Fake gospels have been composed continuously from the second century until our own times. The object is either to convert Christians to something else, or to make money off them.
One interesting example, which I have discussed before, is the Archko Volume, a collection of “ancient documents” corroborating the events of the New Testament, but in reality composed by a rural American presbyterian minister named William Dennis Mahan and self-published in 1884. It’s a fairly crude fake, but has remained in print since. The intended victims appear to be rural American Christians with limited education, and it is still marketed to them now. The author was caught and tried by his church, found guilty and suspended for a year. But nobody was going to allow a money-spinner to go out of print, and after a quick revision to remove some of the more damning evidence, it went into a “second edition” which is what circulates today.
I’ve recently come across some more material about this item, telling us about the author, and also about why it is circulating today.
Firstly, I have always wondered if Mahan was an honest man who outsmarted himself. Perhaps he tried to compose a historical novel, in epistolary form, and found his parishioners took it as real? Once money changed hands, a poor clergyman might be trapped in the mistake.
Recently I came across a collection of materials from his presbytery, the Cumberland Presbytery, and this has an entry for W.D.Mahan, listing his appointments.
Until 1885 he was a minister of the New Lebanon Presbytery. In that year we read:
Suspended by New Lebanon Presbytery for one year.
[Source: Minutes of the New Lebanon Presbytery of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, September 25-29, 1885, pages 134-148]
“Your committee to whom was referred the motion to grant W. D. Mahan a letter of dismission and recommendation after the term of his suspension expires, have had the subject under consideration, and in view of all the surrounding facts, and in view of the interests of the Church, we recommend the following:
Whereas, This Pres., at its session in Slater, Sept. 29th, 1885, did suspend from the functions of the ministry, for one year, W. D. Mahan; said one year terminating on the 29th of the present month; and
Whereas, The definite form of said suspension was more the result of sympathy for him and his family, than a desire for rigid administration of the law, and this sympathy being exercised under the hope that said W. D. Mahan would use all proper efforts to heal the wounds his course had inflicted; and,
Whereas, It now comes to the knowledge of this Pres., that he still occupies the same position, by the sale of his publications, and by negotiations to bring out new editions, therefore;
Resolved, That the suspension of the said W. D. Mahan, be, and the same is hereby declared indefinite, or, until he shall have complied with the law of the Church, as it applies in the case.”
[Source: Minutes of the New Lebanon Presbytery of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, September 10, 1886, pages 185-186]
I do not yet see online the source documents, but we need only wait. A couple of other documents are reproduced at the same site, including the following:
After the suspension he made no effort to return to the pastorate, but lived quietly at the home of his son-in-law, a hotel keeper in Booneville. He declined to make any further statement regarding the part he had taken in the preparation of the book except to say when it was told him that the literary world pronounced it a forgery: ‘Well, I have been a much deceived and a much persecuted man.’
It would be interesting indeed to know what lies behind those words. But even so, it is useful to hear this much.
The book has certainly been profitable. I discovered today that an American TV preacher named Benny Hinn promoted its modern circulation until quite recently. A blogpost by Tony Breeden of “Defending Genesis” in 2011 asked bluntly why.
Realizing that Mr. Hinn’s television broadcast reaches 200 countries worldwide and has hundreds of thousands if not millions of viewers, I hastily contacted his organization by phone…
But to no avail. Breeden, who had no a-priori objection to Hinn, wrote a follow-up article at another blog later in the year here. It seems that his experiences led him to conclude that Hinn also was a fraudster. The correspondence does give the impression of dealing with a sales-oriented retail business organisation, rather than anything else.
Fortunately I find that the promotion has now vanished from Hinn’s site. Mind you, at $50 a copy, the profit margin was pretty substantial. Another blogger in 2011 remarked:
It’s a well-intentioned fraud, but it’s a fraud nonetheless. And you can buy it on Amazon (if you must) for $10, which is a fair bit less than Hinn’s $50.
I was just about to wrap-up, when I learned of something even more peculiar, on LinkedIn, of all places: the existence of a 38-minute film adaptation “Archko Confessions” made by someone named Douglas King. According to IMDB he is a writer and director, known for Scrubbed (2014), A Second One Night Stand (2017) and This is Libby (2018). Nice! His LinkedIn profile says:
“Marketed to the Christian market”; of course.
But what did Christ say about all this? Something about the love of money…?