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Constantine's Bible: Politics and the Making of the New Testament Paperback – October 1, 2006

4.2 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Beginning with a meticulous study of just what a canon is, Dungan offers a panoramic view of the first three centuries of Christian history and how the major players, both ecclesiastical and civil, contributed to defining the collection of writings we call the New Testament. One of the claims of the bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code is that the institution of theCatholic Church suppressed some writings that challenged its own views and agendas. Dungan, professor of religion at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, finds this view untenable and offers as evidence a long and detailed examination of the scripture selection process as documented by the fourth-century church historian Eusebius. While various schools of Christianity exerted pressure to either include or exclude certain works, he concludes that the selection process produced "a minimalist canon, but one that is as hard as rock: all regional agendas have been intentionally ignored, all personal proclivities of prominent theologians or bishops dispensed with, every possible taint of 'politicking' avoided." Although written for the general reader, the book's detail can be overwhelming. But while his case for an orthodox canon is not unassailable, he succeeds in providing a wealth of information to enable readers to decide for themselves. (Oct.)
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Review

"Dungan's study of what Constantine and Eusebius did toward establishing that unity will be the touchstone in future discussions of the New Testament canon." -- James A. Sanders "Professor Emeritus of Old Testament and Intertestamental Literature, Claremont School of Theology,"
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: FORTRESS PRESS; 1 edition (October 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0800637909
  • ISBN-13: 978-0800637903
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #330,926 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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By Virgil Brown VINE VOICE on December 16, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Dungan begins by saying that it is a frequent misunderstanding to equate "scripture" and "canon." Scripture refers to a semidurable and evolving conglomeration of texts. A canon results when somebodies impose a boundary around a subset of these writings. Such action is not an obscure event. Since it requires strenuous, official action that is easily detectable because of the impact upon the religious community from that moment onward. Such action and impact can not be seen in the Vedic Upanishads, Taoism, etc., but it can be seen in Judaism and then Christianity. Later such action and impact can be seen in Islam as well (in the 7th century under the third Caliph, Uthman).

This is where Dungan starts to get fancy. He asserts that the range of meaning for the term "canon" needs to be understood as a part of the rise of the Greek city-state. Fancy or not, that is what etymology is. No doubt one would want to study the uses of the term canon in order to understand its etymology. Etymology of the term canon shows that it meant more than a reed as a measuring stick. For example, in the sixth century BCE Pythagoras applied measurement to musical tones and came up with kanonikoi or "standard tones." Such measurement permeated Greek philosophy as well. In a Hellenistic culture, early Christianity adopted the idea of canon as measurement, but Clement of Rome and Origen of Alexandria know no idea of a canon as a set of official doctrines. In fact, according to Dungan, no Christian scholar before the 4th century refers to "the canon."

At just about the turn of the era, Greek philosophical thought rebelled against the idea of pseudonymous authorship. A novel practice began in the first century BC/BCE.
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I don't blame anyone for giving this 5 stars, but I'm going against the trend and giving it four. Why? Well, let me begin with its good points:
First, it does an excellent job suggesting a cultural/philosophical, and primarily Hellenistic, basis for the process of canonization. This one will undoubtedly stir discussion, if not derision, among some Evangelicals. On the other hand, showing just how thorough the legitimization of the eventually canonized texts was, through the rigorous historical work of Eusebius, should please Bible-lovers by showing that the choice of books which was selected was far from arbitrary, rooted in purely historical motives, etc.
Dungan does well here in capturing an angle that will both irritate, but also comfort, sola scriptura folks. On the one hand, all of this nonsense about conspiracy can be done away with in discussions about gnostic and questionable works, which Dungan shows clearly don't pass historical muster. On the other hand, what we are left with as "canon" is the result of alleged politicization of the church through Constantine, and this brings me to some of the mild drawbacks of the book.

In a nutshell, it has become fashionable in recent years to use Constantine as a whipping boy in church history, thereby raising a cloud of suspicion over every project to which his name can be attached--an influence which gave the Church "power," and all too likely, we are led to believe, tainted the "purity" of an early age (and also one with many more loose ends--enough to allow for the disintegration of the Christian faith, one is often led in these discussions to suspect--though not necessarily by Dungan--if it wasn't for the artificial solidification of the Christian cultural base through the assertion of crass political force).
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Format: Paperback
Written by David L. Dungan (Professor of Religion, University of Tennessee in Knoxville), Constantine's Bible: Politics and the Making of the New Testament is an inquiry into accepted canon of the New Testament that explores the social-historical context of the Greek polis ideology. Chapters examine the precise definition of what is and is not canon, the influence of Greek philosophy upon early Christianity, defense of Catholic scriptures against "pagans and heretics", how the intervention of an Emperor reshaped religious history, and much more. A scholarly, well-researched and succinctly reasoned treatise, shedding new light on our understanding of ancient scriptures, highly recommended for religious studies shelves.
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Fist of all, I am not Roman Catholic, and so sense no personal ecclesiastical defensiveness here.
However, the argument of this book reminds me of a comment made by one of my own past professors: "It sounds to me that he's reasoning from an unwarranted assumption to a foregone conclusion."
Historically, Constantine had no such role whatsoever in canon formation. Dan Brown's inferences were unsubstantiated and misinformed initially, and unfortunately this work only feeds this same imagination and gullibility.
Discussing canon formation of the New Testament on the basis of Hellenistic thinking entirely overlooks the much greater influential role of the Hebrew scriptures upon them. The NT canon is thoroughly saturated with and embedded into the pre-existing Hebrew Bible (in complete contrast to the other purported "gospels").
Further, the thesis of the book turn on a precise, nuanced, and exclusionary definition of the term "canon." Those more versed in the field recognize that no such scholarly consensus obtains with this term.
In fact, even the assertion that the selection of formative scriptures occurred centuries subsequent to their writing obfuscates the factors and realities that need to be considered.
A far better discussion regarding canon for those who consider themselves genuine truth seekers can be found in Michael J. Kruger's, The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate.(2013). Even a cursory reading of the first 75 pages will expose how ill-informed is Dungan's work.
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