on June 19, 2006
If you come into this book with a good knowledge of the Bible but a fairly vague knowledge of other ancient Christian works, as I did, you're in for a mind-bending treat.
Ehrman picks a number of "Lost Scriptures" -- that is, books which were at one time considered sacred or near-sacred Christian works but have, for various reasons, not been included in the current Bible -- and he gives a brief prelude to each before offering their English translations. He breaks these books up into 5 groups: the Lost Gospels (think Gospels), Acts (think Acts), Letters (think Paul's Epistles), Apocalypses (think Revelations), and Sacred Cannons. The last section is merely a sample of some lists of what ancient Christians considered sacred books.
What this book deals with is primarily the source documents. That is to say, assigning context to said documents is not this book's mission. Instead, it tries to give a survey of what we now call lost Scriptures.
Confoundingly, many of the books are only published in fragmentary form. In many cases, this was not optional because of the fact that only small fragments of the source documents exist; in the astounding Gospel of Peter, for example, we have only what appear to be the last few chapters, beginning with Pilate at the trial. While this was usually not Ehrman's fault, it was rather frustrating at other times when he truncated some of the books himself, presumably in the interest of saving space.
I read this book in tandem with Ehrman's "Lost Christianities," and I highly recommend doing so. "Lost Christianities" provides historical context for the raw materials of "Lost Scriptures." Brace yourself before beginning, however, because both books are dense and demand considerable attention to detail.
If you are already versed in this genre, I'm not really sure that Ehrman intended these books for you. He essentially writes this book as a source book.
On a personal level, the number of references to Mary Magdalene in these works, the varieties of Christianities that they represent which are totally foreign to us, and the general fuzziness between the denouncement of books as forgeries or heresies versus thier acceptance divinity was eye-opening. These books ran the gammit from agreeing with the New Testament to disagreeing with it to being too crypitc to decipher to being... well, downright creepy. The measures that were taken by groups in history to ensure that some of these works would remain hidden is also disturbing.
To conclude, if you're looking for a general primer into the nuts and bolts of lost Christian writings, this is as good of a place as any to begin.
In my view, Bart Ehrman is the most important New Testament scholar of this generation. I have heard him speak, have listened to his tapes and have read his books. He absolutely exudes competency, always pointing out that he is looking at his subject from the point of view of a historian. In the case of "Lost Scriptures," this means he will not be an advocate for or against any particular book that did not make the cut. Instead, he will try to put each book in its historical perspective considering the political tone of the times: "We should not overlook the circumstance that in some times and places these 'other' writings were in fact sacred books, read and revered by devout people who understood themselves to be Christians...for the New Testament itself is the collection of books that EMERGED from the conflict, the group of books advocated by the side of the disputes that eventually established itself as dominant and handed the books down to posterity as 'the' Christian Scriptures...moreover, the victors in the struggles to establish Christian orthodoxy not only won their theological battles, they also rewrote the history of the conflict; later, readers, then, naturally assumed that the victorious views had been embraced by the vast majority of Christians from the very beginning."
I was reared in a setting of somewhat fundamentalist preaching, yet values at home were those of inquiry and evidence toward the world in general. Ehrman's approach is much more to my liking than reiteration of a dogma I've already heard, documented by passages from scripture pre-selected to prove a certain view. Consider these books subjected to the same kind of scrutiny one of Shakespeare's plays might receive from a college professor of western world literature - in which speculation is kept to a minimum and explanation is made as to the historical and political context of the book.
In this book is a collection of remarkably varied writings from early Christian groups - fifteen gospels, five Acts of the Apostles, thirteen Epistles, seven apocalypses, and five canonical lists. This final category shows how even within "orthodox" circles there was considerable debate concerning which books to include.
Where does Ehrman stand? He is so non-committal, it is impossible to tell, although it is obvious that he takes a liberal stance of of some sort. He approaches each subject strictly as a historian. Perhaps not for all readers, but certainly for that segment of curious Christians and non-Christians who wish to enjoy a scholarly account of issues surrounding the New Testament - especially the gospels, acts, letters and apocalypses that didn't make it - this is your book.
on June 21, 2004
In this book Dr. Ehrman does an enumeration of many of the early Christian Gospels, Epistles, Apocalypses, and so forth that were written by some of the early Christians other than the proto-orthodox. Due to the nature of their authorship, these gospels did not make it into our current canon and are widely unknown by most people. As with all Dr. Ehrman's books, it is well written, although his contribution to the book is a brief introduction to each of the historical texts. Its primary audience appears to be those people who have an interest in the area and desire a brief statement about the group who wrote the book followed by what text is available from the early writings. It is by no means as exhaustive as "The New Testament Apocrypha" in two volumes by Wilhelm Schneemelcher and R. McL. Wilson. For most people though, this will not impede their appreciation of the topic and serve as a very good introduction to the area.
on February 4, 2004
This book contains 17 non-canonical gospels from a variety of sources, as well as five books relating to activities of the apostles, 13 non-canonical letters (epistles), seven apocalypses and revelations, and five different canons, all of which were superceded by the Council of Nicaea under Constantine's guidance.
These, in other words, were ancient Christian books that Constantine's scholars saw fit to view as heresies, or did not include in the Council's version of what constituted "true" scripture for whatever reason.
The author holds the chair of religion at the University of North Carlina at Chapel Hill, and has translated many of the works himself. He is a recognized, respected scholar in his field.
Although this is a book for laymen in that it reads easily, and is bereft of the usual scholarly jargon, the individual gospels, letters, and acts, etc., are often murky and hard to make sense of.
I think it is because we are unfamiliar with the idioms in use at the time they were written, and the culture from which the writers sprang.
For example, today, to indicate anger in our culture, many people use the uncouth, course phrase "pissed off." That language is tantamount to Aramaic in the beginning of the current era, which then was the language in common use by the people in the Holy land. In a thousand years, our language will have evolved as it has continually in the past. It will be interesting to see how scholars, translating writings from today that use the term will translate the phrase which, although we use it to indicate mild anger, actually will translate to something to do with urination.
And so it goes.
It is therefor difficult to understand the intended meaning behind many of the parables and sayings deriving from the time these materials relate to.
As someone once said, relating to English speech, "Two negatives
can make a positive, but two positives cannot make a negative."
This is a good book if you have any interest in the ancient's Christian non-canonical writings, and have an open mind on the subject. If your mind is closed and you are perfectly content with Constantine's version of orthodoxy (the Bible as it is), you should probably give this book a pass, as it will no doubt incur your hostility and accuse the author, a true scholar, of having an agenda, or being of suspect parentage--which would be unfair, of course.
On the other hand if you have a background in religious history and want a source for these books, these are excellent translations and it is a good book for your library.
Joseph (Joe) Pierre
author of The Road to Damascus: Our Journey Through Eternity
and other books
on March 11, 2004
This book, along with Ehrman's "Lost Christianities", is an excellent introduction to the complexities of early Christianity.
Not as technical and "foot-note-y" as Schneemelcher and Wilson's "New Testament Apocrypha" but more detailed than Barnstone's "The Other Bible" and "The Gnostic Bible", this is a handy anthology for both scholar and layman.
on June 27, 2007
The Greek Old Testament has a number of books not included in the Hebrew because Jews excluded them believing they were not divine. These books are referred to as Apocrypha and I have a Revised Standard Version (RSV) with these books. I've read them and its not hard to see why they were excluded but I was not aware the same thing happened in the New Testament. These books were excluded because the Catholic Church considered them not Christian. I was curious about what they may have said so I bought this book to find out and if you're like me I would definitely recommend it. Ehram notes in his General Introduction this book is just a reference for it contains the biblical books excluded from the New Testament in his book "Lost Christianities: The Battle For Scriptures And The Faiths We Never Knew" he goes into the history and the people that surrounded these non-canonical texts and what happened to them. I think Amazon allows you to buy both as a set I only bought this text because I was curious about what these texts said.
Ehram's book contains around 37 non-canonical scriptures and he includes an English translation of the texts where he can and some of these are his own work. A complete text is provided for: the gospel according to Thomas, Peter, Mary, Philip, and the gospel of the Saviour which is mostly untranslatable. He can't include the text for the books of the Gospel of Nazareans, Ebionites, Hebrews, Egyptians, and the Unknown gospel because its been lost but he compares and contrasts them with other books. I like how he doesn't judge the text he just tells us what they say and how they differ. The Secret Gospel of Mark is interesting because it seems to be additions to the standard gospel since there is two to three endings I was not surprised. There are many other books but you can see them all by using Amazon's "Search inside this book feature" although its for an older edition this book has the same books that are in that edition.
I was shocked and fascinated by this book. Its really exciting to be able to see what the first to second century Christians believed and how they perceived Christ. I thank Ephram for this book and in retrospect I am so glad I bought it. Out of all the books he includes in this volume I would have to say my favorite was the gospel according to Thomas I don't know why the Christian Church chose to exclude this book because I think it really should be in the Holy Bible. What I liked so much about Thomas' gospel is that it sort of summarizes the teachings of Jesus and I am disappointed now that I've read it that this text was left out of the Holy Bible.
on June 24, 2009
I am a Pentecostal Christian and I find this book to be very fair in it's descriptions of the books and the summaries of their content. This book is not written with an agenda that the Bible was put together wrong, rather, it mentions early Christian writings that were not included as more of a guide rather than an attack on the cannon.
Here is the following list of books included in this book:
THE GOSPEL OF THE NAZAREANS
THE GOSPEL OF THE EBIONITES
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THE HEBREWS
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THE EGYPTIANS
THE COPTIC GOSPEL OF THOMAS
PAPYRUS EGERTON 2: THE UNKNOWN GOSPEL
THE GOSPEL OF PETER
THE GOSPEL OF MARY
THE GOSPEL OF PHILIP
THE GOSPEL OF TRUTH
THE GOSPEL OF THE SAVIOR
THE INFANCY GOSPEL OF THOMAS
THE PROTO-GOSPEL OF JAMES
THE EPISTLE OF THE APOSTLES
THE COPTIC APOCALYPSE OF PETER
THE SECOND TREATISE OF THE GREAT SETH
THE SECRET GOSPEL OF MARK
Non-Canonical acts of the Apostles:
THE ACTS OF JOHN
THE ACTS OF PAUL
THE ACTS OF THECLA
THE ACTS OF THOMAS
THE ACTS OF PETER
Non-Canonical Epistles and Related Writings:
THE THIRD LETTER TO THE CORINTHIANS
CORRESPONDENCE OF PAUL AND SENECA
PAUL'S LETTER TO THE LAODICEANS
THE LETTER OF 1 CLEMENT
THE LETTER OF 2 CLEMENT
THE "LETTER OF PETER TO JAMES" AND ITS "RECEPTION"
THE HOMILIES OF CLEMENT
PTOLEMY'S LETTER TO FLORA
THE TREATISE ON THE RESURRECTION
THE LETTER OF BARNABAS
THE PREACHING OF PETER
Non-Canonical Apocalypses and Revelatory Treatises:
THE SHEPHERD OF HERMAS
THE APOCALYPSE OF PETER
THE APOCALYPSE OF PAUL
THE SECRET BOOK OF JOHN
ON THE ORIGIN OF THE WORLD
THE FIRST THOUGHT IN THREE FORMS
THE HYMN OF THE PEARL
Historical Cannon lists:
THE MURATORIAN CANNON
THE CANNON OF ORIGEN OF ALEXANDRIA
THE CANNON OF EUSEBIUS
THE CANNON OF ATHANASIUS OF ALEXANDRIA
THE CANNON OF THE THIRD SYNOD OF CARTHAGE
Unlike many books concerned with what is, or isn't, considered "canonical" in the New Testament, this book just contains the works themselves, or the portions of the works that have been found to date. It is quite an interesting compilation, and covers a variety of topics. As a layman, and not a theologian, I could see why most of these works were not included in the New Testament, particularly the gnostic texts, which were extremely strange! What amazed me, however, were some of the "gospels", which contained tales of Jesus that I remember being told to myself and my parochial grade school clasmates by our nun teachers. Apparantly, they were aware of these unauthorized writings, and even though they weren't considered "orthodox" enough to go into the Bible, the nuns must have read them somewhere! Just another one of life's little mysteries!
on October 10, 2004
Nearly all knowledgeable Biblical scholars realize there have been a wide range of writings attributed to Jesus and his Apostles..... and that some of these were selected for compilation into the book that became known as the Bible.....and that some books have been removed from some versions of the Bible and others have been re-discovered in modern times.
The attention focused on Gnosticism by Dan Brown's DaVinci Code may be debatable, but the fact is that increased attention on academics tends to be predominately positive.
This is great......I seldom quote other reviewers, but there is one reviewer of Pagels' books who confided that he had been a Jesuit candidate and had been required to study a wide range of texts but was never was told about the Nag Hamadi texts. He said:
"Now I know why. The Gospel of Thomas lays waste to the notion that Jesus was `the only begotten Son of God' and obviates the need for a formalized church when he says, `When your leaders tell you that God is in heaven, say rather, God is within you, and without you.' No wonder they suppressed this stuff! The Roman Catholic Church hasn't maintained itself as the oldest institution in the world by allowing individuals to have a clear channel to see the divinity within all of us: they need to put God in a bottle, label the bottle, put that bottle on an altar, build a church around that altar, put a sign over the door, and create rubricks and rituals to keep out the dis-believing riff-raff. Real `Us' versus `them' stuff, the polar opposite from `God is within You.' `My God is bigger than your God' the church(s)seem to say. And you can only get there through "my" door/denomination. But Jesus according to Thomas had it right: just keep it simple, and discover the indwelling Divinity `within you and without you.'"
Here are quickie reviews of what is being bought these days on the Gnostic Gospels and the lost books of the Bible in general:
The Lost Books of the Bible (0517277956) includes 26 apocryphal books from the first 400 years that were not included in the New Testament.
Marvin Meyers' The Secret Teachings of Jesus : Four Gnostic Gospels (0394744330 ) is a new translation without commentary of The Secret Book of James, The Gospel of Thomas, The Book of Thomas, and The Secret Book of John.
James M. Robinson's The Nag Hammadi Library in English : Revised Edition (0060669357) has been around 25 years now and is in 2nd edition. It has introductions to each of the 13 Nag Hammadi Codices and the Papyrus Berioinensis 8502.
The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English (0140278079) by Geza Vermes has selected works....a complete work is more difficult to achieve than the publisher's marketing concept indicates. His commentary generates strong reactions.
Elaine Pagels has 2 books (The Gnostic Gospels 0679724532 and Beyond Belief : The Secret Gospel of Thomas 0375501568) that have received considerable attention lately. For many, her work is controversial in that it is written for popular consumption and there is a strong modern interpretation. She does attempt to reinterpret ancient gender relationships in the light of modern feminist thinking. While this is a useful (and entertaining) aspect of college women's studies programs, it is not as unethical as some critics claim. As hard as they may try, all historians interpret the past in the context of the present. Obviously there is value in our attempts to re-interpret the past in the light of our own time.
If you want the full scholarly work it is W. Schneemelcher's 2 volume New Testament Apocrypha.
Also, to understand the Cathars......try Barbara Tuckman's Distant Mirror for an incredible historical commentary on how the Christian Church has handled other points of view
on January 30, 2005
This book provides a simple english translation of the main apocryphal gospels from Christianity's early centuries. Each text is preceded with a brief introduction on the nature of the text, provenance, date etc. For a more detailed text on the NT apocrypha, Schneemelcher would be the best choice.