Forgotten Scriptures: The Selection and Rejection of Early Religious Writing by Lee Martin McDonald seeks to guide the reader through the complexity of early Christianity in relation to the development of a sacred canon of religious writings. McDonald begins his investigation with a brief discussion surrounding the terms and language commonly used in conversation concerning the biblical “canon.” It is here that McDonald compounds the complexity of the issue at hand for the uninformed reader—not only is there supposed disagreement about the writings, but there is also disagreement about how to discuss the matters. Still, McDonald provides an excellent overview of this preliminary point that will orient the reader in the right direction despite some inevitable disagreement (i.e. the idea that the canon wasn’t fixed until the fourth century).
With the introductory matters in the rearview mirror, McDonald guides the reader through the Old Testament writings and the lost Scriptures of early Judaism. McDonald references roughly 26 lost writings mentioned in the Old Testament but not included (i.e. The Book of the Wars of the Lord, The Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah, The Records of the seer Gad, etc.), as well discusses the Jewish apocryphal and pseudepigraphal writings, the sacred literature of the Essenes, and the biblical, nonbiblical, and sectarian text of the Qumran community. McDonald subsequently walks the reader through the manuscripts, ancient translations of the Jewish Scriptures, and the Scriptures of Jesus and the Early Church. The reader is likely to find McDonald’s treatment of the Old Testament informative, especially in regards to his discussion on the Essenes and the Qumran literature. Though, as he constructed at the offset of his book, disagreement concerning conclusions and observations should be anticipated by the learned reader (i.e. McDonald seems to assume because a work was used by a group it was considered sacred, rather than useful).
As attention is directed towards the New Testament, McDonald is clearly more familiar with the landscape of early Christianity and the development of the New Testament, and the attentive reader will notice such immediately. Interestingly, and I think that it is important to note, McDonald spends less than half the time dealing with the New Testament as opposed to the Old—discussion being primarily centered on the manuscripts and the transmission of the New Testament Scriptures. In other words, if you are expecting a weighty defense of the New Testament canon, in terms of page count, you will likely be disappointed. McDonald’s treatment is a little longer than a journal article. Still, given the foundation that has been constructed in the previous sections, the reader should not feel short-changed, as the content surely outweighs the page count. The material that McDonald presents is sure to be received with opposition, but his perspective and experience in the conversation deserves a keen ear and thoughtful interaction.
Forgotten Scriptures: The Selection and Rejection of Early Religious Writing by Lee Martin McDonald is an excellent book on the historical landscape of the early Jewish and Christian writings. With roughly 43-pages of endnotes and a 21-page bibliography, it would be safe to conclude that McDonald has done his homework. Not to mention, McDonald has been a key-player immersed in this conversation for decades. Thus, while the learned reader may disagree with McDonald in favor another contributor(s) to the conversation, only the naïve would dismiss his work as rubbish. Still, for those unfamiliar with the discussion surrounding these issues detailed in this book, it is important to know that McDonald isn’t the only voice or even the best voice in the conversation. Nevertheless, he is a voice that deserves to be heard, pondered, and interacted with often—and for that reason, this book would be a good supplemental read alongside other works of equal or better quality.
I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.