Plato’s Shadow: The Hellenizing Of Christianity, by Gary Petty
I did not find out about this book until after I had already written a very lengthy discussion about something this author shows some interest in, namely the Hellenization of biblical Christianity over the first few centuries after Christ. To my knowledge, at least, this is the only book I know of by the author, although I am very familiar with him as a speaker  and as a host for the Beyond Today television program. Admittedly, I thought upon getting this book and reading it that the author might have written about the same precise matter that I did, only to find that as is often the case, we both had a strong interest in the written materials of early Christianity and the same biblical worldview but a different approach to the areas where our writing and research was in common. I enjoyed the book, therefore, but found it to be written in a different way by someone whose approach and purpose was different than my own. Basically, Petty’s writing is a grand narrative of Christianity’s growth and early history and where things went wrong rather than a granular look at how we can see this process specifically happening over the course of the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, although there is some overlap in the content we both discuss on the matter as well as on our critique of the allegorical way that Origen and others sought to deal with the Bible.
Overall, I found this book of a bit less than 200 pages to be a fantastic read, and it managed to be an enjoyable and pleasant and quick read despite being the fourth book I had read that night after dinner. The book as a whole is divided into sixteen chapters that together make a compelling narrative. The author begins with an examination of Christianity as a Jewish sect in the peripheries of the Roman Empire (1) and then compares the Jewish heritage of early Christianity (2) with the corrupting influence of Greek philosophical thought (3) and Roman imperial policy (4). The next few chapters provide a narrative of Christianity that begins with a look at Jesus actions as a rabbi (5) and the messianic expectations of the Jews (6) to the growth of early Christianity within Second Temple Judaism (7), Simon Magus’ role as an early heretical leader (8), Paul’s efforts in evangelism that turned the world upside down (9), the tension between the biblical position and desires to appeal to the wisdom of the world (10), and the destruction of the Second Temple that served to harm the presence of the Jews as a counterweight to incipient Hellenism (11). The rest of the book provides a look at why someone would want to be a Christian (12), the rise of persecution as well as heresy and forgery, where the author has some critical things to say about some of the writings of the Apostolic Fathers (13), the Quartodeciman controversy over the Passover (14), and a couple of chapters that discuss Hellenistic Christianity (15) and how it triumphed as orthodoxy (16).
As a writer who shares the author’s commitment to biblical Christianity, I found a great deal to appreciate in this book. Admittedly, much of this book was not new to me in the way that it may be new to those who are not as aware of the writings of Origen or the Apostolic Fathers as I am. Nevertheless, although this book was not a new book, it was certainly a worthwhile one that provided a compelling narrative of Christianity falling away from its roots in an environment of hostility with Jews and the Roman government as well as a desire to appeal to Hellenistic thinking in the second centuries and later. This book is, properly speaking, a tragic tale of how Christianity lost its way and has so far not desired to return to the faith once delivered to the Apostles and early believers, to the point where among some at least even the expression of a desire to return to apostolic practices is viewed with derision and hostility. For those who want an excellent and compelling story of the early history of Christianity, this book is definitely well worth checking out.
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