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Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene: The Followers of Jesus in History and Legend Hardcover – May 1, 2006

4.2 out of 5 stars 63 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. There is a bit of irony in the subtitle of this terrific book. Ehrman, chair of the Department of Religious Studies at UNC–Chapel Hill and author of several well-received volumes including Lost Scriptures and Lost Christianities, struggles with the very issue of how to separate history from legend, whether it can be done at all and whether it matters. He contends "it is often easier to know how the past was remembered than to decide what actually happened." By shifting focus from the tales to the tellers, Ehrman enters the ongoing discussion of biblical literalism and reliability, insisting that we're not arriving at satisfactory answers because we're not asking the right questions. Drawing widely from history, scripture and extra-biblical writings, he studies the many stories of the lives of the first-century "Peter, Paul and Mary," arguing that inclusion of some accounts in the canon should not elevate these texts above the others, some of which were accepted early on by the church but later excluded from the canon. As with his other works, Ehrman presents his case clearly and succinctly. So, are the biblical stories more reliable than those outside the canon? The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind. (May)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Prolific biblical historian Ehrman has titled his book with a wink and a nod to the beloved folksingers, but he makes the point that they sang about injustice, oppression, and other issues that were also concerns of early Christians. Here he presents three of the best known and most important of Jesus' followers and does so in a way that is uncompromising in its scholarship yet utterly engaging for general readers. Ehrman uses New Testament texts, other historical writings, and, interestingly, legends and myths to define his subjects; in the latter case, he examines the stories that sprang up around this trio, noting that they all expressed the "beliefs, concerns, values, priorities, and passions" of Christians. Ehrman has quite a lot to work with in his discussions of Peter and Paul--whose lives are well documented--and he delves deeply into the characters of both men as well as their beliefs, arguments with one another, and roles in the early church. As for Mary, he notes that though little is actually known about her, she has become the "media star" of the group. (Ehrman also covered this aspect of Mary in his book Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code, 2004.) Throughout, Ehrman asks questions and makes readers think about the answers. This interactive technique, paired with a highly readable, entertaining style, will garner a wide popular audience for a book whose subject often leads to work that is dense and arcane. Ilene Cooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (May 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195300130
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195300130
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 1.2 x 6.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #118,473 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By The Spinozanator VINE VOICE on April 18, 2006
Format: Hardcover
With captivating strength and clarity, New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman has written another winner. He exudes competency, frequently reminding us that his conclusions are those of a historian. In "Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene," this means he will not be an advocate for or against any specific theology - instead, he will give us his best assessments from all available sources about these three historic personalities.

I was subjected (through age 20) to more than my share of fundamentalist preaching, yet values at home were more those of inquiry and evidence toward the world in general. Ehrman's approach to the Bible is more to my liking than reiteration of a dogma I've already heard, documented by passages of scripture preselected to prove that certain view. Consider a book where all aspects of the early development of Christianity are subjected to scrutiny. Issues of dogma are extensively discussed, but not endorsed nor advocated. Instead, they are examined for consistency within the whole context of Biblical and non-canonical sources and the political setting in which the early church solidified its views.

Few seminary graduates that have studied Biblical Textual Criticism have seen fit to share this type of information with their flocks. Ehrman fills this gap - every page chock full of information you would not find compiled anywhere else. This is his forte.

Mary Magdalene is incredibly popular, despite being mentioned in the Bible only thirteen times. One of the Bible's best stories is that of Jesus and the adulterous woman, mistakenly identified by many as Mary Magdalene. The Pharisees brought her to Jesus, asking what they should do with her. Of course, it was a trap. If he said she should not be punished, he would be going against scripture.
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Format: Hardcover
Bart Ehrman's bibliography includes some thoughtful and accessible work on the diversity present in early Christianity, particularly his duel "Lost Christianities" and "Lost Scriptures." While these books made him popular, his critical work reviewing the many absurdities of Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code" -- "Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code" -- launched him into a truly popular sensation. That is all to the good. Professor Ehrman's scholarship is generally excellent and he offers readers many helpful insights into an important topic.

That said, his newest work, "Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene," whose stated goal is to review what is known of the lives of these three early followers of Jesus appears a rather uneven text, much of it derivative of his previous books. At its essence the book might be summed up as follows, "A bit, quite a bit, and almost nothing." Of Simon Peter we can know almost nothing independent of the Christian Scripture. While Ehrman can tease out some useful biography - a fisherman, lower class, married, denied Jesus thrice, head of the Jerusalem Church along with Jesus' brother James - there is little here that cannot be found on a Wikkipedia search. Reviewing the various writings attributed to Peter, Ehrman rejects them all as not from the Apostles own hand, some more convincingly than others. He does, however, do a good job showing what followers of Peter generally held to among the sects of the early church, mostly Jewish Christians ascribing to abstinence seeing Jesus as a Jewish Messiah.

On Saul of Tarsus we know more, so Ehrman can offer a more substantive biography, though again he often diverges into speculation.
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Peter Paul & Mary Magdalene

Bart Ehrmann is not just re-chewing old cabbage from previous books here, though he is forced by his subject matter to reexamine old ground from a new point of view. The rationale for his title, which he obviously found just too pawkishly juicy to resist, is the way in which the sixties folk pop trio, like the Biblical one, came on the scene in an apocalyptic time bearing a pop-countercultural message, the latter as expressed in what became the Gospels, the latter-day one in such a song as "If I Had A Hammer."

In the Biblical case, unlike the sixties case, this book's central question is who were these people? Modern Christians seem to be pretty sure they know, for all that their opinions may vary all over the map. By way of illustrating the real problem, Ehrmann would ask, for example, who was Jesus? For all that modern Christians may think they know that one, the reality is that the four different gospels portray four different Jesuses, with radically different personalities. For modern Christians, of course, who read the Bible "as a little child," if at all, this is not necessarily a crisis of faith. They just go with the Jesus they like best, most usually the rather Buddhistic "cool guy in sandals" Jesus of Matthew, and let it go at that. Obviously for a serious scholar like Ehrmann, that's not good enough, for understanding either the real Jesus or other such lesser players as Peter, Paul and Mary.

Simon-called-Peter, for a start, is particularly problematical, in that, important as he must have been, we only know him from the accounts of others. By all accounts, he was an illiterate Aramaic-speaking blue-collar fisherman, a strange choice for what Jesus called "The rock upon which I will build my church...
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