For many of the worldís two billion-plus Christians, history dictates the form of religion they adhere to. But upon reading Bart D. Ehrmanís brilliantly researched Lost Christianities: The Battle for Scriptures and the Faiths We Never Knew, one realizes that history does not always tell the whole story. In fact, upon intense examination, modern-day Christianity is discovered to be but one facet of a multi-faceted religion that at one time, long ago, was at the mercy of influences determined to shape the church, its doctrine, and its future.
This fascinating book delves deeply into the history of Christianity, both as we have come to know it, but even more so in all the facets that have been ignored, lost, destroyed and, at times, suppressed by orthodoxy. The author, an authority on the early Church and the life of Jesus, and chair of the religious studies department at UNC Chapel Hill, sets out for the reader a fully detailed chronology of early Christianity and the many diverse directions it took before becoming the religion of the Roman Empire that eventually became the religion we recognize today. We get an inside peek into the lives of groups that shaped doctrine until they were wiped out of existence or silenced into submission by the dominating forces that commanded the Church into the Middle Ages and modern era.
From the Gnostics to the Ebionites to the Marconites and Montanists to the Essenes and Jewish Christians, there were at one time more varieties of Christians than we ever imagined, until the final domination by the proto-orthodoxy that shaped Roman Catholicism and modern Christian thought. In addition to the massive variety of Christian sects and beliefs operating in the first three centuries of the modern era, there were also hundreds of ancient and not-so-ancient sacred texts written by these many differing sects that have not survived -- or survived only in fragments, texts filled with history, wisdom, and secrets we probably will never know. Texts burned, destroyed, lost, forged, fabricated and everything in between. Texts that gave witness to Jesus and his Apostles, and to holy teachings we are only beginning to decipher.
Ehrmanís rich detail and painstaking research reveals a world of Christianity unbeknownst to all but the scholar, a world filled with documents we hold sacred that were really forgeries, a world filled with small groups of heretics who just may have known more about the real Jesus than their larger, more powerful counterparts. A world of such disparate beliefs that resulted in violent battles between groups of people who all espoused to be followers of the One True Jesus. A world where the winners really did take all, including complete control over what went into the Bible we know of, and what would never be accepted as orthodoxy.
Most compelling are the chapters detailing the formation of the New Testament and standard Christian belief, which had more to do with political agendas on behalf of Rome and its many Emperors than with Jesusí actual teachings. Equally compelling are the authorís descriptions of what Christianity would look like today had any one of the many lesser-known and less well-funded varieties of Christianity prevailed over the course of history, rather than the forms and beliefs we now accept as universal.
This book is not something you breeze through. It is thoughtful and scholarly, yet written in a style easy to grasp, with a depth of wisdom and humanity not often found in research-heavy material such as religious history. It takes awhile to read, and to digest, but the secrets it reveals will open up a whole new world of religious and social history that scholars are just beginning to piece together. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about how Christianity began, what forces shaped it, who the winners and losers were in the war over doctrine, and how those losers just might be able to shed some amazing light on the true Jesus and his teachings.
Whether you are Christian or not, this book is a powerful and enthralling story of the rise of one of the most influential social movements humanity has ever experienced. And yet, as the author points out so eloquently, it is the stories NOT told, those lost and destroyed and suppressed for whatever reasons, that hold the most fascination.