It’s fun, knowing a lot about the ancient world. But it does mean that we are cut off from the great majority of people. Most people don’t.
To such people, the web is full of misinformation. Web pages that we might smile at and ignore are a real source of perplexity.
It’s easy for us. We know the sources. We know where to find online translations. We’re accustomed to wading through Jacobean English. Syriac and Coptic authors hold no terrors for us.
We may not all be salaried and tenured holders of teaching posts, but we are in a very different place to someone who has no such interests. It’s as if we were confronted with something about the private lives of undersea orchids, or something like that. Someone could tell us a lie, and we might feel dubious, but we would find difficulty in verifying it.
This week I had a letter from a corrrespondent, wishing to know the facts about some passages in a web page. The page is here. It turns out to be a page by a certain Tony Bushby, an Australian, about whom I wrote negatively earlier here, entitled “The forged origins of the New Testament”.
I thought that I would engage with the queries put to me, and post them here, in case they may be useful again. I have edited the queries slightly for ease of reading.
The first section reads as follows:
WHAT THE CHURCH DOESN’T WANT YOU TO KNOW
In a remarkable aside, the Church further admits that,
“the earliest of the extant manuscripts [of the New Testament], it is true, do not date back beyond the middle of the fourth century AD” (Catholic Encyclopedia, op. cit., pp. 656-7).
That is some 350 years after the time the Church claims that a Jesus Christ walked the sands of Palestine, and here the true story of Christian origins slips into one of the biggest black holes in history. There is, however, a reason why there were no New Testaments until the fourth century: they were not written until then, and here we find evidence of the greatest misrepresentation of all time.
There are perils in using reference works a century old, as Mr Bushby might have realised. In 1900 it was true to say that the oldest physical copies of the New Testament were 4th century (that is, much older than the oldest copies of most classical texts). But since then a host of fragments and portions of books of the New Testament, written on papyrus, have emerged from the sands of Egypt, notably at Oxyrhynchus. A look at Metzger’s Text of the New Testament will put this one to rest.
The author continues:
It was British-born Flavius Constantinus (Constantine, originally Custennyn or Custennin) (272-337) who authorized the compilation of the writings now called the New Testament.
No ancient source records any such thing, sadly.
After the death of his father in 306, Constantine became King of Britain, Gaul and Spain, and then, after a series of victorious battles, Emperor of the Roman Empire.
At this point even children may snicker. The Romans did not use the title of “King” for their rulers, considering it equivalent to “tyrant”.
This elementary piece of information is known to everyone who has read any Roman history at all, even at school level. So the author is stating a falsehood which reveals that he has no education in Roman history whatsoever.
In truth, one of Constantine’s main problems was the uncontrollable disorder amongst presbyters and their belief in numerous gods.
“Presbyters”?! And “belief in numerous gods”?!
It turns out that Bushby means the church fathers by “presbyters”, although why he adopts this strange way of referring to them he does not tell us. Quite who, precisely, believed in “numerous gods” he does not say either. There is a reference to Optatus of Milevis, book 1, chapter 15 (here); but this only refers to the Donatist schism, when two different men claimed to be bishop.
Then there is this:
They were instructed to bring with them the testimonies they orated to the rabble, “bound in leather” for protection during the long journey, and surrender them to Constantine upon arrival in Nicaea (The Catholic Dictionary, Addis and Arnold, 1917, “Council of Nicaea” entry).
Their writings totaled,
“in all, two thousand two hundred and thirty-one scrolls and legendary tales of gods and saviors, together with a record of the doctrines orated by them”
(Life of Constantine, op. cit., vol. ii, p. 73; N&PNF, op. cit., vol. i, p. 518).
But … the NPNF translation is online, yet I do not find those words in it.
As for this “Catholic Dictionary” of 1917 (!), that is also online here. Curiously he doesn’t give a page number. I refuse to spend time looking for it, but I was unable to find the word “scrolls” in it, nor the phrase “bound in leather.”
Unfortunately Tony Bushby has “form”, as the police say, for producing “references” that do not actually exist.
My correspondent asks:
The impression I gleaned from this chapter is that writer blatantly claims that there is a black hole in the history of Jesus and his followers in which suggests that the that early Christians believed in many gods invalidating any authenticity of the NT as we know it.
Certainly Bushby says this. But it is nonsense. The monotheism of early Christians is one of their key features.
Let’s deal with the rest more briefly. Long ago I compiled a page containing every ancient source that mentions the council, which the reader may find useful.
The second question is as follows:
THE FIRST COUNCIL OF NICEA AND THE “MISSING RECORDS” …
“As yet, no God had been selected by the council, and so they balloted in order to determine that matter… For one year and five months the balloting lasted…”
(God’s Book of Eskra, Prof. S. L. MacGuire’s translation, Salisbury, 1922, chapter xlviii, paragraphs 36, 41).
At the end of that time, Constantine returned to the gathering to discover that the presbyters had not agreed on a new deity but had balloted down to a shortlist of five prospects:
(Historia Ecclesiastica, Eusebius, c. 325)
All of this is nonsense, recorded in no ancient source.
The rascal’s impudence in giving the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius as his reference is breathtaking. For, as we all know, Eusebius says nothing of the sort about the council, and the passages in which he deals with it may be found at the link to my page above.
But what on earth is the “Book of Eskra”, given here as a source? It’s a modern apocryphon, it seems; published in 1882 in the USA. The text of chapter 48 is here, but such modern fakery need not detain us.
The third query is on the following section:
HOW THE GOSPELS WERE CREATED:
Constantine then instructed Eusebius to organize the compilation of a uniform collection of new writings developed from primary aspects of the religious texts submitted at the council.
His instructions were:
“Search ye these books, and whatever is good in them, that retain; but whatsoever is evil, that cast away. What is good in one book, unite ye with that which is good in another book. And whatsoever is thus brought together shall be called The Book of Books. And it shall be the doctrine of my people, which I will recommend unto all nations, that there shall be no more war for religions’ sake.” (God’s Book of Eskra, op. cit., chapter xlviii, paragraph 31)
“Make them to astonish” said Constantine, and “the books were written accordingly” (Life of Constantine, vol. iv, pp. 36-39).
Eusebius amalgamated the “legendary tales of all the religious doctrines of the world together as one”, using the standard god-myths from the presbyters’ manuscripts as his exemplars.
Merging the supernatural “god” stories of Mithra and Krishna with British Culdean beliefs effectively joined the orations of Eastern and Western presbyters together “to form a new universal belief” (ibid.). Constantine believed that the amalgamated collection of myths would unite variant and opposing religious factions under one representative story.
Again nothing in this nonsense need detain us. No ancient source records any of this.
The reference to the Life of Constantine is odd. In which edition do nine words cover four pages?
Enough. It is a waste of life even to read this stuff. All of this material is malicious twaddle. It is sad to see that a human soul could write such stuff, and it is difficult to believe in the honesty of the man who wrote it. But history it is not.