Monday, October 04, 2010

Book Review ~ Lost Christianities by Bart D. Ehrman

Lost Christianities
by Bart D. Ehrman

I feel I have learned a lot from this book. You hear the term heresy and heretic thrown around frequently, but do you actually know what it means? heresy literally means choice and a heretic is someone who willfully chooses not to believe the right things, as defined by those with the power to decide what is right and wrong. Orthodox means those who hold the right beliefs.

For years Eusebius' history of the early Christian Church went unquestioned. Then discoveries of additional ancient books, uncovered by trained archaeologist looking for them and by Bedouins who came across them by chance prompted a re-evaluation of his work. The old saw about the victor writing history proved true. Of course at this point many people who can't stand for their long cherished beliefs to be challenged start screaming that they are forgeries, what they are less willing to admit is that some of the books that made it into the Bible were also forgeries.

Docetism - denied the reality of Christ's suffering and death. There were two camps of docetics. One camp held that Jesus was never flesh, therefore could not feel pain. The other camp believed that Jesus (who was human) was possessed by Christ (who was the son of God), and that Christ left Jesus on the cross.

Evidence suggest that forged passages were inserted into Corinthians, diminishing the role of women in the early Christian church. The lost scriptures of Paul gave women freedom to decide what to do with their own bodies. Paul's main convert Thecla committed herself to his gospel of abstinence and followed him around preaching the gospel.

Some early Christian churches even believed that Thomas was Jesus' identical twin brother.
Another valid point Ehrman makes is that mistakes were often made by the scribes copying the original text. Then the text with the mistakes was copied and the scribes copying it made their own mistakes, and so on and so forth. If you have ever played the game telephone you know exactly what he is talking about. So new discoveries have allowed scholars to compare text and identify some of the changes that were made to our scriptures.

Ebionites-believed you had to keep the Jewish laws to be saved. They did not belief in the Virgin birth and were vegetarians.

Marcionites- were named after a second century evangelist/theologian, Marcion. They rejected the Jewish God, scriptures and customs. They believed the God of the Jews made the world, then the God of Jesus came into it when Jesus himself appeared, to save people from the vengeful God of the Jews.

Gnois is the Greek word for knowledge. Gnostics are the ones who know, some Gnostics believed the human body should be denied all pleasure. John Calvin anyone?

Montanist believed a Christian should not remarry after the death of a spouse and they were very fond of martyr's. Hmmmmmmmmm jihad anyone???

Origen believed that God created Christ and that Christ was equal with God by the transference of God's being; ultimately Christ is subordinate to God

Serious concerns about the historical accuracy of the Bible began to appear during the Enlightenment. Discrepancies between the Gospels were studied. The Christian community in Rome was large and affluent allowing them to exert influence over other Christian communities; thus Roman Christianity became the dominant form of Christianity and all other Christians were labeled heretics.

In the modern world most non-fundamentalist Christian Churches agree that Genesis contains mythical and legendary accounts. Gnostic Christians evidently took a similar approach to their own myths. The proto-orthodox Christians insisted on a literal interpretation of the text while applying figurative interpretations when it suited their own purposes. Proto-orthodox Christians lied about other Christian sects in order to advance their beliefs.

Marcion claimed that the writings of Paul and the gospel of Luke had been altered by Jewish sympathizers. As we do not have the "originals" of any of the books that came to be included in the New Testament or indeed of any Christian book from antiquity we can not truly say what the original scriptures had to say. What we have are copies of copies hundreds of years removed from the originals.

Therefore we can not know that the text was not changed significantly before the New Testament came to be reproduced in large quantities. Most surviving copies were made during the Middle Ages, many of them thousand of years after Paul and his companions had died. Bible scholars know that no two copies agree in all their wording. There can be only one reason for this, the scribes that copied the text changed them. There are more differences among the manuscripts that we have then there are words in the New Testament.

Scriptures referring to Joseph as Jesus' Father were altered. For example in the oldest surviving witnesses to Luke's Gospel Luke 3:22 should read "You are my son, today I have begotten you". Lending support to those who believed Jesus was the biological son of Joseph and Mary adopted by God.

Most of the books of the New Testament were written in the first century of the common era.
The first four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John) were all written anonymously, by well educated Greek speaking, Christians during the second half of the first century. In the second century proto-orthodox Christians attributed these books to apostles. Today bible scholars believe that Luke was written by one of Paul's companions.

The attitude of tolerance (for others religions) was not shared by the proto-orthodox Christians.

Brief Review of God's Problem by Bart D. Ehrman
God's Problem by Bart D. Ehrman - intellectually challenging and an enjoyable read. Final message " We need to live life to its fullest and help others as well to enjoy the fruits of the land."


  1. Everything you say could be true, or a very capable soverign GOD preserved the teachings He wanted preserved. The just live by Faith!

  2. God as copy editor...What a small picture of him to have.

    Alasandra - If this really interests you the Episcopal chruch offers a 4 year, non-denominational course called Education For Ministry that covers historical and textual criticism of the Hebrew Scripture and NT as well as church history and some of the philosophy and theology surrounding it. You can google EFM and find info. It's the course I'm taking and plug a lot but it is good and has given me enough knowledge to get my foot in the door of discussions between biblical scholars on the internet.

    I read Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman this summer. Really good read with a lot of the same information.

  3. Thank you for the information Dawn, I'll look into EFM.

    I read Misquoting Jesus awhile back too. Although I need to read it again to refresh my memory.

  4. I have requested this from my library,
    and look forward to reading it.

  5. Hi Kate, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

  6. Ehrman does a good job of scholarship, but his presentation is a bit one-sided and biased. You should read "Misquoting Truth" by Timothy Paul Jones.


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