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on 25 October 2007
The huge interest in Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" revealed diversities and inadequacies within contemporary Christianity. In turning for answers to early Christianity, diversities and inadequancies have been found there as well. Life is rarely simple nor do foolish simplifications make it so.

Part 1 of "Lost Christianities", focused on forgeries, didn't grab me, but after that the book was absorbing. Ehrman covers a lot of ground, always with reminders of the inadequacies of labels. Unlike Karen King, however, he's willing to work closely with the label of "Gnostic" even as he acknowledges the weaknesses of using it. He notes, however, that the label "Christian" can be deceiving too, as can "orthodox" and "heretical". There were many kinds of heresy and some, such as Ebionite Christianity, weren't Gnostic. Until Constantine's time, it was questionable to speak of AN orthodoxy, but even then (and after) diversity within Church belief and practice continued (into our times, where diversity is still very much present).

Ehrman seems to keep an open and fair mind as he explores these developments. He acknowledges the current interest in Gnosticism and all the early Christian alternatives and recognizes that people today are looking for help to define their own faith, including from the Lost but now found Christianities.

Ehrman discusses Walter Bauer (1877-1960), who seems to have covered a lot of the ground Karen King addressed in her recent books. Bauer notes the "orthodox" and "heretical" seemed value judgements and recognizes a big diversity in emergent Christianity.

Ehrman says that in 325 C.E., only 5-7% of Constantine's empire were Christian. I'd never realized it was that small. But Constantine became Christian and by 400 C.E., 50% of the empire was Christian. He had quite an impact, which seems a lesson in the huge role political leaders play. At the least, it seems that Constantine deserves a great deal more recognition even if we don't celebrate his birthday or make movies of his life.

The contrast between Karen King's handling of Gnosticism and Ehrman's sticks on my mind. Does Ehrman err by generalizing Gnostic beliefs or by using that label when it might not apply to some "Gnostic" groups? Or is he being practical and gaining some advantage in noting important commonalities. I don't know but I appreciate that both King and Ehrman choose ways of sharing what they know about early Christianity. Like the diversity within Christianiity, the diversity within scholars can be enriching.

The open research by Ehrman and King in the early "alternative" Christians , as well as the huge positive response to "The Da Vinci Code", suggest to me that there's a widespread feeling of deficiency in mainstream Christianity and a longing to capture something meaningful that rote belief and ritual hasn't addressed. We may be witnessing the beginnings of a spiritual renaissance that will recapture the power that the early Christians felt.
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on 27 July 2011
I have to start with a comment on Ehrman's writing style and communication abilities: they are superb. He makes his case extremely well, is very erudite and acknowledges where there are doubts and possible objections to his propositions. Thoroughly honest in his approach, his model of writing is one that could well be followed by many others. Few theologians I have read have written with such clarity.

So what are these propositions? Well, he invents a new term for an old group. The early church leaders are now rebranded as "proto-orthodox." To summarise, imagine a young tree sapling. The traditional view of church history has been that "heretical" views and non-orthodox texts and opinions grew out of early Christianity as a kind of `branch' that either was cut-off or died anyway, leaving the main trunk intact. The revisionist viewpoint espoused by Ehrman was that there were lots of saplings growing in parallel, and that in the battle for survival, most of the saplings were killed and the victors, being the ones who wrote the history, distorted the true picture of what happened.

This certainly should raise a few eyebrows amongst historically-minded Christians. For the first third of the book, which I thought were the most interesting, he looks at a few early non-canonical writings at the stories they contain as well as the stories behind their discovery and their authorship. Throughout this discourse, there is this thread of "proto-orthodox" though it seems entirely superfluous to the discussion, and no attempt is made to justify it. The central third of the book looks at the different bodies of beliefs, looking at the Ebionites, the Marcionites and there is a broad overview of the broad spectrum of belief which fell under the umbrella term of Gnosticism.

It is only in the last third of the book that Ehrman attempts to justify his proposition of the "proto-orthodox." Crucial to this discussion is the authorship of the books of the New Testament. Here is where some of his arguments seem to lack coherency. For example, he states (quite correctly) that we have no surviving "original" documents but then goes on to argue that the "proto-orthodox" have altered the originals to suit their own doctrines. But if you do not know what the originals said, how can this be justified?

Likewise, on a number of occasions, he states that the books of 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus and 2 Peter were probably forgeries, though no evidence to support this proposition is ever given. Instead we have reference to "most scholars" though these are not named or referenced. So, whilst being eager to get to grips with this more revisionist viewpoint, I was left frustrated that it was not well supported.

In conclusion, I do not find Ehrman's revisionist definition of early Christians as "proto-orthodox" to be convincing. It is well-argued, but the evidence presented just doesn't seem to provide sufficient weight to back up his proposition. I have great respect for his writing and his research, and would recommend this book to anyone interested in this history of early Christianity and the heretical beliefs that grew out of it.
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on 2 October 2013
This book really helps you out the bible into perspective and gives an insight into the church before it became so formed. It also shows why the church really had to find some common perspective, some of which is good, and some of it it is good to know where it came from . A very useful book
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on 16 December 2012
A very good book that has a wealth of useful information. The book is well presented and the thesis is excellent, covering the many documents that were not chosen as books of the New Testament. I recommend this book to the enquiring mind.
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on 15 October 2012
Erhman has written a clear and articulate account of the origins and historicity of Christianity in its formative years. This book like Erhman's other books is not written to convert readers to atheism but to try and make them think, however if he succeeds in his purpose then this book enters him into the illustrious ranks of Darwin, Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and Dennett and many others who care about the truth.

Every evangelical should read and digest this book with an open mind and try to reconcile their beliefs with the facts contained within it, for it may serve to enlighten their life.
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on 29 December 2012
Very good. Very thorough and well written. A fascinating area of research and interest which is almost a page turner in its pacing.
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on 7 June 2013
I found the book very interesting and thought provoking. Well worth the read, and it would appear to be well researched.
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on 5 December 2012
A fascinating book, demonstrating that it's not difference of opinion that counts: it's the belief that only this sect or that can possibly have The Truth.

The book arrived well before the promised date.
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on 30 January 2014
A very good book which I bought for my son who is studying Theology at the university Groningen Netherlands.

Very satisfied!Higly Recommended!
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on 27 September 2014
Excellent - need more information to reach balanced judgement on origins on Christianity
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