Jenkins (History, Institute for the Studies of Religion/Baylor Univ.; The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade, 2014, etc.) attacks the current mainstream view of church history, which posits the disappearance of competing Christian literature due to early repression by the established orthodoxy.
Many of these documents—such as the Gnostic gospels—have seen a recent resurgence in popularity, having been “hidden” or “lost” for centuries. The author pointedly argues that this view of competing documents is entirely mythic. Quite the contrary, many circulated well into the Middle Ages and beyond, often influencing otherwise thoroughly orthodox Christians. Among other issues Jenkins identifies with current historical analysis, he notes a tendency toward ethnocentrism in viewing Christian history: “When we tell the Christian story in any era on only a European scale—rather, with a West European, Catholic focus—we miss a very large part of the story.” Indeed, the author looks at a wide geographical range in his exploration of alternative Christian texts, especially Slavonic texts from Bulgaria and beyond and texts from Muslim-dominated regions. Jenkins introduces readers to texts preserved across the entirety of Christendom, from Ireland to Armenia. In the case of Gnosticism, Jenkins demonstrates that this heresy was not snuffed out or chased into hiding by the early church, but instead, it survived and flourished for centuries in Eastern Europe, culminating in the Albigensians in the 1200s. He also points out that some noncanonical texts went on to influence what we may see as traditional Western European Christianity—namely, those connected to Mary Magdalene and Mary the Mother of Jesus. Jenkins discusses the full spectrum of early, noncanonical literature, which, though heretical by official church standards, circulated and influenced believers for centuries. More than a well-argued rebuttal against prevailing academic viewpoints, the author also presents a worthwhile companion reference for lay students of Christian history.
A worthy broadside aimed at revisionist Christian historians that provides a sorely needed counterpoint to the prevailing and largely unquestioned conventional wisdom regarding early Christian history.