Bart Ehrman, author of the highly popular books Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code, Lost Christianities , and the New York Times bestseller Misquoting Jesus , here takes readers on another engaging tour of the early Christian church, illuminating the lives of Jesus' most intriguing followers: Simon Peter, the Apostle Paul, and Mary Magdalene.
What does the Bible tell us about each of these key followers of Christ? What legends have sprung up about them in the centuries after their deaths? Was Paul bow-legged and bald? Was Peter crucified upside down? Was Mary Magdalene a prostitute? In this lively work, Ehrman separates fact from fiction, presenting complicated historical issues in a clear and informative way and relating vivid anecdotes culled from the traditions of these three followers. He notes, for instance, that there is no evidence to suggest that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute (this legend can be traced to a sermon preached by Gregory the Great five centuries after her death), and little reason to think that she was married to Jesus. Similarly, there is no historical evidence for the well-known tale that Peter was crucified upside down.
A serious book but vibrantly written and leavened with many colorful stories, Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene will appeal to anyone curious about the early Christian church and the lives of these important figures.
"An informed but breezy look at the myths surrounding Jesus' most influential followers.... This book contains valuable historical scholarship. It also encourages readers to approach the Scriptures with fresh and enlightened eyes."
--Christian Science Monitor
There is a bit of irony in the subtitle of this terrific book. Ehrman, chair of the Department of Religious Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill and author of several well-received volumes including Lost Scriptures and Lost Christianities, struggles with the very issue of how to separate history from legend, whether it can be done at all and whether it matters. He contends "it is often easier to know how the past was remembered than to decide what actually happened." By shifting focus from the tales to the tellers, Ehrman enters the ongoing discussion of biblical literalism and reliability, insisting that we're not arriving at satisfactory answers because we're not asking the right questions. Drawing widely from history, scripture and extra-biblical writings, he studies the many stories of the lives of the first-century "Peter, Paul and Mary," arguing that inclusion of some accounts in the canon should not elevate these texts above the others, some of which were accepted early on by the church but later excluded from the canon. As with his other works, Ehrman presents his case clearly and succinctly. So, are the biblical stories more reliable than those outside the canon? The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind. (May)
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Oxford University Press, Incorporated
March 23, 2008
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