225: Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene by Bart Ehrman

by Gerard

225.922: Ehrman, Bart D. Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene: The Followers of Jesus in History and Legend. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. 260 pp. ISBN 0-19-530013-0.

The whole Dewey system is white-centric and Christian-centric. Unfortunately, that’s just how it goes. An undue amount of the 200s is taken over by Christianity, its history, and its pieces and parts. Christian Art gets 246, Jesus occupies 232, and the Bible gets all of the 220s. Since the subjects of today’s book are all New Testament folk, they get a nice spot at 225. I’m not saying I agree with it (Judaism and Islam deserve equal shares, too), but we live with it and do the best we can.

Bart Ehrman’s Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene was a real eye-opener. Not because it made me “see the light,” but rather due to the massive amount of non-canonical Early Church material that didn’t make it into the traditional Bible. Ehrman explores the history and legends around the three titular characters, parsing each canonical text and each apocryphal one to find out as much as possible about these three leaders.

One must understand that these were real historical figures once you strip away the miracles and divine interventions. They lived, loved, and wrote about their surroundings and their faith (except Mary–she couldn’t write). Paul was a curmudgeonly old lawyer until he turned to Christ and his teachings. Peter was a lowly fisherman; Mary, a Jewish sinner. The book gives a rich history of first century BCE Judaism and the centuries thereafter. My first foray into the religion books was exceedingly informative to say the least. For those who haven’t read any Early Church history, I urge you to, regardless of your faith.

Of special interest is the possible argument that without Mary and her witnessing of Jesus rising from the tomb, there would be no Christianity. (The other argument is that Peter started the whole thing.) Christianity does not become powerful among the region until people hear and believe that he rose from the grave as proof of God’s power. All in all, he makes a compelling case without resorting to didactic prose.