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Eusebius: Regime Change and Upscaling Christianity

Celie Hanson

photograph of dr. james corke-webster

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Eusebius: Regime Change and Upscaling Christianity

About James Corke-Webster and this TKS episode:

In this episode of The Know Show Podcast we meet Dr. James Corke-Webster, a historian and Senior Lecturer in Roman History and Christianity at King’s College London. He discusses his research interests, focusing on early Christian and late antique history and literature. He introduces us to Eusebius and unpacks the way he has influenced Christianity. He asks who persecuted Christianity under regime change in Rome, showing how he is pioneering a new “bottom up” approach to understanding the reality of Christian experience.

 

A brief synopsis:

James Corke-Webster talks about Eusebius—an academic, and later a bishop in Palestine. He is considered to be the earliest historian in Christianity, where his interest stemmed from copying manuscripts. He describes the way that Eusebius wrote in different genres as well as in the tables, where he mapped out Roman, Greek, Egyptian, and Assyrian. Later, Eusebius started writing a historiography and compiled a 10-book work called the Ecclesiastical History. Through his works, Eusebius provides an insight into early Christianity and they remain the most important source text to understand what early Christianity felt and looked like.

 

In its early stages, Christianity only had a handful of followers, but James Corke-Webster tells Hussain that this began to grow at a rate of approximately 40% per generation. This continued, and at a certain point in the mid-3rd century, there was a further explosion of growth in followers. Eventually, Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, however this failed turn the entire Empire suddenly to believe in Christianity.

History is not just recounting the past but about using the past to try and change the future, to present a model of how you want things to look in the future

Dr. James Corke-Webster

 

The idea of upscaling Christianity:

James Corke-Webster tells Hussain that he sees what Eusebius was doing as a way of upscaling Christianity. As Christianity grew among the lower class in the Roman Empire, Eusebius was giving it a kind of polish to make it look more attractive to a new breed of the elite in the Empire. He recognised that many texts at that time were critical of Christianity, which is why he began appealing to the. One such work was ‘The True Word’ which directly criticised Christianity and mocked Jesus.

James tells us how Eusebius wanted Christianity to be able to spread in elite circles and more importantly, how this reflected a larger movement that aimed to rebrand Christianity, which James considers to have been successful:

It’s successful because the historians up until the 20th century had repeated the Eusebius’s narrative.

Dr. James Corke-Webster

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Eusebius’ work helps in understanding how history informs the present and provides more insight into Christianity’s impact on Roman History. Hussain and James also discuss the oppression of Christians in the Roman Empire and begin to explore approaches that look towards the bottom-up reality of Christian experience. James explains that antagonism towards Christianity arose within local communities in the provinces and in Rome, and then mobilised.

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TKS take home points:

In this TKS episode, James Corke-Webster talks about how Eusebius tried to upscale Christianity, the study of religion, and about early Christian history. James delves into the history of the church and the Roman Empire history, outlining the importance of bottom-up approaches to this and the insight they can offer us.

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