Book Review: In Trembling Boldness: Wisdom for Today from Ancient Jesus People

Book Cover Images image of In Trembling Boldness: Wisdom for Today from Ancient Jesus People

by Natalie Renee Perkins and Hal Taussig

    Publication Date: Jun 13, 2023
    List Price: $21.99
    Format: Hardcover, 180 pages
    Classification: Nonfiction
    ISBN13: 9781506485744
    Imprint: Broadleaf Books
    Publisher: 1517 Media
    Parent Company: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

    Read a Description of In Trembling Boldness: Wisdom for Today from Ancient Jesus People

    Book Reviewed by Denolyn Carroll

    The book In Trembling Boldness: Wisdom for Today from Ancient Jesus People brings us newly discovered writings from early followers of Jesus, also referred to as “Ancient Jesus People.” Not only are readers made privy to these works of long ago, but they are also encouraged to see their relevance to modern times. This is the key to Natalie R. Perkins and Hal Taussig’s offering. The Holy Bible notwithstanding, these writings are seen as bridges of communication, if you will, between the times of Jesus Christ and our angst-ridden twenty-first century.

    The featured writings include, among others, The Gospel of Thomas, The Thunder: Perfect Mind, The Gospel of Mary, and The Odes of Solomon. For each, there is information about the find, or text, covering such details as when and where it was discovered, its length, and an interesting fact. The section “About” the work gives more contextual details, while “Reflections for Today” highlights how the writing applies to our modern world. Both the “About” and “Reflections” sections provide excerpts from the writings. This organization of the content makes the material more accessible than it would have been with a decidedly academic approach.

    For example, the entry on The Thunder: Perfect Mind notes that these “Four significant chapters of poetry with one appendix” were discovered in the ancient city of Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945. “The second most famous of these ancient texts, newly discovered by Egyptian farmers,” The Thunder: Perfect Mind has been spotlighted in the works of several notables in modern arts, such as Toni Morrison, Umberto Eco, Julie Dash, Ridley and Jordan Scott, and Julia Haines. We learn, “The Thunder features a mostly female divine figure who speaks in the first person,” addressing in part “the cultural walls society has built about how people are defined…the many roles assigned specifically to women…inviting readers to examine the stereotypes and ironies of the cultural boxes…”:

    I am the first and the last
    I am she who is honored and she who is mocked
    I am the whore and the holy woman
    I am the wife and the virgin
    I am he the mother and the daughter
    I am the limbs of my mother
    I am a sterile woman and she has many children


    In “Reflections for Today on The Thunder: Perfect Mind,” we find a section titled “Pay Attention to Me.” In this slice of modern life, Alberto, who “did not have proper papers,” embarks on a “normal workday,” which soon becomes a feat to avoid being picked up by the police. He is saved by the older woman who regularly opened the coffee shop and with whom he usually exchanged waves on his way to work. “Although the shop was not yet open, the older woman…quickly let him in,” effectively hiding him from the authorities. Today, police profiling, overpolicing and police brutality are commonplace for certain groups of people in society. The authors draw an analogy between Alberto and Jesus (Mark 14:65; Matthew 27:26), The Apostle Paul (Acts 28:30; 1 Corinthians 15:32), and Thunder—“a kind of spirit and divinity that also knows what it is like to be thrown to the ground and be in the lowest places”:

    Pay attention to me….Pay attention to me, to my impoverishment
    and to my extravagance….Do not be arrogant to me when I am thrown
    to the ground….Do not stare at me when I am thrown out among the
    condemned. Do not laugh at me in the lowest places. Do not throw me down among those slaughtered…
    (The Thunder: Perfect Mind 1:3; 2:11, 13-15)

    As with the analogies drawn above, throughout In Trembling Boldness there are several cross-references between the text of the newly discovered writings and that of the Bible. The book’s introduction asserts, “Ancient writings from Jesus-related groups are like cousins to the Bible. Many were written around the same time as writings included in the Bible.” However, the areas that liken these “extracanonical” texts and interpretations to the Bible initially gave me pause—as they may well do for other Bible believers for whom the Holy Book at its core is ultimate truth.

    That being said, In Trembling Boldness is a compact yet powerful offering from Perkins and Taussig. They present a thorough and straightforward argument for exploring the wisdom for modern times wrapped up in the ancient texts of Jesus people. As they state in “A Regular Deity,” one of the “Reflections for Today on The Thunder: Perfect Mind,” “Maybe we all have been, at one point or another, in our own ways, full of fear as we take the next trembling step.” Yet, per their introduction, “It is up to you how much you want to open your heart to writings by very early Jesus peoples.”

    Read Broadleaf Books’s description of In Trembling Boldness: Wisdom for Today from Ancient Jesus People.

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