Bruce Longenecker, professor of religion at Baylor University, has ventured into uncertain waters with his book, “The Lost Letters of Pergamum.” A historical fiction, the novel attempts to capture the ancient situation in which Christianity existed. There is a certain danger in composing any historical fiction, and this danger only multiplies when a story is set against the backdrop of religion. The allure to create compelling fiction can often overrun an author’s better sense of historical judgment. Longenecker’s narrative, however, succeeds with great skill.
The book is presented as a series of letters exchanged at the end of the first century between Antipas, a wealthy merchant living in Pergamum, and Luke, the physician and traditional author of the Gospel of Luke and Acts. The inspiration for Longenecker’s story comes from the book of Revelation, in which a man named Antipas from Pergamum is identified as a martyr. Antipas, who is a recent convert to Christianity, converses with Luke about Christian belief, practice and life.
In the course of these letters, Longenecker builds up a thorough portrait of Christian life in the first century. The book, then, accomplishes its main goal: to provide readers with a historical introduction to the setting of Christianity in the form of an epistolary novel. If one has neither the time nor patience to read an introductory textbook on the topic, Longenecker provides a creative alternative.
Longenecker, however, is a historian, not a fiction writer. The story isn’t a creative masterpiece, but then again, it’s not trying to be. There are, especially toward the end of the novel, some poignant moments as Antipas heads toward his martyrdom, but for the most part, the story retains a practical feel, never losing sight of its historical focus.
Overall, “The Lost Letters of Pergamum” is an engaging novel that provides a rich and detailed portrait of the ancient world in which Christianity grew up. Longenecker’s prose is clear and concise, and, while Longenecker does not capture the vitality and fullness required for characters to drive a story, he does an excellent job of providing an accurate introduction to Christianity’s ancient setting through a decent narrative.

Tagline: “The Candid Reader,” written by J.T. Crocenzi, reviews books from all genres and eras to explore how literature has the power to impact our daily lives and help us live better.