The Second Council of Nicaea (787) and the Canon of the New Testament

Why on earth would anybody suppose that the Second Council of Nicea / Nicaea in 787 was responsible for deciding which books went into the bible?  It’s absurd on the face of it, considering the vast mass of patristic testimony and physical bibles that survive.

However I keep seeing ignorant people online who either state this, or seem genuinely uncertain whether they mean the First or Second councils of Nicaea.  There is a much more common myth that the canon was decided at the First council in 325, but that’s another story.

Quite by accident today I found what seems to be the source.  It is none other than Bart Ehrman, Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew, Oxford University Press, 2003.  It’s a popular book, not a scholarly work, so it probably circulates among atheists.  The reference I was given was to pages 41-43, in which Ehrman talks about the apocryphal Acts of John, as an example of works in which celibacy is praised.  In chapter two, pages 41-42 we find this interesting statement:

A comparable message appears in another of the Apocryphal Acts, the last we will consider in this chapter. The Acts of John narrates the legendary adventures of John, the son of Zebedee, one of Jesus’ closest disciples in the New Testament Gospels. He continues to be an important figure after Jesus’ death, according to the early chapters of the canonical Acts of the Apostles, but he quickly drops out of sight in that narrative as the book turns its entire attention to the missionary activities of Paul. Later Christians, not content with the silence shrouding John’s later life, filled the gap with numerous stories, some of which have made it into this second-century Apocryphal Acts of John.23  Once again we are handicapped by not having the complete text. It was, of course, a noncanonical book, and parts of it were theologically dubious to the proto-orthodox. It was eventually condemned as heretical at the Second Council of Nicaea in the eighth century, so that most manuscripts of it were either destroyed or lost.24

(Highlighting is mine) Buried at the back, on p.262, where few will read them, are the notes:

23. It is widely recognized that the surviving Acts of John derives from several sources; most scholars recognize that a large portion of the text (chaps. 87–105, or just 94–102) as we now have it was interpolated at a later time into the narrative. See the discussion in Elliott, Apocryphal New Testament, 303–4. For a translation of some of the more intriguing accounts of the Acts of John, see the excerpts from Elliott in Ehrman, Lost Scriptures, 93–108; that is the translation I am following here.

24. See the discussion in Elliott, Apocryphal New Testament, 303–7.

This, I suspect, is indeed the source for the modern legend.  Because of course if the Second council was condemning the Acts of John, it’s “obvious” to a certain type of mind that they were discussing what should be in the New Testament.

Looking at Elliot’s excellent single volume on the NT Apocrypha, we find that the Acts of John are first attested with Eusebius in the 4th century.  On the date of the work, Elliot states (p.306):

This is normally given as late second-century, but some scholars (e.g. Zahn) who argued that the work was known to Clement of Alexandria [6] gave an earlier date. Modern scholars tend to agree that there is no firm evidence that the Acts of John was known before Eusebius.

Schneemelcher concurs (vol. 2, p.152):

It is not possible to demonstrate any use of the Acts of John in the Christian literature of the 2nd and early 3rd centuries.

On page 305, Elliot states:

(e) The proceedings of the Second Council of Nicaea (AD 787) are contained in several Greek and Latin manuscripts, and also in the Latin version by Anastasius.5 Citations in them from the Acts of John 27-8, 93-5, and 97-8 are valuable for establishing the Greek text at these points (see Junod and Kaestli CCA, pp. 344-68).

The condemnation of the Acts of John by the Second Council of Nicaea meant that the ancient Acts could only survive in clandestine copies after 787. Parts survived in the rewritings of the story of John found in Pseudo-Prochorus, and (in Latin) in Pseudo-Abdias and Pseudo-Melito.

The footnote:

5. J. C. Thilo, Colliguntur et commentariis illustrantur fragmenta actuum S. Johannis a Leucio Charino Conscriptum, i. in Universitatis Literariae Fridericianae Halis consociatae programma paschale (Halle, 1847), 14f.

This suggests that Elliot is also repeating from elsewhere, just as Ehrman was.  Is it possible that nobody ever actually looks at the statements of Nicaea II?

Schneemelcher is rather clearer:

The most important evidence of all is provided by the Nicene Council of 787, already mentioned. Its fifth session dealt, among other matters, with the Acts of John, to which the Iconoclastic Council of 754 had appealed. Here AJ 27 and the first half of AJ 28 were read out from the pseudepigraphical ‘Travels of the Holy Apostles’ as a document hostile to images, together with a large part of AJ 93-98 as a general indication of the book’s heretical character.42

Footnote:

42.  Con. Nic. II, actio V (Mansi XIII, cols. 168D-172C); critical edition of the quotations from the Acts of John in Junod/Kaestli 361-365 (Greek text) and 366-368 (Latin translation of Anastasius Bibliothecarius).  [‘Junod/Kaestli’ is the standard edition, Acta Johannis, in the Corpus Christianorum, series apocryphorum, vols 1-2, Turnhout 1983]

This gives us the reason why the book was discussed – that it had been used in the Iconoclast disputes – and a source for the council text.  There is actually an English translation of the Acts of the Second Council of Nicaea (787), under that title in two volumes, from Translated Texts for Historians, vol. 68 (2018), translated by Richard Price, and available for only $175.  Unfortunately this is inaccessible to me, or we might hear what the council said.

The older pre-critical text of Mansi is thankfully available online here, in a very poor scan from microfilm.  Col. 167 has a section starting Ex falsis superscriptionibus itinerariorum sanctorum apostolorum, (On the false attributions of the “itineraries of the holy apostles”).  But the good stuff appears in column 171C, and continues to 175.  The delegates read out some short quotes which contradict the Gospel of John, and so must be heretical. Especially good:

Gregory of Neocaesarea said, “This codex is worthy of every condemnation and dishonour.  And they produced out of it testimonies against images!! which were copied by Lycomedes!”

John the most reverend monk and vicar of the oriental patriarchs, said, “Lycomedes brings in the crowned images of the apostles as if they were pagan idols!”

Basil bishop of Ancyra said, “God forbid that St John seem to speak contrary to his own well-established gospel!”

I don’t know who Lycomedes was – evidently an iconoclast leader – but I don’t think they liked him.

The section ends with:

John, most reverend monk and vicar of the orient pontiffs said, “If it please this holy and universal synod, let this be the sentence, that nobody henceforth shall make copies of this sordid book.”

The holy synod said, “Let nobody make a copy: not only this, but we judge that it is right that it must be thrown in the fire.

Let’s finish, for the benefit of Ehrman readers, with another quotation from him about the formation canon of the NT.  This time it’s from Truth and Fiction In The Da Vinci Code, Oxford University Press, 2004, p.74:

Teabing’s conspiratorial view of the formation of the canon is intriguing, but for the historian familiar with the actual process of how some books came to be included in the New Testament while others came to be excluded, it is filled with more fiction than fact. The historical reality is that the emperor Constantine had nothing to do with the formation of the canon of scripture: he did not choose which books to include or exclude, and he did not order the destruction of the Gospels that were left out of the canon (there were no imperial book burnings). The formation of the New Testament canon was instead a long and drawn-out process that began centuries before Constantine and did not conclude until long after he was dead. So far as we know, based on our historical record, the emperor was not involved in the process. … (75) … It was a process that took many years—centuries, actually. It was not (contrary to Teabing’s view) the decision of one person, or even just one group of persons (for example, a church council); …

Indeed so.

Hoaxed! “Dionysus, the son of the virgin, … His blood, the blood of the grape…”

I got scammed today.  Doesn’t happen that often.  It was on twitter, and a very respectable person tweeted:

From his blood, Dionysus created the first grapes and so the drinking of wine was the drinking of the God’s blood. It’s not the only parallel between Dionysus and later religious figures.

Of course I was all over this, and replied:

Does any ancient source make this link… drinking the god’s blood? (I can just see the headbangers incoming….!)

To which my friend replied:

How about Euripides?

“Next came Dionysus, the son of the virgin, bringing the counterpart to bread: wine & the blessings of life’s flowing juices. His blood, the blood of the grape, lightens the burden of our mortal misery.  Though himself a God, it is his blood we pour out to offer thanks to the Gods”  (Bacchae)

Well, there’s no arguing with that; and I expressed my thanks.  Until a kindly stranger butted in and asked:

Why does your translation replace the name “Semele” with “virgin”?

Silly me, not to check.  I googled, and quickly found the translation above given by “quote” sites; and also, ominously, by Christian-hating crank Tom Harpur in his 2007 book Water into Wine, p.125 (or so I find from Google Books).

At this point, as any of us might, and I should have done first, I reached for Perseus.  I quickly found the quote in the English, part of the speech by Tiresias in Bacchae line 266 here:

This new god, whom you ridicule, I am unable to express how great he will be throughout Hellas. For two things, young man, [275] are first among men: the goddess Demeter—she is the earth, but call her whatever name you wish; she nourishes mortals with dry food; but he who came afterwards, the offspring of Semele, discovered a match to it, the liquid drink of the grape, and introduced it [280] to mortals. It releases wretched mortals from grief, whenever they are filled with the stream of the vine, and gives them sleep, a means of forgetting their daily troubles, nor is there another cure for hardships. He who is a god is poured out in offerings to the gods, [285] so that by his means men may have good things.

Hardly “the son of the virgin”, eh?  And where is the “blood of the god” stuff in this?  As I tweeted, it was now easy enough to find the Greek, line 278, thanks to Perseus:

οὗτος δ᾽ δαίμων νέος, ὃν σὺ διαγελᾷς,
οὐκ ἂν δυναίμην μέγεθος ἐξειπεῖν ὅσος
καθ᾽ Ἑλλάδ᾽ ἔσται. δύο γάρ, νεανία,
275) τὰ πρῶτ᾽ ἐν ἀνθρώποισι: Δημήτηρ θεά–
γῆ δ᾽ ἐστίν, ὄνομα δ᾽ ὁπότερον βούλῃ κάλει:
αὕτη μὲν ἐν ξηροῖσιν ἐκτρέφει βροτούς:
ὃς δ᾽ ἦλθ᾽ ἔπειτ᾽, ἀντίπαλον Σεμέλης γόνος
βότρυος ὑγρὸν πῶμ᾽ ηὗρε κεἰσηνέγκατο
280) θνητοῖς, παύει τοὺς ταλαιπώρους βροτοὺς
λύπης, ὅταν πλησθῶσιν ἀμπέλου ῥοῆς,
ὕπνον τε λήθην τῶν καθ᾽ ἡμέραν κακῶν
δίδωσιν, οὐδ᾽ ἔστ᾽ ἄλλο φάρμακον πόνων.
οὗτος θεοῖσι σπένδεται θεὸς γεγώς,
285) ὥστε διὰ τοῦτον τἀγάθ᾽ ἀνθρώπους ἔχειν.

Which clearly indicates that Semele, not “virgin”, is given; that there is no reference to wine as the blood of Dionysus; rather that the wine itself is the god, not his blood.

So where did the original quotation come from?  I found an attribution here: to Michael Cacoyannis, a film maker.  It looks as if Mr Cacoyannis took liberties in order to sell his film!  His translation was published in 1987.  I’ve not been able to access it to verify the quote, but I do believe it.  Sadly the link is for an Indiana University class; which suggests that the university has fallen for this one too.

You have to be so careful, don’t you?

The very words in which Constantine ordered the bible to be assembled? The strange, odd Oahspe hoax.

On Twitter today I came across some really rather unusual claims about Christian history.  These were advanced with the usual utter certainty that every crank seems to possess.  The author of these pronounced:

This is what emperor Constantine said during the council of nicaea…

“28/48.31.  Search these books, and whatever is good in them, retain: but whatever is evil, cast away.  What is good in one book, unite with that which is good in another book.  And whatever is thus brought together shall be called, THE BOOK OF BOOKS.1181  And it shall be the doctrine of my people, which I will recommend to all nations, so that there shall be no more war for religion’s sake.”

The tweeter employed the dubious practice of “quoting” but not referencing, so of course we don’t know from where he got this.  An enquiry was met with impudence.  As is so often the case with really wild claims, the tweeter appeared to have some personal integrity issues.

Of course Constantine said nothing of the kind, as I hope we all know.  This is purely fiction.  But … where from?

I quickly discovered a possible source: In His Name vol. 4, Trafford Publishing, 2014, by E. Christopher Reyes, whose interminable litany of factual errors, combined with no little spite, included this on p.273.  The reference given was “God’s book of Eskra” (?) op. cit., chapter 48, paragraph 31.

But according to this website all this material was to be found in an article by the renegade church minister Tony Bushby in Nexus magazine in 2007.  This indicated that “God’s book of Eskra” was “God’s Book of Eskra, Prof. S. L. MacGuire’s translation, Salisbury, 1922”.  Bushby went on to produce a book, The Bible Fraud, and you can’t argue with the title. He seems to have faded from view since.

A little investigation revealed that this “Book of Eskra” is a 19th century modern apocryphon called Oahspe: a new bible.  In fact I have written about Bushby and this very work here, with a link to chapter 48 of this fake text here.

Clearly the tweeter was quoting some version or other of the Oahspe fake, although indirectly.

It’s permissible to wonder what kind of person fills his head with nonsense of this kind in these days, when the raw data is ever so accessible.  Poor souls.

A false quotation of Augustine against the Jews

A correspondent wrote to me some time back, asking:

I’m currently translating John Gray’s booklet ‘Seven types of atheism’ into Dutch. On p. 17 Gray cites this line from Augustine’s ‘Pamflet against the Jews’: ‘The true image of the Hebrew is Judas Iscariot, who sells the Lord for silver. The Jews can never understand scripture, and forever bear the guilt of the death of Christ.’ I cannot find this line in your translation. What could be the matter here?

The gentleman is not the only one to wonder.  Anti-Christian quotations of the fathers are nearly always misquotations or frauds, as I discovered long ago when I reviewed a book of them.

Arie W. Zweip, Christ, the Spirit and the Community of God: Essays on the Acts of the Apostles,  Mohr Siebeck, 2010, wanders off his theme and into a discussion of anti-semitism.  But on page 90, he is obliged to add a note:

5. An Intermezzo: Fake Quotes

At this point I must make a brief but significant detour. Not infrequently Jerome’s and Augustine’s names are mentioned on the internet as outspoken propagators of Christian anti-Semitism. On a number of websites Jerome is quoted as having said that the Jews are “Judaic serpents of whom Judas was the model”, and also: “They (the Jews) are serpents, haters of all men. Their image is Judas. Their psalms and prayers are but the braying of donkeys”.

However, when I checked the quotations against the original, I could not trace their provenance. Virtually all authors quote these words without mentioning the exact source. There is a passage in Jerome’s commentary on Amos that comes close to it (“iudaeorum quoque oratio et psalmi, quos in synagogis canunt, et haereticorum composita laudatio tumultus est domino, et ut ita dicam, grunnitus suis et clamor asinorum, quorum magis cantibus israelis opera comparantur”),54 but the very references to serpents and to Judas are conspicuously absent. In his Verus Israel, Marcel Simon does quote the words of Jerome with a source reference, but he refers to Migne’s Patrologia Latina 26:1224, which is clearly wrong. It seems that we have here a clear example of a “fake quotation” that is running a life of its own.

I suspect the same is true of two anti-Semitic quotations not seldom attributed to Augustine that I was unable to trace: “The true image of the Hebrew is Judas Iscariot, who sells the Lord for silver. The Jew can never understand the scriptures and forever will bear the guilt for the death of Jesus’, and “Judaism, since Christ, is a corruption; indeed Judas is the image of the Jewish people: their understanding of Scripture is carnal; they bear the guilt for the death of the Savior, for through their fathers they have killed Christ. The Jews held Him; the Jews insulted Him; the Jews bound Him; they crowned Him with thorns; they scourged Him; they hanged Him upon a tree”. All this is not to say that Jerome and Augustine did not articulate anti-Semitic sentiments (they clearly did) nor to deny that they may have said things to that effect, but such allegations need to be corroborated by meticulous research and sound evidence, especially so in cases with such wide-ranging implications.

54. Jerome, Commentariorum in Amos; CCSL 76:2, LLT 589.

My own search revealed no source.  No doubt there is one, at some remote remove.  It may perhaps turn out to be someone’s summary of what they felt Augustine intended.

Did Alfred the Great invent the story of Caesar invading Britain?

Apparently so, according to this Danish site (Aug 16, 2017, written by Ben Hamilton):

Caesar conquering Britain a 9th century invention by Alfred the Great: Saxon king fabricated 54 BC invasion to replace Viking-friendly heir and protect England from the Danes

He came … He saw … but He tampered

As you do.

This story is by a certain “Rebecca Huston, a former National Geographic Channel producer and American screenwriter who after ten years of original research and analysis” concludes that “by doctoring a Latin version of one of the ancient world’s most famous writings, and altering several Old English manuscripts, he was able to convince his council of nobles that his son Edward was the rightful heir to his throne, not his nephew Æthelwold, a Saxon susceptible to alliances with the Danes. And the astonishing upshot of this discovery is that Julius Caesar neither invaded nor conquered Britain in 54 BC.”

It continues:

Along with the collected letters of Cicero, the memoirs written by Caesar while he was conquering France and other areas of central Europe in the fifth decade of the first century BC is believed by many to be one of the few manuscripts to have survived the period.  But there is a very good chance that Caesar’s ‘Commentaries’ did not survive, and that ‘Bellum Gallicum’ (BG), the title it is known as today, was the work of other writers. Historians are wrong to treat it as gospel and to suppose this was the true voice of Caesar. But many do, and therefore they duly accept that he invaded Britain.

The basis for this?  That the earliest manuscript of the BG is 9th century, “coinciding with Alfred’s life”; that Caesar “lapses” into first person in the BG; “120 examples of Alfred’s idiosyncratic writing style”; 40 references to Alfred himself (which a forger would naturally introduce into his work); and so on.

But curiously I can’t find any other source for this story.  Nor can I find any sign of a Rebecca Huston, associated with National Geographic.  Which is more than odd, all by itself.

A glance at Texts and Transmissions reveals that the Bellum Gallicum is transmitted by two families of manuscripts, both with a 9th century exemplar.  The first was written at Fleury in the second half of the century, the other at Corbie in the 3rd quarter of the century.  The first family contains mainly the BG; the other contains all the commentaries.  Neither manuscript is British or associated with Britain, as far as I can see.

As for the other evidence, I must defer to specialists.  But I have long since grown wary of such claims.  Sifting fernseed seems to be bad for the eyes, in altogether too many cases.

Fascinating to see a claim like this, where there seems no discernible motive.  Or is it simply a silly-season invention by a journalist?

UPDATE (28/8/17): After writing this, I dropped an email to Ben Hamilton at the Copenhagen Post, who replied very promptly and helpfully, and made clear that the story is genuine.  He gave this link at IMDB for Rebecca Huston.  I have since also received some emails from Rebecca Huston.  It will be interesting to look further into this one.

“A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit” – an ancient Greek proverb?

This week I came across a saying online:

A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit.

This, we are told, is a Greek proverb.

The sentiment is unexceptionable, but readers of this site do not believe attributions without evidence.  Is this truly ancient?  If so, how do we know?

A search on Google Books produces many references to this saying, varying somewhat in wording:

But if we use the custom date range, we quickly discover that the results vanish before the mid-1980s.  In the 1990s we get various results, mainly from the Congressional Record of the US Congress:

The “old Greek proverb” is hardly heard of before 1993, although I saw a quote in The Nation in 1991.

Eventually I happened to find a quote which atrributed it, not to ancient Greece, but to a certain Dennis Waitley: a 1989 article in the Scholastic Coach, vol. 59, p.289:

We use Dennis Waitley’s definition of a winner: “A winner is a person who plants a shade tree knowing he or she will never sit under it.”

This has the right sort of sound about it.  Waitley turns out to be a 1980s motivational speaker.  I was unable to locate in which of his books he said this.  But in fact I have just found another source, from 1972, in the Lutheran Standard, vol. 12, p.16:

A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of life when he plants shade trees under which he knows he will never sit.

This is only visible in snippet view.  But this version of the saying takes us further back yet.  It is associated with a David Elton Trueblood (or D. Elton Trueblood), a Quaker, in 1955.

Yet even so I can find a reference from 1954, in a mysterious Annual Report of a Ministry of Agriculture, page 13:

A man only begins to grasp the true meaning of life when he plants a tree under whose shade he knows he will never sit.

A 1968 magazine gives the following interesting quote:

At her departure, we are reminded of the passage from Elton Trueblood’s The Life We Prize, which she so often quotes: “One has to come to the full meaning of life when he is willing to plant shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit….

The Trueblood book was printed in 1951, earlier than any reference I can find.  And on p.58 we read our quote:

A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit.

That, I suspect, is the real origin of the proverb – a volume of moral writing by a quaker in 1951.  The aphorism then trickles through popular magazines, changing as it goes.  Ronald Reagan uses it in 1983.  But it seems to become a “Greek proverb” only in the hands of US congressmen in 1993.

“Burned without pity” – the fake quotation taken back to 1930!

A few weeks ago, I discussed a fake quotation attributed to Pope Innocent III:

Anyone who attempts to construe a personal view of God which conflicts with church dogma must be burned without pity.

These kinds of “quotes” are often derived from opinions by modern writers, which someone has then turned into a quote by the object of the opinion.  And so it proved; it was a quote from Peter Tompkins, The Magic of Obelisks.

But a correspondent then pointed out that the phrase appeared earlier, in the English translation of a book by Frenchman Maurice Magre, in 1931.  The US title was “Magicians, Seers and Mystics”; the UK title “Return of the Magi”, London, 1930.

This I have now obtained, and as it is public domain, I have uploaded it to Archive.org here.  And indeed this is correct – on p.60, our “quote” appears.

Three terrible figures dominate the great Albigensian massacre. For the massacre to be possible, it was necessary that an extraordinary genius for violence, for organisation, and for hypocrisy, should take shape in three men, who were all equally devoid of pity and, possibly, equally sincere in their hatred of heresy and love of the Church.

It was Pope Innocent III who, with obstinate determination, desired and decided on the crusade. The murder of the papal legate Pierre de Castelnau was only a pretext. Historians are unanimous in gloryifing this pope. To them the great men of history are men who do something, who have a powerful will and exert it to attain an aim. It makes no difference whether the aim is sublime or abominable; it is success in attaining the aim which gives the measure of genius.

As soon as he was elected pope, in all his public utterances Innocent III began to talk of ” exterminating the impious.” It was the dominating idea of his life, and he realised it wholeheartedly. He had a deep-rooted conviction that any man who attempted to build up a personal view of God which conflicted with the dogma of the Church must be burned without pity at the stake.

Italics mine.

No reference or source is given for the claim.

The author appears to be an occultist.  A chapter is devoted to the supposed origins of Rosicrucianism, recited uncritically; another to a biography of Apollonius of Tyana, equally uncritically given.  The prose style of the author is that of a historian; the content is nonsense.

With luck, this is the final origin of this striking phrase.

“Burned without pity” – a fake quotation attributed to Pope Innocent III

While looking for some information on the Spanish Inquisition, I came across a whole slew of pages containing the following quotation (various, but here).

Pope Innocent III: “Anyone who attempts to construe a personal view of God which conflicts with church dogma must be burned without pity.” ~Papal Bull, 1198, qtd. in Peter Tompkins, Symbols of Heresy in THE MAGIC OF OBELISKS, p.57 (New York: Harper, 1981)

Source: https://www.worldslastchance.com/end-time-prophecy/appalling-papal-proclamations-straight-from-the-harlots-mouth.html

Well, that sounds like a fun quotation.  Naturally I wondered if it was true.  And so I looked for a primary source.  On an Amazon.com discussion I found a claim that:

I can give you the papal bull of Pope Innocent III dated march 25 of 1199 and it says like this: “anyone who attempts to construe a personal view of God which conflicts with church dogma must be burned without pity.”

However that bull seems to be Vergentis in senium, as mentioned here.   The Latin text for the bull is at IntraText here.  Using Google Translate gives a very good idea of the contents, and this is not in it.

Fortunately I then found that Tompkins, The Magic of Obelisks (1981), was at Google Books, in snippet form, and a bit of wiggling gave me the relevant part of p.57:

I.e.

Once it became clear that perhaps a third of all nominal Christians were secretly practising a heretical religion, Christian persuasion was replaced by the rack, the gibbet and the stake.  Declaring that anyone who attempted to construe a personal view of God which conflicted with the dogma of the Church of Rome must be burned without pity, Pope Innocent III decided on a crusade “to exterminate the impious”, accusing the Cathars of being “lascivious sects, who, overflowing with libertine ardor, are but slaves to the pleasures of the flesh.”

This plainly is the source of the quote.  And … it is not a quote at all.  It is a summary, by Peter Tompkins, of what he believes that Innocent was saying, in some unspecified text.  Whether it is a fair summary or not I could not say; there is, as we can see, no footnote on the paragraph.  Whether the supposed verbatim quotations are in fact accurate we cannot tell, but I have my doubts about these also.

Tompkins himself was a journalist, who lived long enough to have a web page, full of crank stuff.

It’s not my purpose to look into medieval history, but at least to identify this particular quote as false.

UPDATE (6 March 17): In the comments, SuburbanBanshee draws our attention to the fact that Tompkins is actually quoting a 1931 book by Maurice Magre.  I find in Google Books snippet that the phrase appears on p.60 of “Magicians, seers and mystics” (Dutton, New York, 1932: snippet here).  It doesn’t seem to be a quote there either.

According to a bookseller, the UK publication was “The Return of the Magi”, London, 1931, translated from the French “Magiciens et illumines…”, 1930, by Reginald Merton.  The latter title has been reprinted in 2016 – I assume it has dropped out of copyright.  I have ordered a copy and we will see what it says.

UPDATE (28 March 17): I have now obtained the book and discuss it here.

Academic hoaxes, academic feuding – an article in the Oldie

The Oldie magazine is probably read by few of us, being mainly for people who are, well, old.  A correspondent has sent me a copy of an article in this week’s issue, written by the editor, Richard Ingrams.

Harvey’s revenge

We love a spot of academic intrigue and so were delighted to receive an email from one Dr A D Harvey. Harvey, who describes himself as a ‘failed academic’, won notoriety after publishing academic articles under various pseudonyms and inventing a meeting between Dickens and Dostoevsky that fellow academics accepted as fact for years. American scholars finally uncovered the hoax and Harvey became the subject of a six page take-down in the Times Literary Supplement.

Not content to let sleeping feuds lie, Dr Harvey’s email to The Oldie is a copy of a letter he has sent to the TLS accusing it of running a hoax story in its own pages.  The piece in question, by Janetta Goldstein, is about an alternative ending to the Hans Christian Andersen Story, ‘The Invisible Robe’. But, Harvey writes, ‘The manuscript in Hackney Archives on which it is purportedly based seems to have no more physical existence than the new clothes the emperor was so proud of. I checked. Hackney Archives have a negative of a portrait of Mary Howitt but none of her papers, let alone a manuscript of a Hans Christian Andersen story with a previously unpublished variant ending.’ With some relish, Harvey adds, ‘It makes you wonder how many more bogus contributions have appeared in the TLS in recent months.’

Most would suspect that Harvey himself had a hand in the Hans Christian Andersen hoax, if indeed the alternative ending proves to be fake at all. But Harvey claims it bears none of his modus operandi — not that we can really take his word for that.

One thing we can be sure of: the TLS fact-checkers will be frantically searching for evidence of the Hackney manuscript and hoping that Dr Harvey has not been able to spectacularly settle his score with their scholarly journal.

The urge to twist the tail of the spectacularly aloof and patronisingly self-important is one that is probably common to most of us.  In this sense the activities of Dr Harvey are something that most of us will feel sympathy with.

Until we find that our own research has been compromised by such pranks, at any rate.

Verifying the raw data is never time wasted.

Old hoaxes; Notovitch, Jacolliot, Jesus and India

The internet has given new life to some old hoaxes.  The idea that Jesus visited India and left otherwise unknown gospels there was advanced by a certain Notovitch in the 19th century.  I have just seen it appear again, all innocent and oblivious of criticism, in a crank discussion forum here.  Long ago I scanned some articles from Nineteenth Century magazine, in which the efficient British administrators of India went and interviewed the Tibetan lamas, with whom he supposedly communicated.

Rereading that article, I found references to other hoaxes in Max Muller’s comments. 

Be that as it may, M. Notovitch is not the first traveller in the East to whom Brâhmans or Buddhists have supplied, for a consideration, the information and even the manuscripts which they were in search of. Wilford’s case ought to have served as a warning, but we know it did not serve as a warning to M. Jacolliot when he published his Bible dans l’Inde from Sanskrit originals, supplied to him by learned Pandits at Chandranagor.

 Thanks to Google books, Mr Jacolliot’s book is available to read here, in the 1875 English translation.  The table of contents alone raises suspicions: long chapters on subjects like “Christian morality”, of no evident relevance, pad out the volume.  For as we know, most of these hoaxes are published for money, and a long book can be sold for more.  Sadly, after reading some 50 pages, I was unable to induce myself to read more.  The animosity of the author against the Christians was only equal to the vagueness of his rhetoric.  We must congratulate Dr Muller, that he managed to find something of substance in all this.