Book Review: Lost Scriptures

Lost Scriptures:  Books That Did Not Make It Into The New Testament, by Bart D. Ehrman

The books (or excerpts or fragments of books) discussed in this book are not really lost scriptures, in the sense that they were ever considered canonical by mainstream believers, much less the early Church of God, but they were all books that didn’t make it into the New Testament.  This book definitively proves that all you need to have a good Bart Ehrman book is to have him (mostly) shut up and (mostly) let the texts speak for themselves.  If none of these books hold a candle to the Bible, these books are at least historically significant and show at least a few worthwhile books that deserve to be read as part of the context of the early centuries of Christianity.  If they are not quite as world-changing as advertised, these are worthwhile books and it is always worth it to read ancient texts [1].  This book offers a way forward for Bart Ehrman to make reasonably decent books, and that is for him to write misleading introductions to texts that manage to contain excellent cross-referencing that are able to stand on their own for the most part.  There are worse career paths for overrated “experts” on the Bible.

The real stars of this book are the texts themselves.  The editor divides these texts into several categories of writings that take up about 340 pages or so of material.  The first section of the book contains non-canonical gospels from a variety of approaches, including Judaizing Gospels like those of the Nazareans and Ebionites, as well as Gnostic gospels like the Gospel of Thomas, and other books like the Proto-Gospel of James that provide a substratum of information that became part of the mythos of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  The second part of the book looks at non-canonical acts of the apostles, including selections from the Acts of Paul (and Thecla) that disprove the editor’s claims that the early Church of God had a laissez faire attitude towards biblical books being written under false names, even in the Hellenistic church.  After that come some interesting and revealing non-canonical epistles and related writings, including the letters of 1 and 2 Clement and an interesting fake series of letters between Paul and Seneca, as well as the historically significant Didache and anti-Jewish Letter of Barnabas.  After this comes a selection of non-canonical apocalypses and revelatory treatises like the Shepherd of Hermas–an interesting and significant work, if obviously non-apostolic–and apocalypses of Peter and Paul that were significant in providing images of hell for Hellenistic Christians, and some really odd gnostic myths that have been influential among contemporary gnostics.  Closing the book come some canon lists that are interesting to read as well.

It should be pointed out that this is not a perfect book.  Not all of the texts are worth reading, although most of them are worthwhile at least in terms of context, to better understand the Bible through reading fakes and frauds and seeing the sort of writings that were railed against by Paul and John among the biblical writers, for example.  Most of these books can be appreciated either as transparent attempts to pass off pastiche and fakery under false names or early stabs at devotional fiction that simply lacked the genres and legitimacy that would have allowed them to fill in the biblical gaps with their imagination in a way that was open and honest.  Many of the works here are pious frauds or openly honest writings from people who admitted they were not apostles and simply wanted to explore areas where the Bible was silent, or wanted to write creatively about their own perspectives and opinions on matters of faith and practice, and simply did not have the way to do so that would not infringe upon the scriptural canon.  This book is better than it has any right to be, largely because it demonstrates the superiority of the Bible that we have to its imitators and competitors and does so from the perspective of someone who is among their most outspoken champions.  The fact that this book serves as eloquent testimony to the clear superiority of the Bible to the books in this text makes this text worthwhile because one can best read it as a collection of interesting ancient texts that have no merit to be considered as lost scriptures at all.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Book Reviews, Christianity, Church of God, History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Book Review: Lost Scriptures

  1. Pingback: Audiobook Review: Great Courses: After The New Testament: The Writings Of The Apostolic Fathers: Part 1 | Edge Induced Cohesion

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