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.


“Ingesting the Godhead”? – a dubious “quote” from Cyril of Alexandria

A correspondent has written to me with an interesting quotation which is being attributed on the web to Cyril of Alexandria.  It may be found here, among other places, and reads:

When we ingest the Eucharist in reality we are ingesting the Godhead ….. because His Body and Blood are diffused through our members we become partakers of the divine nature.

My correspondent notes that this contradicts what Cyril says in Against Nestorius 4:

But out of overmuch reverence, he blushes (it appears) at the measures of emptiness and endures not to see the Son Co-Eternal with God the Father, Him who is in the Form and Equality in everything with Him Who begat Him, come down unto lowliness: he finds fault with the economy and haply leaves not unblamed the Divine Counsel and Plan. For he pretends to investigate the force of the things said by Christ, and as it were taking in the depth of the ideas; then bringing round (as he thinks) my words to a seeming absurdity and ignorance; “Let us see, he says, who it is that mis-interprets. As the Living Father sent Me, for I live (according to him) God the Word, because of the Father, and he that eateth Me he too shall live: which do we eat, the Godhead or the flesh?”

Perceivest thou not therefore at length how thy mind is gone? for the Word of God saying that He is sent, says, he also that eateth Me, he too shall live. But we eat, not consuming the Godhead (away with the folly) but the Very Flesh of the Word Which has been made Life-giving, because it has been made His Who liveth because of the Father.

And we do not say that by a participation from without and adventitious is the Word quickened by the Father, but rather we maintain that He is Life by Nature, for He has been begotten out of the Father who is Life. For as the sun’s brightness which is sent forth, though it be said (for example) to be bright because of the sender, or of that out of which it comes, yet not of participation hath it the being bright, but as of natural nobility it weareth the Excellence of him who sent it or flashed it forth: in the same way and manner, I deem, even though the Son say that He lives because of the Father, will He bear witness to Himself His own Noble Birth from forth the Father, and not with the rest of the creation promiscuously, confess that He has Life imparted and from without.

I have been unable to find the source for the “quote”.  But of course much of Cyril’s work is untranslated, and possibly it does exist somewhere.  It is not found in the 110 letters of Cyril, published in English in the Fathers of the Church series, that much I can tell.  Nor is it found in Norman Russell’s Cyril of Alexandria, which contains a selection of texts.

I wonder whether the “quote” exists in German?  Or French?  What would “ingest” and “Godhead” be, in either language?  There are some works extant in translations in that language.

Any ideas, anyone?

UPDATE: Mina Soliman seems to have found it.  A certain Richard Foley, Mary and the Eucharist, contains almost exactly the “quote”, on p.46.  But in reality the words are his own:

When we ingest the Eucharist, in reality we are ingesting the Godhead.  This makes of us a kind of tabernacle, and we are transformed.  For thus we become Christ-bearers, because his body and blood are diffused through our members … and we become partakers of the divine nature.[8]

Footnote 8 (on p. 54) gives the source as “Cyril of Alexandria: Catechetical Lectures 4, 6.[1]Snippets accessible….g#search_anchor and….n#search_anchor[/ref].

Of course the author of the Catechetical Lectures is Cyril of Jerusalem, not Cyril of Alexandria.  And the second sentence in the Foley quote is indeed in Cyril, as the NPNF text show:

Wherefore with full assurance let us partake as of the Body and Blood of Christ:  for in the figure of Bread is given to thee His Body, and in the figure of Wine His Blood; that thou by partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, mayest be made of the same body and the same blood with Him.  For thus we come to bear Christ in us, because His Body and Blood are distributed through our members; thus it is that, according to the blessed Peter, we become partakers of the divine nature.

The first sentence is Fr. Foley’s own idea.

And so we have it; a quotation from a modern book with an erroneous reference turned, magically, into a patristic quote.

Well done, Mina Solomon, for getting to the bottom of that!

  1. [1]

A Mithraic Pope? The “Pater Patrum” or “Father of Fathers”

Among the nonsense that circulates on the web is an interesting claim, which may be found in the old online Catholic Encyclopedia,[1] and spread into atheist literature via the medium of Joseph Wheless’ Forgery in Christianity.[2].  It is perhaps most accessible today by means of the Christ Conspiracy by a certain Acharya S., a poor woman who has seemingly managed to read uncritically incredible amounts of unreliable books, without acquiring any critical sense in the process.[3].  The various corrupt versions of the Catholic Encyclopedia material will doubtless be professionally interesting to the textual critic, who may see therein the process of transmission by careless scribes beautifully exampled.

The CE states:

The fathers conducted the worship. The chief of the fathers, a sort of pope, who always lived at Rome, was called “Pater Patrum” or “Pater Patratus.”

We may reasonably ask what the source for this claim is.  Inevitably we find that it is Franz Cumont’s Textes et Monuments, vol. 1.  On p.317-8 this states:

Finally, at the top of the hierarchy were the Fathers, who appear to have presided over the sacred ceremonies (pater sacrorum). The chief of them bore the title of Pater Patrum [1], sometimes transformed into Pater patratus [2] in order to introduce an official sacerdotal title into a sect which was Roman by naturalisation.  These Grand Masters of the adepts retained until their death the general control of the cult.[3]

1. Pater patrum, cf. t. II, 535, col. 2.  One became pater patrum after being an ordinary pater, cf. inscr. 14, 15 and note, and also 13 and note. — the Marcellinus leo of inscription 45 is perhaps the same person as the Domitius Marcellinus of inscr. 31. — the title of pater nomimus (inscr. 166 and note) seems to be an ordinary Father, as opposed to the Pater Patrum.

2. Pater patratus, inscr. 190; cf. however 514: Pater patratum leonem, which I cannot explain.  Patratus cannot be considered as a collective, despite the expression ob honorem sacri matratus  of inscription 574 b.

3. Inscr. 13 and note, 15 and note.

This material is what lies behind the statements in the C.E., which thus merely serve to popularise.  (The title pater patratus is an ancient one which appears in Livy[4] for a fetial priest with powers to make a religious oath on behalf of the Roman people to conclude treaties, so perhaps might be translated as executive father).[5] 

The material given is unsatisfactory as evidence for the large claims made.  Page 535 is merely the index to all mentions of the term, 14 of them.  Inscription 13 relates to CIL VI 754, set up between 357-362 A.D. by Nonius Victor Olympius, which does not seem to refer to him as a simple pater. Inscr. 14 and 15 are the monuments of Vettius Agorius Praetextatus from 387 A.D.  The latter monuments certainly do not support Cumont’s claim that a Pater Patrum was first a Pater (however probable this would otherwise seem to be).  Neither state, as Cumont does, that the role consisted of a general direction of the cult as a whole.  Inscr. 190 is CIMRM 706, in Milan, where P. Acilius Pisonianus is labelled pater patratus, dedicates a Mithraeum with funds from the municipality of Milan after a fire.  But there is no indication that this title is the same as pater patrum.  Inscr. 514 is a 3rd century inscription in Spain (CIMRM 803), where presidente patrem patratum leonem, is the perfect Father of the Lions presiding.

As so often with Cumont, the evidence simply does not support the claims made in the text.  Wild imagination extrapolates what might be true from the rather less exciting raw data.  None of this material takes us further forward. 

We can speculate ourselves.  The Pater Leonem is, quite possibly, simply a pater with supervisory responsibility for the initiates of the grade of leo or Lion.  By analogy, a Pater Patrum would simply be the senior pater in a Mithraeum.  Given the military links of the cult, that a single individual would lead each grade, and perhaps the Mithraeum as a whole, seems inevitable, just as the centurions were led by a primus pilus in the legion.  This all fits the data admirably, and gives rise to none of the exciting claims of a “Mithraic Pope”.  Do we need to suppose the existence of such a figure?  Even if we refer to a “High Priest of Mithras”, which might have existed … do we need to suppose that there was one?  What evidence requires it?  Or should we, perhaps, see in the pater patrum the equivalent of the Christian bishop, responsible for the temples in a city?  We could; but what evidence requires this?

When we know nothing, it is really, really important not to speculate.  The data we have indicates very little.

A useful 1982 article by Peter Herz in ZPE [6] lists all the monuments that refer to a Pater Patrum.  There are fifteen of these in all.  Eleven of these are from Rome.  The majority are late Roman noblemen. 

It is, in truth, a thin collection of data.  I hope to review it all at some subsequent point.

  1. [1]Here.
  2. [2]The passage in Wheless may be found here, apparently on p.37, who states that the CE material is on p.403-4.  It reads: “The fathers conducted the worship. The chief of the fathers, a sort of pope,who always lived at Rome, was called ‘Pater Patratus’ … The members below the grade of pater called one another ‘brother,’ and social distinctions were forgotten in Mithraic unity…”
  3. [3]Achrya S, The Christ Conspiracy, p.120: ‘Of Mithraism the Catholic Encyclopedia states, as related by Wheless, “The fathers conducted the worship. The chief of the fathers, a sort of pope, who always lived at Rome, was called ‘Pater Patratus.’” The Mithraic pope was also known as Papa and Pontimus Maximus.’
  4. [4]Book 1, chapter 24. Here.
  5. [5]More details on the ancient “Pater patratus”, a member of the college of priests known as fetiales, may be found in William Smith’s Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), online here: “It appears that when an injury had been sustained, four fetiales (Varr. ap. Non.) were deputed to seek redress, who again elected one of their number to act as their representative. This individual was styled the pater patratus populi Romani. (It is an error to suppose that the pater patratus was the permanent head of the college: Mommsen, Staatsr.2 2.670. “
  6. [6]Peter Herz, Agrestius v(ir) c(larissimus), Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, Bd. 49 (1982), pp. 221-224. JSTOR.