This authoritative, fully accessible guide to early Christian movements sheds light on the hidden histories and intriguing mysteries that fueled the extraordinary success of books ranging from Dan Brown's blockbuster The Da Vinci Code to Elaine Pagels's critically acclaimed Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas.
From its earliest days, Christianity has been marked by a rich diversity of beliefs and practices. Different interpretations of Jesus' life and mission, as well as conflicting views about worship and rituals, gave rise to numerous sects in the first centuries C.E. Condemned as heretical by the official Church, these early movements were lost to history until the twentieth century, when the discovery of ancient documents opened a new perspective on the evolution of Christianity.
The Beliefnet(r) Guide to Gnosticism and Other Vanished Christianities is a fascinating look at the diverse strands of the early Christian church. It examines the alternative Christian ideas propagated by the Gnostics, Sethians, Valentinians, Marcionites, Encratites, and Montanists, illuminating the philosophical sources and religious traditions that fostered them. Special attention is given to sects that presented the greatest challenges to the developing orthodoxy: the Hermeticists, the Manicheans, and the Neoplatonists. There are also thought-provoking discussions about the secret Gospel of Mark and the Gospels of Mary and Thomas, and the newly discovered Gospel of the Savior.
From the premier source of information on religion and spirituality, the Beliefnet Guides introduce you to the major traditions, leaders, and issues of faith in the world today.
It is said that history is written by the victors, and Christian history is no different. From its inception, followers of Jesus have tried to formulate a belief structure that they think best reflects their understandings of the person and mission of the Nazarene. This book, part of Beliefnet's series of short primers on religion, examines what the author calls the "conflictual diversity of early Christianity," focusing initially on three Gnostic sects considered schismatic by the keepers of orthodoxy. Valantasis, an Episcopal priest who is professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, then studies other interpretations and both inside and outside the church, including the influence of Neo-Platonism on the church's mystical self-understanding. Along the way we meet the Montanists, the Manichaeans and other familiar groups proclaimed heretical by the church. But Valantasis goes beyond the familiar, introducing us to an assortment of smaller, lesser-known groups such as the "Fools for Christ" and the "Stylites," all in a compact, entertaining style that is sure to please the casual reader. This book offers a concise but fact-filled approach to the study of early Christianity in its broad diversity. (Feb. 21) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
February 20, 2006
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from The Beliefnet Guide to Gnosticism and Other Vanished Christianities by Richard Valantasis
The Many Kingdoms of God
Everyone who "comes in the Name of the Lord" ought to be received, but later when you have examined him you will know him, for you have the comprehension of the good and the bad. If the one who comes is a traveler, help him as much as you are able, but he will not stay with you more than two days, or perhaps three if needs be.
--The Didache XII.1-2
Jesus and Diversity
Diversity in Christianity came directly from Jesus himself. It began long before his death, with the first proclamations of the Kingdom of God. This aspect of earliest Christianity--its multifacetedness, its inclusion of radically different conceptions of itself--was buried by the triumphalist story that the bishops wrote after they'd successfully suppressed their rivals. It will take some digging to uncover it but it is worth the effort. We will need to put aside some of our preconceptions before we can understand Jesus' mission and why he encouraged such diverse understandings of the religion he ended up founding.
First of all, Jesus was not a Christian. Jesus was a Jew who lived in a region occupied by the Romans. There two very different cultures and religious orientations thrived side by side, the Roman and the Jewish. The region was probably trilingual: Greek, spoken by all; Aramaic, spoken by the local people of Palestine and Judea; and Latin, the official administrative language of the Roman occupation forces. Jesus probably spoke two of these languages. We presume he spoke Greek because all of his preserved sayings--and in fact all of the earliest surviving Christian literature--exist primarily in Greek. Greek was the common language of the peoples living in occupied Judea, and it had been the intellectual language of the Jews since the time of Alexander the Great three centuries before. It is virtually certain that Jesus spoke Aramaic since it was the common language of the indigenous peoples of his region.
Second, Jesus never said he was God. I know this is hard for many contemporary Christians to understand, but it is true nonetheless. Christians affirm that Jesus is God, but that is something that Christians say, not anything that Jesus ever said about himself.
Jesus focused on proclaiming the Kingdom of God, a divine empire under God's sole imperial authority. He never clearly defined his own role in that kingdom. He never even defined precisely what constituted the Kingdom. He just proclaimed it to anyone who understood Greek. In the Greek-speaking Roman world there were many ways of understanding the divine nature of a person. Roman emperors, for example, were made gods upon their death, making the living emperor a "son of God." Although Jews maintained a monotheistic theology, they also included divine figures, or at least semidivine characters, in their worldview. Sophia, the divine mind of God, whose name literally means "wisdom," was one such figure. Jesus would have appeared as a divine messenger to Romans by virtue of his proclamation of the Kingdom of God and to Jews as well by virtue of the divine wisdom that he spoke. But Jesus never declared himself divine.
Third, if Jesus preached in Greek as opposed to Aramaic, we have to assume that he intended to communicate with anyone who could understand the language--Gentile and Jew alike. Jesus' message was not delivered just to the Jews and then carried to the Gentiles by Paul after his death, as most of our histories of Christianity tell us. Jesus intentionally undertook a universal mission himself. The use of Greek as the primary language of the proclamation of Jesus and the proclamation of the Kingdom of God by Jesus' followers emphasizes the universal mission of early Christianity. It is because this mission was already universal that Paul began his mission to the Gentiles. None of Paul's adversaries objected to his mission; they objected only to his dismissal of Jewish religious rites and practices for the Gentile Christians. The early church understood Paul's mission to be a continuation of Jesus' own.