Top positive review
79 people found this helpful
Persuasive and easy to read
on June 4, 2003
This book is a perfect beginning point for anyone interested in modern scholarship into the origins of the Christian Bible, and of the origins of traditional Christianity. Helms' writing is clear, his arguments cogent, and his scholarship is commendable. While not as detailed, subtle and penetrating as Burton Mack's "Who Wrote the New Testament," this book is far more approachable and understandable for regular people who may not be academically oriented.
While it may come as a suprise to many, it has been known for centuries that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were not written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. Instead, these are "traditional" names given to anonymously-written works over a hundred years after they were written. This much is not controversial among biblical scholars. What is controversial is the attempt to assign actual authorship to these anonymous works, and to place them in the proper historical, social, cultural, and theological context. Helms does an excellent job of showing how these Gospels were not simply eyewitness accounts, or even second-hand accounts, of Jesus' time. Rather, they are products of complicated theological advocacy written generations after Jesus' time. Each Gospel is shown to reflect the author(s) own theological interests and agenda, as each sought to advance their own vision of the emerging religion. While I do have a few quibbles and reservations about some of Helms' more speculative speculations, I found his arguments to be convincing generally.
Christianity as we have come to know it, is the historical product of a historically brief period between the traditional dates of Jesus' ministry and the Council of Nicaea in the early 4th century. During the intervening centuries, Christianity began as a diverse and conflicting collection of religious associations and movements, passed through a period of competition and acrimony among sects, and ended in the triumph of one particular brand of Christianity which has come to be labeled "orthodox." Helms book illuminates an important part of this historical process, by showing how the Gospels reflect the viewpoints, concerns and agendas of these anonymous early Christian writers during the period of competition between the various visions and interpretations of Christianity.
An enlightening and worthwhile read for anyone interested in Christianity or the history of religion in general.