The conventional approach to understanding the New Testament from the Gospels is turned on its head as a well-respected professor of early Christianity delves into what preceded the written documents, which documents were written first and why, and what debates and personalities shaped what were ultimately chosen for inclusion in the Bible-shaping Christianity as we know it.
Joining an already distinguished lineup of narrators of early Christianity that includes Bart Ehrman, John Dominic Crossan and Gregory Riley, White contributes this rather predictable and pedantic story of the ways in which early Christianity developed its religious identity and its literature (the New Testament). White, who teaches Christian origins at the University of Texas at Austin and who co-wrote the PBS special From Jesus to Christ, chronicles the evolution of early Christianity as a family history. The first "generation" (30-70 C.E.) saw the death of Jesus, the rise of Paul and the end of the Jewish revolt against Rome. In the second (70-110 C.E.), tensions developed between the Jesus sect and Judaism, a separation that became permanent in the third generation (110-150 C.E.), when Jesus' followers broke away from their Jewish roots and began to develop their own institutional identity and intrareligious squabbles. Finally, by the fourth generation (150-190 C.E.), Christianity had assumed an integral role in the social and intellectual context of the Roman Empire. White uses sidebars to provide helpful summaries of the authorship, provenance, date and themes of various writings and to offer useful lists of further readings. However, his bland presentation uncovers nothing especially new in the story of early Christianity. (Dec.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.