Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew

Article excerpt

Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew. By Bart Ehrman. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003, xv + 293 pp., $30.00.

There is not likely a NT scholar in the United States who has not been asked about secret gospels, lost books of the Bible, and the Da Vinci Code. The novel has brought to the forefront questions that most Christians never think about. How did we get the sixty-six books in our Bible? Were there other books that did not "make the cut"? Are these books available for reading? The book under review, by professor Bart D. Ehrman, the Bowman and Gordon Gray Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (and, interestingly, a graduate of Wheaton College), answers many of those questions. The question for the review is, of course, does the work answer them accurately, fairly, and correctly?

The book, after an introduction, is divided into three sections: "Forgeries and Discoveries," "Heresies and Orthodoxies," and "Winners and Losers." The first section of the book deals with the discovery, both ancient and modern, of works that claimed to be "Christian." The most interesting chapter in this section presents Ehrman's thoughts on the secret Gospel of Mark. This work, discovered (or forged) by Morton Smith, has baffled scholars for years. Smith claimed to have found a section of an ancient work, photographed it, and presented his findings to other scholars. The problem came when other scholars wanted to see the actual document, not the photographs. Many have held that Smith forged this document as a high-tech joke on NT scholars. Others believe that this is an ancient document; a few even claim to have seen it. Ehrman marshals the evidence in this chapter and comes to a soft conclusion that Smith forged the document.

In the second section of the book Ehrman gives a brief overview of several early heresies. He spotlights the Ebionites, Marcionites, as well as several brands of Gnosticism. Ehrman hesitates to call these movements "heresies" because he feels that this is precisely the question that he is asking. Ehrman will argue that, because some of these works and movements came to be called heresies by the "proto-orthodox" movement, the books and doctrines held by these groups were not accepted into what finally became known as "orthodox Christianity." While no one can argue against the existence of serious doctrinal disagreements in the early Church, it is Ehrman's analysis as to why certain movements "won" that will be troublesome to evangelicals.

It is in the third section of the work, "Winners and Losers," that Ehrman begins to bring the wide body of evidence to bear on some conclusions. This section will prove to be the most controversial section based on a number of points. First, Ehrman uses a historical overview of the work of Reimarus to argue that there are differences in the Gospel accounts that "cannot be reconciled" (p. 169). Ehrman seems to want to argue that, because "each Gospel writer has an agenda-a point of view he wants to get across, an understanding of Jesus that he wants his readers to share" (p. 170), the Gospels then must be seen as something other than historical documents. It seems that the least Ehrman could have done here was to mention, in addition to the work of Reimarus, Baur, and Bauer, the work of historians like A. …