Irenaeus of Lyons. Identifying Christianity. By John Behr. (Christian Theology in Context.) Pp. xii+236. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. £60. 978 0 19 921462 4by Charles E. Hill

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Irenaeus of Lyons. Identifying Christianity. By

John Behr. (Christian Theology in Context.) Pp. xii+236. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. £60. 978 0 19 921462 4

Charles E. Hill

The Journal of Ecclesiastical History / Volume 66 / Issue 01 / January 2015, pp 147 - 148

DOI: 10.1017/S0022046914001390, Published online: 09 January 2015

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How to cite this article:

Charles E. Hill (2015). The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 66, pp 147-148 doi:10.1017/S0022046914001390

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Downloaded from, IP address: on 03 Apr 2015 have usually been used to support an opposite position (for example, arguments which would claim the disciple whom Jesus loved as the author of the Gospel and as an eye-witness of the events he describes). Dundeberg sees such approaches as recidivist and an affront to more diverse understandings of

Christian origins. Harold Attridge makes some interesting remarks on the relationship of John’s account of the Last Supper and accounts of symposia in

Greek, especially Plato’s Symposium, not least in relation to questions of love, but avoids an outburst of parallelomania. In a typically stimulating essay John

Gager looks at the whole issue of Paul’s passionate character, seeing this as something which links the pre-Christian Paul with the Christian version. In the course of the essay he also defends the view that Paul had been a Jewish missionary before he became a ‘Christian’ one, and outlines the reasons why

Paul was persecuted by his fellow Jews. In discussing the reception of Paul, a particular concern of Pagels, he shows how Paul’s supposed friends, in their particular understandings of the Apostle, could equally be conceived as his enemies. In the final essay of the volume, on  Ezra (what passes normally as 

Ezra xvxvi), John W. Marshall makes a spirited case for seeing the work as

Jewish, and hence an important witness to a more apocalyptically-orientated

Judaism in Asia Minor, which may itself have influenced the Montanists.

All in all this is a helpful collection of essays, although it is difficult to see quite how their content goes ‘beyond the Gnostic Gospels’ in any sense other than that they are written in a period after that publication of that important popular work (the editors make little attempt to gloss the title save to say that the essays build upon the work of Elaine Pagels, which is not quite an adequate explanation). Moreover, the volume might have benefited from an analysis of more critical approaches to the work of Pagels (Dundeberg does that in part but not as a critic himself) and through an assessment of the present scholarly map of the study of Christian origins in the light of Pagels’s work. But these are small criticisms, and by and large we can be grateful to the editors for putting together such a work in celebration of one of early Christianity’s most influential students.



Irenaeus of Lyons. Identifying Christianity. By John Behr. (Christian Theology in

Context.) Pp. xii +. Oxford: Oxford University Press, . £.     

JEH () ; doi:./S

This is an excellent introduction to the man, his times and his legacy, but much more than an introduction. The fruit of many years of study and writing about

Irenaeus, it both reveals and invites a deep and sympathetic engagement with the thought of the great second-century theologian. The first section situates

Irenaeus in his time and place, notes his connections in Rome, explores his relationship with Polycarp, and offers a chronology of his life and writings. The title of this section, ‘Irenaeus of Lyons: ambassador for peace, reconciliation, and

REV I EWS  toleration’, signals one of Behr’s central contentions, as he states it in the conclusion: the standard accepted picture assumed by much contemporary scholarship, that Irenaeus is a leading figure in the emergence of an intolerant, patriarchal, hierarchy, excluding the ‘heretics’ on the basis of an increasing rigidity regarding what he claimed to be an apostolic deposit . . . simply does not stand up, and in fact is the reverse of what happened. (p. )

Marcion, Behr observes, ‘broke from the common fellowship’ and the

Valentinians ‘were already aware of the distance that separated themselves, as truly “spiritual”, from the lower “psychic” Christians of the other communities before Irenaeus intervened’ (p. ). Moreover, it was Irenaeus who upheld and defended a diversity of practice among apostolic Christian communities. The second section, ‘Against the heresies’, guides the reader through the five books of

Irenaeus’ magnum opus, providing helpful outlines and summaries of each. Behr argues that the title that Irenaeus gave to his work, Refutation and overthrowal of knowledge falsely so-called, really describes only the first two books, probably the original scope of the project, and that the last three books are more a demonstration of the apostolic faith itself. Outside of book I (which is given over to the depiction of the heresies), the remaining four books are found to have the same threefold pattern of organisation: ‘one God (Haer. .–; .–; .–), one Christ (Haer. .–; .–; .–), the human being (Haer. .–; .–; .–)’ (p. ). In the third section, ‘The glory of God’, Behr summarises books –, and then develops several major themes of Irenaean thought. Behr expertly illuminates the Irenaean emphasis on the majestic unity of God’s plan from beginning to end. The fall into sin, though tragic, did not trigger a divine ‘plan B’: ‘death results from human action, but it is nevertheless a result that is subsumed and transformed within the larger arc of the economy, as it brings the creature made from mud to share in the very life, glory, and power of the Uncreated, so demonstrating the goodness and righteousness of