Title: Lost Christianities: The Battle for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew
Author: Bart D. Ehrman
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Provides a very readable introduction to the debates behind the formation of orthodox Christianity
Offers insight into what theologies drove the early Christian movements that were lost
Takes a harsh view on what became orthodox Christianity - probably more harsh than is justified
Explains the good reasons why texts weren't included in the final canon, so what's the mystery?
Explanation of the beliefs of early Christian movements
Argues that there was more diversity in early Christianity than most people realize
Translates some important non-canonical texts for readers today
Stepping into the ongoing debate about the nature and beliefs of the original Christian churches is Bart D. Ehrman, chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with two new books: Lost Christianities: The Battle for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew and its companion volume, Lost Scriptures: Books That Did Not Make It Into the New Testament.
- "In the second and third centuries there were...Christians who believed in one God. But there were others who insisted that there were two. Some said there were thirty. Others claimed there were 365. ...[T]here were Christians who believed that God had created the world. But others believed that this world had been created by a subordinate, ignorant divinity. ...Yet other Christians thought it was worse than that, that this world was a cosmic mistake created by a malevolent divinity... [T]here were Christians who believe that the Jewish Scripture...was inspired by the one true God. Others believed it was inspired by the God of the Jews, who was not the one true God. Others believed it was inspired by an evil deity. [T]here were Christians who believed that Jesus was both divine and human, God and man. There were other Christians who argued that he was completely divine and not human at all. ...There were others who insisted that Jesus was a full flesh-and-blood human, adopted by God to be his son but not himself divine."
This represents only a small portion of the diversity of beliefs that could be found among Christians in the second and third centuries - the time after an international church had been developed but before it had been aligned with the Roman government under Constantine and when religious dissent came to be equated with political treason.
At the time those who subscribed to what we now understand as "orthodox" Christianity were not the only players in the game - and, arguably, they may not have even been the most prominent. They were the most successful, though, in that their idea of Christianity was adopted as the only correct one by the Roman government. The history of Christianity was, in turn, written by these winners - theologians who tended to discount anything written by others. It is fortunate that in doing so they quoted so much of their opponents because these attacks on dissent are sometimes our only window on what others wrote and thought.