I bought this book to learn more about the events and issues of early Christianity from the actual texts that have survived from that period. The book includes up to date translations of the 27 books of the New Testament and of 26 other non canonical books which are believed to have been written within a hundred years of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. There is a brief 6 page introduction on the development of early Christianty, followed by the translations themselves. These are divided into sections which are consistent with the order of the books in the New Testament itself. That is:
* Early Christian Gospels - the 4 New Testament books followed by eight others
* Early Christian Acts - Acts of the Apostles followed by two other writings
* Early Christian Letters attributed to Paul - the 13 canonical epistles plus one other epistle
* General Epistles & Other early Christian writings - the 8 canonical epistles plus 13 others
* Early Christian Apcalypses - Revelations plus 2 other much loved apocalpytic books of the early period
Each book is provided with a brief introduction describing the content and purpose of the book, and identifying the purported author and probable date of its writing. The 27 books of the New Testament are from the New Revised Standard version Bible of 1989, while 17 of the 26 non canonical books are translations by the author himself. 8 books are from the Apocryphal New Testament translated by J K Elliott and published in 1993, and one, the Gospel of Thomas, is from the Nag Hammadi Library translated by Thomas Lambdin and published in 1988.
My reactions in reading this book are decidedly mixed. On the one hand, I wanted something which was readable, which it certainly is, and I certainly wanted to read the texts which were unfamiliar to me and to gain some understanding of the context of the times in which they were written. But on the other hand, I also wanted some explanation of what it was that I was reading. This book was certainly successful in illuminating my mind on the first goal, but much less so on the second. Perhaps I should have chosen one of the other books by Professor Ehrman - either "The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings" or perhaps "Lost Scriptures: Books That Did Not Make It Into the New Testament".
Be that it may, I certainly got many benefits from reading the book. In order to understand what I was reading, I really had to read the books from a different perspective. For example, I had never noted the many similarities and differences in the Gospels and in the Epistles before, with respect to the events as well as the issues which the Apostles had to address in establishing the new faith in the cities of the Middle East, Asia Minor, and other parts of the Roman Empire, and I had never really properly absorbed the content of Revelations. I found it absolutely necessary to have my own Bible close at hand, and to develop a workfile on my PC to summarize the content of each book, to list the people mentioned in these books, and to check the text of biblical quotations against the actual text in the books to which they were supposed to refer. In this last item, I was surprised at the extent to which many quotations differed from the original.
My motivation for this approach was that I wanted to understand the development of early Christianity in the context of what had gone before, particularly with respect to Mosaic Law, and the messages of the Prophets. I also wanted to understand more on how the early church interpreted the actual sayings of Jesus Christ, and how these were further developed by the later institutions of Christianity, since it seems to me that His message of love and forgiveness is rather different from the preaching (and actions in the name of Christ) of the historical and modern institutions of Christianity, be they Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, or Protestant denominations.
I would have liked to have read something more about the provenance of these books, particularly the non-canonical ones, but the introductions did not cover that particular topic. I would have liked to see some titles and headings for the chapters and various sections within the chapters - but the book did not provide that either. I would have also liked to have seen notes on some of the hidden meanings of the more obscure statements within the texts. So for this information I had to go to my Jerusalem Bible for the canonical books, and to various Internet websites containing the late 19th century translations of texts of the books by the Ante-Nicene Fathers.
That turned out to be very helpful, but it did mean that I spent rather more time on reading and rereading this book than I expected. Nevertheless, I am happy I bought the book, and the translations were certainly easy to read. For those people wishing to study the surviving texts of Early Christianity, they should first decide what is the important information they wish to learn about. If it is mainly for the texts themselves, then this book certainly provides that.