Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle Reading App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your email address or mobile phone number.
Many conservative Christians say they want to return to pure, primitive New Testament Christianity. In the United States this is most often heard from Protestant fundamentalists. But many Catholics and Orthodox Christians also believe that their version of Christianity is the original one.
However, if you want to see what *real* early Christianity was like, you have to look at ancient sources. A fascinating one is the Odes of Solomon, a collection of first century Palestinian hymns in Syriac (Aramaic). But for a more synthetic scholarly approach, Walter Bauer's book is one of the best. It is important to remember that "orthodoxy" is defined differently by different groups. Whatever your group believes is orthodox; whatever other groups believe is heresy. For many centuries, "orthodox" in the West has meant "Roman Catholic." But well before this version of orthodoxy existed, and for many centuries after it began, there were other Christianities.
Jewish Christianity and Gnosticism probably have the claim to being the oldest forms of Christianity. Marcionism, starting in the second century CE, quickly became the most widespread form of Christianity, and it remained so for centuries. Local varieties, such as that of the Syriac-speaking Bardaisan in Edessa, also sprang up. Eventually, though, the local variety of Christianity that sprang up in Rome managed to spread most effectively. Initially this was due to the natural organizational skills that characterized Roman culture. After Christianity was legalized in the Empire, Roman Christianity could avail itself of the resources of the state to aid its spread. (Even so, this only worked within the Empire.Read more ›
Walter Bauer (1877-1960) found in early church heresy and orthodoxy a ready application of the proposition that to the victor falls the prerogative of rewriting the history of the conflict. His thesis is that the church in Rome, being better resourced and more developed institutionally, was able beginning in the second century not only to suppress doctrinal lines differing from its own but even to suppress evidence of their prior local dominance. Stated differently, heresy did not represent deviance from orthodoxy but rather was the survivor among early, competing traditions of Christianity. Bauer rejects Origen's maxim that "All heretics at first are believers; then later they swerve from the rule of faith." Eusebius is discounted as what we would call a "company man."
Bauer's methodology of 1934 has been regularly criticized for relying, for instance, on the absence of textual evidence, but subsequent manuscript discoveries have validated many of Bauer's conclusions, if not his methodology.
This is not a book for the amateur. Most of the references to the early writers presuppose the readers' familiarity with these early personalities. The 1970 translation by members of the Philadelphia Seminar on Christian Origins from the second, posthumous German edition (1963) does not conceal its Germanic textual base. The original footnoting has been updated, augmented, and Anglicized. The appendix "On the Problem of Jewish Christianity" has been revised by Robert A. Kraft, Professor of Religious Studies at UPenn, one of the American editors.
That said, the book is worth reading to discover firsthand Bauer's technique and the limitations of its factual basis on Bauer's foundational thesis.
Was this review helpful to you?
For hundreds of years everyone assumed that the earliest Christians were orthodox New Testament Roman Christians, and"heretical" Christianities--like Gnosticism and Marcionism--developed later, branches off the original orthodox trunk.
Then in the 1930s this German guy named Walter Bauer decided to actually look at the evidence. Imagine! What he discovered was that pretty much everywhere he looked--Syria, Palestine, Egypt, etc.--the "heresies" weren't branches off any trunk, they were the original local Christianities. And they weren't small marginal sects, they were the main local Christianities.
The evidence shows that all around the Mediterranean, outside Rome, the orthodox New Testament Roman Christianity was a secondary sect, a sect that became dominant only after the conversion of Constantine gave it the advantage of Roman swords. Wow.
No wonder the big boys call this as a paradigm shattering book. Scholarly and technical, especially in the tedious first section of chapter one. Stick with it, because it gets fun and exciting.
Operative among many modern historians of the early church is a skeptical attitude toward an allegedly suppressive ecclesiastical power. We see such attitudes first fomenting among the Reformers and iconoclasts of the sixteenth century; however, it was not until the nineteenth century that it acquired a wide audience in the academe. Indeed, Philip Jenkins argued that studying 'deviant' forms of Christianity began enticing scholarly discussion in the nineteenth century. Scholars such as H.L. Mansel (d. 1871), J.B. Lightfoot (d. 1889), and J.H. Newman (d. 1890) were fascinated by ancient heretics. Mansel, for example, in his Gnostic Heresies of the First and Second Centuries, provided one of the earliest scholarly treatments of the movements of Basilides, Valentinus, Marcion, and others. Lightfoot, a well-known biblical commentator, also argued that references to Gnostic thought could be found in the New Testament, especially in the Pauline Epistles. And Newman, shortly before his conversion to Roman Catholicism, published an essay on the development and continuity of Christian doctrine in the first through sixth centuries. Such skeptical attitudes culminated in the assertion that narratives of orthodoxy in the first-century are later constructions, and that neither orthodox Christianity, nor its accepted texts, originally held any exclusivity. Such an assertion is central to Walter Bauer's influential thesis in Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity.
First published in 1934, Bauer divides his work into two major parts. The first half of the work discusses the rise and development of Christianity in Edessa, Egypt, Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Rome; the other half is dedicated to issues that are more general in nature.Read more ›