Overview According to the commonly held view, early Christianity was a time of great harmony, and heresy emerged only at a later stage. To the contrary, Gerd Ludemann argues that the time from the first Christian communities to the end of the second century was defined by struggle by various groups for doctrinal authority. Drawing on a wealth of data, he asserts that the losers in this struggle actually represented Christianity in its more authentic, original form. Orthodoxy has been defined by the victors in this struggle and it is they who subsequently silenced alternative views and labeled them heretical. Ludemann's findings are important as well as liberating for the understanding of both Christianity and the Bible. Readers will gain a new understanding of Jesus and the early church from this compelling and controversial book.
According to the commonly held view, early Christianity was a time of great harmony, and heresy emerged only at a later stage. To the contrary, Gerd Ludemann argues that the time from the first Christian communities to the end of the second century was defined by struggle by various groups for doctrinal authority. Drawing on a wealth of data, he asserts that the losers in this struggle actually represented Christianity in its more authentic, original form. Orthodoxy has been defined by the victors in this struggle and it is they who subsequently silenced alternative views and labeled them heretical. Ludemann's findings are important as well as liberating for the understanding of both Christianity and the Bible. Readers will gain a new understanding of Jesus and the early church from this compelling and controversial book.
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More About Gerd Ludemann
Gerd LUdemann is a professor of the history and literature of early Christianity at the University of GOttingen, Germany. Professor LUdemann's published conclusions about Christianity aroused great controversy in his native Germany, where the Confederation of Protestant Churches in Lower Saxony demanded his immediate dismissal from the theological faculty of his university. Despite this threat to his academic freedom, he has retained his post at the university, although the chair he holds was renamed to disassociate him from the training program of German pastors. LUdemann is also the author of "Jesus After 2000 Years, Paul: The Founder of Christianity," and" The Resurrection of Christ: A Historical Inquiry."
Gerd Ludemann has published or released items in the following series...
Challenging, Thought Provoking, yet still somehow Comforting Aug 13, 2000
Ludemann's main point appears to be that ALL Christians in the first century or so after Jesus were regarded as heretics by one or another group of their fellow Christians. Everyone, it seems, had their turn at being orthodox or heretical, even the original Jewish Christians and St. Paul himself. Ludemann convincingly illustrates these conflicts from the New Testament and other first and second century texts, most of which still are embraced as orthodox today (e.g. the Apostles' Creed, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Justin Martyr). But Ludemann goes beyond the mere fact of factions within the early church to consider why, and what it all might mean, even to us today.
Ludemann locates the source of the problem in the natural human response to Jesus' ministry and subsequent death. Jesus "lived out for his disciples the message of the boundless love and grace of God - in words and actions" to quote from this book. This love and grace is available to the poor, the outcast and the lost even without temple sacrifices and ritual observances. His message was also apocalyptic, that the kingdom of God (including the physical resurrection of the dead - a widely held belief in Judaism at the time) was at hand. Unlike other apocalyptic messages, He also taught that we humans can live the Kingdom of God now before it actually comes. This message of living the Kingdom of God attracted a wide and fervent following of believers who then tried to make sense of Jesus' death in light of his radical and apocalyptic message and eventually in light of the fact that the Kingdom did not come. The various "heretics" and indeed the emerging Catholic orthodoxy itself, each understood more fully different parts of Jesus' message and accordingly so emphasized them in their doctrines. Ludemann wonders if the whole notion of "heretic" is outmoded and whether those earlier outcasts should be "welcomed back into the fold" as contributors to the development of Christian belief.
What I personally find most interesting about this book is Ludemann's discussion of how the books of the New Testament were selected, and in some cases even written at all, largely due to "heretics". So it appears that II Thessalonians was a later anonymous re-write of St. Paul's genuine I Thessalonians to "correct" its' heretical implications, and in fact was meant to replace it rather than stand beside it. Ephesians and Colossians likewise seem to have been written by Gnostic inclined followers of St. Paul rather than Paul himself. The various "spins" in each of the four gospels are also mentioned as examples of the variety of belief in the various Christian communities. Ludemann with his modern sensibilities struggles with the notion of honest, earnest believers dealing in "forgeries". I do not understand it fully either, but from my own reading (see Fowden's "The Egyptian Hermes" and Doresse's "The Secret Books of the Egyptian Gnostics", both also reviewed by me) it seems that this was a common feature of sacred writings in antiquity. As for selection rather than authorship, the "heretic" Marcion was the first to assemble a Christian body of sacred books (Luke, Acts, and seven of Paul's epistles). Until then most Christians were concerned with statements of belief (e.g. the Roman, or Apostles' Creed) rather than scripture, strange as that may seem to us today.
This book challenged me with new thoughts and opened new understanding for me. In some places I was alarmed and disturbed, in others excited and strangely comforted. The brief epilogue "Ten Golden Words" is worth the price of the book all by itself and should be re-read every day by those who would seek God through the study of Scriptures. I highly recommend this book, despite its' sometimes ponderous prose. (It was translated from academic German, after all).
Question of fact Feb 27, 1999
How can we view findings about Jesus of Nazareth when there was no Nazareth at the time of Jesus. My readings conclusively tell me that Nazareth came into existance well after the time of Christ.
Heretics show the 'other' truth of Jesus Jan 23, 1998
If history is written by the victors, then it makes sense that the losers would have a different - though equally valid - viewpoint. "Heretics" provides just this view of the man we call Jesus. After 2000 years you wouldn't think there was much new that could be said on the subject - Gerd Ludemann has proved this wrong! Like the equally contentious, yet inspiring, "The Autobiography of Jesus of Nazareth and the Missing years" by Richard G. Patton, this book does sound true! It does make sense that there would be this power struggle as each of the different 'Christian' Church's wanted their definition of Jesus to be the 'official' version. This book will make you question, but ultimately reaffirm your belief in the Man from Nazareth. Excellent reading.