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Prophets & Gravestones: an imaginative history of Montanists & other early Christians

Author: William Tabbernee
Published By: Hendrickson Publishers Marketing (LLC Massachusetts/Alban Books Edinburgh)
Pages: 338
Price: £19.99
ISBN: 978 1 56563 937 9

Reviewed by Deborah Matthews.

William Tabbernee is President and Stephen J England Distinguished Professor of the History of Christianity at Phillips Theological Seminary. Tabbernee has studied, and written extensively on, Montanism, The New Prophecy Movement, which was declared a heresy in the sixth century. This latest book was begun in 2001, during the first archaeological field campaign conducted at the site of ancient Pepouza, the Montanists’ most holy city.

This is one of the most interesting books I have read for a long time. It is filled with references from the early Church Fathers, making it a very scholarly work. Yet what makes it so fascinating is the imaginative way that Tabbernee uses the extant writings of the Church Fathers and the gravestones of the Montanists, not only to reconstruct historical events, but to bring the characters involved to life.

Discovering what is fact and what is imaginative speculation makes reading the endnotes of each chapter compelling. The book is also beautifully illustrated with photographs of various tombstones and of sites across the Roman Empire where Montanist communities existed.

This book also gives a comprehensive insight into the turbulent times of the first six centuries of Christianity and provides a useful study of some issues and personalities in the early church. The issues of orthodoxy and women in the church seem particularly relevant for today. Tabbernee dedicates his book to some of the Prophetesses of the New Prophecy Movement, acknowledging their faith and courage, vision and spirituality, which “transcend the vagaries of history”.

For those with time constraints, this book is ideal because it can be read when you have ten minutes to spare. The chapters are short and self-contained and so there is no fear of losing the thread. Tabbernee’s passion for the Montanists is breathed into every page, which makes this book an exciting read and a valuable resource.

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You are reading Issue 53 of Ministry Today, published in November 2011.

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