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Somewhat less fluent than Elaine Pagels’s like-minded Beyond Belief, but of considerable interest to students of early...

A well-crafted, scholarly tale of forgeries, burned books, doctrinal feuds, and other episodes in the making of the New Testament and the early Church.

Or, better, churches. If Christianity today has a bewildering number of faces, its early forms were even more various, writes Ehrman (Religious Studies/Univ. of North Carolina; Jesus, Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, 1999). So, too, were its writings, including many that were suppressed, forgotten, cast aside, edited out, and otherwise not encouraged to survive alongside the canonical texts. Like many ancient writings, many are known only by mentions in other texts, and those little hints are fascinating: one epistle, attributed to Barnabas, might have laid the seeds for generations of anti-Semitic scripture, for here Paul’s follower “argues that Judaism is a false religion” and that “the Old Testament is a Christian book”; one wonderful, thoroughly non-canonical text, the so-called Infancy Gospel of Thomas, recounts the adventures of Jesus as a child, in which “the boy has a temper and is not to be crossed,” so much so that even his father of record, Joseph, tells Mary, “Do not let him go outside. Anyone who makes him angry dies”; another Gospel of Thomas attributes to Christ a Zen-like detachment and his assurance that “it is by learning the truth of this world and, especially, of one’s own divine character, that one can escape this bodily prison and return to the realm of light whence one came”—all very New Age. These and dozens of other texts were not incorporated into the canon, and sometimes for obvious reasons. Yet, Ehrman wonders, what would have happened had they been? As it is, a canonical tradition arose with a rigidly structured church over the centuries, one that presented a nearly unified body of creed and dogma—but that, in time, splintered into the multifaceted Christianity, or perhaps the many Christianities, that we know today.

Somewhat less fluent than Elaine Pagels’s like-minded Beyond Belief, but of considerable interest to students of early Christianity and its evolution. (N.B.: To be published simultaneously with the author’s Lost Scriptures: Books That Did Not Make it Into the New Testament; Oxford Univ.; 0-19-514182-2; 352 pp. $30.00.)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-19-514183-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2003

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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