The Lost Letters of Pergamum by Dr. Bruce Longenecker

Subject: Literature
Pages: 4
Words: 1099
Reading time:
4 min
Study level: College


The Lost Letters of Pergamum is a book in the genre of historical fiction penned by the renowned author and professor Dr. Bruce Longenecker. It provides a fictional account of the origins of Christianity in Ancient Rome through a series of letters between Antipus, a Roman civic leader, and Luke, a biblical author. It is through the correspondence with Luke that Antipas changes his views on Jesus and lets them inform his most difficult decisions. This paper gives a critical review of The Lost Letters of Pergamum, including information on the author’s background, the scope of the book, and the intended audience.

Author’s Background

The author of The Lost Letters of Pergamum, Dr. Bruce Longenecker, is a professor of Christian Origins and W. W. Melton Chair of Religion at the Department of Religion, Baylor University. Between 1979 and 1983, Dr. Longenecker went to undergraduate school in Illinois, the USA, where he majored in Biblical and religious studies. In 1983, he started a Master of Religion program with a focus on New Testament Studies at the University of Toronto, Canada. In 1990, Longenecker received his Ph.D. in theology from the University of Durham, England. Longenecker has proven to be a prolific and versatile writer, authoring around 30 books over the span of the last three decades. Professionally, Longenecker is known as a collaborative lecturer who does not impose his opinion on the students but allows them to investigate scholarly sources on their own and put them into a broader context.

Scope, Organization, Research, Style, and Objectivity

Dr. Longenecker’s main research interests include the origins of Christianity with an emphasis on early Christianity in the Greco-Roman context, which is the topic of The Lost Letters of Pergamum. His extensive academic and research background supports his fiction writing, adding a historically accurate context to imaginary narratives. This is the case with The Lost Letters of Pergamum: while the communication between the main characters, Antipas, Calpurnius, and Luke, is fictional, the contemporary environment is described with attention to minute detail. Through the story and letter exchange between Antipas and Calpurnius’s doctor Luke, the author of one of the Gospels, the reader learns quite a lot about the Graeco-Roman culture of the day. The style is not only readable but captivating: it is a well-balanced combination of historical information and fine literature elements.

The Lost Letters of Pergamum depicts society driven by the emperor cult, vanity, and competitiveness. Gladiator fights have a special place in the book as they serve as a reflection of declining morals. Luke’s Gospel gives the reader a chance to learn more about the Palestinian context of Jesus. Lastly, through the correspondence, Longenecker shows the religious challenges that the Christian church had to face in places like Pergamum and Ephesus. What is a little bit questionable though, is the very premise of the book. It is hard to imagine Luke exchanging letters with a non-Christian without any reservations, given the ongoing persecution of Christians in ancient Roman society. However, since it is fiction, the correspondence may be seen as symbolic. It could be that it is not the communication of two people but a connection between two worlds – pagan and Christian.

Critical Assessment of the Book

Longenecker chose the right vehicles for the development of the key themes – personal transformation and conversion to Christianity. Curiously enough, Antypus is not evangelized in a formal manner: instead, he discovers the Gospel of Luke in the form of an intriguing report on a relevant problem in Roman society. In some parts of the letters, Longenecker deliberately adds more historical context and factoids than it would be natural for two people having an informal conversation. However, his additions do not come off as redundant and simply serve as information pieces to guide the reader and better understand the motivation of the main characters. The minor theme, which is social inequality, is also developed through the socio-economic context of the letters.

The clear distinction between the classes, interclass interactions, and economic challenges in Ancient Rome all suggest that the lack of faith could be the source of all these social ills. A member of the political elite, Antypus, encounters this reality for the first time after starting his exchange with Luke. If before he would turn his back on other people’s struggles, now he is “exposed to the desperate needs of others and [began] to view them with a sympathetic eye (Longenecker 189).” At the same time, Antypus no longer sees sense in mass celebrations: “As a consequence, the single-minded purpose of the gala events of the elite here at Caesarea seems almost woeful, pitiful perhaps, involving little else than self-interest (Longenecker 189).” In other words, he now sees the world through a new lens and becomes disenchanted with things that he used to value before.

What is fascinating about the narration is the gradual, deliberate process of Antypus’s conversion. Luke does not force him to accept Jesus as his Lord and Savior, nor does he act defensive when encountering resistance and disbelief. Instead, the author of the Gospel encourages Antypus to keep on reading and draw conclusions from himself. Such an approach to helping someone change is very much in line with the Christian faith. Free will is a Christian value, as evidenced in Galatians 5:13: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free.” It is not only Antypus’s intellectual engagement that enabled him to take a leap but also his personal and communal involvement in the lives of others. Eventually, Antypus completes his journey from being a business-minded member of the elites loyal to the honor code to a Christian who commits the ultimate act of faith that is self-sacrifice.

Conclusion and Reviewer’s Recommendation

The Lost Letters of Pergamum’s events unfold around the time when Rome was approaching its eventual conversion to Christianity but still kept a lot of its traditions that do not align with the Christian faith. The book will be useful for those who just start with the New Testament studies or want to deepen their understanding of Christian. However, more well-grounded than typical historical fiction and more riveting than history textbooks, The Lost Letters can have an appeal to audiences beyond those in the Christian faith. It makes a contribution to history as well, making it a good choice for those interested in the Greco-Roman culture and day-to-day life. Ministers and pastors may find the book useful for refining their teaching and counseling strategies. They may learn a lot from Luke and his gentle but confident ways of introducing and explaining the Christian faith.