the beginning of human civilization priests and 'holy men' have
invented pious nonsense. For
the priesthood the rewards have been immense: power, prestige
and wealth. They have fused with, and become part of, the ruling
of social stress have always seen the emergence of a
preaching a purity of fable; ascetics, puritans and fanatics
who revile and castigate a corrupt and worldly religious
establishment and offer themselves as apostles of Truth and Divine
1st century colonisation and exploitation of Judaea placed huge
on a theocracy that had enjoyed absolute power under the Maccabean
kings and had been placated and indulged even by Herod the Great.
Pharisees on the one hand – rabbinic guardians of a religious
correctness, not part of the Temple hierarchy– and Essenes on
the other –
egalitarian purists, who withdrew to their own communities and
lived by their own rule – trained the cadres, and fashioned
for a radical recasting of Judaism.
A century of endemic rebellion, civil war, and
wars of national resistance, leading ultimately to catastrophic
the seed bed for a violent and profound religious revolution.
Prophets of Doom
earliest Christian communities, remote from power and lacking
in wealth, were led by charismatic agitators, peripatetic "prophets" and "teachers" who
claimed their doom-laden message was received directly from the Holy
Spirit of God (Acts 13.2; 15.23, etc., confirms as much).
Their doctrine was spontaneous, variable and idiosyncratic.
the handful of late 1st century / early 2nd century writers (Paul,
Clement, Barnabas, Papias) did not quote
Jesus at all. They say nothing, or next to nothing,
of humanoid "Jesus actions" or miracles. The virgin-born,
miracle-working, godman of later legend was unknown to them.
When their fantasy required the endorsement of higher authority
turned instead to Jewish scripture,
to the patriarchs, the prophets and the supposed utterances of
the Jewish God himself.
Founder of Christian
Gnosticism – and yet re-worked
into an icon of its literalist opposition.
"We speak Wisdom among the initiates .. God's
Wisdom in a mystery, the Wisdom that has been hidden"
Early Roman presbyter. Or maybe not.
A whole raft of forgeries bear the name 'Clementines'.
(genuine?) Clementine epistle, among other things, offers the phoenix
as proof of the Resurrection!
of Barnabas has nothing to do with
the supposed companion of Paul. ('Jew from Cyprus' says
130, it says much about Enoch, Daniel, Moses, and what
the Lord "hath revealed
to us by all the prophets", but says next to nothing
known of this 2nd century Bishop
of Phrygia. Apparently
he held to a flexible, 'oral' tradition and knew
nothing of the 'Gospels'.
censured as a fool by Eusebius for his "strange
parables" which included "speaking bunches of grapes."
The Enigma of "Paul"
knew a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the
third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body
do not know - God knows."
– St Paul (2 Corinthians 12.1,4)
Paul (discussed in great detail here) records not one thing from an earthly life of his saviour. In
all of the thirteen epistles ascribed to Paul he quotes not a single
saying of Jesus. Throughout his letters Paul refers to a spiritual Christ
whose redeeming sacrifice had conquered
death. For Paul and the other early Christians, Christ was not
a human being, but an "apparition", an emanation from
God, whose Word, indeed, spoke through him. And when he spoke
it was of the "End Time" and imminent Judgement
to its essentials Paul's gnostic logic argued: from
time immemorial "Christos" had
been the Son of God. This Christos had sacrificed himself in
past in order to be reborn within man. His "resurrection" and "life" are
realized again within initiates such as Paul himself and
those who accept him.
It surely is a tad more than curious than none of the other documents
more or less contemporary with Paul's epistles – Shepherd of Hermas, Didache, 1 Clement, Revelation of St John, epistle
of Barnabas – say anything from
the "Jesus of Nazareth" fairy tale known to every child today.
Is it not more than reasonable
to suggest that at this stage the story had not yet been fabricated?
must bid farewell to all slandering, lewd and unclean coupling, drinking
vile lusting, odious fornication,and the pride
which is an abomination."
– 1 Clement, 30.
is known of the life or death of "Saint" Clement (often
grandly, if anachronistically, styled either first, second, third
or fourth 'pope'!).
century fantasy invented a colourful martyrdom for the guy,
involving drowning in the Black Sea with an anchor round his
neck and a sub-marine shrine built by angels. The fable probably
to a confusion
namesake, Titus Flavius Clemens, a consul executed
by Emperor Domitian. The confusion is further compounded by
the common assumption that Clement's reference to
the "recent misfortunes" of the Roman Church relates
to a supposed persecution
by Domitian. But this "persecution" is bogus and Clement actually makes no mention of martyrdom even
when it refers to the deaths of Peter and Paul.
he really was, Clement is credited with the most important
Christian text outside the New Testament – his First
Epistle, a document which is primarily concerned
with remonstrating with the brethren in Corinth who had deposed
their presbyters. (Perhaps too readily they had seen
through the priestly fraud!)
closely, the epistle is clearly less of a genuine letter and
more a tract on maintaining communal discipline and priestly
authority. It attributes
to the Apostles themselves foreknowledge of
career rivalry among Christians – who consequently institute "Apostolic
succession" to maintain the peace of the Church (Clement 44).
This alone suggests a 2nd century date.
important as it is in the gathering up of papal authority, says
nothing of an historical Jesus. Its fancies include reference
to the "500-year-old phoenix bird".
rather, the coterie of pseudonymous fraudsters) authored further
nonsense throughout the 2nd, 3rd and 4th centuries, notably the Clementine
of the Resurrection – rebirth of the Phoenix!
are only two extant Greek texts of 1 Clement. The
oldest is in Codex Alexandrinus, which dates to the
"Let us understand, dearly beloved,
how the Master continually showeth unto us the resurrection
that shall be hereafter ...
Let us consider the marvellous sign
which is seen in the regions of the east, that is, in the
parts about Arabia.
There is a bird, which is named
the phoenix. This, being the only one of its kind, liveth
for five hundred years; and when it hath now reached the
time of its dissolution that it should die, it maketh for
itself a coffin of frankincense and myrrh and the other
spices, into the which in the fulness of time it entereth,
and so it dieth.
But, as the flesh rotteth, a certain
worm is engendered, which is nurtured from the moisture
of the dead creature and putteth forth wings. Then, when
it is grown lusty, it taketh up that coffin where are the
bones of its parent, and carrying them journeyeth from
the country of Arabia even unto Egypt, to the place called
the City of the Sun; and in the day time in the sight of
all, flying to the altar of the Sun, it layeth them thereupon;
and this done, it setteth forth to return. So the priests
examine the registers of the times, and they find that
it hath come when the five hundredth year is completed.
Do we then think it to be a great
and marvellous thing, if the Creator of the universe shall
bring about the resurrection of them that have served Him
with holiness in the assurance of a good faith, seeing
that He showeth to us even by a bird the magnificence of
– The Epistle of St Clement to
Barnabas was a sometime travelling companion of Paul.
who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being
interpreted, the son of
consolation) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus. Having
land, sold it,
and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet."
– Acts 4.36,37
rambling 'Epistle of Barnabas' is much later than any
playmate of the apostle. Written, probably, shortly before the Bar Kochbar rebellion when the proto-Christians were under pressure
from a resurgent Judaism, most of the tract reinterprets
just about everything in
For example, any reference to water prefigures baptism,
any reference to trees or wood prefigures the Cross.
When Abraham circumcised himself he did so in a "spiritual
prevision of Jesus"!
repeatedly and often inaccurately, diverse Old Testament worthies, Enoch,
Daniel, Moses, etc., and always to the
effect "this really refers to Jesus."
dietary laws ("thou
shalt not eat the hare ... neither shalt thou eat the hyena"), animal sacrifice, the land of milk and honey – all are
imaginatively reinterpreted as nothing other than allegorical
to Christ. But the Jews themselves have been "seduced
by evil" and are beyond the pale.
Like the 'Shepherd
of Hermas' and the 'Didache' (from which the
epistle borrows its Light and Dark 'Two Ways'), Barnabas is
early anti-Jewish Christian propaganda which, during the course
lost its usefulness.
obliquely, does Barnabas refer to certain motifs
of the familiar Jesus Christ pageant:
He had not come in the flesh, how could men have been saved
by beholding Him?"
is reference to "scourgings", quoting 1
Isaiah 1.6, to "piercing with nails",
22.20, to "casting
lots for garments" by calling on Psalm 22.18.
nowhere does Barnabas quote or cite any Christian "gospel".
No apostles are named, no Holy Family configured. The
pageant at this stage is a work-in-progress.
Indeed, Barnabas vigorously rejects the idea that Christ
David" – which it describes as an "error
of sinful men." Is
Christ, perhaps, an anthropomorphic Sun God? The countenance
looking upon the sun which is to cease
to exist, and is the work of His hands, their eyes are not
able to bear his rays ..."
hung up on a Cross or a tree?
himself willed thus to suffer, for it was necessary
that He should suffer on the tree."
to Jesus "rising
on the eighth day", not the third
(Barnabas 15:9), with the Resurrection and Ascension occurring
on the same day. He refers to the Apostles as "ruffians
of the deepest dye" (Barnabas 5.5). That bit will have to be cleaned up!
short, this entertaining epistle illustrates how
the early to mid-2nd century
a most creative
in the fabrication
of the Jesus legend.
of Barnabas' (inevitably) made
an appearance in the Middle Ages, perhaps based on an ancient
original. Some Muslims like to think so. Its Jesus
is no more than a man; Judas is the one crucified; and the
gospel anticipates the coming of Muhammad!
mass circumcision reveals Jesus! Glory!
"For the scripture saith; And Abraham circumcised of his household 18 males
and 300. What then was the knowledge given unto him? Understand ye that He saith
the 18 first, and then after an interval 300. In the 18 'I' stands for 10, 'H'
for 8. Here thou hast JESUS (IHSOYS). And because the cross in the 'T' was to
have grace, He saith also 300. So He revealeth Jesus in the two letters, and
in the remaining one the cross."
– Epistle of Barnabas 9:7
And Moses makes a Jesus prototype! Holy Biting Serpent!
"Again Moses maketh a
type of Jesus, how that He must suffer, and that
He Himself whom they shall think to have destroyed
shall make alive in an emblem when Israel was falling.
For the Lord caused all manner of serpents to bite
them, and they died (forasmuch as the transgression
was wrought in Eve through the serpent), that He
might convince them that by reason of their transgression
they should be delivered over to the affliction of
– Epistle of Barnabas 12:5
a Christian bishop of Hierapolis, Phrygia in Asia Minor about
the year 130, collected and analysed the "sayings and deeds
of the Lord", and yet he was unfamiliar with the
He also appears to have been unaware of St Paul's Epistles even
though he lived a few miles from Colossae.
reports merely that Mark "wrote down what he remembered."
orthodoxy's 4th century propagandist, was dismayed by this early
bishop. He described the parables of Papias as "strange" and
his reported teachings of the saviour as "of a fabulous
character." Papias is the author of some entertaining tales
about the villainous Judas Iscariot.
damns this inconvenient witness to Christianity's inventiveness
by calling him "a man of exceedingly small intelligence." (Eusebius, Hist.
The fragments of Papias
Holy Speaking Grape Vine!
from Irenaeus (v.33) that Papias, in his 4th book, on the
authority of 'the Elder' John, told how:
Lord had said that the days will come when there shall
be vines having 10,000 stems, and on
each stem 10,000 branches, and on each branch 10,000
shoots, and on each shoot 10,000 clusters, and in each
cluster 10,000 grapes, and each grape when pressed shall
give 25 measures of wine.
And when any of the saints shall take hold of a
cluster, another shall cry out, I am a better cluster,
take me, and bless the Lord through me."
echo of this fantastic nonsense appears in John 15:2
branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away:
and every branch that beareth fruit, he
purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit."
also has a story (Eusebius, III. 39) about Justus
Barsabas taking poison without injury. This fable
shows up in the 'extended' edition of Mark as
a generalized, albeit ridiculous, apostolic immunity
shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly
thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands
on the sick, and they shall recover."
of the world is filled with invented characters. With good reason
it is called fiction. Jesus did not
produce the Church. The Church produced its own self-serving
fiction: the story of Jesus. In the early decades of the 2nd
century, that is within less than a hundred years of the supposed
life and death
saviour, the Christians
that we know of were propagating the cause of a wholly
If this Christ were accorded a life at all, it was
in mythic "ancient times."
two centuries that followed, a number of individuals contributed
to the process of anthropomorphizing their celestial hero into
blood miracle-worker known to all. "Jesus
of Nazareth" never lived but his life was invented to underpin
adoration of the ineffable cosmic Christ and obedience to his
Holy Mother Church.
would also grow, in step with the authority and
majesty of the Church, from
an 'emanation' or messenger of God into an eternal, co-creator
of the universe.
But it was
not the aeons
that would be turned into a pageant for the lost and gullible. In
the scattered communities, ghettoes, and slums of the Roman Empire
it was an
ancient tale of sacrifice and re-birth that
would be dressed up in new Christian clothes.
Maxwell Staniforth, Early Christian Writings (Penguin, 1978)
L. Boyle, St. Clements, Rome (Collegio San Clemente, 1989)
Jean Ritchie, The Secret World of Cults (Harper Collins, 1991)
John Riches, The World of Jesus (Cambridge University Press,
Nicholas Carter, The Christ Myth (HRP, 1993)
Michael Walsh, Roots of Christianity (Grafton, 1986)
Peter Roberts, In Search of Early Christian Unity (Vantage, 1985)
Some fifty articles are now available as a book.
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Copyright © 2005
by Kenneth Humphreys.
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