Great Courses: After The New Testament: The Writings Of The Apostolic Fathers: Part 1, taught by Bart Ehrman
I think I’ve made my mixed to negative thoughts about the professor pretty clear in my previous reviews on materials of his I have encountered . Why, then, subject myself to six hours of listening to him talk when I do not trust him as an interpreter of scripture? As might be imagined, my thoughts on this are complicated, in that I view Ehrman as the scholarly equivalent of a pointer dog. I certainly do not trust his opinions or his supposed insight into the scriptures or even books that were almost nearly possibly scripture, depending on your perspective. Where he is trustworthy, though, is in pointing out the existence of interesting texts, some of which are unfamiliar to me, that I would like to read and acquaint myself with at my own leisure. This is perhaps not the best way to be thought of, as someone who could draw attention to other, more worthwhile texts, but given that Erhman’s own belief system and worldview and approach to the Bible is very objectionable, it is perhaps more to be appreciated that I view him as having any value whatsoever.
The format of this course, as is generally the case for Great Courses, is that this particular part takes up twelve lectures of half an hour apiece. The lectures begin with the lecturer talking about the identity and context of the Apostolic fathers (1) as being part of the generation that followed after the Apostles and who may have known them personally. After this there is a discussion of the letter of 1 Clement (2) as well as a use of this letter to look at church structures in early Christianity, where the author mistakenly believes that the pastoral epistles were a post-Pauline development (3). Then the professor moves on to a discussion of the letters of Ignatius (4) and their context in discussing various doctrinal disputes about the place of law (5) and the path to salvation through martyrdom that some people (including Ignatius) appear to have sought (6). AFter this there is a discussion about the letter of Polycarp to the Philippians (7) that shows the use of authorities in the early church given Polycarp’s noted interest in citing or referencing the Scriptures as well as collecting other writings together for posterity (8). A discussion of the martyrology of Polycarp, itself an interesting document, follows (9), after which there is a thoughtful commentary on the political reasons why Christians were and are persecuted because of heathen beliefs of the lordship of the state and its false gods (10). The last two lectures then deal with the interesting church manual known as the Didache (11) as well as the importance of ritual and ceremony involving baptism and the Passover/Eucharist (12) in the early Church.
Ultimately, while the author is not a trustworthy guide to scriptures, it happens that we share a profound interest in the early texts of Christianity of a variety of forms. The author views the texts included in the Apostolic Fathers as a demonstration of proto-Orthodox views, and though my thoughts on the books themselves are rather varied, ranging from considerable praise (1 Clement, the Polylcarp materials) to mixed views (the Didache and the letters of Ignatius), I do find the whole collection itself rather interesting. The second century and the struggle for the soul of Christianity between antinomian Hellenists and those who sought to preserve the apostolic faith and various other Judaizing and Gnostic groups has always been deeply interesting for me and these sources are some of the only material we have of that time of great but largely subterranean importance in the development of Christianity and the struggle for power over Christian institutions that led to the development of an autocratic and ungodly Roman Catholic Church in later centuries. It is interesting to read about what happened before everything went south from the standpoint of genuine faith and belief among those who professed Christianity, and for those reasons alone the texts that are discussed here are of interest to those of us who study early Christianity.
 See, for example: