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Christian Beginnings: From Nazareth to Nicaea, AD 30–325

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30 review for Christian Beginnings: From Nazareth to Nicaea, AD 30–325

  1. 5 out of 5

    Al Bità

    After becoming an atheist, one of the things that fascinated me was why I, who had been studying for years to become a Roman Catholic priest, should have been once so convinced in my beliefs: how did these beliefs become so unquestionable? The obvious explanations involved combinations of complete submission to those in charge of me, brainwashing, acceptance that far greater minds than mine had thought deeply on these things so who was I to contradict them, etc. In liberating myself from these p After becoming an atheist, one of the things that fascinated me was why I, who had been studying for years to become a Roman Catholic priest, should have been once so convinced in my beliefs: how did these beliefs become so unquestionable? The obvious explanations involved combinations of complete submission to those in charge of me, brainwashing, acceptance that far greater minds than mine had thought deeply on these things so who was I to contradict them, etc. In liberating myself from these preconceptions, it was simpler to examine for myself the development of some of the ideas involving religion in general. One of the threads I followed was based on the realisation that at least the authentic epistles of Paul were all written well before any of the traditional Gospels were written — so, for example, when Paul is talking about the gospel, he must be referring to his gospel… What did this mean? Which ideas were the earliest? How did they influence each other? The answers, of course are never simple. I did spend several decades reading, taking notes, and attempting to place these ‘ideas’ into some kind of chronological order, in order to help in my understanding. It soon extended to incorporate as many religious ideas as possible — I had quite some fun compiling the work — until almost 1,000 A4 pages had been accumulated. I ended up ‘publishing’ this compilation in four A4 books which can be purchased by accessing lulu.com on your computer (if anyone is interested). Faith I covers the period from the Big Bang to 500 BCE; Faith II covers the period 500 BCE to 500 CE; Faith III covers the period 500 CE to 1500 CE; and Faith IIII covers the period from 1500 CE to the Big Crunch… I am telling you this because Geza Vermes’ book provides a similar, but limited period (from 30CE to 325 CE) chronological analysis, covering the earliest concepts of what would be later known as Christology. This book is a rather accessible introduction to Vermes’ lifetime work as an eminent Biblical Scholar, particularly relating to the Dead Sea Scrolls, and it is essentially a re-presentation of his unorthodox take on what he calls Christian beginnings. For Vermes, the essential qualities of the figure of Jesus, taken especially from the Synoptic Gospels, together with his understanding of pre-Christian concepts found in Jewish writings at the time of the beginning of the first century CE, is one of Jesus as a charismatic Messianic figure, a Jewish prophet, concerned about the imminent coming of the Kingdom of God on earth. As such, his was a purely Jewish concern, and the idea is presented by Vermes as a continuation of a Jewish tradition in this regard — hence it is presented first in his book: even though the Synoptic Gospels, which contain extra content, had not yet been written, they do betray these Jewish concerns. The first variation on this idea comes from Paul, writing from a Greek Platonic perspective. Even though Paul was a contemporary of Jesus, he never actually met him. The first council of the new movement was held in Jerusalem in 48 CE; it was to result in its first schism, and it was generated by Paul. He ended up becoming the ‘apostle to the Gentiles’ (with a distinctly non-Jewish flavour — Paul argued that many if not all the Judaic requirements no longer applied) while the Jerusalem section remained tied to its Jewish roots. For Paul it was obvious that, after the alleged death and resurrection of Jesus, the earthly Kingdom of God had not eventuated, so his new urgent message was one of the (again) imminent return of Jesus. This concept was naturally based on a ‘spiritual’ conception of a returning Jesus-spirit — a concept which was readily taken up by the Gnostics as representing a kind of ‘divinity’of the spiritual realms… This Gnostic interpretation was to develop into a major widespread popular interpretation, typified by Marcion and Valentinus. The above then briefly establishes two distinctive ideas which were argued about for decades. The Gospel of John is so different from the first three gospels (written, in order, first Mark, then Matthew, then Luke and the Acts of the Apostles) that it represents a more ‘theological’ take, particularly based on the famous first chapter where John refers to Jesus as the ‘Word’ (in Greek logos) and suggesting its eternal coexistence from ‘the beginning’ (despite Jesus having referred to himself as being inferior to the Father)… Vermes continues his selections of those works which dealt with the varying interpretations and implications in the early 2nd-century CE, including the beginnings of Christian anti-semitism (e.g. the epistle of Barnabas), the early apologists and scholars, then the more vociferous ‘anti heretics’ culminating in the major controversy of Arius versus Athanasius. Arius, apparently backed by many Eastern leaders, including the emperor Constantine, believed that Jesus was initially human and only later (possibly after his ‘baptism’ by John the Baptist, or after his death and resurrection) became divine. The faction backed ultimately by Athanasius (who had the backing of the Bishop of Rome), survived, but the bickering continued… The Council of Nicaea in 325 CE officially declared that Jesus was eternal, divine, and also human: that he was a divine person (one of eventually three persons forming the Holy Trinity) but that he (and he alone) had two natures: one divine and one human. This dogma was only the beginning of the problem, and the matter would preoccupy thinkers and theologians for centuries as the consequences were fine-sifted and reconsidered over and over again. But the ‘clarification’ of Nicaea was more significant in that it permitted Christianity to be eventually declared the only religion for the Roman Empire and its citizens, something which gave Christianity immense power and authority, and which it then went on to use ruthlessly and mercilessly against its real and imagined opponents. Vermes limits his considerations to the bickering elements relating to the ‘official’ interpretation of the identity of Jesus. His conclusion is that this Nicaean ‘Jesus’ figure is so far from the original Jewish conception that the two are completely incompatible. Vermes does not question other aspects and historically related issues in much depth. He assumes, for example, that the Charismatic Jewish Jesus actually existed. I have a different opinion: the Joshua/Yeshua/Iesous/Jesus figure is a composite of all those who railed against the Roman occupation of Palestine — some good-deed people (providing meals and caring for the poor and needy, for example); some warriors (zealots, sword-bearing apostles); some anti-Pharisees; some pro-Qumran; some remnants of John the Baptist’s followers; some tolerant and submissive to the Roman occupation; etc). Many of these existed in various manifestations at the time, and in turn, many of these, especially if they were perceived as provoking anti-social behaviour or involved in destabilising actions and disordering to society, were summarily put to death by the Romans. All of these different persons became a unified Messiah figure initially, then a kind of Redeemer, and in both cases it was firmly believed that the brave new world they aspired to would eventuate in their own lifetime. The ‘imminent’ coming first of the Kingdom of God, then of the Second coming of Jesus, both failed to materialise, but by the time this was fully appreciated, the blending of the differing and often incompatible narratives had become enmeshed in high-level ratiocinations which, despite ‘clarification’ at Nicaea in 325 CE, nevertheless continued to provide discord and malevolence for centuries, and contributed not only to the flourishing of Christian antisemitism but also conducive to the promulgation of much persecution, torture and suffering, not only for ‘infidels’ and ‘pagans’ but also between Christians themselves. Two thousand years later, the Second Coming is still fervently awaited. It is well past the time when we should wake up and realise that it is all a con, albeit —perhaps precisely because it is — an immensely rich and powerful one. If you are a believer, Vermes is a good place to start: by realising that the creation of the myths of Christianity are very much the product of humans, with little if anything factual, let alone spiritual, about the arguments they engendered. For non-believers, Vermes’ work presents various elements for consideration: how unreal, unbacked, inauthentic stories are used to establish a new reality in the thoughts and ratiocinations of intelligent commentators regardless. Reason and ratiocination is a prostitute: for the ‘right’ faction it can and will be used, regardless of any real relation to facts or reality, to justify even the most outrageous claims and actions. This problem is not one specifically linked to Christianity — all religions have similar problems, and all have just as many intellectuals to ‘explain’ and ‘rationalise’ their inconsistencies and their fantasies. Although all of them might argue infallible interpretations and understandings based on these falsities, it is obvious simply through observation of the existence of many, varied and proliferating groups, sub-groups, sects, etc., that there is not, nor can there be, anything absolute or infallible about any of them. How to relieve ourselves of these delusions? Our prostitute reason provides us with the only real answer: there are no gods; everything about them that is written or discussed or promulgated verbally, in song, in art or in architecture, is man-made.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ted

    Vermes sets off to show that the Jesus proclaimed by the 1st Ecumenical Council is not the same as the Jesus portrayed in select New Testament writings. I say select because he discounts the Gospel of John and the all of the Pauline collection as distorting Jesus. Like the Ebionites pointed out in the Apostolic Constitutions he wants to proclaim Jesus is merely a man. So in that sense he book represents nothing new under the son. He is determined to show that the Jesus who is the Son of God is n Vermes sets off to show that the Jesus proclaimed by the 1st Ecumenical Council is not the same as the Jesus portrayed in select New Testament writings. I say select because he discounts the Gospel of John and the all of the Pauline collection as distorting Jesus. Like the Ebionites pointed out in the Apostolic Constitutions he wants to proclaim Jesus is merely a man. So in that sense he book represents nothing new under the son. He is determined to show that the Jesus who is the Son of God is not part of the authentic tradition. Yet there is an organic development that takes place in history and the differinng steams of thought about Jesus are flowing side by side in the river which is the Christian movement. Obviously many in the ancient world would disagree with his read of history. Reading his book reminded me of a truth I learned long ago in geometry. If you slice through an orange about 1/4 of the way down from the top, are the two surfaces of the orange perfectly identical in circumference and radius? To the eye the answer has to be yes for they were perfectly joined together before you sliced them. But mathematically, since the orange is round and its out edge curved, the two surfaces cannot be identical. Only if the orange was shaped like a cylinder could the two surfaces be identical. Since the orange is a ball, each slice has to be slightly different. So too I think one could try to divide out history and show changes in emphases in Christology as being different from previous ideas, but there is continuity between generations and there is diversity within any one generation. So the picture is not quite what Vermes portrays. In any generation the different parties/ factions may have understood a same word differently, but they found common ground and common language to hold it all together. And along the way those versions of christology which couldn't share a unity with the organic body of thought which was unfolding fell away. The Christians were conservative and not trying to develop a new idea but trying to be in the continuous succession of thinking and sometimes they had to broaden their thinking to incorporate all of the previous ideas which were found to be acceptable.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ian

    As a relatively new christian I found this book fascinating since in it Geza Vermes, noted on the blurb as "The world's leading Gospel scholar", shows how the image of Jesus changed and evolved in the 2-3 centuries after his crucifixion (and resurrection!). In the course of doing so, he introduces the reader to some of the great minds of early Christianity, people such as Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Irenaeus and Origen. Interestingly many of these early Christian thinkers were later tarred as her As a relatively new christian I found this book fascinating since in it Geza Vermes, noted on the blurb as "The world's leading Gospel scholar", shows how the image of Jesus changed and evolved in the 2-3 centuries after his crucifixion (and resurrection!). In the course of doing so, he introduces the reader to some of the great minds of early Christianity, people such as Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Irenaeus and Origen. Interestingly many of these early Christian thinkers were later tarred as heretics! Based on his exposition of the changing views of Jesus it becomes apparent that the idea of the trinity did not become a coherent belief until two centuries after Jesus and that (according to Vermes), the prevailing views were either of Jesus as a charismatic prophet or Jesus as a kind of second and lesser God, subordinate to God the Father. There is no doubting the impressive intellect and credentials of Geza Vermes. However, I suspect that he does have a Jewish bias in interpreting some of the evidence. For example, in several cases he dismisses evidence from the Synoptic Gospels (e.g. the nativity stories) that contradict his views, as being later interpolations, but presents no evidence that this is the case. In summarising Paul's view of Jesus he dismisses some parts of Paul's letters (which again are evidence against his views) as being inconsistent with the body of what Paul taught. Now, to be honest, I don't believe that trinitarianism was the orthodox view of the earliest Christians and it isn't strongly supported by the Gospels, which for the most part offer evidence which is very ambiguous and open to interpretation. As Harold Brown, author of "Heresies" states "Undoubedly, many of the first Christians, if asked to describe the relationship between Jesus and the Father would have done so in adoptionistic terms....the formula of the Apostle's Creed was not explicit enough to ward off such a serious heresy as adoptionism...the words of the New Testament themselves are not explicit enough to form an adeuqate barrier against adoptionism i.e. thinking about Jesus as a supernaturally endowed mere human". However it is arguable that everything necessary for salvation is embodied in the Apostle's Creed and that knowing exactly "what" Jesus was is not that important. Wittgenstein made the point in "Culture and Value" (p36e) that maybe the whole point of the imperfections and inconsistencies in the Gospel accounts was so that we did not get so hung up on the words but embraced the spirit. Worth thinking about.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Alison

    I read this because I thought it might be a good way to get a crash course in the debates around the historic early Christian movement. I wouldn't say it was as smooth a ride as I hoped, but I think i achieved the objective in the end. It was a short, but extremely dense read. I tend to do a lot of my reading at night, before I fall asleep and more often than not found myself needing to re-read large sections to grasp the llogical flow of the described theology. This was particularly the case in I read this because I thought it might be a good way to get a crash course in the debates around the historic early Christian movement. I wouldn't say it was as smooth a ride as I hoped, but I think i achieved the objective in the end. It was a short, but extremely dense read. I tend to do a lot of my reading at night, before I fall asleep and more often than not found myself needing to re-read large sections to grasp the llogical flow of the described theology. This was particularly the case in the first half, which assumes a more-than-passing familiarity with the New Testament (hardly unreasonably). I found I needed a copy of the Bible handy. The second half, however, opened up into a thoroughly enjoyable tour of early Christian thinkers, whom Vermes argues laid or reflected others' laying the eventual transformation of a charismatic Jewish movement to a full-blown Christian theology. I'm hardly in a position to judge Vermes' theory, although once or twice I wondered that his conclusion that it was the opening of the movement to gentiles that caused a seismic shift wasn't necessarily borne out by his own analysis, but his extensive quoting from primary sources and referencing were fantastic, and the sequence he laid out showed a gradual and believable progression of ideas up to the trinity. Despite many years of Athiesm, I've never gotten the Nicene Creed out of my head, and it was fascinating to see how each line carried controversial meaning. And it was great to flex some theology muscles again.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Judyta Szaciłło

    A bit repetitive. A lot of its contents were covered in 'Jesus the Jew', Vermes's first book that gained widespread attention. Later chapters had less appeal to me as they deal with the writings of the Church Fathers. Those writings were a hard chore when I was an undergrad student, and they have not ceased to be a hard chore today. The book is still a good read though. A bit repetitive. A lot of its contents were covered in 'Jesus the Jew', Vermes's first book that gained widespread attention. Later chapters had less appeal to me as they deal with the writings of the Church Fathers. Those writings were a hard chore when I was an undergrad student, and they have not ceased to be a hard chore today. The book is still a good read though.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    "Nothing is unclear in Arius' thinking, which is perhaps not a true desideratum in theology, nor is anything left unsaid." This was Vermes' statement--in spite of the fact that he wrote earlier that all we know of Arius is what his "arch-enemy Athanasius" wrote about him. I'm mostly okay with the "mystery of salvation" and probably am more so all the time as I age. I wondered if this book would shake my tentative faith but it hasn't. It's fine that Christianity developed over the first few centu "Nothing is unclear in Arius' thinking, which is perhaps not a true desideratum in theology, nor is anything left unsaid." This was Vermes' statement--in spite of the fact that he wrote earlier that all we know of Arius is what his "arch-enemy Athanasius" wrote about him. I'm mostly okay with the "mystery of salvation" and probably am more so all the time as I age. I wondered if this book would shake my tentative faith but it hasn't. It's fine that Christianity developed over the first few centuries and is still developing and changing for our times. I hope I am more aware as I read Scripture now and look for the development from the charismatic Jesus to the Son of God in it. Geza Vermes has written a very interesting autobiography "Providential Accidents" which really is the story of 20th century Europe through the life of one man. He was born Jewish, raised Catholic, and returned to Judaism later. No wonder his perspective is that of Jesus as a charismatic Jewish prophet. My husband and I had the privilege of meeting him and having dinner with him several years ago at a conference in Scotland where they were both speakers. I don't like the idea of saying that any passage in Scripture that doesn't agree with one's thesis must have been interpolated later. I also found the quoting of Goethe as saying "Jesus felt purely and thought only of the One God in silence; whoever makes him into God does outrage to his holy will" to be a sad and presumptive ending for a book I felt worth reading.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Carlton

    Unfortunately, whilst this is a book trying hard to summarise the "journey" of Christianity, which Vermes describes as the movement from a charismatic eschatological historical Jesus to a dogmatic intellectual acceptance of Jesus as God at the Council at Nicaea, it lost me as a very general reader upon the way. I do have a better understanding of the changing nature of Christianity over its first three centuries. However, I know that I will shortly forget all but the most basic shape of that tran Unfortunately, whilst this is a book trying hard to summarise the "journey" of Christianity, which Vermes describes as the movement from a charismatic eschatological historical Jesus to a dogmatic intellectual acceptance of Jesus as God at the Council at Nicaea, it lost me as a very general reader upon the way. I do have a better understanding of the changing nature of Christianity over its first three centuries. However, I know that I will shortly forget all but the most basic shape of that transformation. This is due to the author deciding to quote extensively from the sources, which is usually an excellent approach in historical books, but which just meant that I got bogged down in phraseology that sounded extremely similar and very opaque as to the meaning. But I expect that this is probably the difficulty of the sources, which are translations from probably fragmentary works. So, the overall shape of Vermes argument is well made, but it took this reader a lot of work to reach it.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Augustine Kobayashi

    I do not agree with the tone of his conclusion, but it provides an accurate and very well thought out summary of the development of Christianity from the time of Jesus to Constantine. Jesus, the Jewish itinerant preacher to the dogmatic Son of God, took three centuries to become the central creed of the Hellenic East. What is regrettable is that since Vermes does not aim at discussing socio-economic or political development that provided the background with the history of religion, Christology o I do not agree with the tone of his conclusion, but it provides an accurate and very well thought out summary of the development of Christianity from the time of Jesus to Constantine. Jesus, the Jewish itinerant preacher to the dogmatic Son of God, took three centuries to become the central creed of the Hellenic East. What is regrettable is that since Vermes does not aim at discussing socio-economic or political development that provided the background with the history of religion, Christology of this era sounds as if it had been just intellectual mumbo-jumbo. Given cultural and social tension and blending of Hellenic and Semitic elements in Roman society, the development of Christian theology would have made more sense. That he did not choose to make more sweeping historical survey is a pity. Still, it is a minor problem.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Joshua

    Vermes presents a clear and concise development of Christology in the first few centuries. His thesis encompasses ideas of unity and diversity in the NT, evolutionary development between Jewish and Greek theology and all the usual trappings. Needless to say his is a non-confessional position. In this book of scholarship worn lightly you will find many profound insights and clear arguments with seemingly inescapable conclusions... Which makes it all the more interesting for those of us who disagre Vermes presents a clear and concise development of Christology in the first few centuries. His thesis encompasses ideas of unity and diversity in the NT, evolutionary development between Jewish and Greek theology and all the usual trappings. Needless to say his is a non-confessional position. In this book of scholarship worn lightly you will find many profound insights and clear arguments with seemingly inescapable conclusions... Which makes it all the more interesting for those of us who disagree with his main argument. Books like this make you want to learn more and systematize your thoughts and knowledge more clearly. Perhaps even to rethink some cherished dogmas which have never been exposed to scrutiny...

  10. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas Smith

    This is an interesting and challenging book that, although I ultimately disagree with his core argument, has led me to re-read (and in some cases read for the first time) many of the oldest Christian sources in a new light. The case that Christianity moved from an apocalyptic Jewish sect to a greek inspired world faith is set out in impressive detail (although he uses himself as source material rather too often) but remains too much of an academic debate for me and leaves out the human story and This is an interesting and challenging book that, although I ultimately disagree with his core argument, has led me to re-read (and in some cases read for the first time) many of the oldest Christian sources in a new light. The case that Christianity moved from an apocalyptic Jewish sect to a greek inspired world faith is set out in impressive detail (although he uses himself as source material rather too often) but remains too much of an academic debate for me and leaves out the human story and often forgets to say what is consistent throughout. That said, I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in early Christianity.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mdaly

    Interesting book, spoiled by author's obvious omissions. He discusses Pauline Christinaity by reference to Paul's writings that suit his agenda and yet avoids completely the person of Paul himself. How or why did a devout Jew who was involved in the death of a Christian martyr become one of the leading Christian apologists? There is no mention of Paul's conversion. Likewise in discussing early Christianity the author makes extensive use of the texts of the synoptic gospels but completely ignore t Interesting book, spoiled by author's obvious omissions. He discusses Pauline Christinaity by reference to Paul's writings that suit his agenda and yet avoids completely the person of Paul himself. How or why did a devout Jew who was involved in the death of a Christian martyr become one of the leading Christian apologists? There is no mention of Paul's conversion. Likewise in discussing early Christianity the author makes extensive use of the texts of the synoptic gospels but completely ignore the Resurrection? How can a serious author have such a lapse.

  12. 5 out of 5

    John Bleasdale

    How Jesus Became Christ A fascinating trip through Jesus' ministry and the first centuries of the Christian church. The random nature of how core Christian beliefs were cobbled together from a charismatic Jewish reformer is something to behold. The whim of an emperor or the speculation of a philosopher will have as much impact on the religion as anything the historical Jesus may or may not have done. How Jesus Became Christ A fascinating trip through Jesus' ministry and the first centuries of the Christian church. The random nature of how core Christian beliefs were cobbled together from a charismatic Jewish reformer is something to behold. The whim of an emperor or the speculation of a philosopher will have as much impact on the religion as anything the historical Jesus may or may not have done.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Susanna

    I chose this book because I wanted to get an insight into the Christian church of the second century AD. I started reading from the beginning (bluff traditionalist that I am), but found it rather hard going and before long I was speed reading through to find what I wanted. I did learn some new stuff so job done as far as that was concerned. This is the first book by Geza Vermes I have read. I wish I could be more positive, but there is something in his style that just does not engage me.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Elisabeth Marksteiner

    As lucid a history of early Christianity as one could ever wish for. Written by one of the foremost experts on the historical Jesus, this analyses original sources from a linguistic, cultural, historical view to give a convincing exposition of the creation of a gentile theology from Jewish traditions. This is brilliant!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Andy Todd

    This is the book if you want to sort out all those early Church fathers and their particular nudges to the growing momentum of the church in its first three centuries. It is erudite, backed by extensive research and dense; not, then, an east read! There is an index so it makes a useful reference work once the main lines of argument have been absorbed.

  16. 4 out of 5

    James Tidd

    An excellent book telling the history of Christianity from around the time of Christ's death through to the Council of Nicaea in 325AD. Geza Vermes is probably the top authority on Christianity's relationship with the Jews. An excellent book telling the history of Christianity from around the time of Christ's death through to the Council of Nicaea in 325AD. Geza Vermes is probably the top authority on Christianity's relationship with the Jews.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lois Basenfelder

    Good for group discussion but a long slog. It would be tough without some extra reading regarding the New Testament in its cultural context.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Robert Crooke

    Very, very enlightening.

  19. 4 out of 5

    James Kane

    A lucid and concise account of the core features and ideas of early Christianity, their roots in what Vermès calls "charismatic Judaism", and the ways in which they developed from the preaching of Jesus of Nazareth and later came to be developed in the writings of his immediate followers and their intellectual heirs in the first few centuries AD. Despite not having read any of his other works, from what I know of them it seems to me that Vermès has simply used this book to reiterate the main lin A lucid and concise account of the core features and ideas of early Christianity, their roots in what Vermès calls "charismatic Judaism", and the ways in which they developed from the preaching of Jesus of Nazareth and later came to be developed in the writings of his immediate followers and their intellectual heirs in the first few centuries AD. Despite not having read any of his other works, from what I know of them it seems to me that Vermès has simply used this book to reiterate the main lines of argument he has been developing for decades, albeit more succinctly and in the broader context of nascent Christianity rather than the composition of the Gospels. Christian Beginnings is highly readable, but by no means comprehensive, and I have to admit that the title strikes me as slightly misleading when viewed against the content: while the book indeed covers the period of roughly AD 30 to 325, it is primarily a history of texts and ideas rather than a detailed discussion of the emergence of Christianity in the late Greco-Roman world. Archaeological evidence, for example, is left almost entirely out of the equation, and the book lacks some substance as a result. Regardless, Christian Beginnings should be of interest to anybody who has ever wondered precisely how ideas about Christ, the Trinity, the sacraments and so on developed in the early days of the Christian religion. As Vermès demonstrates quite clearly, the Christ of the Gospels is very different (and much less divine) than the Christ defined by the Council of Nicaea in 325. The process of philosophical transformation which led to his outright deification makes for a fascinating story.

  20. 5 out of 5

    John Pyrce

    An examination of the historical basis for Christianity based on documentary sources by a Jewish biblical scholar. He examines the beginning of Christianity in terms of what messages can clearly be attributed to Christ and which cannot. He uses both the Bible and other sources from the time. He provides a concise summary of what Christians believed stripped of centuries of later accumulation and interpretation, which is more concise then I've derived from religious education: Early Christian wor An examination of the historical basis for Christianity based on documentary sources by a Jewish biblical scholar. He examines the beginning of Christianity in terms of what messages can clearly be attributed to Christ and which cannot. He uses both the Bible and other sources from the time. He provides a concise summary of what Christians believed stripped of centuries of later accumulation and interpretation, which is more concise then I've derived from religious education: Early Christian worship resembled a Quaker meeting enlivened by the chanting and shouts of a Pentecostal service. Early Christians were recognizable by a freely undertaken practice of religious communism. Early Christians encouraged celibacy because the end of the world was near, but did not require it. The lack of marital experience was considered in the Pauline church a disqualification from the office of bishop. In the religion of Jesus customary priorities were reversed. Now I know that there are many competing interpretations of Christianity, but I found Vermes' interpretation compelling. The book uses quite a bit of religious technical terminology, so I found reading on a Kindle with easy access to dictionary definitions very helpful.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Colin Heber-Percy

    Disappointing. Vermes has made a very successful career writing the same book over and over again. The most interesting sections of Christian Beginnings add nothing to Vermes's work in Jesus the Jew (1973). He's still best at locating Jesus' ministry in a context of post-Biblical charismatic Judaism. And the less interesting sections are a series of decent but uninspiring and somewhat shallow vignettes of the pre-Nicene apologists and theologians - from Justin, Irenaeus through Tertullian and Or Disappointing. Vermes has made a very successful career writing the same book over and over again. The most interesting sections of Christian Beginnings add nothing to Vermes's work in Jesus the Jew (1973). He's still best at locating Jesus' ministry in a context of post-Biblical charismatic Judaism. And the less interesting sections are a series of decent but uninspiring and somewhat shallow vignettes of the pre-Nicene apologists and theologians - from Justin, Irenaeus through Tertullian and Origen. (There's a good 1/2 chapter on Melito of Sardis.) His aim in Christian Beginnings is to chart the process that led to Jesus the preacher, the prophet, the Jewish Messiah to become the Logos, the incarnate God, the second person of the Christian Trinity etc. Fine. And it's not bad as an introduction to the thought of the period. But I'd recommend going back to the ground-breaking Jesus the Jew.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Carbis Tribe

    Fantastic !! This is the first of Geza Vermes' works that I've read, and was saddened to hear of his passing earlier this year. It seems that he has left us a treasure trove of information. "Christian Beginnings" gives a broad overview of the evolution of Christian thought from the time of Jesus to Constantine, touching on major turning points and the different "flavors" of Christianity prior to the Empire's coup d'état of the Son of Man's simple religion. I've been researching the historicity o Fantastic !! This is the first of Geza Vermes' works that I've read, and was saddened to hear of his passing earlier this year. It seems that he has left us a treasure trove of information. "Christian Beginnings" gives a broad overview of the evolution of Christian thought from the time of Jesus to Constantine, touching on major turning points and the different "flavors" of Christianity prior to the Empire's coup d'état of the Son of Man's simple religion. I've been researching the historicity of the Gospels and Jesus for the last year, and along with E.P Sanders' "The Historical Figure of Jesus", I hold this as a must read !! I borrowed my copy from a local library, and will definitely be purchasing a copy to own. The book flows well, so don't expect to be bogged down in factoids and irrelevant theology, expect to be taken for a ride !! I thoroughly enjoyed it, and will read more of Mr. Vermes' work. Highly recommended.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Walter Stevens

    I don't know enough of the history to have an informed view, but I enjoyed the book and its thinking resonated with me: in summary, it argues that Christ was a Jewish holy man, and was one of many who followed such a path. Most of his message was not in conflict with that of Judaism, and the major split came about mainly due to the inclusion of Gentiles in the Christian communities. The book traces how the unembellished message of Jesus was modified and expanded over 200 years to fit the require I don't know enough of the history to have an informed view, but I enjoyed the book and its thinking resonated with me: in summary, it argues that Christ was a Jewish holy man, and was one of many who followed such a path. Most of his message was not in conflict with that of Judaism, and the major split came about mainly due to the inclusion of Gentiles in the Christian communities. The book traces how the unembellished message of Jesus was modified and expanded over 200 years to fit the requirements of its current and potential communicants, particularly in terms of things like the positions of Christ and God. A glance at the author's Wikipedia entry is worthwhile - what a life! Glancing through the list of his books it appears nth at he has essentially one message that he re tells in various ways.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Fred Rose

    This is much more scholarly than the book "Zealot", hence a little harder to read. It goes up to to the conference of Nicaea in 325 and covers the historical record on how the Catholic Church came from the Jesus movement. There is a lot of quoting of old texts, which generally is just confusing, but the authors summaries are generally clear. Overall, Paul, John and a few others really created the theology, in some cases quite some time after Jesus died. If you have never read about this period o This is much more scholarly than the book "Zealot", hence a little harder to read. It goes up to to the conference of Nicaea in 325 and covers the historical record on how the Catholic Church came from the Jesus movement. There is a lot of quoting of old texts, which generally is just confusing, but the authors summaries are generally clear. Overall, Paul, John and a few others really created the theology, in some cases quite some time after Jesus died. If you have never read about this period or at least are unfamiliar with the Gospels, this book is not a good first one to read. Much of the struggle of the early Church was trying to come to an understanding of the Holy Trinity, which is still confusing at best. But if you are, it's comprehensive and will give you a clear historical view.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    At times this book gets a bit dense in its academia but it's otherwise a powerfully insightful look into early Christian history (Jesus to the Council of Nicea). It's not just "who was where and did what" but a really great look at how our theology developed, particularly our understanding of who Jesus is / was / will be. The simple truth is we've never been clear or in agreement about Jesus. Ever. Even the disciples when they were with him were always asking him who he really was and what his mi At times this book gets a bit dense in its academia but it's otherwise a powerfully insightful look into early Christian history (Jesus to the Council of Nicea). It's not just "who was where and did what" but a really great look at how our theology developed, particularly our understanding of who Jesus is / was / will be. The simple truth is we've never been clear or in agreement about Jesus. Ever. Even the disciples when they were with him were always asking him who he really was and what his mission was all about. And they were standing right there with him! I didn't realize that I still clung to some of the "story" of the early church, that I still hoped there was a time -- no matter how brief -- when we "got it". Never was. Never really will be. It's an eye-opener.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Toby

    Christian Beginnings was one of the last published works by this prolific Biblical writer before his death. It's written with verve and passion and yet the body of his argument hinges on whether the famous hymn in Philippians 2 is a later interpolation and therefore in no way representative of Paul's Christology. As there is no convincing evidence that this is a later addition his argument struggles to get off the ground. On the contrary, as Bauckham and others have argued, there is good evidenc Christian Beginnings was one of the last published works by this prolific Biblical writer before his death. It's written with verve and passion and yet the body of his argument hinges on whether the famous hymn in Philippians 2 is a later interpolation and therefore in no way representative of Paul's Christology. As there is no convincing evidence that this is a later addition his argument struggles to get off the ground. On the contrary, as Bauckham and others have argued, there is good evidence for a Jewish-Christian "stretching" of monotheism within a generation of Christ's death.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Ray

    This is a fascinating exploration of the journey of early Christianity, whereby Jesus develops from a charismatic Jewish preacher teaching that the end is nigh to the son of god. A process shaped by numerous thinkers from Paul to Anastasius, each of whom adds to the accretion that became Christinity. What would Jesus have thought of it all? Not much I suspect.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jesus

    A semi-academic walk-thru from Jesus doctrines (to Jews), the first "apostolic" Jew Christians, Paul's "Gentile expansion", John's shy introduction of Jesus's divinity, the platonic identification of Jesus with the platonic logos/demiurge so God... to the Nicea Council (AD 325) declaring "one God in 3 persons" and declaring heretical any other view. A semi-academic walk-thru from Jesus doctrines (to Jews), the first "apostolic" Jew Christians, Paul's "Gentile expansion", John's shy introduction of Jesus's divinity, the platonic identification of Jesus with the platonic logos/demiurge so God... to the Nicea Council (AD 325) declaring "one God in 3 persons" and declaring heretical any other view.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Luke Echo

    This was quite an enjoyable read, and I thought it was the right scholarly level for an entry into the subject of Christology. I thought it a very good overview of that first 400 years of the Christian church - although I am not familiar with it otherwise. I would be interested to know how "unorthodox" of "controversial" this reading is considered amongst academia. This was quite an enjoyable read, and I thought it was the right scholarly level for an entry into the subject of Christology. I thought it a very good overview of that first 400 years of the Christian church - although I am not familiar with it otherwise. I would be interested to know how "unorthodox" of "controversial" this reading is considered amongst academia.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    A fascinating history of how the Christ story morphed over time from the early apostles to Nicaea. Christianity changed a lot in 300 years and this author fully explains how it happened. If you are at all interested in Christianity then this is a great primer.

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