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The early Christian Church was a chaos of contending beliefs Some groups of Christians claimed that there was not one God but two or twelve or thirty Some believed that the world had not been created by God but by a lesser ignorant deity Certain sects maintained that Jesus was human but not divine while others said he was divine but not humanIn Lost Christianities Bart D Ehrman offers a fascinating look at these early forms of Christianity and shows how they came to be suppressed reformed or forgotten All of these groups insisted that they upheld the teachings of Jesus and his apostles and they all possessed writings that bore out their claims books reputedly produced by Jesus's own followers Modern archaeological work has recovered a number of key texts and as Ehrman shows these spectacular discoveries reveal religious diversity that says much about the ways in which history gets written by the winners Ehrman's discussion ranges from considerations of various lost scriptures including forged gospels supposedly written by Simon Peter Jesus's closest disciple and Judas Thomas Jesus's alleged twin brother to the disparate beliefs of such groups as the Jewish Christian Ebionites the anti Jewish Marcionites and various Gnostic sects Ehrman examines in depth the battles that raged between proto orthodox Christians those who eventually compiled the canonical books of the New Testament and standardized Christian belief and the groups they denounced as heretics and ultimately overcameScrupulously researched and lucidly written Lost Christianities is an eye opening account of politics power and the clash of ideas among Christians in the decades before one group came to see its views prevail


10 thoughts on “Lost Christianities The Battles for Scripture the Faiths We Never Knew

  1. says:

    Here is a sentence from Lost Christianities that provides a clue to why the book is not really very sensational as well as a clue to Ehrman's perspective It comes as a bit of a shock to most people to realize that the Church has not always had the New Testament Perhaps it once came as a shock to Ehrman but it does not come as a shock to any Christian with an inkling of Christian history I am reminded of Alexander Pope's phrase A little learning is a dangerous thing Ehrman seems to have once taken a small drink from the well of Christian history drawn a startling conclusion from it and then attempted to shove all future research into the mold of that pre drawn conclusion This book often plays a what if game What if orthodox Christianity didn't win out? What if the Gnostics or the dualists or the Marcionites or the Ebionites won out? Well it's an amusing hypothetical I suppose but it's rather like saying What if the Constitution didn't become the standard for the US but instead the Communist Manifesto did? Ehrman's fun speculations still beg the uestion as to which form of Christianity most accurately represents Christ which form of Christianity is most true This uestion perhaps the most essential uestion is one Ehrman seems to regard as unimportant He explores why the so called proto orthodox won out offering reasons that range from geography to forgery and slander but he does not spend much time asking whether their theology is accurate true than the theology on offer by the other varieties of Christianity Is it likely that a sect teaching that the God of the Old Testament is evil has grasped a true representation of the 1st century Jew Jesus? Is it likely that a sect teaching there are twelve gods has grasped a true representation of the 1st century monotheist Jesus? Is the theology of a gospel written over 100 years after Christ's death to be trusted than the theology of a gospel written within less than thirty years of his death? To Ehrman these are irrelevant uestions What is relevant is that these varieties existed and that their adherents claimed to be followers of Christ and therefore presumably the orthodox have no reason to claim they are orthodox Ehrman leaves the reader with the impression that the proto orthodox are but one group of Christians among many no likely to have grasped a true understanding of Christ and his teachings than any other group of self labeled Christians Perhaps the reason Ehrman does not much explore the uestion of which group most accurately portrays Christ is that the most likely answer is not sensational While all of these diverse writings are interesting to read about it seems highly likely that the earliest manuscripts written by near contemporaries of Christ and chosen for inclusion in the canon after an application of a strict set of standards accurately represent the views of Christ than do works written 100 years after his death It seems likely that the proto orthodox interpreted Christ's teachings accurately than did the Manicheans or the Gnostics The existence of a wide variety of sects gospels and epistles is all very interesting but it is not SENSATIONAL and Ehrman seems to be trying to make it sensational In Ehrman's sensational version of events the proto orthodox through their machinations destroyed these other forms of Christianity which are themselves occasionally portrayed as virtuous or liberating than orthodox Christianity But how exactly do the proto orthodox who at the time had no state power and were occasionally subject to persecution carry out their machinations except by intellectual persuasion and accepted authority which itself implies that orthodoxy was established earlier than Ehrman suggests Ehrman proceeds almost as if these lost writings were lost because the proto orthodox collected every existing copy and set them ablaze in a giant bonfire and not at all because they were the product of unconvincing religions that ultimately died out after failing to adeuately portray Christ to the world Most of these varieties are not so much lost Christianities as dead Christianities Despite all this criticism I give the book two stars an okay rating because it contains so much information all in one place on early Christian and Gnostic literature early sects and the history of Christianity I cannot give it because the information comes obviously processed and arranged to persuade the reader that orthodox Christianity has no reason to consider itself orthodox than any other form Religious labels need some definition to be useful at all If we say the orthodox Christians those who canonized the Bible those who established the creeds those who spread the church throughout the world have no right to define Christianity than anyone else then the Muslims and Unitarians are Christians too; they're just Christians who view Christ differently than orthodox Christians and so the religious term becomes meaningless It's almost as if someone started speaking of the varieties of Judaism and began behaving as though the Samaritans and the Christians had as much authority to define Judaism as the Jews Lost Christianities could have benefited from better organization and less backtracking and when it comes to textual claims ie about whether or not a verse is original for instance it would be helpful if he discussed the dissenting opinions in some detail rather than simply presenting his own perspective as near fact I suggest that anyone who reads this also read the second half of Timothy Paul Jones's Misuoting Truth for two different perspectives Also of interest are the actual noncanonical texts many of which can be found collected in Lost Books of the Bible Finally I recommend the slim volume How We Got the Bible for a clearer concise factual historical overview of why and how the canon was selected


  2. says:

    Ebionites Marcionites and Gnostics Oh myThis is a great introduction to the history of the competing theologies and practices of early Christians as can best be determined from ancient texts that have been passed down and rediscoveredThe author Bart D Ehrman professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina argues and in my opinion demonstrates that early Christianity was anything but a monolithic religion and that the beliefs that eventually came to be called orthodox were a matter of evolution than revelationWho was Jesus? Was he fully human fully divine a mix of the two or both things at once? Is there one God two gods or many gods? Is the earth the creation of a Supreme Being or the work of a bumbling and perhaps evil uasi supreme being?To be called a Christian did you first have to be Jewish? Are the Hebrew scriptures sacred? Are they relevant? Which of the many books in circulation gospels epistles apocalypses were inspired apostolic and worthy of preserving? Which of them were heretical dangerous and worthy of destruction?These and many other uestions had differing answers depending on who you asked and at what point in time you asked themWhether you're a Catholic a mainline Protestant an Evangelical or like me a secularist it's an interesting read


  3. says:

    Most people who self identify as “bible believing Christians” operate under a certain understanding of the history of Christianity Whether their view of this history is learned or assumed it usually goes something like this in a nutshell The canonized scripture is the inerrant word of God The New Testament was formed sometime shortly after Jesus Christ’s resurrection and ascension—most of it from first hand witnesses to Jesus’s ministry Because Jesus’s teachings were so clear and his great commission so compelling the early church uickly formed and mobilized to spread the gospel around the world While there may have been false teachers around this time trying to pollute the teachings of Jesus they were few and relatively insignificant Orthodox Christianity was the earliest and truest form of Christianity and the creation of this religion is precisely what Jesus set out to do which is why orthodox beliefs survived while the rest faded from memoryWhile this view of church history is certainly neat tidy and faith affirming it couldn’t be further from the truth The truth is far interesting If you want to start learning the truth Ehrman’s Lost Christianities can serve as a very nice jumping off point But before you take that leap you might want to check your reserve chute—especially if your view of history mirrors the summary in the preceding paragraphSo what is this particular work by Ehrman about? The dust jacket sums it up rather nicely “a compelling look at the early forms of Christianity and how they came to be suppressed reformed or forgottenEhrman examines in depth the battles that raged between ‘proto orthodox Christians’—those who eventually compiled the canonical books of the New Testament and standardized Christian belief—and the groups they denounced as heretics and ultimately overcame”Before I continue with my review it might be helpful if I introduce the author a little From his website Bart D Ehrman is the James A Gray Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill He came to UNC in 1988 after four years of teaching at Rutgers University At UNC he has served as both the Director of Graduate Studies and the Chair of the Department of Religious Studies A graduate of Wheaton College Illinois Professor Ehrman received both his Masters of Divinity and PhD from Princeton Theological Seminary where his 1985 doctoral dissertation was awarded magna cum laude Since then he has published extensively in the fields of New Testament and Early Christianity having written or edited twenty four books numerous scholarly articles and dozens of book reviewsAnd a little of his biography from his book God’s Problem includes the following As a young boy he was baptized in a Congregational church and reared as an Episcopalian serving as an altar boy from the age of twelve through high school He became very serious about his faith after attending a Youth for Christ club and eventually decided to train for ministry at Moody Bible Institute where he earned a diploma in Bible and Theology He completed his college training at Billy Graham’s alma mater Wheaton where he learned Greek so he could study the New Testament in its original language He couldn’t get enough of this so he went off to Princeton to complete a master of divinity and then a PhD in New Testament studies While he pursued these credentials he was actively serving in different churches from being a youth pastor at an Evangelical Covenant church to serving a year as interim senior pastor of the Princeton Baptist Church And after all this he eventually lost his faith Not says he because of problems he has with the Bible but because he realized he could no longer reconcile the claims of faith with the facts of life—in particular the problem of sufferingNow that you know a little about Ehrman’s life journey impressive academic credentials and probably importantly a little about his faith journey I shall proceed with this reviewIf you take a look at the customer reviews for this volume on you’ll find that many people awarded this work less than 3 stars mostly because they viewed it as an attack on their faith So why does this book make Christians so upset? The answer is simple Erhman brings up some seriously tough issues He forces the reader to consider the possibility that their understanding of Bible along with their particular brand of faith might be rooted in something other than the Truth And for many people this is a very threatening notionIn my own faith journey I see myself as a truth seeker Most Christians don’t view themselves this way Most of them are uite certain they already know the truth even to the point that they can justify legislating their moral beliefs so that the rest of society must conform hence the righteous battle for a ban on gay marriage Where do these Christians point when asked about Truth? To canonized scripture of courseBut what if some of the Truth was forged? What if the Gospels we cherish left out some of the essential details about who Jesus really was? What if there really was a secret version of Mark a longer version with tantalizing homoerotic undertones that some first century scribe edited out because those parts didn’t fit with the particular brand of Christology currently popular in his region? What if and here I’m directly uoting Ehrman from another one of his works “rather than being an inerrant revelation from God inspired in its very words the Bible is a very human book with all the marks of having come from human hands discrepancies contradictions errors and different perspectives of different authors living at different times in different countries and writing for different reasons to different audiences with different needs?”These are all really big what ifs Christians can respond with the bumper sticker slogan “The Bible says it I believe it that settles it” or they can actually start investigating the origins of their beliefs In Lost Christianities Ehrman offers an accessible overview of these origins and in my view reading this work is only the beginning of an essential journey that every person who claims to know the Truth should take But if you want to take that journey you’d better buckle up firstI give Lost Christianities 45 out of 5 stars High marks for clarity accessibility degree of thought provocation and tantalization Only wish it had delved deeper in some areas as it was a little narrow but as I said before it makes for a great starting point


  4. says:

    When you search for this book on Goodreads the first two results are Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol' and Milton's 'Paradise Lost' Not sure what to make of that As for Ehrman's book I do know what to make of it Ehrman is a solid scholar who seems to have decided that he needs that cash money baby so he writes or less respectable books in such a way that they sound like a Hollywood movie So nobody argues with a person when they disagree with each other instead they set out to destroyannihilatebanish etc etc them Arguments are not conducted with any sense of rational or historical validity they are or less wars in which discussants have an arsenal or weapons and use tactics rather than syllogisms In the grand tradition of late twentieth century academia Ehrman assumes that the other is good no matter its constituent parts and that what wins out is bad no matter its comparative rational or historical accuracy Therefore the only way the winners can become winners is if they force the others to accept their viewpoint I don't doubt that force was involved in the winners becoming winners but it certainly wasn't the only thing involved which this book may suggest So if you're aware of all this and can translate out of academese on the fly LC will be very interesting If not you may be very puzzled or even disgusted by the way he casts this 'battle' or his preference for the ludicrous early Christian doctrines In either case it's a uick easy read and parts one on the discovery of non canonical early christian texts and two on the varieties of early christian thought and practice are well worth your attention Only those Christians whose knowledge of Christianity is bounded by Billy Graham in the past and the Apocalypse in the future will be shocked to learn in part three that people argue about religious texts But those people don't read anything anyway so it's really a superfluous hundred pages


  5. says:

    Of the four main strands of Christianity prevalent before the fourth century only one had what it took to emerge as the religion we know today Theology students are no doubt familiar with this history but seldom does it make its way past the pulpit So as a general reader I found this survey of the earliest years of Christianity informative The book for example takes up the subject of gnosticism an early Christian theology that considered matter itself to be evil Lost Christianities discusses a score of other books beyond the 27 of the New Testament books circulated far and wide throughout Christendom even after the Council of Nicaea The author traces out why these other books never came to be included in the official canon and discusses how the Bible might have turned out differently from the one we know While the what ifs get a little too speculative the documentation provided and the history covered in Lost Christianities provide an informed foundation for understanding the evolution of the religion we know today


  6. says:

    Bart Ehrman's books are all uite readable and understandable to any acuainted with the texts of the various Christian bibles This volume companion to his 'Lost Scriptures' considers broadly the formation of the various Christian canons in the fourth and fifth centuries and what was lost textually and religiously in the formulation and enforcement of orthodoxy Like the other volume some of the rejected texts are discussed but his focus is on the 'Christian' groups behind those scriptures especially on the Ebionites the 'Gnostics' and the followers of Marcion of Pontus first known proponent of a specifically 'Christian' canon So too he discusses what he terms the 'proto orthodox' those pre Nicaean writers and teachers who came to be regarded as orthodox upon the rigidification of the movement in the WestThroughout his book Ehrman considers the socio political factors that led to modern orthodoxy why the proto orthodox succeeded and the heterodox failed Further he speculates briefly on what the success of an Ebionite or Gnostic or Marcionite Christianity might have entailed while noting how all these tendencies adoptionist docetist gnostic etc still occasionally manifest if only on the fringesAs he mentions in other publications Ehrman was raised within a very conservative Christian culture coming to his current agnosticismatheism as a result of serious biblical study This and his other popular books serve to similar ends and are to be recommended as antidotes to intolerance and credulity


  7. says:

    This book provided uite an educational and eye opening experience in learning of some historical aspects of the creation of the New Testament The subtitle of the book appropriately describes the Faiths that We Never Knew and primarily focuses on their co existence and eventual congealment with the early proto orthodox church I was fascinated at the variation of beliefs forgeries disagreements and incredible amount of scholarly explorationI continuously wondered throughout the course of the book why his material is relatively hidden That is it seems as though the knowledge of creation of the New Testament is rarely given much attention and neither are the turbulent periods prior to its official canonization I found it intriguing that canonization officially occurred during the Council of Trent though a letter dated 367AD by Alexandrian bishop Athanasius which states in these alone the teaching of godliness is proclaimed Let no one add to these; let nothing be taken away from them p 230 And yet as Ehrman explains there continued to be debates and disputes even in his own church These sort of statements and additional material covering related events kept causing me to think about the fact that there was never a clear leader only many disparate bishops how many self appointed bought or otherwise gained power and monetary support that appear to have espoused their own agenda prior the creeds In my opinion and observation clearly no prophetic leader nor priesthood authorityThere are many many losthereticalnon canonized texts that Ehrman mentions and freuently references his other works in the end notes in addition to many other sources he cites I appreciated his thorough and thoughtful notes and references He specifically covers 44 texts and their role during early Christianity I felt that he gave ample attention to each in order to cover its relevance at the same time he avoided providing all of the text in detail which appeared to not really be necessaryThere was some disturbing material as well in terms of what some of the off the path sects believed This is no real surprise given Satan's ability to twist and thwart principles of righteousness by contorting them to supply justification of immoral activityLastly I think this book makes it very clear in its short 294 pages that there are NO original manuscripts of the New Testament writings only copies made from copies of the copies of the copies of the originalp 217 there are possibly hundreds of thousands of differences that occurred during the thousands of copies created during the centuries many of the accepted books of today's New Testament are suspected forgeries the proto orthodox church engaged in its own modification of the canonized texts sects were incredibly diversified in accepted texts and belief systems there was rare unification until the creedsI underlined a lot of paragraphs I found particularly interesting in this book Because this is the first historical analysis on early Christianity I've read including the texts and creation of New Testament I'd eagerly recommend it to those already having an interest in scripture study In the perspective of The Restoration I found it to be uite a source of corroboration in terms of lost truth lost scripture and lost faithBecause of the some the disturbing content in terms of morality and my sensitivity threshold which maybe euated to a full page I rate this at 45


  8. says:

    If you are interested in early church history then this a book for you The followers of Christ were diverse over the first few centuries of the Christian religion than they are even now From the Ebionites who followed the laws of Judaism and used only a version of Matthew as their gospel to the Marcionites who only used the letters of Paul and Luke and NO old testament there were many different interpretations of the religion This book explores these two groups plus the Gnostics and the Proto orthodox they weren't orthodox yet through their writings This is difficult business because once one group came to dominate the others most of the writings of the other groups were destroyed In fact many gospels and letters are only preserved through letters uoting them in order to condemn them And many of the writings have only been rediscovered in the 20th centuryOf course anyone with a New Testament knows how diverse views were in the early church You just have to read the many references to false teachers in the NT to see that Surely these false teachers also felt that the writers of the NT had it wrong Paul's disagreements with Peter Galatians and with the so called super apostles 2 Corinthians are also good examples My favorite part of the book is where Ehrman describes the Jewish origins of Gnosticism He does so in a very brief and effective way tracing Jewish views of God from the Exodus and the Davidic monarchy through the classical prophetic line of thought to the emergence of apocalyptical literature to the arrival at Gnostic thought where the material world is evil and not the product of the true God represented by Christ but is rather the creation of the demiurge Yahweh an imposter God who thinks that He is the one and only God Ehrman is thorough and open minded in his discussion of ancient texts and beliefs He speculates on why the proto orthodox view of Christianity won The Ebionites reuired circumcision for conversion not promising for winning converts The Marcionites ignored the Old Testament in a culture where ancient authority was revered nobody wanted another cult with no history The Gnostics were not into organization and hierarchy a problem for growing and sustaining a religion And they were into seriously symbolic stuff difficult for many to accept Ehrman also discusses ancient forgery both inside and outside of the New Testament including one example The Secret Gospel of Mark where many scholars are very divided on its authenticity It's all really interesting and Ehrman is at time humorous and rarely if ever boring This review of course is only scratching the surface of the surface If you're interested in this subject this is a great readThis is a good companion book to the works of Elaine Pagels since she focuses almost exclusively on early Christians Gnosticism Ehrman rounds things out nicely


  9. says:

    One of Ehrman’s best I think Thought provoking and speculative yet grounded this book explores alternative early Christianities before “Proto Orthodox Christianity” won the battle and shoved the rest aside You’ll read about the Ebionites the Marcionites Gnosticism and the evolving orthodox church Ehrman puts all on even ground so that each has an eual voice because recent discoveries such as the Dead Sea Scrolls have proven just how diverse Christian practices really were back in the first and second centuriesEhrman doesn’t mince words when he discusses the “forgeries” both in and out of the Bible so do be aware the topic gets plenty of ink This does lead to some interesting conversation though The Secret Gospel of Mark the Pastoral letters in Paul’s name and the Gospel of Thomas come under scrutiny Small wonder that in the battle for supremacy between the various Christian branches the claim for apostolic succession played a central role uickly in orthodox church tradition our 27 books of the New Testament are all tied directly to the apostles or companions while other Christian writings are denounced as inauthenticSo what are the repercussions of the victory of proto orthodox Christianity? How has our world been shaped by this? Ehrman feels the significance of this victory can scarcely be overstated Christianity would surely have no doctrine of Christ as both fully divine and human and of course no Trinitarian doctrine But the effects would have been felt far further than Christian debates and the book’s final chapter left me with much to think aboutDefinitely recommendedOxford University Press © 2003 294 pagesISBN 0 19 514183 0


  10. says:

    Another excellent book by Bart Erhman Not only are the historical facts that he presents fascinating and challenging to many diehard Christians but they're crucial for ALL to read and understand Religion is a very tough and sensitive topic I know from my own book which dedicates several chapters to religious beliefs and how these deep ideologies shaped the minds and actions of many great and also evil leaders The broad array of Christian sects that immediately sprouted up after Jesus' crucifixion that were in a fervent struggle to dominate their rivals who supposedly interpreted the Jesus message wrong is not mere opinion it is based upon hard scriptural evidence Bart painstakingly presents that Moreover the disturbing story of how human intervention often reinterpreted and distorted the initial message is something that most Christians today are unaware of This book and others by Ehrman have been crucial in not only getting that message out but also very crucial in my own research as a historical author and as a spiritual person seeking truth As Jesus said Seek and ye shall find Therefore I entreat you all to begin seeking