cover image The Beliefnet Guide to Gnosticism and Other Vanished Christianities

The Beliefnet Guide to Gnosticism and Other Vanished Christianities

Richard Valantasis, . . Doubleday/Three Leaves, $9.95 (159pp) ISBN 978-0-385-51455-2

It is said that history is written by the victors, and Christian history is no different. From its inception, followers of Jesus have tried to formulate a belief structure that they think best reflects their understandings of the person and mission of the Nazarene. This book, part of Beliefnet's series of short primers on religion, examines what the author calls the "conflictual diversity of early Christianity," focusing initially on three Gnostic sects considered schismatic by the keepers of orthodoxy. Valantasis, an Episcopal priest who is professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, then studies other interpretations and both inside and outside the church, including the influence of Neo-Platonism on the church's mystical self-understanding. Along the way we meet the Montanists, the Manichaeans and other familiar groups proclaimed heretical by the church. But Valantasis goes beyond the familiar, introducing us to an assortment of smaller, lesser-known groups such as the "Fools for Christ" and the "Stylites," all in a compact, entertaining style that is sure to please the casual reader. This book offers a concise but fact-filled approach to the study of early Christianity in its broad diversity. (Feb. 21)