This English translation comprises a revised and corrected edition of Gerd Lüdemann's prior German work, Ketzer. Die andere Seite des frühen Christentums (Stuttgart: Radius, 1995). L. views it as "a critical examination of . . . holy scripture and its authority" (xv), in particular, an assessment of the consequences of the fact that the Bible "is the collection of the victorious party" in early Christian debates (xvi).
This book, then, derives from L's interest in recovering an alternative vision of early Christianity, an interest shared by many scholars in the field. The discussion would benefit from a more precise method and clearer awareness of the social-historical literature on early Christianity, especially from this side of the Atlantic. For example, L. begins by claiming that a truly historical investigation of the early Christian movement must include "all the extant writing from [its] initial phase" (4), since the canon was not yet established. This suggests that both the NT and extra-canonical writings are essential sources for research into early Christianity, an issue which seems long settled. However, when L. claims further that all of these writings should be treated equally, he undermines his prior recognition that the fact that a writing is extant demonstrates already a partisan interest in its preservation and dissemination. It is not simply a question of what remains in the canon, but of what exists for us at all.
Lüdemann takes as his model Walter Bauer, "the representative of a profane church historiography" which L. views as fruitful and topical for today (11). This volume will be L's expansion of Bauer's approach. Yet L. cannot attain the pure historical objectivity to which he seems to aspire. For example, at the outset of his discussion, L. assumes a great divide between history and doctrinal tradition, Jesus and Christ, humanity and sinlessness, human language and word of God. Having set himself these dichotomies, L. chooses the former of each pair and repudiates the latter (e.g., 219). In his discussion of the Apostles Creed, he dismisses its statements as "completely incredible or incomprehensible" (190). One wonders why these issues even arise in a purely historical investigation. Or, if L. is really doing theology, then why the insistence on choosing between human experience and divine word? After all, is not history the locus of revelation for Christians?
Lüdemann aligns himself with Walter Bauer's thesis that "heresy" pre-existed orthodoxy in the development of Christian doctrine. He nuances this by acknowledging that what was considered to be heresy was not necessarily consistent over time. For example, he suggests that Paul of Tarsus was the earliest Christian heretic (ch. 4), whereas his Jewish Christian opponents became the heretics in a later period (ch. 3). Likewise, the content of "orthodoxy" does not remain consistent over time; rather, it comprises simply "the claim to possess the right faith, which denies it to others who deviate . . . " (11). With both Paul and his opponents in Jerusalem claiming orthodoxy for themselves, the term cannot be construed in a univocal way. Although the subtitle of the book might be read as implying a simple dichotomy between "heresy" and "orthodoxy," L's evidence more readily suggests a multiplicity of forms of early Christianity, and his treatment recognizes the multi-valent usage of these terms.
While L. proposes to present "the other side," one could wish for a more extensive use of the extra-canonical literature. L. relies primarily upon the NT writings and a few apocryphal works from the NT era; there is little on Marcion, even less on the Montanist movement, and virtually nothing past CE 200. For the NT writings, much of what L. says about Paul and the Pauline traditions has been argued before (e.g., D. R. MacDonald), and likewise with the Johannine literature (e.g., R. Brown). His Rehabilitationschrift approach to Marcion (as successor to Paul, the apostle of grace) is a shift to somewhat newer ground; one could wish for a more prolonged and contextualized treatment here. E.g., what are the advantages and drawbacks of Marcion's teaching, compared to the second-century alternatives? Why did Marcion develop this teaching at precisely this time and place?
Rather than an introduction to so-called heretical movements and their literature, this book might serve better as a companion NT introduction, highlighting the diverse interpretations of "Christianity" found in these writings. It is easy for students to assume the compatibility of the NT writings, since they all are collected in one book. This volume would be a salutary reminder of the variety-- and even discordance-- among the early visions of Christian faith and life.
Sheila E. McGinn, Ph.D.
John Carroll University,
University Heights, Ohio 44118
29 September 1997