On TV tonight: Peter and Paul
Most PBS stations tonight will air Peter and Paul and the Christian Revolution, a two-hour documentary from filmmakers Margaret Koval and Patricia Asté (who earlier teamed together for the PBS documentary The Roman Empire in the First Century).

Weblog hasn't seen the film (a preview copy came through the offices, but there's a war on and we got distracted), so there's no indication of how good it is. Many of the advisers are predictable: there's the Jesus Seminar's John Dominic Crossan and evangelical scholar N.T. (Tom) Wright, who was recently appointed the Bishop of Durham for the Church of England.

In an interview on the PBS promotional website, Koval explains that she tried to make a historical, not religious, documentary. "It is structured around the career of Paul, mostly, and his evolving relationship with fellow Jesus followers such as Peter," she says. "That personal journey is our central storyline. It's full of great conflicts and dilemmas that enable the film to introduce other topics which, inevitably, take a back seat to the story of Peter and Paul."

The documentary will emphasize early Christianity as a Jewish sect. "Most people raised within the modern Judeo-Christian tradition are accustomed to hearing that Paul of Tarsus 'converted' from Judaism to Christianity after a vision on the road to Damascus," Koval says. "Well, if you read his letters carefully—and if you talk to scholars who specialize in Pauline studies—it becomes clear that Paul didn't convert because there was nothing to convert to. Christianity as we understand it today simply did not exist. Paul certainly joined forces with the new sect, but it was very self-consciously a Jewish sect. What Paul did do was become the focal point for a heated debate about who else could join that sect and under what terms. Could non-Jews join? It seems that most said yes. Did they have to convert to Judaism? It was this issue that polarized the early Jesus followers and it is explored at some length in our film."

Few reviews appear in today's papers. The Courier-Journal of Louisville, Kentucky, says the documentary "paints a picture of Peter as a simple, unschooled, dedicated man who overcame his fears to lead. We also learn that Paul, an educated, cosmopolitan man, once prosecuted Christians. One of the surprising revelations is how Christ's early followers thought Jesus would return in their lifetimes to redeem the faithful."

On a related note, check out Christianity Today's 1997 article, "The Quest for the Historical Paul" (adapted from a Christian History article), and 1998's "In Search of the Lost Churches of Paul." Two years ago, Christian History Corner reviewed the History Channel's similar documentary on Paul.

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The early church loved the Bible
PBS isn't the only one looking at the early church this week. The New York Times Book Review examines Robert Louis Wilken's The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God. Wilken's point is that the Bible was very important to early Christians. That's not a surprise at all, as reviewer G. W. Bowersock notes. "No one has ever imagined that the Bible was unimportant to them, but other sources of inspiration, particularly Platonic or Neoplatonic philosophy, have also seemed obvious," he writes. "Wilken wants to establish the primacy of the Bible."

Bowersock generally gives Wilken high marks ("He skillfully integrates the writings of various Fathers into a highly readable account"), but has his complaints. Chief among them: "In much of it there is an unmistakably confessional triumphalism. At the end of a challenging chapter entitled 'The Reasonableness of Faith' he declares: 'Faith, then, is the way of reason. By putting itself in service of truth, faith enables reason to exercise its power in realms to which it would otherwise have no access.'" The horror.

Wilken, a Christianity Todayadvisory editor, has contributed to our sister publication Christian History, including "What Would Augustine Say About Pluralism?" and an interview on evangelism in the early church. In 1996, Christopher Hall reviewed his book Remembering the Christian Past for CT.

More articles

War in Iraq:

  • 'Spiritual warfare' looms | Such words have caused deep alarm among military and diplomatic authorities (The Globe and Mail, Toronto)

  • Turn the other Sheikh | Using the new, improved sermon tank (James Ridgeway, The Village Voice)

  • Antiwar voice loses his job in archdiocese | Archbishop John G. Vlazny, had repeatedly warned Frank Fromherz, peace and justice director of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Portland, that his antiwar activism went too far (The Oregonian)

  • Gassed by Iraqi troops, blindsided by the INS | Christian exile lends support to Bush, then finds herself on immigration's deportation list (The Washington Post)

  • Gulf-bound troops get primer on Islam | It isn't enough to learn how to salute and shoot. Today's soldier also has to know where Mecca is, how to behave around Muslim women and how customs in the Arab world vary from those in the United States (Associated Press)

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Missions and ministry:

  • Aid to 'enemy' in true Christian spirit | The Iraqis aren't our enemies—Saddam Hussein's dictatorial regime is. But then again, even if they were, Christians would still help them because they are commanded to love their enemies (Licia Corbella, The Calgary Sun)

  • Also: Are Christian evangelists eyeing Iraq? | Attempts to preach Christianity in Iraq where Muslims constitute 98 percent of the population has set off alarm bells (Al Jazeera)

  • It's conversion time in Valley | Slowly and discreetly, Christian evangelists make inroads into Muslim heartland of Kashmir (The Sunday Express, India)

  • Also: Money makes them see light, hear the call | Christian missionaries have come to the aid of the impoverished people and a Valley ravaged by persistent violence for 12 years but people equate them with money more than compassion (The Express, India)

  • Catholics seek to regain Latinos | On Friday and Saturday, Catholic clergy and parishioners from around the state gathered for the first "stewardship" conference aimed at bringing Florida's Hispanic Catholics—many of whom are joining evangelical Protestant churches—back to the fold (South Florida Sun-Sentinel and Orlando Sentinel)

  • Scouting the way it used to be | American Heritage Girls has chapters in 20 states (Peter Bronson, The Cincinnati Enquirer)

  • Activist to speak on human cruelty | Gary Haugen, founder of the International Justice Mission, will offer his views to 3,000 congregation members about human cruelty and how Christianity—and its emphasis on aiding others—can help (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

Other religions and interfaith relations:

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  • A house divided | It's the elephant in the family room, and it's getting bigger. Each year, among 2.3 million American unions, thousands of Catholics marry Protestants, Jews marry Christians, and Buddhists, Mormons, Muslims and Greek Orthodox believers marry someone from another religion. (Publishers Weekly)


  • Visions of vice and virtue rule a nation's heart | James A. Morone wants to illuminate what he calls America's recurring vulnerability to "moral fevers" that have swayed our politics since the 17th century (The New York Times)

  • 'Left Behind': The revelation revolution keeps spinning | Book 11, "Armageddon," comes out Tuesday (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

  • The reassurance of ritual | Central to every religion are rites and rituals, the sacred practices that connect the devoted to the divine. So, too, are books about rites and rituals central to many religion publishers' programs. (Publishers Weekly)

  • Friction in the family | At least since the New Testament Gospels recorded Jesus' rather harsh verbal exchanges with his fellow Jews, conflict within a given faith tradition hasn't exactly hurt efforts to sell books. (Publishers Weekly)

  • In Profile | Views from inside and outside of faiths (Publishers Weekly)

  • Books in brief | Interfaith books (Publishers Weekly)

  • The quest for understanding | What novelist Athol Dickson knew of Judaism he had learned from other Christians. That's the way most of us gain information on religions other than our own, he says—secondhand, filtered, reframed by those who preach and teach what we already believe. (Publishers Weekly)

Church life:

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Sexual ethics:

AIDS in Africa:

Ten Commandments:

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  • Ten Commandments project runs out of cash | A ministry that set out to "renew America one child at a time" by paying young people $10 each to memorize and recite the Ten Commandments has run out of money (Associated Press)

Related Elsewhere

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