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Customer Review

on July 4, 2008
Walter Bauer (1877-1960) found in early church heresy and orthodoxy a ready application of the proposition that to the victor falls the prerogative of rewriting the history of the conflict. His thesis is that the church in Rome, being better resourced and more developed institutionally, was able beginning in the second century not only to suppress doctrinal lines differing from its own but even to suppress evidence of their prior local dominance. Stated differently, heresy did not represent deviance from orthodoxy but rather was the survivor among early, competing traditions of Christianity. Bauer rejects Origen's maxim that "All heretics at first are believers; then later they swerve from the rule of faith." Eusebius is discounted as what we would call a "company man."

Bauer's methodology of 1934 has been regularly criticized for relying, for instance, on the absence of textual evidence, but subsequent manuscript discoveries have validated many of Bauer's conclusions, if not his methodology.

This is not a book for the amateur. Most of the references to the early writers presuppose the readers' familiarity with these early personalities. The 1970 translation by members of the Philadelphia Seminar on Christian Origins from the second, posthumous German edition (1963) does not conceal its Germanic textual base. The original footnoting has been updated, augmented, and Anglicized. The appendix "On the Problem of Jewish Christianity" has been revised by Robert A. Kraft, Professor of Religious Studies at UPenn, one of the American editors.

That said, the book is worth reading to discover firsthand Bauer's technique and the limitations of its factual basis on Bauer's foundational thesis.
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