Book review: Lost Christianities

by Bart D. Ehrman


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 equal 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 centuries.

Ehrman 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. In orthodox church tradition, the 27 books of the New Testament are all tied directly to the apostles or companions, while other Christian writings are denounced as inauthentic.

So 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 about.

Definitely recommended.

Oxford University Press, © 2003, 294 pages

ISBN: 0-19-514183-0

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