They shoot webpages, don’t they? Some notes for a reader

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:


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:


“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:

  • Caesar
  • Krishna
  • Mithra
  • Horus
  • Zeus

(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:


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.


Coin-images and smartphones

Reading twitter on a smartphone has been unexpectedly beneficial.  The benefit is that I can zoom with a flick of my fingers; and this comes into play when someone posts Roman coins which display now vanished buildings.  I can then zoom in, very easily, and see what is portrayed on them.

I have been impressed by the results.

This tweet consists of a coin of Trajan, showing the facade of the Basilica Ulpiana.  I have attached the image here.


But on a smartphone I can zoom on the image on the right.  Here is the same image, blown up clumsily using a graphics editor (, and sharpened a bit:


We can see the wording FORVM TRAIAN at the bottom clearly.  We can see the facade much more clearly.  We can see the entrance in the middle, the four statues in recesses, two on either side.  We can see the chariot on the roof.

All this is far easier on a smartphone.

The technology we use is changing.  People read twitter for updates on every subject, and they read it from their smartphones, not from their Windows PC.  Any blog that doesn’t have a mechanism to allow a read to share their post on twitter is losing out, because clicking that button  is what I instinctively do when I see a good post which I want others to read; I and a hundred others.  I don’t bother with Facebook, which seems to be dying; but twitter is a must.  Probably – for I am no longer on the leading edge – there are other sites also for which the same is true.

Loving those gold coins, tho.


From my diary

I had intended to go to Iceland on holiday this week.  Unfortunately the gods decided otherwise, and Hecate breathed her poisoned breath on me on Saturday.  However all things work together for good, for those who love God, and no doubt this is for the best.

This leaves me here, wasting my time at home, and feeling too washed out even to do anything or read much.  Curiously this variant of the annual scourge doesn’t involve large numbers of tissues.  It should be over soon, I think.

One thing I have done (finally) is to forward the proof corrections for the Origen book to the typesetter.  There’s a general problem in the Greek fragments with the bold formatting, and I had intended to go through this and list the problems page by page.  But a quick look today reveals that it’s a general problem, and that every page has been mis-set wherever it went to multiple columns.  So really there’s nothing to be gained by me repeating that same message for every page.  So I have passed that one to the typesetter.

Back to the sofa for me, I think.  It’s not cold, and the sunlight is cheering, but the virus leaves one feeling so weak!  I shall lie there and read twitter.


CSEL volumes to be typed up and made freely available online

An interesting announcement from the Open Greek and Latin Project, here at Digital Humanities Leipzig.

The Open Greek and Latin Project (OGL) recently signed a contract with Data Entry Company Jouve to OCR and encode Latin works and collections in accordance with the latest TEI EpiDoc standards.

First on the to-do list is the monumental Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum (CSEL) and, in particular, the public domain (by European Law) volumes available here: once digitised and annotated, OGL will make these volumes freely available online for browsing and download. The contract doesn’t stop at CSEL so we’re currently busy at work discussing other items on our to-do list.

We look forward to a long and fruitful collaboration!

I think we must all wish them well.

They will need to take precautions about copyright, given how backward German copyright law is.  But there is plenty of CSEL material that is out of copyright even there.  And it might be a nice gesture to talk to the people at the CSEL, and work with them a bit.

Digital Humanities Leipzig might also find it useful to make it possible for people to contact them.  If their blog posts had a “tweet” button at the bottom, they would get tweeted and so become much better known!



Augustine to Jerome on the inspiration of scripture

An interesting article at draws together some useful quotations from St. Augustine on the inspiration of scripture.

The quotations come from Augustine’s letter 82, addressed to St. Jerome himself.

For I confess to your Charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the manuscript is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it.

As to all other writings, in reading them, however great the superiority of the authors to myself in sanctity and learning, I do not accept their teaching as true on the mere ground of the opinion being held by them; but only because they have succeeded in convincing my judgment of its truth either by means of these canonical writings themselves, or by arguments addressed to my reason.

I believe, my brother, that this is your own opinion as well as mine. I do not need to say that I do not suppose you to wish your books to be read like those of prophets or of apostles, concerning which it would be wrong to doubt that they are free from error … (82.3)

But you will say it is better to believe that the Apostle Paul wrote what was not true, than to believe that the Apostle Peter did what was not right. On this principle, we must say (which far be it from us to say), that it is better to believe that the gospel history is false, than to believe that Christ was denied by Peter; and better to charge the book of Kings with false statements, than believe that so great a prophet, and one so signally chosen by the Lord God as David was, committed adultery in lusting after and taking away the wife of another, and committed such detestable homicide in procuring the death of her husband.

Better far that I should read with certainty and persuasion of its truth the Holy Scripture, placed on the highest (even the heavenly) pinnacle of authority, and should, without questioning the trustworthiness of its statements, learn from it that men have been either commended, or corrected, or condemned, than that, through fear of believing that by men, who, though of most praiseworthy excellence, were no more than men, actions deserving rebuke might sometimes be done, I should admit suspicions affecting the trustworthiness of the whole oracles of God. (82.5)

The translation is the 19th century one, which may be found online here.

I have never collected ancient statements concerned with the inspiration of scripture; doing so would certainly be an interesting and useful exercise.  But I do recall another passage of Augustine on scripture which deserves quotation here.  It is from De genesim ad litteram (On Genesis, literally expounded), book 2, chapter 9:

It is frequently asked what our belief must be about the form and shape of heaven according to Sacred Scripture. Many scholars engaged in lengthy discussions on these matter, but the sacred writers with their deeper wisdom have omitted them. Such subjects are of no profit for those who seek beatitude, and, what is worse, they take up precious time that ought to be given to what is spiritually beneficial. What concern is it of mine whether heaven is a sphere and the earth is enclosed by it and suspended in the middle of the universe, or whether heaven like a disk above the earth covers it on one side?

But the credibility of Scripture is at stake, and as I have indicated more than once, there is danger that a man uninstructed in divine revelation, discovering something in Scripture or hearing from it something that seems to be at variance with the knowledge that he has acquired, may resolutely withhold his assent in other matters where Scripture presents useful admonitions, narratives, or declarations. Hence, I must say briefly that in the matter of the shape of heaven the sacred writers knew the truth, but that the Spirit of God, who spoke through them, did not wish to teach men these facts that would be of no avail to their salvation.

This translation is as translated by J.H.Taylor, 1982.

All of this is sensible stuff.

We must always remember that there are only two groups of Christians; those whose ultimate authority is the word of scripture, and those who have come to think it is not the ultimate authority, and so, inevitably, give the last word elsewhere — invariably to the world, then to the flesh, and finally to the devil.  It is not enough to mean well; we must think well also.  It isn’t very clever to be so clever that we talk ourselves out of salvation.


Photos of underwater basilica at Nicaea

A wonderful article in a Turkish newspaper here (via Twitter).  It seems that someone has uncovered the remains underwater of a basilica at Nicaea (modern Iznik), just offshore in lake Nicaea.  It’s thought to have been demolished after the earthquake in the 8th century.

Modern Nicaea is just a small Turkish town nestled within the massive double Roman walls, themselves set on a plain of endless olive groves.  It’s an evocative place, of a world before modern “development”.

I can’t make much sense of the article, even with Google translated, but the photos from the article are below.  Aren’t they wonderful!




UPDATE: A new tweet from IsinElicin draws my attention to this article in English:

1500-year-old basilica discovered under Lake Iznik

A church which dates back to the year 500 CE was unearthed during excavations conducted under in the depths of Lake Iznik in Turkey’s western province of Bursa.

Professor Mustafa Sahin from Bursa Uludag University’s Archaeology department said that the first traces of the church was first seen 20 meters from the beach and that they have been conducting excavations to get more clues about the church.

Byzantine experts are still carrying out research to to find out who the church belonged to. They have predicted the ruins to remnants of St. Peters Church, which was mentioned in some Christian books, said Sahin.

It is not exactly known when the church was built, but archaeologists predicted that it must have been built in 500 CE.

The details of the church will be released along with the excavations.

Well done Dr Sahin.

Note that Bursa was Prusias in antiquity, and is today mainly an industrial city (with very, very large car manufacturing plants by firms like Renault).

UPDATE: A commenter has pointed out a brief article in Hurriyet which reads:

Remains of Byzantine basilica discovered at the bottom of Lake Iznik BURSA – Dogan News Agency.  January/28/2014

The remains of an ancient basilica have been discovered about 20 meters from shore in Bursa’s Lake Iznik, according to local archaeologists.

“We have found church remains. It is in a basilica plan and has three naves,” said Mustafa Sahin, an archaeology professor at Bursa Uludag University.

The foundations of the church are currently lying in water that is about 1.5 to two meters deep.

“This church’s remains are similar to the Hagia Sophia in Iznik. This is why we estimated that it was built in the fifth century A.D.,” said Sahin.

He said the structure was discovered while photographing the city from the air to make an inventory of historical and cultural artifacts.

After the discovery, the university informed the Iznik Museum Directorate and the Culture and Tourism Ministry, asking that the archaeological site be protected, Sahin said.

There are many rough stones at the site, he said. “This shows that that the structure collapsed. Iznik has gone through many earthquakes that destroyed such structures. The best known is the one that occurred in 740 A.D. Our first observations show that the structure collapsed in this earthquake and that the coastal side was submerged. The church was subsequently not rebuilt.”

(The foundations of the church are currently lying in water about 1.5 to two meters deep. It is estimated that the structure collapsed in an earthquake. DHA photo)


Investigating “quotations” online – another blog

Regular readers will know that I sometimes investigate supposed quotations from the ancients which I have found online.  Often they prove to be bogus.

I came across a blog which does nothing but check quotations.  I’d never heard of it, and it deserves wider notice:



What happened to the bindings of the Syriac manuscripts at the British Library

A very interesting post on this here:   The Syriac manuscripts in the British Library: what happened to the bindings? (Liv Ingeborg Lied).

Basically they were mostly discarded and rebound.

H/T Paleojudaica.


Might we lose money (shock) if we publish open-access?

A correspondent has drawn my attention to the OAPEN-UK project, and the participation of Oxford University Press in it.

This means that, temporarily, some monographs are online as PDF’s on various sites and accessible to us all, e.g. here.

I think we must all be interested in  this project.  It’s quite an interesting idea:

OUP is participating in OAPEN-UK, a pilot funded by JISC Collections and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to gather evidence on the viability of open access monographs in the humanities and social sciences. Our participation is running for the duration of the final year of the trial, from September 2013 – September 2014.

OAPEN-UK works by matching pairs of monographs which are similar in subject area, predicted sales, extent and publication date, and then publishing one open access and publishing the other in the normal manner, as a control.

The titles randomly selected to be open access have been made available as a freely available PDF on the OUP UK Catalogue, Oxford Scholarship Online, the OAPEN Library, and on Google Books. These PDFs are distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives licence (CC-BY-NC-ND). In addition to this, these titles continue to be sold and marketed in the normal way (customers can still purchase print copies or ebooks, for example).

The control titles are not made open access and are simply sold, marketed and distributed in the traditional manner.

The titles currently accessible which might be of interest to us are:

What is original about this initiative — and well done JISC for funding it — is that it extends the idea of open access beyond journals into monographs.

The main concern of publishers is naturally their profits.  This can’t continue, since every other aspect of the process is state funded.  But the question of whether open access means that sales cease is a very interesting one.

My guess — and it is only a guess — is that they will, but only slightly.


Fancy translating some of the Glossa Ordinaria?

The Glossa Ordinaria is a Latin collection of patristic comments on scripture which circulated in the 9th century.  A project is underway to translate portions of it.

The editor, John Litteral, has asked me to post an appeal for contributors, which is as follows:

I have been working on the Gloss on 1 John, and have been getting some participation from a number of people, one lady (a gifted translator and very fast) in particular who has translated many glosses so far, and a few others who have been contributing a little as well.  We are at the fourth chapter of 1 John with the marginal glosses, and I have been working on the interlinear glosses, in which I am in the second chapter.

I was curious if you know anyone who might want to participate in any of it?  I am going to self publish it and donate 100% of the royalties to a Latin forum that I have been given permission to use.

Everyone who participates will be given recognition in the book.  I plan to have 1,2,3 John, and to call it ‘The Glossa Ordinaria in English- 1,2,3 John’.  My goal is to have a series of translations, and the series called “The Glossa Ordinaria in English”.

This of course is basically going to be a preliminary sort of thing, until the progress on the Gloss advances and the professions start producing the Gloss in English, which little has been done and is going at a snails pace. There are no critical texts of the Gloss to work with, only manuscripts and old versions such as Migne.

If you know any who might be interested in participating in any of it such as interlinear glosses, which are not difficult, or marginal glosses or anything at all, then they are more than welcome, and I can catch them up to speed where we are and what we are using.

It’s probably rather easy Latin, and might be quite a gentle way to get back into Latin, if your’s is a bit rusty!

You can contact John at