Printed from http://tektonics.org/achygosp.php
In Suns of God, Acharya S takes on the issue of the gospels, their dates, and their authenticity. In this commentary we find little that has not been addressed in our previous articles, and we will provide links where needed to refuting material.
"The Pauline epistles do not reveal any historical Jesus; nor do they demonstrate any knowledge of the existence of the four canonical gospels." The first part of this claim is false, as we show in our series refuting Earl Doherty (link 1 below). The second part is closer to true, but still false -- as we show in the same set of essays, Paul shows familiarity with the Jesus tradition found in the Gospels.
"The gospels themselves cannot be viewed as "history" written by "eyewitnesses," as has been proved repeatedly. Besides the fact that they date to much later than is supposed, the gospels frequently contradict each other, and, based on the numerous manuscripts composed over the centuries, have been determined to be a mass of some 150,000 "variant readings."
This catena of claims is variously refuted by articles in Links 2-5 below.
Acharya quotes Taylor:
In fact, no two ancient manuscripts of the New Testament agree in every respect, and more than 30,000 different readings have been discovered in one examination of 150 ancient manuscripts of The Gospel according to Luke alone.
Taylor's comments perpetuate an extremely misinformed view of textual criticism. The 30,000 "different readings" consist mainly in obvious errors in spelling, or single letters that are different; see the last linked article above for more details.
"It would be impossible to date the appearance of the gospels based on the extant manuscripts, of course, since the autographs or originals were destroyed long ago, an act that would appear to be the epitome of blasphemy, were these texts truly the precious testimonials by the Lord's very disciples themselves."
Several considerations in reply:
- The autographs and originals of all ancient documents are no longer extant; the Gospels are not special in this regard, but you will not hear an ancient historian panicking because we lack the originals of Tacitus or Josephus.
- As shown in the article last linked above, the NT is in far better shape than any other ancient document in this regard.
- There is no evidence that the autographs were "destroyed" as in intentionally, and Acharya assumes an attitude of sacramentalism that is unwarranted.
The Jews buried or stored their old MSS, and the Christians may have done the same thing; still there was nothing special about the physical texts themselves in this regard, since the words were regarded as having a life of their own (see my material at Link 6 below), but if anyone can be blamed for such destruction, it is the Romans -- not the Christians or Jews. >
" The oldest fragments that are conclusively parts of the gospels date to the third century..."
This is false. There is some Gospel materials which dates to as early as the latter part of the second century (the p66 and p75 material). The Rylands papyrus of John, which Acharya alludes to, is dated to 150 AD at the latest, but the range of possible dates is actually 100-150. Most authorities split the difference at 125. And again, this is far better than is the case for all other ancient documents, so there is no warrant for making anything of this.
Acharya's claim that the Rylands fragment "could very well belong to some earlier extra-canonical gospel such as The Acts of Pilate, otherwise known as The Gospel of Nicodemus" is completely undocumented by her and is without basis. Tekton Research Assistant Punkish adds:
There are two problems with this, 1) this work ("Gospel of Nicodemus") is usually placed as being written much later than the Gospels. The first part of the book, containing the story of the Passion and Resurrection, is not earlier than the fourth century. Its object in the main is to furnish irrefragable testimony to the resurrection. Attempts have been made to show that it is of early date-that it is, for instance, the writing which Justin Martyr meant when in his Apology he referred his heathen readers to the 'Acts' of Christ's trial preserved among the archives of Rome.
The truth of that matter is that he simply assumed that such records must exist. False 'acts' of the trial were written in the Pagan interest under Maximin, and introduced into schools early in the fourth century. The above comments are from M. R. James, "The Apocryphal New Testament" which appears in Acharya's own Recommended Reading list on her page, Religion and Myth section, together with links to amazon.com! She knows about this work, and deliberately ignores it. Can she be taken seriously after seeing this?
And 2) its contents require an editor for its material to have been used in John, if indeed it was (e.g. extended introduction to Jesus' trial by Pilate, and conversations with Jesus not in John, interlaced with those which are) But such is the opposite of Acharya's usual thesis of gospel evolution.
"This work is quoted by Justin Martyr (110-165 AD) in his First Apology, along with another early Christian document called The Memoirs of the Apostles. Although Justin makes no mention of any of the four canonical Gospels by name or of any of the other books which now make up the New Testament, he makes extensive quotations from writings similar to these and also from a number of extra-canonical books such as The Gospel of Nicodemus, The Gospel of the Ebionites, The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, The Gospel of the Hebrews, and The Protevangelium of James. Although early Christian writers appear to quote from the canonical Gospels, the earliest writer to mention all four of them by name was Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, c.200 AD, in his treatise Against Heresies, Chapter 11."
This claim and what follows may be refuted by the observations of Martin Hengel in his work The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ, as well as by notes on ancient quotation methods, found in part 3 of the series on Doherty linked above. "Punkish" adds on the PoJ:
Acharya mentions the Protevangelium of James (PJ) as if it was used of Justin Martyr (because of the annunciation report similar to Matthew and Luke, and of the saying that Jesus was born in a cave). I dont yet know what her source is (she doesnt say) but her other sources in this essay (Waite, Keeler, Cassels) have the following:
Waite uses Grynaeus' Orthodoxographa for his text (published in 1569!) instead of the text of Tischendorf (circa 1850, he knows about Tischendorf; he's listed in the Index, but is not used for PJ) and follows Schleiermacher uncritically.
Keeler uses Tischendorf but appeals to the reader (!), states his own opinion about use of a manuscript; however he then gives the conservative Westcott who says the quotes regarding the birth of Jesus were derived from an oral tradition. No examination of scholarship here. Cassels also uses Tischendorf. He seems surprised at the latters' application of it to the third decade of the 2nd century (both Waite and Keeler date it to here also, without giving references), and cites Hilgenfeld and Volkmar regarding its - conjectured Gnostic - sources. (Supern. Relig. 2 pt3)
Modern Greek texts of PJ use both Codex C (10th century) and the Bodmer 5 papyrus, the latter unknown to Tischendorf. Up to date scholarship on PJ (since the 1950s, based on arguments by Strycker) date it to the late 2nd century, and dependant upon the gospels, or independantly of Martyr.
Justin's reference to "Memoirs of the Apostles" is recognized by scholars as reference to the Gospels. They would not be called "gospels" when they were written, or for quite some time, because the word "gospel" was used originally to signify the kerygmatic message of the church, and to refer to four "gospels" would imply four entirely different messages.
Justin's term "memoirs" is the same term used to refer to the "memoirs" or reminisces of Socrates, compiled in four books by Xeneophon . It does not indicate a single book as Acharya implies.
" The early dating [of the Gospels], in fact, is mere wishful thinking on the part of those who truly believe that Jesus Christ existed and that his words, deed and life were faithfully recorded by eyewitnesses, i.e., his disciples."
Note that Acharya makes no effort at all to explain how ancient documents, generally, are dated. She makes little effort to discuss even the Gospel dates in this regard. Again, see the items linked above. Acharya's dependence on a judge (Waite) rather than a Biblical scholar, and that she makes such light of the number of pages in her source (without care for the quality), speaks volumes.
On matters of the priority of Mark, and Q, see Link 7 below.
The implication, taken from Cassels, that the Ignatian epistles are late forgeries is an issue beyond our normal parameters, but it should at least be known that this is not a position accepted by the majority of scholars.
Kuhn is quoted:
Since the time of the existence of the Gospels some portions of texts have been found in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere called Sayings or Logia, of which whole passages agree almost verbatim with their counterparts in the Gospels. Why such a fact is not accorded its full weight is hard to see. Of course Christian defenders unanimously claim for these documents a date well posterior to the Christian writings and allege they are copies of Gospel material. Yet surely documents containing identical data were extant in very ancient pre-Christian times, and this fact would seem to be in the end conclusive for the priority of the Logia to the Gospels.
Little can be said here, since no specifics are offered -- which texts? What is the evidence for their dating? Vague generalities are the refuge of those with no case to offer. Similarly vague and unsubstantiated is this quote:
Now there is plenty of evidence to show that these Sayings, the admitted foundations of the canonical Gospels, were not first uttered by a personal founder of Christianity, nor invented afterwards by any of his followers. Many of them were pre-existent, pre-historical and pre-Christian! And if it can be proved that these oracles of God and Logia of the Lord are not original after the year thirty A.D., and that they can be identified as a collection of Egyptian, Hebrew and Gnostic sayings, they would be deprived of any competence to stand as evidence that the Jesus of the Gospels ever lived as a man or teacher.
Tekton Research Assistant "Punkish" has noted about this:
...in your reply to her stuff on the gospels, what happens next is amusing. Massey, her source, then misunderstands the application of Wisdom to Christ, fails to give any Egyptian quotes to prove the claim, but does give Jewish Wisdom lit, then anachronises part of John's gospel as of Marcion. That's how he claims the sayings of the Lord are pre Christian. Here's the full text: (from "the Logia of the Lord", p53-56)
...these sayings, which are the admitted foundations of the canonical gospels, were not first uttered by a personal Founder of Christianity, nor invented afterwards by any of his followers. Many of them were pre-extant, pre-historic, and pre-christian. And if it can be proved that these oracles of God and Logia of the Lord are not original, if they can be identified as a collection, an olla podrida of Egyptian, Hebrew, and Gnostic sayings, they can afford no evidence that the Jesus of the Gospels ever lived as an historic teacher. To begin with, two of the sayings assigned to Matthew to Jesus as the personal teacher of men are these:--"Lay not up for yourselves treasure upon earth," etc., and, "If ye forgive men their trespasses your heavenly Father will also forgive you"! But these sayings had already been uttered by the feminine Logos called Wisdom, in the Apocrypha. We find them in the Book of Ecclesiasticus; "Lay up thy treasure according to the Commandments of the Most High, and it shall bring thee more profit than gold," and "Forgive thy neighbour the hurt that he hath done thee, so shall thy sins also be forgiven when thou prayest"! Wisdom was the Sayer personified long anterior to the Christ. But it has never been pretended or admitted by mankind that wisdom was ever incarnated on this earth as a woman! Yet Wisdom, or Charis, had the primary right to incarnation, for she preceded the Christ. Luke also quotes a saying of Wisdom--"Therefore also said the Wisdom of God, 'I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute';" "that the blood of all the prophets which was shed from the foundation of the world may be required of this generation." This also is quoted or adapted from the words of Wisdom recorded in a Book of Wisdom (Esdras 2nd), where we read "I sent unto you my servants, the prophets, whom ye have taken and slain, and torn their bodies in pieces, whose blood I will require of your hands, said the Lord. Thus saith the Almighty Lord, your house is desolate"! In the verses immediately preceding, the speaker in the Book of Esdras had said. "Thus saith the Almighty Lord, Have I not prayed you as a Father his sons, as a mother her daughters, and a nurse her young babes, that ye would be my people, and I should be your God; that ye would be my children, and I should be your Father? I gathered you together as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings; but now what shall I do unto you? I will cast you out." This is in one of the Books of Wisdom hidden away in our Apocrypha. Now, if we turn to the gospels of Luke and Matthew we shall find that they have quoted these words of Wisdom: but we now see that Wisdom is not credited with her own sayings concerning the Father God! On the contrary, they are given to an historic Christ, as a personal teacher and a prophet. That which was said of the house of Israel by Wisdom in Esdras is now applied to the city of Jerusalem by the Christ; and if you re-date a saying like that by a few hundred years there is little wonder if it dislocates the history. Paul likewise quotes the saying from the Book of Esdras when he says, "I will receive you and will be to you a Father, and ye shall be to me Sons and Daughters saith the Lord Almighty." But he does not refer or re-apply it to Jesus as is done in the Gospels! Here we see the current coinage of Wisdom has been defaced by the Gospel compilers--not by Paul--and then re-issued under the sign and superscription of another name, that of Jesus the Christ; and historic evidence of a nature like that is as futile as the negro's non-effective charge of gunpowder which he shrewdly suspected of having been fired off before. Paul likewise quotes or refers to one of the sayings found in Matthew. "Faithful is the saying," he writes to Timothy. But although he is speaking of the Christ, he does not say his saying, nor refer it to an historic teacher. It was one of the sayings, or true words, called the "Logia," which had been the dark sayings and parables of the pre-christian mysteries from of old, and which in Egypt were the sayings of Truth herself. The Hebrew Psalmist says, "I will utter dark sayings of old." The Proverbs of Solomon are the sayings. The Jewish Haggadah were the sayings. The Commandments were sayings, as is shown by Paul, Rom. xiii. 9. Peter, in the Clementine Recognitions, does not pretend to "pronounce the sayings of the Lord as spoken by himself" (or profess that they were spoken by himself in person, as I read the passage), he admits that it is not in their commission to say this. But they are to teach and to show from the sayings how every one of them is based upon truth. This is in reply to Simon Magus, who has pointed out the contradictory nature of the sayings. I hold it only to be a matter of time and research to prove that the sayings in general assigned to Jesus, which are taken to demonstrate his historic existence as a personal teacher, were pre-extant, pre-historic, and pre-christian. One of the sayings in the Mysteries reported by Plato was, "Many are the Thyrsus-bearers but few are the Mystics," which is echoed twice over by Matthew in the saying, "Many are called but few are chosen." "It is more blessed to give than to receive," is one of the Logia of the Lord quoted in the book of Acts, but not found in the Gospels. Two of the sayings are identified as Essenic by Josephus, who says the Essenes swear not at all, but whatsoever they say is firmer than an oath; and when Jesus says, "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another," there was certainly nothing new in that which had been a command and a practice of the Essenes ages before. Men knew who were the Essenes by their love for one another. Some of the parables appear in the Talmud, amongst them are those of the Wise and Unwise Builders and that of the Marriage Feast. Various sayings are collected from the Talmud, such as the golden rule, "Do unto others as ye would they should do unto you." "Love thy neighbour as thyself." "With the measure we mete we shall be measured again." "Let thy yea be just and thy nay be likewise just." "Whoso looketh upon the wife of another with a lustful eye is considered as if he had committed adultery." "Be of them that are persecuted, not of them that persecute." But as Deutsch has said, to assume that the Talmud borrowed these from the New Testament would be like assuming that Sanskrit sprang from Latin. The nature of the "Sayings" is acknowledged by Irenæus when he says, "According to no one Saying of the heretics is the word of God made flesh." That is the Sayings which were current among the Gnostics as Knowers. Marcion knew and quoted the Gnostic saying which was afterwards amplified and quoted in John's Gospel--"No one knew the father save the son, nor the son save the father, and he to whom he will reveal him." This is a Gnostic saying, and it involves the Gnostic doctrine which cannot be understood independently of the Gnosis. It is quoted as one of the sayings before it was reproduced in the Gospel according to John.
Punkish adds that Acharya credits Kuhn, but Kuhn is actually using Massey.
On the Gospel of Thomas, see Link 8 below.
There is no evidence for Massey's claim that GThom sayings are paralleled in the Egyptian Book of the Dead. This is something that GThom scholarship -- Stephen Patterson, Stevan Davies, etc. -- make no reference to.
"Moreover, the concept of personified Wisdom, or Sophia, which became developed in Hellenistic Judaism and pre-Christian Gnostic sects, and which was merged into the Logos/Christ, can be found in the Canaanite, Phoenician and Aramaic cultures as well."
This may be true, but what of it? The Semitic cultures as a whole believed that words had a life of their own, whether they came from a person or a deity (see link above). This is a broad cultural motif and it makes no difference if the idea is found earlier.
"Christian authority Hegesippus (fl. 2nd cent.) likewise does not use the canonical gospels but quotes from the lost Gospel of the Hebrews..."
Since, as is not mentioned at all, the works of Hegesippus are lost to us other than quotes preserved in other works, there is something of an obfuscation in these points. His works cannot be used as evidence by either side of this debate.
Keeler, another non-scholar, is quoted as saying:
A light on the date of "Luke's Gospel" is found in the item that Theophilus, the friend to whom Luke addresses himself in the opening chapter, was Bishop of Antioch from about 169-177 a.d. (Cath. Ency., XIV, 625).
As I noted previously, this claim, also made by Lloyd Graham, is groundless, and if it ever did appear in the Catholic Encyclopedia, it no longer does (or if it did, it was pre-1944, as the source for this is a writer named Kuhn from then -- a research associate has tried to track this down, and suspects that the original source is a confusion of Luke with an Autolycus.)
It is hardly likely that there was only one Theophilus who ever existed (perhaps the bishop of Antioch was named after Luke's patron? -- and how common was the name "Theophilus"?). Other comments by Keeler (as well as comments made in regard to Justin Martyr and the "Memoirs of the Apostles", and why the Gospels are not named by Justin as we refer to them, i.e., "The Gospel According to Mark") are refuted by reference to Hengel's material above.
Punkish adds on Keeler: Bronson Keeler is introduced by Acharya as a "scholar", yet his own words deny this. The subtitle of the book "A Short History of the Bible" is, "Being a Popular Account of the Formation and Development of the Canon", which gives it away somewhat. And, in the Preface we find that the work is meant to fill the gap of religious literature about the formation of the Canon in an "elementary way". In chapter 1, Keeler admits the evidence presented is "easily accessible to most" - using church authorities of the day (1881) - and giving instructions on using Chicago's public library...One of Keeler's authorities is Prof Samuel Davidson, who was forced to resign his post (chair of biblical criticism, literature and oriental languages at the Lancashire Independent College at Manchester) for unsound views in 1857 because of publication of his Introduction to the Old Testament...
...[W]e have Acharya S (on the gospels), she writes: (Bronson Keeler section)
'Keeler notes that in Clement's Epistles to the Corinthians "there is no mention of either Matthew, Mark,Luke or John." [Short History,18]
This note is found in his introductory comments (first chapter), as are most of Acharya's uses of Keeler. In reply, Clement quotes from Old Testament books without mentioning the name of the work quoted, e.g. introducing quotes from Genesis with "it is written" and "it is said",etc: so should we argue that at the end of the first century Genesis was not known? Of course not; and Jesus' words are introduced in Clement in the same manner. Therefore Keeler's statement is misleading at best.
Keeler also gets quoted for this:
"Of our Gospels Luke was probably compiled or written about 170 A.D., Mark about 175 A.D., John about 178 A.D., and Matthew about 180 A.D."
For a supposed scholar, it's really strange that this isn't even footnoted - no writers listed who support this - this is simply Keeler's opinion. Part of the basis for this statement is he argued that most of Luke was written by Marcion and what we have today is a forged extension of this - an opinion abandoned by scholars even prior to his book! (two examples would be, Volkmar: Das Evangelium Marcions, Leipz., 1852, and Sanday: The Gospels in the Second Century, London, 1876 cited in Schaff, History of the Christian Church Vol 1 chp 12 - these were accepted by scholars as conclusively proving Luke's priority)
Schaff even notes (Vol 1, chap 3, sect 2) that the author of Supernatural Religion, (i.e. Cassels, 7th Ed.) abandoned his error regarding Marcion because of Volkmar and Sanday.
Davidson, one of Keeler's own sources would later write,
"There is no doubt that Marcion had the Gospel of Luke, which he adapted to his own ideas by arbitrary treatment. He lived before Justin, about a.d. 140, and is the earliest writer from whom we learn the existence of the Gospel." (Introd., new ed., I. 446)
re: Davidson on dating Matthew,
Dr. Samuel Davidson, in the second ed. of his Introd. to the N. T. (London, 1882, vol. I. 413-416), assigns the present Greek Matthew with Volkmar to 105, but assumes an Aramaean original and Greek paraphrases of the same which were written before the destruction of Jerusalem. (Schaff, ibid, note 913)
"The first writer who mentions either of the Evangelists by name as an author is Theophilus of Antioch, 180 A.D. He speaks of John's Gospel; but he says nothing of the writer having been an apostle, simply calling him an inspired man."
To be accurate Theophilus writes of John,
- which places John among the Old Testament writers because he
"...treats of such subjects as the Christian idea of God, the Scripture accounts of the origin of man and the world as compared with pagan myths."
(Cath. Enc. on Theophilus XIV 625, which she has in front of her) What reason is there to make mention of apostleship here? (but before she gets on her high horse "compared" here has the meaning "contrasts" because Theophilus is writing to distinguish the 'inspiration' of Greek writers with Scripture) Her source also decries his apologetic opponents, without saying who they are or which work he's complaining of (regarding the Justin Martyr quote she uses, plus Keeler notes that "orthodoxy" i.e. mainstream scholarship knows that the Memoirs Martyr uses are considered to be the Gospels, but he rejects this on the basis that Justin does not say so!) - this is hardly fair criticism!
Keeler doesnt engage arguments as such, but simply parrots radical, rationalistic Tubingenlike views. For Acharya to claim this man was a scholar is outrageous: the work deserves to be filed, where it belongs, under "Forgotten" in the Chicago public library.
"Regarding the Gospel of John, Jerome and Irenaeus stated that it was written to refute the writings of the Gnostic "heretic" Cerinthus, who "denied the incarnation of our Lord" and who flourished around 150 CE, even though John was said to have died around 100. The conclusion is that the gospel could have existed no earlier than the time of Cerinthus."
Punkish has done some looking and says: This is all true, except for the date of Cerinthus (she now has the reference to both Jerome and Irenaeus in her article) - all authorities (e.g. Catholic Encyclopedia) place Cerinthus contemporary with John because of the bath house incident: "There are also those who heard from [Polycarp] that John, the disciple of the Lord, going to bathe at Ephesus, and perceiving Cerinthus within, rushed out of the bath-house without bathing, exclaiming, "Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within." ... Such was the horror which the apostles and their disciples had against holding even verbal communication with any corrupters of the truth..."
This is found in Irenaeus' Against Heresies Book III (same book as the quote she gave) chapter III,4, and demonstrates Cerinthus' error was already known by 100. Regarding Jerome, she adds the quote from the Matthean commentary, but avoids Jerome's comments in "Illustrious Men" where he writes, after mentioning Cerinthus as the reason for composing John: "But there is said to be yet another reason for this work, in that when [John] had read Matthew, Mark, and Luke, he approved indeed the substance of the history and declared that the things they said were true."
"It also should be noted that Martyr's works did not escape the centuries of mutilation and massive interpolation that took place in virtually every ancient author's works, which makes the disentanglement all that more difficult."
Not a shred of textual or other evidence is provided for this assertion, which, if true, requires a dramatic paradigm shift unknown in current patristic scholarship, as well as hard textual evidence of mutilation and interpolation (which Acharya apparently extends to even more ancient authors, again with no evidence presented).
"In addition to the Memoirs and the Gospel of the Hebrews, other texts used by Justin include the Acts of Pilate (Gospel of Nicodemus), which he named, and the Protevangelion and Gospel of the Infancy, as shown by Waite, among others. Justin also likely used the Gospel of Peter or "Memoirs of Peter," as he alludes to it. Another source for Justin's "narrative" is the Sibylline Oracles, which reflect the essential points of the gospel tale."
Punkish has this report: Charles Waite should not be used as a source here because evidence was uncovered after he wrote (in 1881) in the form of previously unknown manuscript fragments and its contents give it away as Docetic - further information is found in M R James: "It has been contended that Justin Martyr also used it soon after the middle of that century, but the evidence is not demonstrative. I believe it is not safe to date the book much earlier than A. D. 150....It uses all four canonical Gospels, and is the earliest uncanonical account of the Passion that exists. It is not wholly orthodox: for it throws doubt on the reality of the Lord's sufferings, and by consequence upon the reality of his human body. In other words it is, as Serapion of Antioch indicated, of a Docetic character." (M R James, Apocrypha of the NT)
When Waite was writing his History of the Christian Religion to the Year 200, he was a judge with a *hobby* in religious literature. What's a proclaimed scholar like Acharya doing quoting hobbyists for sourcework?
So, once again, Acharya is outside the pale of scholarly authority.