Tuesday, November 10, 2009

History of Christianity, Diarmaid MacCulloch

I don't think I've seen any of the bloggers comment on Diarmaid MacCulloch's new BBC4 series, A History of Christianity. MacCulloch is professor of the history of the Church at the University of Oxford, and this six part series began on BBC 4 last week. You can still catch it on the BBC iPlayer if you are in the UK. Details here:

A History of Christianity

It is based on a 1,200 page book that has recently been published to accompany the series. I loved the first episode. MacCulloch looks and sounds like a proper academic of the best kind, so obsessed with his area of expertise that he is eager to find ways to communicate it as clearly as possible to his audience. The really refreshing thing about the first episode is that MacCulloch goes east to find "the first Christianity", looking at Syriac Christianity, and venturing further east even to China to look at an extraordinary seventh century monastery.

If I had one minor criticism of the first half of the programme, it would be that it was just a touch too much like an illustrated lecture, with MacCulloch explaining things to the viewer while he walked around key sites. Eventually, there are some talking heads, and it is by engaging conversations that I think the best documentaries move forward. As soon as MacCulloch meets Martin Palmer in India, the programme gains in interest, and loses the virtual classroom feel. Mind you, I enjoyed watching MacCulloch trying to explain Christological controversies by mixing oil and water and wine and water, sitting in a restaurant.

MacCulloch appeared on Start the Week with Andrew Marr on Radio 4 a week or so ago, and some helpful person has extracted that section and uploaded to Youtube.


Jim said...

it's a brilliant book! and since the movie is never as good as the book...

but the book is excellent!

Doug Chaplin said...

Well, I did a fairly lengthy post about the book here.

Mark Goodacre said...

D'Oh! Thanks for the reminder, Doug, and the link, and the review.