Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew by Bart D. Ehrman is a book that explores the various forms of Christianity that existed in the early days of the religion. It examines the writings, controversies, and beliefs of these “lost” Christianities and how they shaped the faith we know today.
The book begins with an exploration of the discoveries and forgeries associated with the holy scriptures. It then reviews the documents such as the Gospel of Peter, the Acts of Paul and Thecia, the Coptic Gospel of Thomas, and the Gospel of Market. It also looks at the books that have entered into our present canon of Holy Scripture and how they developed over time.
Ehrman then goes on to discuss the battles and opinions of the past, and how they have influenced our culture. He also looks at the principles used to argue the case for the orthodox form of Christianity that ultimately became the dominant form of the religion. These include following what the apostles taught, accepting the Jewish scriptures as the Old Testament, believing in one God, having logical beliefs, and having beliefs that lead to a good life of love and discipline.
The book ends with a discussion of how the proto-orthodox Christians won out over many other groups, and bequeathed to us the four Gospels, a church hierarchy, a set of practices and beliefs, and more.
The major themes of the book are:
• Discoveries and forgeries associated with the holy scriptures
• Battles and opinions of the past were vicious and wide-ranging
• Principles used to argue the case for the orthodox form of Christianity only fully formed hundreds of years after the Apostles
• How the proto-orthodox Christians won out over many other groups
- Early Christianity was an insane chaos of contending beliefs
- Different Christianities had different beliefs and scriptures
- One community of belief came to dominate the others
- Love God, love your neighbor, forgive others, and ask God for forgiveness are some of the main themes Jesus taught…the rest was added later by the bishops that we know call the Church Fathers controlling the beliefs by selecting and editing the documents that became the New Testament.
- Studying the Old Testament helps us to understand the historical Jesus better – and what he was actually trying to accomplish with the “Kingdom of God
What I Liked
It’s so rare to find a professor of religion who can write so well and parse so much primary source data and organize it into an approachable book.
I was a minor in religion at the University of Georgia and had to read a bunch of primary source material. And, wowza, is that stuff boring and tedious to work through. The end result is fascinating, but I’m glad there are other people, like this author, who will work through it all and put it in an approachable book.
What I Did Not Like
I mean – the book is pretty niche. It also requires quite a bit of background in Christianity to understand what he’s talking about.
Otherwise – not a whole lot else. It’s an all around solid book. Now, there are likely some fundamentalist-thinking Christians who might read this book and be upset by some of the books ideas & assertions – but I think that’s all the more to like about this particular book. None of his ideas are new or radical. The ideas have been out there for years. Better to have the ideas in a single, readable book than have them disparate and hard to address.