Work in Progress
"Do not add to these words lest
He reprove you and you be proved a liar." –
are many Christian bibles. Several hundred in fact (and this
number excludes the thousand-plus foreign language editions).
Every group that has ever claimed the title Christian, from gnostic
sects of the second century, through countless heresies of
the Middle Ages, to Mormons of the twentieth century, has had
recourse to its own version of the holy testament.
fine tuning of Gods word, which began at the very inception
of Christianity, continues even in our own day. Though this
plethora of bibles share a common core, many contain material
omitted by others, and vice versa. Even where the content is
ostensibly the same, verses have been removed or added,
words transposed, rearranged or rephrased.
Evidently, God, as the ultimate author is endlessly
searching for that fine nuance, that pithy turn of phrase.
is not apparent, when we pick up the holy book, is the extensive
editing that has prepared that volume for public consumption,
and this editing applies just as much to the central story
and its main characters as to any subsequent tinkering more
so, in fact. In the first two centuries of the Christian era,
when a Bible as such did not exist and
the proselytes of the new faith were scouring the Jewish scriptures
for confirmation of their heresy, many scribes turned their hand
to gospel writing. These publications were
severely limited editions, painstakingly written
by hand. Often untitled and unsigned these texts passed from
hand to hand, in time acquiring the authority and aura of an
antique and blurring the distinction between fiction, history
were inventors not historians." Porphyry, Against the Christians, c.
It was well
into the 2nd century before a number of these testimonies were
collected together and bound into a single volume. From
the mass of available material ecclesiastical editors selected
what would and what would not be included in the Good Book. But
of course different editors made different choices.
Bible in vain for the gospels of Thomas, Matthaias or
the The Twelve; for the Acts
of Andrew or Acts of John; for the Epistle
of Barnabas, the Didache; for the Shepherd
of Hermas or the Apocalypse of Peter. Yet
for the first two centuries of Christianity all of these were
holy scripture, the revealed Word of God.
On the other
hand rejected by the early church fathers were Pauls
letter to Philemon, the second and third letters
of John, the second letter of Peter and
the General Epistle of Jude, all part of the
canon after Christianity became the state religion!
the Big Guy had had a major rethink. Roman bibles after the
fourth century hedged their bets and included doubtful and
previously rejected material at the end as Apocrypha (hidden).
Clearly this was Gods rough draft, not really meant for
publication. Luther kept the apocrypha in his bible whereas Calvin
and most other Protestant reformers excluded them.
To regard this wholesale
editorial selection and censorship, and the rewriting which
accompanied it, as a function purely of the human mind, influenced
by considerations of ambition and wealth, power and politics,
is, of course, to lose sight of the hand of god; the divine,
beavering away in overdrive in central Europe and the eastern
Mediterranean centuries ago!
truth, if scripture were not to be regularly revised no one
alive would understand a word of it. Through the centuries,
vocabulary, word usage, syntax and grammar continuously change.
Bible of 1539 was the first English national bible,
appearing after the break with the Pope and his Latin Vulgate.
Though written in English, little of it would be
intelligible to the twenty first century English speaker. A tad
more digestible is the Authorised King James Version,
the earliest bible to introduce the numbering of sentences. Its
magisterial tone, with all its begats and art
thous, merely ossifies the appealing authority and grandiose
language of monarchical England in 1611. It was followed by a
series of subsequent revisions including the Revised Version
of 1885, the American Standard Version of 1901, the Revised Standard
Version of 1952, etc., etc.
revisionist claim has always been made of capturing the essential truth of
the Greek and Hebrew originals a neat trick when one considers
that the originals were actually written entirely in capitals
and without the benefit of punctuation or even spaces between
words. Because of the high cost of vellum many words were truncated or abbreviated to
squeeze more in but at a cost of even greater ambiguity.
As the original scrolls were copied, generation by generation,
marginal notes, added by later clerics as personal interpretations
or amplifications of obscure points, were written into the body
of scripture itself. In this centuries long process of
revision, many gospels fell completely by the wayside, not even
making the apocrypha and known to us today only by chance survival.
the most part, each of the two testaments of the Bible is
made up of chapters, grandly styled books, with each book set
out in groups of paragraphs, confusingly called chapters. Some books are
very brief indeed. The book of Ruth, for example, is barely two
pages, 2,578 words in fact. The longest, Jeremiah, at 42,659
words, would make a pamphlet of reasonable length. Authorship
of the Old Testament was largely a 5th/6th century
BC affair (with the Chronicler not writing
until the mid-fourth century); authorship of the New Testament primarily
occurred in the 2nd century AD. With all the revisions
and re-writes the effort involved a good many people. Arguably,
some of them wrote inspiring words but in no sense is
that the same as the words being inspired by a deity. The total
compendium, though impressive and at times entertaining, makes
The books are
arranged in a particular order, one that appears to be an unfolding
story from Jews to Jesus, from Jesus to Church,
from birth of the Messiah to a vision of the Day of Judgement
yet to come.
It appears to be chronological. It is not.
order is largely reversed. Exodus was
written before Genesis. Prophesies written
after events are reassigned to an earlier authorship in order
to establish their veracity. An ancient and heroic history reflects
the contingencies of a much later time. The final book, the Revelation
of St. John is the earliest, not the latest, part of
the New Testament, save for the correspondence of St Paul, which
itself pre-dates all the gospels and not one of the favoured
gospels took on their present form before 150 AD.
have been taken within the individual books themselves, with
later additions used to preface or addend the original work. Mark is
earlier than Matthew, yet its ending has been extended
by borrowings from the later work. The Revelation of
St. John, in its original draft a composite of several
Jewish apocalyptic dramas, was later Christianized by a preface
of letters to the churches of Asia.
more true is this process of time-reversal or back
projection than of the life and times of the Jesus
character himself, who began his existence as a celestial
superhero, acquired an earthly death; subsequently was given
an adulthood; and completed his career with a spectacular
in the sense of organisation, authority, assets and membership preceded rather
than followed the justifying doctrine. As the organisation
and its needs changed so the testament of god adapted
accordingly. Shuffling the confused jigsaw of stories back
into the chronology of authorship proves very revealing.
very obvious when the parts of the book are rearranged into the
order in which they were written is that the story grew with
the telling. For example, if we look at the central mystery
of Christianity, the Resurrection, we find that in Marks gospel
(the earliest) the visitors to the tomb find a sitting figure, a
young man in a white robe (Mark 16.5). He
could have been anybody. Thirty years later the story is rather
different: we can choose between the sudden appearance of two
men, standing in shining garments (Luke 24.4);
or a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended
His countenance was like lightning, and his
raiment white as snow (Matthew 28.2,3).
Often an anachronism
within the gospels provides a clue to the true authorship of
the text. For example, all three synoptic gospels have Jesus use the
phrase take up his cross. This is Mark:
"And when he had called the people
unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever
will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his
cross, and follow me." (Mark
and Luke (9.23) use almost identical words.
Whats wrong here
is that the crucifixion has not yet happened the
phrase belongs to a Christian Church a century or more into
and every verse of the Bible is a testament to the needs
and purposes of a particular time or place, whether to
restate a gem of folk wisdom, upstage a rival story,
assimilate a popular pagan myth, quash an opponents
arguments or serve a current political purpose. Necessarily,
and unavoidably, the compendium is rife with contradictions
Which (if either!) is correct, for example, in the fishy bread
when he had taken the five loaves and the two
he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and brake the loaves, and gave them to his
disciples to set before them; and the two fishes divided he among them all. And
they did all eat, and were filled. And they took up twelve baskets full
of the fragments, and of the fishes. And they that did eat of the loaves were
about five thousand men."
"And he commanded the people to sit down on the ground: and he took the seven
loaves, and gave thanks, and brake, and gave to his disciples to set before
them; and they did set them before the people. And they had a few small fishes:
and he blessed, and commanded to set them also before them. So they did eat,
and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets.
And they that had eaten were about four thousand: and he sent them away."
The first quotation
is from Mark 6.41,44: the second only a page or so later
from Mark 8.6,9!
Jesus go immediately'
into the desert after baptism, as Mark tells us:
"And immediately the Spirit drove him into the wilderness.
And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was
with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him." (Mark 1.12,13)
Or did he
take himself off to a wedding as John would have it?
"And John bare record, saying,
I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and
it abode upon him... The day following Jesus would
go forth into Galilee, and find Phillip... And the third day there was a marriage
in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was
called, and his disciples, to the marriage." (John
Was Mark correct when he quoted Jesus that
there would be no
"And he sighed deeply in his
spirit, and saith, Why doth this generation seek after
a sign? verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be
given unto this generation." (Mark 8.12)
Or was John
nearer the truth when he says:
"And many other signs truly
did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not
written in this book." (John 20.30)
a convoluted process of interpolation, accretion and redaction,
the whole compendium of fables and fancy was brought into being.
The four Gospels had a precedent in the sayings of Jesus, epithets
of wisdom attached to a shadowy Christ figure. Progressively
anthropomorphized into a human figure, a series of anecdotes, reminiscences and
stories were attached to his name.
follows is a retracing of this great work of fiction, this
history of a fake history; not the legend of a birth but
the birth of a legend.
Did They Get Their Ideas From?
Apollonius was born during the reign of Augustus
Caesar in the year 3 BC at Tyana, in Asia Minor.
His parents were wealthy and Apollonius was educated
first at Tarsus, and then at the Temple of Asclepius
at Aegae. At sixteen he became an adherent of Pythagoras
and a wandering ascetic. In his desire for knowledge
he travelled to most of the known world. According
to legend he performed miracles wherever he
went and was listened to by adoring crowds.
Apollonius claimed to receive revelations from the
gods. In truth, he probably learnt techniques of mystical
deception from the Brahmins of India and the Magi of
Babylon. In Ephesus he correctly warned of a plague
and also claimed to have had a vision of the assassination
of the Emperor Domitian. In Rome he supposedly brought
the daughter of a consul back to life. Nero apparently
expelled him from the city but Vespasian, Titus and
Nerva all sought his advice. Hadrian collected his
letters and writings. The great Emperor-philosopher
Marcus Aurelius admitted that he owed his philosophy
Apollonius I have learned freedom of will and
understanding, steadiness of purpose, and to
look to nothing else, not even for a moment,
except to reason."
neo-Pythagorean philosophy embraced the sharing
of goods, a condemnation of cruelty, and compassion
for his fellowman. He taught in many of the centres
of learning of the Greco-Roman world. Stories about
him abounded, such as when in his mothers womb,
his mother was forewarned by an Egyptian god of her
portentous off-spring. He reputed lived to be one
hundred years. His followers claimed he was taken
up into heaven. In Tyana a temple was built and
dedicated to him, and statues of him resided in other
the wife of Emperor Septimius Severus, commissioned
the philosopher Philostratus to write the biography
of Apollonius, using the notebooks kept by Damis,
a lifelong companion of the great sage. This book
appeared in 210 AD.
by the 4th century an established Christianity
began attacking Apollonius as a charlatan, a black
magician, and the anti-Christ. The Church was,
after all, basing its claims of Jesus' divinity
upon the miracles that he is said to have performed but
Apollonius performed the same miracles earlier
and called them not miracles but expressions of
J. Paterson Smyth, How We Got Our Bible (Sampson Low,
Dan Cohn-Sherbok, The Crucified Jew (Harper Collins,1992)
Henry Hart Milman, The History of the Jews (Everyman, 1939)
Josephus, The Jewish War (Penguin, 1959)
Leslie Houlden (Ed.), Judaism & Christianity (Routledge, 1988)
Karen Armstrong, A History of Jerusalem (Harper Collins, 1999)
Jonathan N. Tubb, Canaanites (British Museum Press, 1998)
Norman Cantor, The Sacred Chain - A History of the Jews (Harper
Some fifty articles are now available as a book.
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Copyright © 2004
by Kenneth Humphreys.
Copying is freely permitted, provided credit is given to the author
and no material herein is sold for profit.