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The Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew Hardcover – October 2, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

What if Marcion's canon-which consisted only of Luke's Gospel and Paul's letters, entirely omitting the Old Testament-had become Christianity's canon? What if the Ebionites-who believed Jesus was completely human and not divine-had ruled the day as the Orthodox Christian party? What if various early Christian writings, such as the Gospel of Thomas or the Secret Gospel of Mark, had been allowed into the canonical New Testament? Ehrman (The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture), a professor of religion at UNC Chapel Hill, offers answers to these and other questions in this book, which rehearses the now-familiar story of the tremendous diversity of early Christianity and its eventual suppression by a powerful "proto-orthodox" faction. The proto-orthodox Christians won out over many other groups, and bequeathed to us the four Gospels, a church hierarchy, a set of practices and beliefs, and doctrines such as the Trinity. Ehrman eloquently characterizes some of the movements and Scriptures that were lost, such as the Ebionites and the Secret Gospel of Mark, as he outlines the many strands of Christianity that competed for attention in the second and third centuries. He issues an important reminder that there was no such thing as a monolithic Christian orthodoxy before the fourth century. While Ehrman sometimes raises interesting questions (e.g., are Paul's writings sympathetic to women?), his book covers territory already well-explored by others (Gregory Riley, The River of God; Elaine Pagels, Beyond Belief), generating few fresh or provocative insights.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"A charting of the full theological kaleidoscope would take volumes, but it is possible, using Ehrman's book as a jumping-off point, to examine some of the more striking and widespread of the Christian roads not taken."--Time Magazine (cover story)

"A well-crafted, scholarly tale of forgeries, burned books, doctrinal feuds, and other episodes in the making of the New Testament and the early Church. Or better, Churches."--Kirkus Reviews

"Ehrman's style is marked by the narrative thrust of a good story or even a sermon."--Christian Science Monitor

"This book offers a fascinating introduction to an astonishing range of 'lost Christianities' that flourished at the time when the Christian movement began. Bart Ehrman has the rare gift of communicating scholarship in writing that is lively, enjoyable, and accessible."--Elaine Pagels, Princeton University

"That Ehrman makes his case without pushing into territory considered heretical by many mainstream Christians shows a deft touch with the most volatile of subjects.... Will shock more than a few lay readers. The 27 New Testament gospels, epistles, acts, and revelations, it turns out, were only a handful of the letters, arguments, visions, and accounts of Christ's life in wide circulation in the early centuries of the religion."--Scott Bernard Nelson, The Boston Globe

"Ehrman displays expert knowledge of the texts and the best modern scholarship, as well as sound critical judgment about their content. His balanced exposition of the Gospel of Thomas, with its careful delineation of the different materials in it, is outstanding. His essay on the Secret Gospel of Mark, with its suggestion that the text may be a modern forgery (perhaps even by its learned editor, Morton Smith), reads like a detective story. Studying a text in Lost Scriptures and reading Ehrman's discussion of it can be both informative and engrossing."--America

"The author of more than ten books on New Testament history and early Christian writings, Ehrman has established himself as an expert on early Christianity. These two works should soundly solidify his stature, as they illuminate the flavor and varieties of early Christian belief."--Library Journal (on Lost Christianities and Lost Scriptures)

"A fascinating look at how Christianity was molded."--Dallas Morning News

"Highly readable and based on up-to-date scholarship, Ehrman's book provides an excellent introduction to early Christianity's diversity and the means by which early orthodoxy, and the New Testament canon, developed from it. This lively study will prove eye-opening to a wide variety of readers."--Elizabeth A. Clark, John Carlisle Kilgo Professor, Duke University

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (October 2, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195141830
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195141832
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 1 x 6.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (203 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #166,940 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Bart D. Ehrman is the author of more than twenty books, including the New York Times bestselling Misquoting Jesus and God's Problem. Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and is a leading authority on the Bible and the life of Jesus. He has been featured in Time and has appeared on Dateline NBC, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, CNN, the History Channel, major NPR shows, and other top media outlets. He lives in Durham, N.C.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

664 of 725 people found the following review helpful By on October 2, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is fundamentally a popular treatment of the topic that doesn't tell us that much new about the subject. But it is not a bad introduction. Indeed, if you are not aware that the Christian New Testament was not agreed upon until more than three centuries after the death of Jesus, that there is a whole host of other "Christian" literature some of which has as good (or bad) a claim to holy inspiration as the canon, that there were a whole host of Christian sects which radically deviated from the eventual orthodoxy, that in many areas these Christian sects were the original representatives of Christianity, and that what we now know to be Orthodoxy won its battles by, among other things, altering the text of holy scripture, then you should read this book.
Ehrman's book is divided into three parts. The first looks at four Christian works that failed to enter the New Testament. Ehrman first looks at the remainder of "The Gospel of Peter," which survives to this day as an account of the crucifixion. Interestingly, Ehrman suggests we have about as many copies and references to it from this time as we do with the Gospel of Mark. We also learn about "the Apocalypse of Peter," which gives a guided tour of hell (women who braided their hair are especially miserable.) Ehrman then discusses the Acts of Thecla, a supposed apostle of Paul. We then get a discussion of the Gospel of Thomas, a collection of supposed sayings of Jesus. Some scholars believe that the Gospel of Thomas may go back to the mid-first century, but Ehrman is rather sceptical. Then we look at the Secret Gospel of Mark. According to leading Biblical scholar Morton Smith there is a seventeenth/eighteenth century copy of a letter of Clement of Alexandria (2nd century) which quotes from the supposed secret gospel.
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299 of 330 people found the following review helpful By M. L Lamendola VINE VOICE on September 29, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Review of Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew, by Bart D. Ehrman
Reviewer: Mark Lamendola
The advice "Don't discuss politics or religion" usually makes good sense, because such discussions often pit one uninformed opinion against another-with a net negative result.
What happens, however, when a person undertakes massive research to present an objective, respectful, scholarly view of a religious subject? One possible result is a captivating book that opens your mind and touches your heart. Bart Erhman achieved that result with this book.
Ehrman discusses the various agendas of the authors behind both "scripture" and "heresy." He discusses how various writings supported the case for one faction of Christianity or another. He discusses what these writings were, how they came to be, how they were discovered after centuries of being lost, and how scholars have analyzed them.
During all of this discussion, Ehrman doesn't push an agenda of his own. Indeed, he appears to explain the views and goals of each faction without taking the side of any of them. Consequently, the book moves the reader to a deeper, more informed, appreciation of Christianity. That appreciation creates a desire to replace divisive dogma with healing spirituality.
The New Testament did not exist in early Christian times. It came about much later, and was a weapon in the battle for dominance among various factions. It served to unite many disparate churches into an orthodoxy. But, that orthodoxy necessarily negated the views of those whose "scriptures" weren't included in the New Testament. The New Testament is a collection of writings that support a particular set of views of Christianity (Ehrman explains why this is both a good thing and a bad thing).
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98 of 105 people found the following review helpful By Smallchief on October 10, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Ehrman has written a fascinating book about early Christian writings which did not become part of the New Testament and Christian sects which gradually disappeared or were suppressed as Christianity became a powerful and orthodox religion.

In the decades following the crucifixion of Christ all manner and forms of Christian belief and worship flourished in the eastern part of the Roman empire. The author describes a number of these movements and philosophies and their writings. Some were Jewish and followed Jewish law, such as the Ebionotes; some were anti-Jewish and rejected Jewish law, such as the Marcionites; some were diverse and deeply-philosophical such as the Gnostics. The proponents of each produced their written propaganda, often self-serving accounts of Jesus's supposed teachings or accounts of Jesus supposedly authored by one or another of his disciples.

Ehrman sorts out the forgeries and tells what we know of the literature that wasn't deemed worthy of being included in the New Testament by the "proto-orthodox" Church leaders. He tells a fascinating tale of a possible modern day forgery by a biblical scholar alongside an ancient forgery of the "Gospel of Thomas." He devotes two chapters to the Gnostics, a movement which can resonate today with the sophistication of their thought. Unfortunately, many of the early Christian writings have been lost so only a fragmentary description of them and the sects they represented is possible. One suspects, however, that early Christianity was as diverse as it is today, encompassing as it does everything from snake charmers to Papal pomp.

"Lost Christianities" is written in a lively style that is comprehensible to the non-specialist (me!).
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