why this body of scholarship was not broached in your series. I was also wondering why you called upon so few scholars in your series. While I am generally pleased with the scholarship and articulateness of those people and I have no wish to see confusing controversy by introducing belief-oriented comments from "conservative" sources, it leaves the impression that there are no or few others who share this path of scholarship, when I know that there are many more who follow this path of study.

I can well imagine that to present materials even more radical than those shown would have introduced an element of controversy that some might have considered to be beyond the pale. I am not surprised to see discomfort and defensiveness expressed in many responses by those who take a literalist and belief-oriented approach to the life of Jesus and the early history of the Christian faiths. I'm sure that this programming was closely watched by many Christians, and that most of the letters you are receiving express displeasure at what has been presented.

So, I want to squarely express my admiration of the objectivity that Frontline has once again shown, leading us right into the realm of controversy. It is so often the case that the truth lies outside what people want to believe. I hope that you will not let the negativity of some prevent you from continuing on in this vein of inquiry in this subject matter, or from re-airing the current 4-hour series.

Thank you again for a thought-provoking and informative program. PBS has done it again!


Terry Lamb

Terry Lamb


... Although the web page for the show talks about
controversy and disagreements, it was the apparent *lack* of controversy and disagreements between the various sound bites from modern-day commentators that I found disappointing. From the quotes the audience heard, at least, the program conveyed the impression that there was a uniform consensus among the scholarly community that certain currently fashionable theories about the early Christians are reliable and unquestioned by scholars.

My own reading indicates that theories on the early Christians, even if one only considers the "scholarly" ones, cover a considerably broader range than what was presented. The commentators on the program seemed toextrapolate from the data to conclusions that were uncertain, yet not questioned by other commentators at least, not in the segment I saw. For example, the segment I saw concerning "Q" started from the relatively
reasonable and fairly uncontroversial assumption that Matthew and Luke used some of the same source material as evidenced by the Greek passages that are word-for-word the same in both gospels, but then went on to suppose a single, separate document whose contents were so well known that you could not only enumerate its chapters and verses, but also draw conclusions
about what its writers did *not* teach. Given that we have no copies of "Q.", though, all we see are the parts that Matthew and Luke both decided to use; the "reconstruction" methods necessarily miss parts that only one of them used, or that didn't make it verbatim into the gospels. I've read a number of diverse opinions on the nature and importance of the hypothetical "Q.", but couldn't find this diversity in the segment I saw....

What I would really love to see is a program brave enough to tackle head-on the debates over who Jesus and the early Christians were, rather than just presenting a single "iconoclastic" point of view and considering this to be a good presentation of "controversy"....

By all means, present the iconoclastic points of view, and
the 'orthodox' views they challenge, but let the viewers see the controversy and the differences in interpretation, rather than showing a diffuse and artificial "agreement".

John Mark Ockerbloom

John Mark Ockerbloom
Pittsburgh, PA


I missed the first evening of this series and hope this replays at a later date.

I enjoy the scientific studies of archeology and historical politics of Christianity. Unlike many of the viewers who have responded here, I am not in any way offended that commentating scholars did not make a profession of faith for us. I do not need their reassurance and I certainly was not expecting this to be an evangelistic crusade! Thanks for not letting me down.

What I DO need is as good an historical understanding of scripture's orgins and the life of the early Christians as I can get. Your program provided a wonderful starting place and I thank you.

I say ' Bravo ' to PBS!

Theresa McDermott
Tacoma, WA

click here for more

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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