Frank Zindler Refuted

Critique: "The Real Bible: Who's Got It?"

Zindler tells us we have three problems if we want to believe the Bible:

  1. "How can one know which books are 'inspired' and should be part of the scriptural canon?"
  2. "How can one know which one - if any - of the existing contradictory manuscripts (MSS) of a given book preserves the 'true' wording?"
  3. "Assuming that one has the correct manuscript (MS) of a given book, how can one know what the particular Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic words mean?"

Zindler declares, "there is no way these questions can be answered with absolute certainty. At best, believers must trust to the probabilities - not certainties - that arise from a scientific investigation of the facts surrounding the biblical texts and traditions."

The theme of my reply: And what exactly is the problem?

Straightforwardly, Zindler is far off base if he believes that these issues will worry anyone but a few extremist fundamentalists. Do these questions cause me concern? No. Should they cause you concern? Absolutely not. Let's see why.

Question 1: Which Books?

Zindler asks, there are many canons out there -- which one is right? The Catholic one? The Protestant one? The Samaritan one?

There is some quite misinformed commentary alongside: "If to be 'saved' one needs to have information found, say, in Revelation, 2 Paralipomenon, or Baruch, isn't it odd of god to let so many people be born into environments deficient in books needed for salvation?" -- the last I checked, no variation of canon within the Christian church, at least, thought that the smaller canons were lacking any soteriological data not present in the larger ones. But after appealing to the spectre of diversity by listing some of the different numbers of books in canons and different books listed by different persons, Zindler lists councils and histories and opinions all the way up to the Reformation and leaves the matter at that, leaving the reader to conclude that this is a mess of confusion and there's no way to know what really is canonical.

To which we say: Overstatement has its place in Zindler's canon, at least.

Are things really that bad? Hardly. When it comes to the OT, Zindler tries hard to find some deviation among the Samaritans; he admits that their canon was inspired by ulterior motives, and that ends all viable use of their canon for his argument. If Aunt Hattie decides she doesn't like Ephesians because it uses the word "darkness" (she's afraid of the dark), and cuts it out, she does not form an independent and authoritative witness to a differing canon to be considered valid. Neither does Luther's opinion on James.

The natural human tendency towards syncretism, and the application of personally-preferred truths to the minimization of those found less comfortable, is inescapable, especially in our modern, post-modern environment. Whether God had a hand in the selection and forming of the canon, or whether it was just a random assortment thrown together by the winds of history, the result will be the same: There will always be those, believer and non-believer alike, who will take mental pen in hand and "cross out" the parts of the Bible (or any set of ideas, for that matter) that they find uncomfortable, or add on things that will personally give them a warm and fuzzy feeling inside.

In a sense, we each form our own canon of acceptable ideas; we each have our own "apocrypha" of marginal thoughts, and our own collection of ideas which we discard into the void, dismissing them from our canon of thought entirely. Resistance to a fixed set of ideas, perceived as limiting our freedom to do as we please, is as old a tendency as humanity itself. Zindler is pointing the fault arrow in the wrong direction to begin with.

Zindler also has an overstated idea of just how important a canon is to begin with. The idea of a "canon" did not originate with the Bible. The Israelites had a model to go on, one which was in circulation in Egyptian and Mesopotamian society. Vasholz, using the example of the Poem of Erra and other documents from the 12th to 8th centuries BC, notes these four core (commonsense) steps:

These essential "canon concepts," then, were "there for the taking" at the time when the OT was being put together and involves no radical innovation or supposition of historical invention. The ancient "canonical" concept appears in its earliest form in the OT in Exodus 17:14 and Deuteronomy 31:24-6, where emphasis is made upon preservation of material as a memorial and as a witness. This is the seed from which an OT canon, or set of established books, grew.

Ideas about the earliest organization of the canon remain purely hypothetical. Some suggest that Ezra and/or Nehemiah were responsible for the first true organization, with Judas Maccabeaus being the one who put an "official" deposit of the sacred writings in the Temple.

The earliest "hard" indication we have of any sort of classification or categorization of OT books - aside from internal OT references to the books of Moses, and assuming that the reference is not a late interpolation, as some do - comes from the Wisdom of Sirach, a book dated to approximately 130 BC and written by Sirach's grandson. The classification scheme refers to the law, the prophets, and the "other" ancestral books.

This does not reflect a "fixed" canon of books, merely a basic classification scheme, although it is known that most of what we call the OT today was indeed put into one of these three classes - indicating what Campenhausen calls, at this time, a "normative collection of sacred writings" as settled. The suggestion in Sirach is that the "law" and "prophets" were recognized bodies of literature, whereas "other ancestral books" seems to have been more fluid. In particular, the books of Moses are recognized as Scripture as early as the 2nd century BC, being named as such in the Letter of Aristeas.

At about the same time, though no titles are given, the Book of Jubilees indicates that there are 22 accepted books.

Of the "prophets," MacDonald asserts that there "seems to be little doubt that by ca. 200 BCE most of the Jewish people had recognized in some sense a collection of writings called the 'Prophets,' " that probably consisted of most of our OT prophetic writings, along with Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and the Kings books, although we cannot be certain of the exact content of the collection. (MacDonald diverges from the traditional view and dates some of the OT books, such as Daniel, quite late.)

The third class, which Sirach calls "other," is to be equated with what was later called the "Writings" or "Hagiographa," and was not as restricted in content as the first two categories until after the time of the Council of Jamnia in the late first century.

Our next evidence of a threefold division comes from the work of the Jewish historian Philo. In his Contemplative Life, written early in the first century, Philo writes of "the laws and the sacred oracles of God enunciated by the holy prophets, and hymns, and psalms, and all kinds of other things" - perhaps a rough equivalence of Sirach's law, prophets and "other" categories. Again, however, we have no specific catalog of books to work with, nor even a number of books.

A more clear delineation of a threefold division comes from the New Testament. In Luke 24:44, Jesus refers to "the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms" - again, showing that while the first two sections seem to be stable, the third section has not yet been clearly defined; and as yet, there is no clear evidence of a "closed" canon for all three sections.

The next piece of data comes from Josephus' description of the Jewish holy books in Contra Apion 1.8, dated c. 93-95 AD. After clearly identifying the Pentateuch as the work of Moses, Josephus writes:

From the death of Moses until Artaxerxes...the prophets who followed after Moses recorded their deeds in thirteen books. The remaining four comprise hymns to God and rules of ethical conduct for men.

With that in mind, let us count together to reach a plausible assessment of Josephus' 22 books:

Leiman argues that Josephus' description here indicates a canon that has been decided upon and closed for quite some time, for he says: "...for although such long ages have now passed, no one has ventured either to add, or to remove, or to alter a syllable." Josephus' Roman readers would have been able to "check out" such an extraordinary claim.

The same number of books is testified to by the Bryennius List and the canon of Epiphanus, both dated to near the time of Josephus; and 4 Ezra (c. 100 AD) lists 24, likely having Ruth and Lamentations separated. (To be fair, we should note that some would argue that to combine Ruth and Judges, and Lamentations with Jeremiah, to reach 22, is without basis, other than these later witnesses such as Eusebius; and that it is rather bold to equate Josephus' 22 books with our present OT canon. However, MacDonald offers no better alternative; if nothing else, we may suggest that perhaps Josephus' 22 books comes from the exclusion of 2 of the OT's most disputed books, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs; and a bit inconsistently, MacDonald allows that the 24-book collection of 4 Ezra was "likely" to have been the same as our current OT, although he will not state that it was definitely those 24 books!)

Often cited as a concrete step in the OT canonization procedure is the Council of Jamnia, as Zindler also does. But this seems to have been more a discussion group or college confirming what was already known rather than a canon council. In terms of the canon, the most that Jamnia did was ratify "what the most spiritually sensitive souls in Judaism had been accustomed to regard as being Scripture." In the late second century AD, there is distinct evidence that the OT as we know it is fully formed, albeit with some debate being held over "whether Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes are inspired literature" and perhaps some idea of including Sirach (ibid., 81) or excluding Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Ruth, Esther, Proverbs or Ezekiel (ibid., 82). However, "on the basis of the available evidence...the process of closing the Hebrew biblical canon began during the course of the second century CE and the beginning of the third." There did continue to be some variations in lists of sacred books into the fifth century, but the core of the OT canon had been well established before that.

And what about the Apocrypha of the OT? This section, which appeared in the Septuagint (LXX), is explained by MacDonald:

The best explanation for the larger collection of sacred writings in the LXX and later in the Christian canons is that the process of limiting the number of sacred scriptures in Palestine among the Jews began after the time when Judaism had a significant effect upon the Christian community...When the Jews of a Pharisaic bent met as a college at Jamnia ca. 90 CE and, among other things, discussed sacred literature, the Christians had already decided to use the wider collection of sacred Jewish writings they had inherited from pre-70 Judaism. George Anderson is no doubt correct, therefore, when he concludes that the third part of the Jewish canon, the Writings, was still imprecise before Jamnia and that it was left up to the churches to carry out the further definition of their Christian canon, and more specifically of the third part of the OT scriptures...

And Metzger adds:

How far some of (these books) were accorded a degree of authority in certain Jewish circles cannot now be accurately determined. Undoubtedly there was an interval during which their religious value was being appraised, along with that of some of the later books now included in the third division of the Hebrew canon.

This confusion resulted in a fluctuating OT canon on the part of the NT church. There was a lack of precise settlement in the Jewish community over the third division of their canon - although we note that the other two divisions, the Law and the Prophets, were sufficiently settled.

So is Zindler's proclamation of problems warranted for the OT? Hardly. And if this is so, it is even less warranted for the NT. His objections are just as easily rebutted:

  1. "Spectre of diversity" arguments. Zindler cites disagreements among believers concerning which books belong in the canon, with the implicit or direct conclusion that these disagreements are prime fodder for disproving the veracity of the canonical process. The conclusion is unwarranted, and involves overplaying the disagreements and their importance while ignoring the basic unity of canonical and doctrinal decisions. It is the sort of argument generally offered by the uninformed.

    Such objections, when encountered, should be taken seriously ONLY if the arguer can offer some reason why the competing view or book itself ought to be taken seriously. They should also demonstrate some knowledge of the form and content of the book in question. Simply throwing titles in the air and shouting, "Why was/wasn't THIS in the canon?" is not a sufficient form of argument; nor is pointing to this or that church somewhere and asking why they include a particular book in the canon and others do not. Without knowing the history behind such inclusions or exclusions, the argument is of no use.

  2. Motivational arguments. It may be argued, as Zindler does, that some sort of bias, power play, or other motivational factor was at work in the formation of the NT canon by various church councils. Again, such arguments are generally advanced only by the uninformed. As we shall see, the councils did nothing more than confirm what was already believed by the church at large. The church was not dependent upon the decision of a council for the contents of the NT. As MacDonald points out, "(i)n the broadest definition of the term 'canon,' neither the Israelites nor the Christians were ever without a canon or authoritative guide; they always had a story that enabled them to establish their identity and give life to their community." And Sanders adds: "Canon functions, for the most part, to provide indications of the identity as well as the lifestyle of the ongoing community that reads it." The "Canon" with a capital C was merely a written codification of what had already been established for the Jews and the Christians.

What factors decided the formation of the NT canon? Far from being an arbitrary process, the formation of the canon was the result of carefully-weighed choices over time by concerned church officials and members. Later votes on the canon were merely the most definitive steps taken at the end of a long and careful, sometimes difficult, process. Grant notes that the NT canon was...

...not the product of official assemblies or even of the studies of a few theologians. It reflects and expresses the ideal self-understanding of a whole religious movement which, in spite of temporal, geographical, and even ideological differences, could finally be united in accepting these 27 diverse documents as expressing the meaning of God's revelation in Jesus Christ and to his church.

And what of those who happened to disagree with one or more choices of these councils, the "final arbiter," so to speak? Of course individual Christians are free to choose for themselves what books are infallible; but in doing so they should not demand that the church alter their own systems of belief to accommodate them. Any group or organization needs a set of rules or guidelines in order to function. To that end, attempts to change or significantly alter the rules should be put under careful consideration, and, if they significantly alter the purposes of the group, and are not acceptable to the majority, should be rejected. As with any group, of course, there are those who will protest the change or lack thereof; and (in a free organization) they are thereupon left with two choices: either take your lumps and live with the status quo, or leave. This should be kept in mind as we consider, later on, divergences in the early church, in particular those related to Gnosticism.

For today, of course, we are free as always to choose what parts of the Bible we accept...Does the letter to the Ephesians offend thee? Pluck it out, and throw it away, and hope that it was not put there under divine guidance! Does the Shepherd of Hermas appeal to thee, or Martin Luther King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail"? Get thee scissors and paste and add it in - and hope that the warning in Revelation about "adding on" to what has been written means something else other than adding to the Bible! Certainly no divine force stopped President Jefferson from clipping his own "Bible" from the original texts! At any rate, as we have alluded to earlier, if we believe that God had any part in the individual books of the Bible, then it is a necessary corollary that He also took a hand in the formation of the canon; and one who does believe in such influence by God should not take any choice of "which books they regard as infallible" lightly - unless they would care to proclaim themselves to be more "in" with God than those fourth- and fifth-century church councils; in which case, one might as well proclaim that all of us should prefer their choices to those of the councils.

(Naturally, the councils should not be given absolute authority; however, given that they represent a voice of a community of the Holy Spirit, their decisions should be accorded very high weight, and require extraordinary evidence to overthrow. Council authority, as with scholarly consensus, has no authority by itself; but if I hold a contrary position I should develop at least two or three times the arguments and/or evidence I would need than if I had agreed with the council.)

The data indicates that while "problems" and disagreements did exist, there was remarkable agreement, as a whole, concerning the composition of the NT canon, and relatively quickly. To summarize in advance:

20 of the 27 NT books were accepted easily. Metzger tells us that:

Although the fringes of the emerging canon remained unsettled for generations, a high degree of unanimity concerning the greater part of the New Testament was attained among the very diverse and scattered congregations of believers not only throughout the Mediterranean world, but also over an area extending from Britain to Mesopotamia.

And MacDonald adds, with perhaps a touch of hyperbole:

But this question, like most over which Christians disagree, is not the cutting edge of what Christianity is all about...there was division everywhere in the church on the books that might be called the 'fringe,' but there was very little disagreement over what was at the core of the matter...The division of opinion...was not over the core, but over the 'fringe.'

7 books had a more difficult time - a "fringe" Metzger and MacDonald write of:

...the determination of the canon rested upon a dialectical combination of historical and theological criteria. It is therefore not surprising that for several generations the precise status of a few books remained doubtful.(ibid.)

There were miscellaneous works that had their own unique histories. Single works such as the Shepherd of Hermas bounced in and out of favor rapidly, never achieving the level of acceptance over an extended period as the books eventually deemed canonical did.

We now move to issue of reasons for inclusion and/or exclusion from the canon.

Discussion Criterion #1 - Inspiration

Were books included or excluded because of their inspirational quality? It may come as a surprise to some - Christians and skeptics alike! - that the Church Fathers "did not seem to have regarded inspiration as the ground of the Bible's uniqueness." Rather , inspiration was just one of many aspects of the life of the church, and one could regularly speak and write under inspiration, as Jerome did. As MacDonald puts it:

There is no question that the early church believed that its scriptures were inspired by God, but...the canonical scriptures were not the only ancient literature that was believed to be inspired by God.

And Gamble adds: "...we nowhere find an instance of inspiration being used as a criteria of discrimination." So it is that Justin, for example, believed that "inspiration and the Holy Spirit's power were the possessions of the whole church." Inspiration was not a criterion of canonicity, but a corollary of it: something that was inspired COULD be canonical, but something NOT inspired could NEVER be canonical. In that regard, I am in agreement with the Church Fathers: Truth is truth, wherever you find it. Inasmuch as a writer, even an atheist or a pagan, repeats that which is true (even unwittingly), they reflect some level of inspiration.

Discussion Criterion #2 - The Rule of Faith

The rule of faith criteria states that nothing shall be accepted which is at variance with accepted scriptures or that teaches false doctrine. To be accepted into the canon, a book mus conform with the community's rule of faith.

Objection: This is a circular argument: The canon endorses your doctrine and practices, and your practices and doctrine endorse your canon. This cannot be a viable criteria.

Once again, this is an objection generally made by the uninformed: Before being taken seriously, it should at least be accompanied by an exposition of heresies in the early church, their sources, their reasoning, how many Christians believed what, etc. The argument is circular only when one arbitrarily closes the circle by not pursuing further information!

Grant writes that such an argument, as above, from authority "is" circular; but only in that such arguments "lie of the edge of a circle drawn around the center, which is Christ." Gamble says: "By a fruitful synergy, scripture helped to mold the tradition of faith, and the tradition of faith helped to shape the canon of scripture" - and adds that, in any event, this criteria was NOT applied to the Gospels and the Pauline letters, which means that the circle had a solid center at any rate! Even MacDonald, who (wrongly, I believe) finds no unified view of orthodoxy in the NT, goes as far as saying that "If the NT has a theological core everywhere acknowledged or reasonably assumed, it is simply this, that 'Jesus-the-man-now-exalted' is worthy of faithful obedience and that the promise of the blessing of God awaits all who follow him." Us, worry? Zindler needs a vacation.

Discussion Criterion #3 - Apostolic Authority

Here is what is, in our opinion, the primary consideration for acceptance of the a work into the NT canon: A work must have been authored by an Apostle or an immediate follower of an Apostle. And of course this is a sensible idea: the persons most qualified to write about a great teacher or leader, whether it be Jesus, Martin Luther King, or Gandhi, are usually either: a) family (as with James and Jude, who by virtue of their association with Jesus and decision to follow Him became de facto Apostles), b) immediate followers (the Apostles), or c) immediate followers of those followers (Mark, Luke).

We have previously noted our seven "fringe" books - the history behind these demonstrate the care which was taken to ensure that the criterion of apostolic authority was followed. These seven books listed gained access to the canon only after considerable debate over whether they could be attributed to the persons that bear their names (or in the case of Hebrews, to Paul or one of his close companions such as Barnabas, Luke or Apollos). It would be quite correct to say of the NT as a whole that those who doubted apostolic authorship of a particular book also denied that book's canonicity - and this was still a means of denying a book's canonicity thousands of years later!

Discussion Criterion #4 - Church Usage

One final criteria we will consider that may have acted for inclusion of certain books is usage in the church. It stands to reason, of course, that no book could be canonized unless the church used it! Thus, MacDonald :

Although a number of Christians have thought that church councils determined what books were to be included in the biblical canons, a more accurate reflection of the matter is that the councils recognized or acknowledged those books that had already obtained prominence from usage among the various early Christian communities.

However, let it not be said - and here we disagree with MacDonald - that "(w)idespread usage in the churches appears to be the best explanation of why some writings were recognized and preserved as authoritative..." We may agree that this played some role, but it cannot be the primary criteria, for there was surely some reason WHY these books became widely used! (I would argue that, based on the evidence, apostolic authority was the primary criteria, with the "rule of faith" as a corollary, though not in a secondary way.)

Now, let us consider the process whereby the NT was canonized.

Stage One - Founders' Authority

As would be expected, in the earliest stage of church history (mid-to-late first/early second century) the words of Jesus Himself were considered to be authoritative: "The earliest canon of faith for the Christian community was Jesus himself, whose words and deeds were interpreted afresh in the numerous sociological contexts of the early Christians....what Jesus said, whether it existed in written or in oral form, was authoritative for the church and was held in the highest regard." (ibid, 138-9) As early as Paul, the words of Jesus "already have a fixed form and uncontested validity." Extant writings of the Apostolic Fathers (Clement, Ignatius, Papias, Polycarp) indicate a body of authoritative literature and sayings that was called upon, although this authority was not officially recognized as a "canon." In this stage, we find what Metzger calls "the warranty arising from the fact that these words are preserved in such and such books which deserve the readers' confidence." We also find a reliance on oral tradition, which relates in part, perhaps, to a "cultural presupposition" that writing was an unworthy means of transmission. As the Apostles pass away, authority is then vested in "apostolical men" like Papias and Polycarp who can still bring to the fore direct memory of the teachings of the Apostles.

The Epistle of 1 Clement (ibid, 41), for example, dated by some to c. 95 AD (we prefer a pre-70 date), exhorts readers to "remember the words of the Lord Jesus" and contains quotations from Jesus which are found in our present texts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. 1 Clement also contains allusions to Romans, Galatians, Philippians, and Ephesians, as well as possibly Hebrews, Acts, James, and 1 Peter. The former "may presuppose the existence of a collection of Pauline Epistles." Paul's works, and therefore Paul himself, are clearly recognized as authoritative. (For more on this, see our Appendix at the end of this work.)

Per Metzger, NT works cited or alluded to - in actuality and in probability - by Apostolic Fathers are:

Not cited or alluded to are Titus, Philemon, and 2 Corinthians; 2 Peter, Jude, 2 and 3 John. However, no conclusions may be drawn from this for two reasons:

First, except for 2 Corinthians, all of these books are so short that it is possible that there was never any need to refer to them - especially in light of the fact that:

Second, as Metzger indicates, the total extant works of the Apostolic Fathers fits "a volume about the same size as the New Testament"! It would therefore have been very fortunate if we had indeed had witness to all 27 NT books.

At this stage, none of the NT books was recognized as Scripture (with the exception of a verse from Luke being recognized as Scripture in 2 Timothy - which of course requires defending the early date of that book, which we will not engage here, but will look at elsewhere); but they did function as Scripture in the means whereby they were used, for they were used authoritatively. MacDonald: "It is clear that the sayings of Jesus had a scripture-like status from the very beginning of the church."

From what I have seen so far - and I will note if I find out otherwise - NONE of the non-canonical works of the NT are recognized or quoted as authoritative in this stage! We DO have several quotations that were evidently preserved by means of oral tradition - but NONE that appear uniquely in the non-canonical works. This would point to the non-canonical works being of a later date than the canonical works (range of 50-100 AD), and would certainly move to destroy any claim that they were written by authoritative eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus!

Stage Two - Clarification and Protection

All too soon, it seemed, the "honeymoon" was over. The syncretistic beast of Gnosticism was starting to breathe down the Church's neck, ready to absorb Jesus into its fold. Because of this, a need arose to ensure the "stamp of apostolic guarantee" on all materials - and at the same time, oral tradition lost its importance. To keep Gnosticism and other heresies from destroying Christianity, or else morphing it out of all recognizance, it was seen to be necessary to set things down "in stone" once and for all. In a perverse sort of way, heretics were partially responsible for the formation of the NT canon! They motivated the church to identify - and eventually canonize - the true works of the Apostles. These heretical movements, therefore, had a "collective" influence on the setting of the canon.

Let us consider briefly some of these heretics and what they stood for.

Heretic #1 - Basilides (117-138 AD)

There were undoubtedly many heretics before Basilides, but he is the first major heretic for whom we have any significant evidence. His prime point was that he "denied that Jesus really suffered on the cross" - in line with the Gnostic idea that a divine being could not undergo such suffering. Instead, Basilides proposed that at the last minute, Simon of Cyrene was switched with Jesus, and as Simon was crucified, Jesus laughed at His enemies, and ascended into heaven.

Clearly, this view is antithetical to Christianity, which holds that Jesus' suffering on the cross paid for our sins. If there was no cross for Jesus, then there was no payment for sins. Basilides would have gutted Christianity and turned it into a form of Gnosticism, and that would have would have rendered it sterile for REALLY changing lives and for God's design for transforming the world.

One positive thing that was left behind by Basilides, however: he is known to have quoted the book of 1 Corinthians with the formula, "the scripture says" - the first recorded incidence of a NT quote by that formula (other than the reference in 2 Timothy to Luke).

Heretic #2 - Valentinus (135-165)

With Valentinus, we have a heretic who not only tried to change Christianity - using a mix of his own teachings, genuine Christian ideas, and "Oriental and Greek speculations" - but also wrote his own Gospel, which he called "The Gospel of Truth." Now it is evident that there is a recognition here of the authority of a written work - and also, indirect evidence that Valentinus was aware that OTHERS made use of books that were considered authoritative; or else, he would not give his work such a bodacious name as "The Gospel of Truth"! He undoubtedly had to compete with the authoritatively-recognized works of Christianity, so he did what would approximate in our day to putting a label on his work that said, "New and Improved"! In any event, being that he was obviously creating his own material, and was not vested with apostolic authority, there was absolutely no reason to recognize anything he wrote or said as being authoritative for Christianity.

Heretic #3 - Marcion

We come now to the heretic who is credited more than any other for forcing the issue of the creation of a canon - the man who "tabled once and for all the question of a new canon." This was the heretic Marcion.

Marcion was no slouch. He was a wealthy shipowner, and manifestly quite intelligent. But in July 144 AD, he was called upon by the clergy in Rome to expound upon some views of his that he had been promulgating - and what he said was so shocking that it resulted not only in his excommunication, but also in the return of a substantial amount of largesse that he had donated to the church. (Regardless of what any skeptic might say, the clergy were certainly men of principle in that regard!)

What did Marcion believe? His basic idea was that the God of the OT was incompatible with the Jesus of the NT - and so he sought to sever the connection between the two. He believed in a sort of Zoroastrian dualism (described by Blackman as "grotesque"), with the OT God being the just and severe Creator, and the NT God a god of love, combined with an "exaggerated Paulinism" [ibid., 103]. To the end of promoting his view, Marcion went through the Pauline epistles, choosing only some of them (Galatians, the Corinthian letters, Romans, the Thessalonian letters, Ephesians [as Laodecians], Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon) and "removed whatever he judged were interpolations - that is, anything that did not agree with his understanding of what Paul should have written." He also gutted the Gospel of Luke for his purposes, accepting only about 3/4 of it as authentic and with the sliced-and-diced Pauline epistles, created his own informal "canon." The result of his changes, which were in the main omissions with a few additions and substitutions, was a set of books completely emasculated of Jewish elements, "an anti-Jewish rejection of both the value of the OT scriptures and the Jewish influence on the Christian community". The Marcionite churches promoted a few other oddities: For example, Marcionism forbade marriage and children, so that (like the modern Shakers) all converts had to come from outside. No one was born a Marcionite - not legally in their view, at any rate!

Some things should be noted here:

In closing: While some have greatly overvalued Marcion's contribution to the formation of the NT canon (see particularly, he certainly did serve as a wake-up call for the church.

Heretic #4 - The Montanists

The Montanist heresy, which began either 156 or 172 AD, was perhaps not as destructive as other heresies, but like Marcionism, it spurred the church onwards to the fixing of a canon. The Montanists focused on "ecstatic utterances" and created "new scriptures" based on those utterances. (None of these works are today extant.) Obviously, there would be a need to ensure that none of these "uttered" works somehow became confused with those that had apostolic authorship!

At around the same time, a lesser group called the Alogi rejected the books of Revelation and John's Gospel, and Hebrews as well, arguing that the first two were not by John the Apostle, but by the heretic Cerinthus (ibid., 150-1), and the latter was not by Paul. Note again that it is apostolic authority that is being used as a criteria for acceptance!

Stage Three - Lists and Canons

The last major stage consists of final forms of the New Testament canon. Here we will find, as Metzger tells us, a striking agreement as far as the core of the NT, in spite of barriers of distance and doctrine. It is at this time, c. 200 AD, that Campenhausen tells us that the NT truly reached its final form and significance. This is not, we should point out in response to certain skeptics, due to any kind of influence or force being used or because of power plays by church officials. Rather, Von Campenhausen writes [ibid., 331-2]:

...official decisions by the Church are not involved. Synodal judgments and episcopal pastoral letters concerning the contents of the Bible become usual only in the fourth century, and at first are of only local importance. They encourage uniformity between the various areas of the church, but are unable to bring about a completely uniform canon until the Middle Ages.

Lert it not be said, then, that force was the prime mover behind acceptance of the NT canon!

Metzger divides his history between the Eastern and Western sectors of the Roman Empire; we shall follow suit for convenience.

Eastern Stages

Metzger notes these three significant developments in the Eastern half of the late Roman Empire in the late 2nd century AD:

The four Gospels became a sort of "mini-canon," a closed collection which would admit no other Gospels. "...the Gospels became part of the (final) canon as a collection and not individually."

The Pauline letters, Acts, and Revelation are accepted as divine Scripture. For the first, we have seen that Marcion evidently had some collection of Pauline letters; but the "final" set of 13 attributed to Paul, we may safely say was assembled as a corpus by the beginning of the third century.

Other letters are on the fringe of acceptance: Hebrews, James, Jude, and letters attributed to Peter and John.

The East saw the invention of the very first harmony of all four Gospels: Tatian's Diatessaron. Composed around 156 AD, this work demonstrates that the four Gospels we have today were considered authoritative; no other Gospels were included, other than an occasional phrase or clause.

In Tatian, incidentally, we see a perfect example of someone who "crossed out" things he did not like. He rejected the authenticity of 1 Timothy, and was the founder of the Encratites, a group that rejected marriage, meat, and wine - the latter of which is recommended for stomach disorder in 1 Timothy!

Somewhat later, Clement of Alexandria (180-211) is found quoting all of our current NT books as authoritative except Philemon, James, 2 Peter, and 2 and 3 John. Except for James, these books are so short that Clement may not have had cause to cite them. He also refers to the Gospels as "Scripture." At this point, aside from the Gospels, the canon is still "open."

Origen (185-250) is the first writer to use the name "New Testament" and to indicate a classification of its works. He divided the NT into two collections: Gospels and works of the Apostles. These he proclaimed as "divine Scriptures," written by the evangelists under the same Spirit of the same God as in the OT. He also makes note of heretical Gospels: those of Thomas, Matthias, the 12 Apostles, Basilides, and the Gospel of the Egyptians. However, Origen does not issue any directive that these alternate Gospels be burned or thrown away; indeed, he does quote them, though with the qualifying phrase, "If anyone receives it..."

Origen accepts the four Gospels, the 13 letters of Paul, and Revelation. He also comments on several works that were on the "fringe" of acceptance as authoritative. Of 2 Timothy he writes: "...some have dared to reject this Epistle, but they were not able." Of Peter's Epistles, he notes of one that is acknowledged, and "possibly a second, but this is disputed." To John he attributes one Gospel and one Epistle, "and, as it may be, a second and third - but not all consider these to be genuine." Of James, he implies some doubt as to its authenticity; but does accept the genuineness of Jude. He also mentions two books outside of our current NT: the Shepherd of Hermas, which he calls "divinely inspired," and the Preaching of Peter, which he rejects because: 1) it was not composed by Peter; 2) it was not inspired by the Spirit of God, although he recognizes in it "elements of inspired value." He also felt free to use works like the Acts of Paul and the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles.

It is important to note here that:

Western Stages

Justin Martyr, c. 150 AD, refers to "memoirs of the Apostles" and quotes them as authoritative. Allusions in his work are identifiable from Mark, Matthew, Luke, and possibly John and Revelation. Metzger notes that these works were "read interchangeably with the Old Testament prophets," indicating their importance and authority in the eyes of Justin.

Hippolytus (170-235), mirroring developments in the East, accepts all four Gospels as Scripture; he also acknowledges as authentic 13 Pauline Epistles (not including Hebrews), Acts, 1 Peter, 1 and 2 John, and Revelation. He does quote Hebrews, though not as Scripture; other works he quotes less authoritatively, including the Shepherd of Hermas. His work may show knowledge of 2 Peter and James.

Irenaeus (130-202) quotes all of our present NT works except Philemon, 2 Peter, 3 John, and Jude - whether due to length or lack of recognition cannot be determined. He sees the Gospels quartet as fixed: the famous "four winds" quote, which many skeptics misuse, thinking it means that 4 Gospels were chosen, and not 3 or 5, because there were 4 winds; more likely, though not discernibly, Ireaneus was "simply confirming a concept that (was) well established in the churches" by means of a natural analogy. The rest of the forming canon, however, is still open. Ireneaus does identify two criteria for acceptance: 1) apostolic authority, and 2) agreement with the traditions maintained by the church.

Tertullian (converted to Christianity c. 195) made citations to every current NT book except 2 Peter, James, and 2 and 3 John - again, possibly due to their length, or perhaps due to ignorance of their existence! He regarded the books he quoted as being equal in stature to the OT Law and Prophets. The Book of Hebrews he accepted on the basis of authorship by Barnabas, an associate of Paul (again, note that apostolic authority plays a role in acceptance). On the other hand, he used Jude to argue for the status of Enoch as Scripture. (Important point here: It is assumed that apostolic authorship of Jude was adequate authoritative basis to decide questions of OT canon - showing a high degree of authority has been accorded to Jude!), and early in his career accepted the Shepherd of Hermas as inspired, although he later rejected it when he converted to Montanism.

Cyprian of Carthage (converted 246 AD) cites as authoritative all four Gospels, all of the Pauline Epistles (except Philemon), 1 Peter, 1 John, and Revelation. He does not cite Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Jude - but again, whether due to shortness or rejection, we cannot say. (ibid., 160-1)

The Muratorian Canon, by an unknown author, is usually dated to the end of the second century; attempts to date it later have been unconvincing, according to Metzger, although MacDonald provides an opposite view dating it to much later that contains some persuasive elements. A very persuasive case for a fourth-century date is presented by Hahneman from whom we gain much of our material below on the subject.

Discovered by the Italian historian, archivist, and librarian Ludovico Antonio Muratori, and published in 1740, this fragment indicates books that are accepted and rejected by the church. The only books clearly missing from the text are James and Hebrews, but Hahneman suggests that we have simply lost these references from the fragment, which has a number of defects. 2 and 3 John may be missing; but that is a matter of debate: The text indicates two epistles of John as accepted, and these may be 2 and 3 John, with 1 John subsumed categorically under John's Gospel. (Hahnemen notes that the close relationship of 2 and 3 John make it improbable that the fragment only knows of 1 and 2 John.) Only one presently non-canonical book was noted as accepted: A book of Wisdom by Solomon. Two apocalypses are mentioned, of John (Revelation) and Peter, though it is noted of the latter that "some of us are not willing that (it) should be read in church." There are also indications in the Canon as to which books are to be rejected as heretical.

The list of Eusebius refers to all 27 of our current books. 22 of the 27 were placed in the "universally accepted" category: The four Gospels, Acts, Paul's 13 epistles, 1 Peter, 1 John, and finally, Revelation "if it really seems proper." The 5 remaining books were placed in a category that were "disputed, but familiar to the people of the church." A final list set out books that were to be rejected or were heretical; curiously, Eusebius puts Revelation in this category also, saying that it should be excluded if it seems proper!

The "final" listing comes from 367 AD, at which time Athanasius of Alexandria set forth a NT canon with a listing of books identical to those we have today. Councils at Hippo (393) and Carthage (397) confirmed this enumeration. To be sure, this was not the end of the controversy (as we shall see) - but when has the resolution of any issue among human beings ever been simple?

Corollary to Stages: Persecution

"Persecution" could not properly be called a "stage" in the canonization process, for it was existent to some extent through each of these stages we are studying. However, it was certainly a motivating factor in the formation of the canon.

Why was this so? Well, imagine that you are being persecuted as a Christian, and that your holy books are a target and will be confiscated. If you don't turn them over to the authorities, you may be harmed or killed. Wouldn't you want to be sure you were not just suffering for the sake of something that was not a genuinely authoritative work? Indeed, during the persecution of Diocletian (303 AD), this is exactly what happened: Scriptures were burned, churches were demolished, and Christian meetings were banned, with the bans enforced on pain of torture, imprisonment or death. Also, individual houses were searched for copies of Christian scriptures.

Let us now briefly consider a few of the books that did not make the canon cut, and look for reasons why. Again, any time these titles are brought up, it is a good idea to see if whoever flies them on the flagpole knows what they actually contain and what their history is. If they do NOT know, then they are just blowing hot air or arguing for the sake of it.

We will ask the basic question of WHY these books we will examine (and dozens of others) were even put under consideration - and achieved what Metzger calls "temporary canonicity." First, what were the contents of these works? "It is obvious the great majority...are the result of attempts to produce literary forms that parallel those of the several genres of literature (in the NT)," that is, gospels, acts, apocalypses, and epistles. Epistles were the fewest made, "for clearly, it was more difficult to produce an epistle that possessed some semblance of authority than it was to draw up a narrative of events in which Jesus and various Apostles figured as heroes." In other words, it was easier to write about events that no one could verify than to pretend to be someone with the authority to write an epistle! (For more on this, see Glenn Miller's excellent work on pseudox at http://www.Christian-thinktank.com/pseudox.html - and note that the church would indeed have been on the lookout for false or pseudonymous works of all types!)

Now let us look at these books individually:

For none of the above books, therefore, do we have any evidence that would indicate that in any sense they deserved to make the "final cut" for the canon of the NT.

Later Disputes and Diversity

A final, "last-ditch" sort of objection (of course used by Zindler) relies upon more modern deviations within the canon. Martin Luther's rejection of James as an "epistle of straw" is particularly cited in this regard, but there are many other bits and pieces of history that are taken as problematic as well. However, when all the tempest storms are blown over, we find that these more modern debates involve either a) inclusion of a fairly standard set of apocryphal works; or, b) the exclusion of those same seven books on the fringe - Revelation, James, Jude, Hebrews, 2 Peter, 2 John, and 3 John. What we are left with this: 7 out of 27 books disputed, some more than others; BUT 20 out of 27 NOT questioned, ever. These, then, are tempests in teapots; they are merely examples of the natural human tendency to reject what we do not agree with or understand. In that view, it is easy to see why people have had a problem with Revelation; apocalyptic literature takes an acquired taste! We see, too, why Luther and others rejected James: They perceived (wrongly) that it emphasized works over faith, which hit Luther right in his gut, because he was intimately concerned with faith being the only way to salvation - which it is, as a proper reading of James reveals (see below).

Concerning those seven books, we should briefly consider reasons why these books remained on the fringe for so long, and still are, according to some:

Therefore, we can see that there was good reason for these works being on the "fringe" as they were, and in some cases, still are. The early church was being cautious, and we may appreciate that they were!

One final point to close out: the triumph of the inspired works, these "fringe" works, over the power of men, is quite significant! In SPITE OF such radical questioning by leaders throughout time, these books have stayed in the canon - not ONE has ever been thrown out! Every possible argument has been used against them; and yet they outlast the leaders of every age! The same 7 books have been disputed, and the same 7 remain --and there are no additions, either. The durability of these works in the hearts of the people of God may be taken as ample evidence of their inspired character.

So in conclusion, to Zindler and others: Human beings will never agree unanimously on anything, even the canon of Scripture. Even today, many groups (such as the Mormons) seek to add to what has been written. This, of course, is their right; but the fact remains that the canon has been fixed, not by some 4th-century Church Council, but by the witness of history itself.

As Metzger writes: "the canon cannot be remade - for the simple reason that history cannot be remade." The books that made it into the canon did so by means of "survival of the fittest" - it was not a random drawing with all participants beginning on equal footing. The church did not create the canon, "but came to recognize, accept, affirm, and confirm the self-authenticating quality of certain documents that imposed themselves as such upon the Church. If this fact is obscured, one comes into serious conflict not with dogma but with history." We may freely learn from the non-canonical literature, and it may be that some of that literature contains authentic strands of teaching by Jesus. Nevertheless, we have our canon. We are each free to take it or leave it; and if it offend thee - take up scissors and paste, and make what thou considerest a better effort than others.

And thus, Zindler simply overplays conflict and oversimplifies the picture. It seems ironic as well that a "freethinker" apparently here condemns a situation in which people have been allowed to think for themselves.

As an aside, Zindler drops a few hints about the Nicean Council inventing the Trinity. On that subject we encourage readers to consult out document at this location.


Question 2: Which Manuscripts?

The canon question is at least one viably discussed; for question 2, Zindler is not quite so proficient.

Let's begin with a key question Zindler did not ask : Is Biblical textual criticism any different from textual criticism of secular texts? In principle, not at all, and the statements made by Zindler regarding the text of the Bible would be regarded with dismay and horror in the circles of "secular" textual criticism.

The New Testament being our focus, let's ask how much of the NT can we recover and designate as authentic. A popular idea is that textual criticism has been able to recover the NT text with 99% accuracy. That's a total of three pages in your average Bible without study notes being in question. Textual critics Westcott and Hort asserted that the parts of the NT "still subject to doubt can hardly amount to more than a thousandth part" of the NT - which would be less than a third of a page. Generally, however, it seems that very few scholars in this field are willing to be so bold! Most scholars in this field seem to settle for vague phrases, ranging from speaking of the "retreating mirage" of the original text to Comfort's assurance that "there are several manuscripts that are quite accurate copies of the original text." Scholars outside the field are more bold; France asserts that "among the textual variants in the gospels there are only two which throw doubt on more than a verse or two of the traditional text" - the ending of Mark and the adultery story in John, with the other variants bearing only on details of sentimental value. Beyond that, he proclaims (ibid., 137):

The student of the history of Jesus is, from the point of view of textual criticism, on vastly safer ground than the student of the life of Julius Caesar or indeed of any other figure of ancient history.

And Moreland adds:

Most historians accept the textual accuracy of other ancient works on far less adequate manuscript grounds than is available for the New Testament.

The above leads us to compare the statements of certain NT text-critics with those of "secular" critics who work with far less evidence in terms of quality and/or quantity. Here are some words of wisdom we can apply:

"Nothing entitles us to assume stupid cutting, still less destructive cutting, except a blind reliance on the supposed axiom that Shakespeare never revised his work." Let us likewise do better than presume that all changes to the text that we suppose were made by later interpolators with an agenda.

"There is now general agreement that the textual problems in Shakespeare are if such complexity that no text can be established that will commend the general assent that constitutes 'definitiveness.' " This is the closest I have seen in any "secular" textual criticism book to the statements of despair and woe made by some NT text-critics to the effect, "We can NEVER know what was REALLY written!!!" (See below.) Most critics, however, are of a far more positive bent! For example, though an edition of Richard III "can advertise that they contain more than a thousand variants from the conventional text", we do not see text critics wondering if that play actually was written entirely differently! "Hamlet will not be revealed as a woman, or as the villain; he will still be melancholy and at odds with the life about him." Textual variants are important to note, but we are not going to find that they significantly alter the storyline!

How well do modern textual critics agree on the NT? An encyclopedic treatment of this issue is presented by the team of Kurt and Barbara Aland, who provide statistics as to both the percentage of variant free verses among the seven major editions of the Greek NT, and the number of variants per page (excluding orthographic errors). It is helpful to look at these:

Book---% of variant-free verses---# of variants per page

Total 62.9 equals 4999/7947 verses

The agreement here is quite astonishing, considering that this is the combined result of seven different teams and/or persons over an extended period of time. That all 7 editions completely agree on close to two-thirds of the NT is a striking indication of how much confidence we may have in our present text. (Though not given, the next statistics would show agreements on 6 out of 7, 5 out of 7, etc. - and if the trend above is followed, we might well reach that 99% agreement before going too far down the ladder!)

Is any matter of the Christian faith affected by any variant reading? This is the most important issue for the average believer, and the good news is this: No doctrine of Christianity is in the least dependent on ANY textual variant.

Also working against any idea that some important text was lost or added is evidence that textual criticism was already in process as early as the second and third century! Origen complains of negligence and audacity by scribes; Jerome takes note of various scribal errors, and so on. These fellows, at least, were on guard against any variations! (To this we may also add that scribal science used in Alexandria on the NT in the early decades also ensured careful treatment of the text.)

In summary, here is a general admonition regarding charges of NT textual corruption: Until solid textual evidence is found for such changes, all that we are being offered with such objections is a "spaghetti against the wall" supposition. Rather than citing some particular textual difficulty, all we have the typical critic is some vague idea that somewhere, somehow, we must be missing SOMETHING that will cause problems for the Christian faith! Even Bart Ehrman, a textual critic of a less generous bent, though he has only found a few dozen corruptions - which he was able to identify because original readings were still preserved! - cannot resist speculating that there are actually "hundreds" of undiscovered corruptions. This is rather like the wandering soothsayer who carries a sign saying "THE WORLD WILL END TOMORROW" - having faith that someday, he will be right! The evidence is far better that we DO have the "original text" -- it is simply mixed up with "unoriginal variants," and it is speculative to believe we have lost any real parts.

Now with this in mind, what of Zindler's arguments? He claims, using Matthew's Gospel as an example, that this "problem" of not knowing what the text says is a "well kept secret among Bible scholars".

Oh, really? All you need to do is check some books out -- Bruce Metzger's The Text of the New Testament is a classic, and there are works by the Alands, Ehrman, and Comfort that are hardly secreted away in back rooms with hush-hush stickers on them.

Zindler, frankly, has either not done any serious research or is outright fabricating when he says that this is some kind of big secret. He also vastly overstates his case with statement like these:

  • "...no two MSS of Matthew - or any other biblical book - are exactly alike."

    True, but as noted above, almost 60% of the verses are variant free in Matthew, and figures in the same neighborhood are found for other books. Moreover Zindler is just attemtping to incite concern without telling the details. The vast majority of differences, as noted above, make no difference -- and the origins of such variations are overall easy to discern. It is not as though we are left with Jesus saying, "Be saved by doing X" and then "Be saved by doing Y" and there is no way to tell which is original.

  • "Worse yet, for each book there exist different families of MS types, often of approximately equal antiquity, but differing from each other in characteristic ways. To try to keep track of all the different wordings in Matthew and other books of the Bible, scholarly editions of the Greek New Testament contain a so-called apparatus criticus, a complicated system of footnotes indicating the major variant readings for each passage in the 'preferred text...'"

    Zindler reports this as though it were some gloomy state of affairs; among textual critics, it is considered anything but that. The wealth of textual witnesses for the NT is almost embarrassing in its profundity; the popular comparison to the Iliad, with around 650 witnesses (versus the NT, with over 24,000), and a comparison to secular works like those of Tacitus with less than a dozen witnesses, speaks for itself and yet we see now panic over "what Tacitus originally said" from any quarter. Textual critics welcome all of this evidence for their works.

  • "Concerning the preferred text of the Greek Bible, readers may wonder just who decides - and how - what the preferred readings should be? Space does not permit a discussion of the scientific (and sometimes very un-scientific) principles involved."

    The reason space "doesn't permit" discussion is because Zindler, honestly, is uninformed when it comes to textual criticism. Textual criticism is a developed practice in both secular and Biblical terms. Because he is in no position to criticize textual critics, Zindler's commentary about "unscientific" methods is itself misplaced.

    Zindler's case for a textual criticism crisis can only be made by finding actual problems, and in this effort he fails. The vast number of variants are indeed spelling or other trivial issues. His best examples:

  • A place where he supposes the virgin birth is disputed -- as found in ONE manuscript. He offers no comparative data about the provenance of the mss. in question, its date, and what other mss. say at the same place -- he merely points to thise one mss. as though this were cause for concern.
  • 1 John 5:7, which Zindler mistakenly supposes is all we have to support the Trinity. As shown in the article referenced above, the doctrine of the Trinity is rooted in pre-NT Jewish Wisdom theology, and is supported by a host of NT passages. Zindler errs in telling us how important 1 John 5:7 is. It isn't.
  • Zindler next switches to the OT, and tells us there are versions of Jeremiah that are 1/8 shorter than the others -- though he does not tell us that this is as large as he can paint the picture. Most of the omissions in the OT are of single words or phrases. A second edition of Joshua is 5 percent shorter, most of what is missing being elucidations. A similar percentage of variation is found in a second edition of Ezekiel, and there is a parallel edition of Proverbs with material in a different order and some items missing.

    Anything to worry about? Not hardly.

  • Zindler tells us that the "Church Father Irenaeus tells us that the MSS of Matthew's gospel used ca. A.D. 185 by the Ebionites (the original Jewish Christians of Jerusalem) lacked the first two chapters - the chapters containing the imaginary genealogy of Jesus, the - virgin birth story, the wise men, and Herod's slaughter of the innocents."

    Now this indeed is odd, for Zindler relies on a not-present mss., testified as being in the possession of a group that itself denied the virgin birth.

    Now here's a question: Why do you suppose those two chapters were missing from their copy? And do you suppose that this is sufficient to overwhelm the thousands of copies of Matthew that DO have these chapters, including those whom Ireneaus would obviously be comparing them to?

    Zindler is overplaying his hand to say, "Small wonder that the earliest Christians did not believe the story about Mary and the angel!" The Ebionites were alone in this respect and did not constitute the whole of the "earliest Christians" or even a significant number of them.

  • And what is Zindler left with in the NT? Mark 16:9-20 (which contains nothing essential, unless you think it is essential to have an idea that you can handle snakes), a single verse addition in the "Latin text of a fourth to fifth century African Old Latin version manuscript, the Codex Bobbiensis (k)" for Mark 16:3 (meanwhile, he doesn't mention the countless other earlier mss. of Mark used for comparison, which make this isolated text an irrelevant peculiarity that doesn't even come close to being a panic-button candidate) and a new one even on me that suppoesedy the last six verses of Relevation are in dispute. 5 out of 6 of these are repetitive, and the other one is a warning not to add to the book (which seems merely common sense), so I have a hard time seeing why I should worry at all.

    His last issue is that "666" reads "616" in some mss. This is quite true. Most will recognize that 666 is a numeric reference to Nero, as the Hebrew spelling of "Nero Caesar" -- as found in rabbinic writings and in one Qumranic document -- renders a 666. But when that name is written out in Latin, we have a value of 616. 666 as Ronald Reagan? Sorry, wrong number. (For a look at a more nuacned eschatology, see our work at http://www.tektonics.org/eschhub.html)

    Zindler returns to the OT for a while, making much of the existence of the Septuagint, or LXX version of the OT. He tells us:

    Between the third century B.C. and the first century A.D., Greek-speaking Jewish scholars in Alexandria and elsewhere translated the Hebrew scriptures into Greek, producing a series of editions of the Greek Old Testament known collectively as the Septuagint (abbreviated LXX). A comparison of the LXX with the Hebrew Masoretic Text shows fundamental differences in content - differences that cannot be waived as translation errors, but can be seen as evidence that the Hebrew text used by the translators differed profoundly from the Hebrew text known today.

    Let's hear some reply to this sort of thing from OT textual critic Emmanuel Tov:

    The Hebrew text presupposed by the LXX basically represents a tradition which is either close to that of MT or can easily be explained as a descendant or a source of it. In several individual instances, however, the LXX represents a text that comes close to other sources, viz., certain Hebrew scrolls from Qumran and the Sam. Pent.

    Zindler claims "many differences between the LXX and the Masoretic Text" but the only hard examples he gives are of numbers -- which are notorious victims of textual and transcription errors -- and differences in the order of Jeremiah. Is this a paroblem? Not for anyone I know.

    Zindler does tell us that "the authors of the New Testament, when citing the Old Testament, cited it in Greek resembling the LXX far more often than the Masoretic Textus Receptus." That's a little off; in fact, of the 64 times Jesus quotes the OT, for example, more than half agree with both the LXX and the MT; 1/5 differ from both the LXX and the MT, 1.5 agree with the MT against the LXX, and the rest agree with the LXX AGAINST the MT. For those who want more information on how the LXX was used by all Jews of the period, we recommend an article at http://www.christian-thinktank.com/baduseot.html.

    In closing on textual criticism, Zindler's conclusion that "Bible scholars have come to a simple conclusion" that "[t]rying to find the 'correct reading' of most biblical MSS is as hopeless - and as meaningless - as trying to find the 'average voter'" is little nothing short of a blatant misrepresentation of the state of affairs in Biblical textual criticism. You will not find such despair among secular textual critics with far, far less evidence, nor from Metzger, nor from the Alands, or even from Ehrman who is the most favored to suggesting changes in the text.

    Part 3 -- Which Dictionary To Use?

    Zindler's last section starts: "How can one know what a given word in an ancient MS means?" What about a dictionary of these words in the original language? Zindler tells us, no: "The most brilliant of dictionary writers cannot be certain of the meaning of every word as it is used in every culture and subculture, at every period in history."

    They can't? This would probably be news to linguistic scholars, of whom Zindler is decidedly not one, and with whom he does not in the least interact. Granted -- words change in meaning and nuance over time; yet some words are more difficult than others, yet Zindler's argument is misplaced.

    He reports that a word in Shakespeare shocked him when he learned that a word was used in a way quite the opposite from the way it was intended -- as slang. Well, then, what? Zindler then essentially admits that a little research goes a long way. And when it comes down to it, though Zindler lavishes upon us threats that we may go to hell because a word's meaning has been lost, the one example he gives are descriptions of an adjective describing the ostrich's wings and feathers in Job.

    Is Zindler pulling our leg here? Tell us that we can't tell whether Jesus is the Logos or a Legos set; tell us that we have problems knowing whether God calls us to repent or refurnish, and maybe we have a problem. But we don't.

    Meanings of words are also determined by context. Adjectives about ostrich feathers and wings offer no specific context other than the limited scale of what such feathers and wings are like.

    Reason plays a role too. If a passage tells us to "repent and be saved" and we have numerous witnesses to contemporary lit (as we do for the NT -- this is what a lexicon is for), then we have a quite clear data pool to draw from.

    Zindler's further issue of lack of vowels in the text of the Hebrew is also far from the crisis he suggests. We have much to help us make sense of that text: the later vowel points added; the LXX; the limited range of choices; contextual considerations. Zindler's proclamation of a "false sense of security" and "frightful uncertainty" is far ovberblown. I challenge any reader to find a scholar of Hebrew who is in as much a state of panic as Zindler thinks there should be. The examples he gives ("dove's dung" versus "chick pea") are hardly anything to have concern over.

    Conclusion -- Why Bother?

    The question is a good one to pose to Zindler, in this form: Why bother accepting Zindler as an authority? Is he a scholar of the languages of the day? No. Is he a scholar of the culture of the day? No. If there is any "futility" in looking for certainty though textual criticism and such, it is because Zindler's efforts themselves are the futile efforts of one outside his field. Scholars of the Bible aren't worried like Zindler is, and neither should you be.


    A Critique of "The Twelve: Further Fictions from the New Testament"



    In the extended article named above (hereafter referred to by the acronym Z12), American Atheists denizen Frank Zindler goes to further lengths to provides examples of his Biblical miseducation, and once again, at reader request, we provide comment. Veteran readers will here as well as our last project find some familiar material, as we will be often lifting material from older essays to answer what amount to the same old objections we have only heard 7,986,483 times in the last 7 years.

    Zindler has proclaimed allegiance to the Christ myth, and we noted above our debate with him on this, and may note also our material here. Now, in line with his title, Zindler proclaims allegiance to an "apostles myth" as well in which he refers to "the silence which surrounds all his companions and most of the places in which he is supposed to have worked his wonders. While it is indisputable that Augustus Cæsar and Pontius Pilate existed at the time Jesus is supposed to have lived, and while Jerusalem most certainly existed (and was called by that name), there is no secular record to be found of the twelve disciples, the twelve apostles, St. Mary, St. Joseph, St. Paul, St. Stephen, or the vast majority of the characters that people the gospels and the rest of the writings preserved in the New Testament."

    There are a few things to ask to begin.

    The first is, Where, other than in the New Testament documents, does Zindler expect all of these people to be mentioned, any why?

    The first may be easier to answer. The Jewish historian Josephus is a likely candidate to mention some of these people, and in fact he does mention one, James the brother of Jesus; and this, only because his execution was regarded as one of the reasons why Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans (as part of God' judgment).

    To point up the unreasonableness of Zindler's implied demand, however, let us pick at random a person named by Josephus.

    In Antiquites Book 17, Chapter 2, Josephus names a man called Zamaris, a Jew from Babylon. Herod put this man in charge of a city called Bathyra which became a refuge for certain Jews who had fled from Babylon. In Section 3 of Chapter 2, Josephus reports the death of this man. He stars in Book 17, Ch. 2, sections 1-2, dies in the first section of 3, and is never mentioned again.

    Question: Is there any more historical evidence that Zamaris existed, than that the people (apostles) Zindler lists did?

    No? So by that accounting, there is no other record of this person (Zindler's implication that a religious record is out of bounds is merely arbitrary), and on the same basis, Zindler wipes him out as a myth -- along with countless others recorded in history.

    Then Zindler tries the same with geography: "Nor is there to be found any mention in the Old Testament or in the writings of Jewish or pagan geographers and historians of such important Christian places as Nazareth, Bethany, Bethphage, Ænon, Magdala, or Capernaum."

    Oh? Any mention of Bathyra anywhere else, then? No? By Zindler's logic, it must not have existed, then.

    The problem with this sort of reasoning is evident. The standard would render a great many geographical locations mentioned uniquely in single ancient authors "fictitious". Note that this is not as though someone were mentioning Atlantis or some mythological place; there is no great mythology surrounding Aenon; they are simply mentioned as sidelights in the Biblical texts, and Zindler has no reason to doubt that they exist, other than that, it seems, they appear only in the Biblical record.

    He is also wrong if he thinks any scholar will follow his line of reasoning; for example, Aenon near Salim has been supposed to be at any one of three places; the likeliest candidate is a Salim near Shechem, which has a village now called Ainun nearby. However, since "Ainon" means "springs" and "Salim" means "peace", what we have here is a place name that would be very common in Israel [like our modern "Ridgewood"]. Nazareth, which is one of Zindler's biggest targets here, is definitely not in doubt; archaeological evidence shows that the village had been occupied since the 7th century B.C [see A Marginal Jew by Meier, 300-1] and Paul Barnett, Behind the Scenes of the New Testament, 42, adds: After the Jewish war with the Romans from AD 66-70 it was necessary to re-settle Jewish priests and their families. Such groups would only settle in unmixed towns, that is towns without Gentile inhabitants. According to an inscription discovered in 1962 in Caesarea Maritima the priests of the order of Elkalir made their home in Nazareth. See also now here.

    On Zindler goes: "The supposition that Jesus and his companions were real must confront the embarrassing fact that the characters in most historical novels can be documented in far greater percentages than can the characters in the New Testament."

    Not that Zindler offers any examples of such novel characters, much less justify the claim that the writings of the NT are "novelistic" by genre, nor does he tell us how he might rescue a Zamaris from oblivion.

    In contrast, Zindler makes much of the lack of mention in the NT of Sepphoris, "even though people living in its shadow could reasonably be expected to interact with it at least occasionally."

    Could they? Not really. Sepphoris was a heavily Hellenized city, full of things which a strict Jew would find offensive; if anything, the avoidance of Sepphoris by Jesus rings of authenticity. Zindler perhaps has certain unrealistic expectations.

    In Josephus, a much thicker collection of work than any one Gospel, Sepphoris is mentioned only twice -- both times, merely because it was captured in a war. Zindler may as well say that "there is little evidence that Josephus knew or cared anything about the geography or real-life circumstances of the stage on which their actors play out their parts." If Sepphoris had not been captured, it appears that Josephus would not have cared either.

    It is unreasonable, of course, to expect the Gospels to provide a travelogue of non-visited cities, and to simply mention things like this for their own sake, or because Zindler or any critic, based on nothing but an unexplained expectation, supposes they ought to be mentioned. The "argument by incredulity" works for many people because we have a mentality belonging to a society that talks too much and thinks it necessary to fill in matters with extraneous detail.

    Zindler tries to de-exist the Apostles further:

    Among the many imaginary characters of the New Testament, perhaps the most blatantly obvious fictions are the Twelve Disciples. Of course, if Jesus was a sun-god (and who else is born on the winter solstice and worshiped on Sunday?), he would have needed twelve zodiacal accomplices, one for every month of the year, or one for every sign of the zodiac through which the sun's chariot journeys.

    Someone should perhaps inform Zindler, if he means this seriously, that claims of Jesus being born on Christmas are rather late in the game (3rd century or so), and if we want to explain Jesus as a "sun god" he will have to do more than say it overcame the wall of scholarship that disagrees. Beyond that Zindler misses a quite obvious twelve for Jesus to model on, not the zodiac, but as scholars agree was the basis, the twelve tribes of Israel, which may also explain why the Qumran community of Jews also included a selection of twelve special officers. Of course we may as well say your typical egg carton was based on the zodiac, as was your box of donuts. It's an astrological world out there.

    Zindler goes on: "It is not surprising that most of the disciples are mere names - not always the same names from gospel to gospel - and only a few have any definable character."

    Zindler makes much differing names; in actuality, he can find only one substantive name variation, that of "Thaddeus" and "Lebbaeus" in Matthew 10. One out of Twelve.

    What Zindler sees as a historical error, is more likely a textual one; I have yet to see a commentator who thinks this was part of the original text, though I will keep checking. An issue Zindler oddly does NOT bring up is the supposed discrepancy between Judas (not Iscariot) and Thaddeus among the Synoptic Gospels; while it is possible, as the historians E. P. Sanders has suggested, that these are two different people, one replacing the other, I think it is far more likely that Judas non-Iscariot changed his name to Thaddeus and used that name after the resurrection. I mean, after all, would you want to have the same name as the guy who betrayed your Master? I wouldn't. If your name were Ted Bundy, or Adolf Hitler, I guess you'd change it too, eh?

    Zindler's only other issue is that John fails to name some of the twelve, though unlike the Synoptics, John contains no passage offering such a list to begin with.

    Other issues Zindler could have resolved with a little research. "Simon the Canaanite" and "Simon Zelotes" are the same; "Canaanite" is a Hellenization of the Aramaic kananaios, which means "zealous one".

    In the next few lines Zinder lays out a tour de force in which he proposes, without a shred of documentation, a scenario of "Christianity condensed out of a variety of Jewish and pagan mystery cult and club associations," of alleged competing groups (such as "Jewish proto-Christians [who] claimed that their church was the only authentic one because it was supposed to have been founded by men (apostles) who had had visions of the risen Christ" -- he does not name this group, but seems to refer to the Ebionites, a group whose existence is evidenced no earlier than 150 AD), of ungrounded speculation.

    By such means might I also turn Zindler into a fiction 100 years hence. Yes, he was the invention of a group of rabid atheists in need of a hero. They based him on a combination of Frederich Nietzsche and Robert Ingersoll (both of whom were probably fictional as well) and even made up details to make him seem more real. By such machinations would any man be rendered a fiction, and any event we wished, and a shave with Occam's Razor -- which sees the Twelve as rooted in symbolic significance of twelve Jewish tribes -- seems a great deal more profitable.

    In service of this Zindler goes as far as inventing a group he calls the "brothers of the Lord." Not real brothers of Jesus, of course, but like monks or nuns. "Many monks and nuns, you may know, are 'brothers and sisters of the Lord' too," he says.

    So likewise have references in Paul and Josephus to "brothers of the Lord" or "brother of Jesus" been explained away by mythicists; the problem here is, the use of "brother of" in this fashion is completely unattested elsewhere.

    Zindler's thesis is full of conveniences, an invention of history wholesale to explain away history. A family of Jesus was invented by Group A to give them authority; to trump this, Group B wrote all sorts of fiction about Jesus being rude to this invented family, and this family rejecting him.

    Zindler, regrettably, misses as most do on John 2:4: "Woman, what have I to do with thee?" The word "woman" is the same term used in Josephus Antiquities 17.17 by Pheroras to summon his beloved wife; the second part of the response reds literally: "What to me and to you?" This is a Semitic phrase that indicates that the speaker is being unjustly bothered or is being asked to get involved in a matter that is not their business. It can be impolite, but not always; cf. 2 Kings 3:13, Hos. 14:8.

    Zindler further says, "Politically, having Jesus put down his whole family this way must have been devastating to the churches claiming family relations as the basis of their authority."

    This is manufactured history to explain away recorded history; and unrealistic at that. When Zindler's Group B manufactured all of this, he apparently sees Group A cowering in immediate fear with no options.

    The characters James and John, however, may have astrological meaning. The name Zebedee resembles the Old Babylonian Zalbatanu, the equivalent of Jupiter "the Thunderer," making it only reasonable that James and John would be the sons of thunder.

    We would ask Zindler to begin what evidence exists of Old Babylonian being known and/or spoken in first-century Palestine, and how, linguistically, one gets from "Zalbatanu" to "Zebedee" when working in other than English where the Z and the B seem to make a point.

    "Zebedee" appears rather to come from the Jewish word zebed, which means a gift or dowry, or the Hebrew name Zabdi (Josh. 7:7, Jos. Ant. 5.33). Zindler's other connections of names of disciples to the Babylonian zodiac, deserve more dismissal than scrutiny. By the same means might we decide years from now that "Frank Zindler" was invented as a hero whose name was composed from the heroine against Nazism, Anne Frank, and the movie Schindler's List.

    In a section next Zindler makes much of variations that appear in the text of a "W" manuscript. We have noted in another section that Zindler shows very little concern for the principles of textual criticism, apparently believing that deciding among texts is a matter of a democratic vote, and that all texts get equal consideration.

    They do not. The codex he refers to is just one of many, and not particularly the earliest at that, and it is a vast overstatement to impose a description of "confused and variable" on the manuscript history -- and such variation does not, in the eyes of any textual critic, add credence to any idea that any textual report is a fiction. It does not do so for the works of Tacitus or Josephus, who have plenty of textual issues of their own; nor does it do so here.

    Perhaps the best way to expose the unreasonableness of Zindler's theories is to set an example. We are told, the acquisition of Peter as a disciple lies in front of an otherwise unattested-in-history "Peter cult" that stood against a cult of John the Baptist. Simple enough. We started with Zamaris from Josephus; let's report what Joe has to say, and insert comments about the "real" history behind Zamaris:

    AND now it was that Herod, being desirous of securing himself on the side of the Trachonites, resolved to build a village as large as a city for the Jews, in the middle of that country, which might make his own country difficult to be assaulted, and whence he might be at hand to make sallies upon them, and do them a mischief.

    Quite obviously, there is a political play here in process. Herod is in here and is probably historical, but was added to give authenticity to the political claim upcoming. Note that a "large" city is specified, which is done to give the project importance and is probably aimed at a rival group that had a smaller city.

    Accordingly, when he understood that there was a man that was a Jew come out of Babylon, with five hundred horsemen, all of whom could shoot their arrows as they rode on horde-back, and, with a hundred of his relations, had passed over Euphrates, and now abode at Antioch by Daphne of Syria, where Saturninus, who was then president, had given them a place for habitation, called Valatha, he sent for this man, with the multitude that followed him, and promised to give him land in the toparchy called Batanea, which country is bounded with Trachonitis, as desirous to make that his habitation a guard to himself. He also engaged to let him hold the country free from tribute, and that they should dwell entirely without paying such customs as used to be paid, and gave it him tax-free.

    That political motives are at work here is obvious. A fictitious hero with a fictitious retinue (the round number of 500 bespeaks fiction, and perhaps alludes to the 500 witnesses of the Risen Jesus, or the 500 fairies that danced under the mushroom of the Celtic king Horgerus) is created to grant authority for the city. There is astrological imagery (Saturninus, and Valatha, which probably is related to the Norse Valhalla) which suggest a fictitious origin, as though this were some sort of astral myth. Clearly as well there is some attempt being made here to clear a claim that the citizens of this large city should not have to pay taxes.

    The Babylonian was reduced by these offers to come hither; so he took possession of the land, and built in it fortresses and a village, and named it Bathyra. Whereby this man became a safeguard to the inhabitants against the Trachonites, and preserved those Jews who came out of Babylon, to offer their sacrifices at Jerusalem, from being hurt by the Trachonite robbers; so that a great number came to him from all those parts where the ancient Jewish laws were observed, and the country became full of people, by reason of their universal freedom from taxes.

    As above, we see an attempt to justify non-taxation, and this is merely an origin-myth for the city designed to give it special privileges.

    This continued during the life of Herod; but when Philip, who was [tetrarch] after him, took the government, he made them pay some small taxes, and that for a little while only; and Agrippa the Great, and his son of the same name, although they harassed them greatly, yet would they not take their liberty away. From whom, when the Romans have now taken the government into their own hands, they still gave them the privilege of their freedom, but oppress them entirely with the imposition of taxes. Of which matter I shall treat more accurately in the progress of this history.

    Obviously a legend designed to show that any attempt to tax this city will fail. However, the part about Roman taxes was clearly added by a rival pro-taxation group as a slam to the city.

    Now, do we see how easy it is?


    Zindler and the Christ Myth

    Some time ago I did an extensive piece on the religion of Mithraism, found here. For this piece, meant to refute contentions that Christianity borrowed from Mithraism, I consulted several books written by experts on Mithraism, including David Ulansey, who is regarded as the leading authority on Mithraism today. And I am pleased to say that none of these experts reported anything like what Zindler does in the following:

    There appears to have been a Samaritan god named Simon who, like Mithra, was given the nickname of Peter ("rock"). He could walk on water and held the keys to the gates of heaven. In this regard, he was the equivalent of the Roman god Janus, whose cult was headquartered a short distance from the present-day Vatican (the site of an equivalent "Peter cult"). It is altogether possible that the Cephas of the Pauline literature was a real person, a leader of the quasi-Jewish Samaritan savior cult who took the title of his god.

    Mithraists never report that Mithra had the nickname, "Rock". He was BORN from a rock, but I have yet to see it said that this was his nickname.

    Nor have I ever found documentation indicating any such Samaritan god as Zindler describes.

    Now what we want to know is, where does Zindler get these claims? Why are these things not known by leading scholars of religion?

    Is there a conspiracy afoot? No, more likely Zindler is consulting the works of non-credible occultists or mythologists. Take the lack of documentation by Zindler as meaningful. He says, "some scholars have thought that the original version of the gospel of Mark had a twelve-part structure sort of the Christian equivalent of the Twelve Labors of Hercules (another savior godlet)."

    Oh? Which ones? Zindler names none, footnotes none, and until he does, as far as we are concerned, "some scholars" means "no one." It certainly is not found in Marcan commentaries by such luminaries as Gundry, Witherington, or Anderson, Zindler's undocumented special pleading with respect to unattested editing over time notwithstanding. Nor will one find any scholar promulgating the idea that the Twelve tribes were founded in a Yahweh solar cult.

    Zindler next expresses surprise in something else he shouldn't, and says scholars find "inexplicable" something actually very few of them do -- that "the disciples function as veritable stooges" and "were uncomprehending when Jesus said something any second-grader should have understood." He tells us that "[a] disciple could be created to betray [Jesus] and could be given the name Judas, which means 'Jew'."

    Never mind that "Judas" is attested to as the third most popular name (behind Simon and Joseph) for Jews of Jesus' era. Never mind that there is also a perfectly fine Judas in the apostolic band. There has to be something more than a mundane and normal explanation for all of this, and for Zindler the idea is that the Twelve "represent the uncomprehending, stubborn, and fickle twelve tribes of Jews". One may as well say that Socrates' students were made to represent the dumb Greeks, or the students who questioned Confucius represented the dumb Chinese. Zindler's appealing to Occam's Razor and claiming his contrived, reworked, unattested history is a "simpler" view than the one in the Gospels is unreasonable to an excess. Are people not really dumb in real life at times?

    We now attend briefly to some of Zindler's accessory notes. He sees much in NT imitation of OT models. For this we would refer the reader to an excellent article at this location. Zindler is also apparently unaware that the practice of literary mimesis (imitation) was a fine art in antiquity. See also here.

    For amusement one may consider the following which I once wrote as a satire on such claims, written from the perspective of someone living several hundreds years from the present day:


    Hello. Welcome again to the year 3740. This is Teachminder Phonias J. Futz, and since my revolutionary conclusion that Abraham Lincoln was a myth my students have been scouring literature left from prior to the catastrophe for more evidence to support this thesis. And we have indeed been fortunate, though in ways unexpected. We have uncovered two biographies of one of 20th-century Usa's most popular leaders, J. Fitzgerald Kennedy: John F. Kennedy by Mills, and Jack: A Life Like No Other by Perret. The biographies are in poor condition, but we have gleaned enough information for at least one report which has led us to a new thesis: That many alleged events in the life of Lincoln, as reported in the 20th century, relied on written antecedents recording the life of Kennedy, who lived prior to the time that the most detailed biographies of Lincoln were written.

    As I read these Kennedy bios, I noticed echoes of the life of Lincoln, especially in the detailed bio of Lincoln by Donald -- parallels between the two men, then between their wives, then between their surrounding characters and persons. Both Lincoln and Kennedy demonstrated a fascination with civil rights, defense of the nation, and came to a similar end. Sometimes the similarities in accounts obtain even at the level of word choice and minor plot elements. I have come to conclude that writers of Lincoln bios wanted their readers to detect their use of Kennedy -- directly, if not subliminally. But the Lincoln biographers did not steal from these Kennedy biographers or from Kennedy's life; they also transvalued them by making Lincoln look more virtuous and more powerful than Kennedy. However, their imitation was not servile; they used disguises such as altering the vocabulary, varying the order, length, and structure of sentences, improving the content, and generating a series of formal transformations. They were experienced authors who borrowed from many sources (not just Kennedy bios), blending the works as a buzzstripe gathers nectar. And interestingly, it appears that readers in the 20th century were blind to this important aspect of the Lincoln biographers' project.

    We will have many examples of this to present as our research continues, but for now we will use as an exemplar the most significant -- the parallels between Lincoln and Kennedy in their deaths. We believe that we will show without a doubt that Lincoln's life, as recorded and reworked in the 20th century, was built upon the foundation of Kennedy. We will begin by explaining a few of the parallels in detail and their significance, and then compile all of the parallels in columns.


    Warnings Against Their Travel. On the day of his assassination, several of Lincoln's advisers "urged him not to go to the theater. Before going on a mission to Richmond, Lincoln's regular bodyguard, Lamon, begged him, "Promise me you will not go out at night while I am gone, particularly to the theater." Lamon issued such warnings so often, however, that he merely replied that he would "do the best" he could. Stanton, one of Lincoln's aides, "repeatedly warned Lincoln against mingling with promiscuous crowds at the theater." This night was regarded as most dangerous because of rumors that General Grant, the hated military leader under Lincoln, would be joining Lincoln.

    In the time before his assassination, Kennedy received several warnings not to visit the place of his demise -- Dallas, Texas. Mills: "The president has been warned over and over again to stay away from Dallas." Representaive Hale Boggs thought Kennedy would be going into "a hornet's nest." Senator William Fulbright warned: "Dallas is a very dangerous place." An editor of a Texas newspaper said that Kennedy would "not get through this without something happening to him." Governor Connally recommended that Kennedy not visit Dallas.

    It should be noted that the timing of these events is significant. Kennedy made his visit shortly before the holiday known as Thanksgiving, a celebration of the founding of Usa. Lincoln biographers copied and transvalued this event by having Lincoln killed on the Good Friday holiday, just prior to Easter. Kennedy died just before a holiday commemorating the birth of the nation, but Lincoln was to be associated with a holiday linked to the death of Jesus Christ -- the only way one could conceivably transvalue such timing.


    Ironic loss of protection. Lincoln asked several people to come with him. One of these was Thomas Eckert, a man so strong that he broke several cast-iron pokers by striking them across his left arm. But Eckert was needed elsewhere and declined the invitation.


    Seating arrangements. At the Ford Theater a special arrangement had been made for Lincoln's party. Lincoln and his party sat in a presidential box, a balcony seat. The box was actually two boxes, but a partition had been removed to make way for Lincoln's full party. Lincoln preferred a rocking chair to the normal seating and the brother of the theater owner provided one. The box was so high that most of the audience could not see the President.

    Kennedy rode in a vehicle called a Lincoln, manufactured by Ford. It was a custom vehicle, longer than most such models, and had two jump seats. The rear seat rose 10 1/2 inches at the flick of a switch. Also significantly, whereas Kennedy was adored by well-wishers hanging from windows above him, Lincoln was the one above the crowd in his box.


    Assassins. The character of the assassins of these men bears some striking similarities and the stories show signs of editing by Lincoln proponents. Oswald was a ne'er-do-well; it could hardly do to have Lincoln killed by such a humble person, and so Booth was created out of Oswald as a more celebrated version of that nobody. A tip of the hat to Booth's fictional origins can be found in that Oswald hid in a theater after his deed.

    It also happens that the assassins injured more than their intended targets. Their weapons were obviously different, owing to the times; Oswald's high-powered rifle would not have been around in Lincoln's time and so was replaced with Booth's derringer and knife, more appropriate weapons for the era. Booth also hailed from the rebellious South, recently put down by Lincoln's Union forces. The atmosphere in the South is highly reminiscent of the atmosphere in Dallas at Kennedy's period, in which racism was prominent and Kennedy's name was booed in classrooms. A handbill distributed in Dallas had a picture of Kennedy and the words WANTED FOR TREASON. Significantly Booth reportedly yelled, "Thus always to tyrants" after shooting Lincoln -- a natural adjustment given that Lincoln had been depicted as being on the "winning" side of a civil war. Finally the danger is made greater for Lincoln as it is shown that there was a greater plot to assassinate others at the same time. The place of John Connally, also wounded when Kennedy was fired upon, is taken in part by Major Rathbone and in part by Lincoln's Secretary of State William Seward, who was nearly killed by one of Booth's co-conspirators.


    Miscellaenous. In various ways Lincoln was made to look superior to Kennedy and appear to be a greater hero. Lincoln survived his wound by many hours; Kennedy survived only a short period. Donald is careful to note the opinion of Lincoln's doctors that "the average man could not survive the injury Lincoln had received for more than two hours..." It is also notable that while both men are carried to their place after being shot (Kennedy of course to a hospital, Lincoln not so, owing to the limitations of the time) special note is made that Lincoln was too big for the bed he was placed on.


    We will now add impact to our case by placing the parallels in columns. Note that the parallels are dense and sequential:

    Life of Kennedy Life of Lincoln
    Kennedy was actively seeking re-election Lincoln had just achieved re-election
    Kennedy received warnings not to visit Dallas Lincoln received warnings not to visit the theater
    Dallas was a rebellious, racist and hostile place Lincoln's assassin hailed from a rebellious, racist and hostile area
    Kennedy was aware of the danger and proceeded with his trip Lincoln was aware of the danger and proceeded with his trip
    Kennedy visited Dallas just prior to the Thanksgiving holiday, on a Friday Lincoln visited the theater just prior to the Easter holiday, on a Friday
    Kennedy was offered a bulletproof car top, but declined Lincoln offered to take a strong bodyguard to the theater, who declined
    Kennedy rode in a Ford vehicle Lincoln went to Ford's Theater
    Kennedy's vehicle was equipped with special seating Lincoln's theater box was equipped with special seating
    Kennedy was accompanied by his wife and another couple, the Connallys Lincoln was accompanied by his wife and another couple, the Rathbones
    Kennedy was cheered and applauded by citizens in the windows above him Lincoln was cheered and applauded by citizens in the theater below him
    It was a sunny day in Dallas It was dark inside the theater
    An assassin acted alone An assassin acted with two others
    Oswald was a nobody, a former military man, member of an opposition group hostile to the nation Booth was a celebrated actor, handsome, member of an opposition group hostile to the Union
    Oswald entered the school book depsitory without incident Booth entered the presidential box without incident
    Oswald was an employee of the school book depository Booth was employed in theaters like Ford's theater
    Oswald shot Kennedy in the back of the head Booth shot Lincoln in the back of the head
    Oswald also injured John Connally, who survived Booth also injured Major Rathbone, who survived
    Kennedy's opponents in Dallas accused him of treason Lincoln's opponent Booth accused him or tyranny
    Those along the street were at first unsure of what had happened Those in the theater were at first unsure of what had happened
    The first reporter to see Kennedy, Merriman Smith, thought Kennedy had been fatally wounded The first doctor to reach the box, Charles Leale, thought Lincoln had been fatally wounded
    Kennedy slumped toward his wife, who wept bitterly Lincoln was held upright in his chair by his wife, who wept bitterly
    Kennedy's wife shouted: "They've killed him!" Lincoln's wife shouted: "They have shot the President!"
    Kennedy was carried on a stretcher into a hospital Lincoln was carried across the street to a house
    Kennedy's wife, over the protests of a nurse, went in to be in her husband's presence Lincoln's wife, because of her constant protests, had to be removed from her husband's presence
    Kennedy died after a half hour Lincoln died after nine hours
    Kennedy's assassin was shot by an follower of Kennedy Lincoln's assassin was shot by follower of Lincoln
    Kennedy's Vice-President, Lyndon Johnson, was confined for fear that there was a plot to assassinate America's leaders Lincoln's Vice-President, Andrew Johnson, was also targeted as part of a plot to assassinate America's leaders

    The results of our study are obvious. Lincoln's death was molded upon, yet designed to supersede, the death of Kennedy.


    Briefly as well we note that Zindler brings up the matter of the Lucan census and the Theudas issue; for these we recommend:

  • here
  • here

    Zindler objects to geographical inaccuracy in Mark. Concerning Mark 5:1: How this qualifies as an "error" is beyond me. It is hardly a definitive statement, referring only to a "region" - as might be expected if the party landed in a countrified area, and if this is from a sermon of Peter to a Roman audience that really did not care where some out-in-the-boondocks locale was precisely locate.! The city of Gerasa was about 30 miles southeast of the traditional location of this event; that being so, to speak of being in the "region" is hardly any more erroneous than saying, after landing a boat thirty miles south of Milwaukee, that you have landed in the "region" of Milwaukee.

    Concerning Mark 7:31: It has been interpreted by Zindler to mean that Jesus and His company went through Sidon to GET TO The Sea of Galilee, which would indeed be the wrong way - but what it means is that they had an itinerary of 1) Tyre, 2) Sidon, and THEN 3) the Sea and the Decapolis region. The journey to Sidon is NOT a case of "what they went through to get there," but, "where they went also." Furthermore, Douglas Edwards, in his essay, "The Socio-Economic and Cultural Ethos in the First Century," has noted:

    Indeed, even the Jesus movement's travel from Tyre to Sidon to the Decapolis depicted in Mark, which has struck some New Testament interpreters as evidence for an ignorance of Galilean geography, is, in fact, quite plausible. Josephus notes that during the reign of Antipas, while Herod Agrippa I was in Syria, a dispute regarding boundaries arose between Sidon and Damascus, a city of the Decapolis. It is therefore conceivable that the movement headed east toward Damascus and then south through the region of the Decapolis, following major roads linking Damascus with either Caesarea Philippi or Hippos.

    Miscellaneous notes otherwise. There is no textual or other evidence for Zindler's idea that 1 Cor. 15:5 is a "late interpolation into the Pauline text"; see here for a refutation of one such idea.

    1 Cor. 11:23 , despite Zindler, does allude to Judas' action; the verb does not indeed mean "betrayed" so much as "handed over" and is the same word used in the Gospels to describe was Judas did (Matt. 10:4).

    Zindler also claims contradiction between Mark 1:16 and John 1:35-42:

    According to Mark 1:16, as we have already seen, Jesus is walking on the shore of the Sea of Galilee when he sees Simon and Andrew fishing and invites the two of them simultaneously to join him in fishing for men. In John 1:35-42, however, the acquisition of Andrew takes place at the mythical "Bethany beyond Jordan," and Andrew is not fishing but in the entourage of John the Baptist, his master. Jesus attracts to himself Andrew and an unnamed second Johannine disciple. Simon explicitly is not with Andrew when the latter runs off to see where Jesus is living.

    Zindler is missing certain constraints upon composition in the ancient world; he would perhaps scoff at the standard reply that these report two different events (Mark 1:16 chronologically after John 1:35-42) but it remains that no Gospel could tell every event that happened during Jesus' ministry; paper was prohibitively expensive (think $200 for 20 sheets, in modern terms) and every writer had to select events to report and make a coherent narrative out of it. Mark began in one place; John in another.

    Incidentally, "Bethany beyond Jordan" may be an otherwise unknown village -- see notes above -- or it may be a variant spelling of a region called Batanea that is beyond the Jordan. John may be using a variant spelling [as Josephus used three different spellings for the same region] or making an intentional alteration to allude to the later Bethany, so that Jesus' ministry began and ended at a Bethany.

    Zindler is also so wild as to refer to the Secret Gospel of Mark; on that document see here as well as Carlson's book Gospel Hoax, which proves that Secret Mark was a modern forgery. Finally Zindler proffers an example of disciple stupidity:

    For example, in the sixteenth chapter of Matthew we read that right after Jesus has performed his second miracle involving the multiplication of loaves of bread, the disciples are made to suppose that Jesus' admonition "Beware, be on your guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees" was in reference to their having forgotten to bring bread along on the boat - as though anyone would ever again be concerned over a lack of bread! Jesus, after reading their minds, says (Matt. 16:8ff) "Why do you talk about bringing no bread? Where is your faith? Do you not understand even yet? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you picked up? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you picked up? How can you fail to see that I was not speaking about bread?"

    Without doubt, the disciples here do seem extraordinarily dense; but there is no need to hypothesize an interpretative conspiracy. We live in an age when some think the Sermon on the Mount was called that because it was delivered on horseback. If Zindler wishes to assert that the disciples' stupidity is unbelievable as an actual event, there are plenty of citations on record from human experience that dictate otherwise.


  • Zindler tells us, "...I knew that some of the world's greatest scholars had denied [Jesus'] existence."

    Zindler is "hyperbolling" on two counts -- "some" is far too excessive for the number who denied that Jesus existed (the actual number of scholars was less than half a dozen; the remainder are populists and non-scholars, or else scholars of other fields like kidney medicine, which means they do not count under this rubric), and none of them could be counted among the world's greatest -- one may ask, regarded as greatest, by whom (other than Zindler?), and why?

  • On burden of proof, comparison is made thusly: "If someone claims that he never has to shave because every morning before he can get to the bathroom he is assaulted by a six-foot rabbit with extremely sharp teeth who trims his whiskers better than a razor - if someone makes such a claim, no skeptic need worry about constructing a disproof."

    This is yet more hyperbole. The mere existence of a person named Jesus is not comparable to a large rabbit with a shaving fetish, and Zindler is challenged to say how this is so.

  • Noting the dictum of N. T. Wright (whose work Zindler is certainly not qualified to address) that it would be easier to prove one of the Caesars a myth than Jesus, Zindler notes that there are coins with the images of these men.

    There certainly are, but these are of no more value than the Gospels if we wish to use mythicist logic. I say Tiberius never existed. The coins? They were produced by followers of Tiberius who believed he existed, or were trying to get others to believe he existed. So likewise the statues, engravings and gems with Tiberius' likeness. The deeds attributed to him were done by the Roman Senate, who were in on the conspiracy, and even set up a villa where he supposedly lived in order to fool the masses into thinking there was a Tiberius.

    When a public appearance was needed, they had a man who would pose as Tiberius; in fact the coin images may have been based on this imposter to add versimilitude to the myth.

    As we have said elsewhere, Christ-mythicism is a thesis of ease, and of explaining away evidence by any stretch possible. We will see that Zindler does the same in excusing away evidence for a historical Jesus.

  • Zindler offers a paragraph on "Old Testament 'Evidence'". I know of no "Christian apologists" who use the OT as a source for a historical Jesus, and Zindler does not name any. Thomas Paine is cited as someone whose examination of OT prophecies is worth a look; Paine's anachronistic and errant methodology is exposed here.
  • On the New Testament evidence: Zindler offersthe idea that Revelation is a reworked Jewish apocalypse, a theory not held by the vast majority of Revelation commentators (Aune, Gentry, Beale, etc. -- he cites one, Ford, in favor; though even here we have appreciated her work, this particular idea is on the same level as a Q hypothesis; see link below).

    It is said, "The main character of the book (referred to 28 times) would seem to be 'the Lamb,' an astral being seen in visions (no claims to historicity here), and the book overall is redolent of ancient astrology."

    Revelation is not supposed to be an account of the historical Jesus (rather, the risen Jesus), so Zindler's point is a case of misplaced expectation; though one would suggest that a passage like Rev. 11:8 ("And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.") requires some explanation (beyond Earl Doherty's "Jerusalem in the heavens" circular reasoning).

    One wonders as well what Zindler means by "astrology" -- if he means symbols of an astral nature are used, that is correct, but there is no sign of a "stars and planets control things" paradigm, which is what the word means when used today. One suspects that Zindler would prefer not to clarify (he only cites a work of Malina without explanation), because to do so would not allow for the superstitious association that the word "astrology" today carries.

  • Of Rev. it is said, "The name Jesus occurs only seven times in the entire book, Christ only four times, and Jesus Christ only twice!"

    Allowing for overlap this is only one off the actual total, but what does number of times named have to do with issues of historicity of a person? How many times would Rev. have to name "Jesus" to count him as historical? 25? 35? 50?

  • On the Gospels: There is nought but the usual summary form of late-dating/anonymity arguments of the sort we have dealt with here as well as the usual endorsement of Q/Marcan priority using ideas refuted here (notably the allegation that eyewitnesses would not plagiarize). Plus, the arguments about Jesus' genealogies (see here and here), and the observation, "It is significant that it is only these two gospels that purport to tell anything of Jesus' birth, childhood, or ancestry."

    Ancient biographies seldom said anything about a person's birth or childhood (single episodes like Luke's and Matthew's were typical, because the ancients believed the personality was static, and full accounts of childhood told nothing extraordinary of a person; sometimes one particular event was chosen as exemplary of their life), and Mark does give a genealogy when he calls Jesus in 1:1 the "Son of God." John, as shown in the linked item above, was intended to supplement Mark and would not repeat the same details.

    The objection that we "can know nothing of Jesus' childhood or origin" is entirely irrelevant and neglectful of the methods of ancient biography, as well as offering a demand with no purpose -- why should lack of such knowledge be a problem in the first place? Is it a problem with the existence of other historical figures as well? Why is no comparison made to other figures?

  • On Mark: It is objected that his account is "skimpy" though no comparison is made to other ancient biographies, nor is the data dealt with concerning physical constraints of writing in this period (see here). Suetonius' accounts of each of the twelve Caesars are as a whole no larger than Mark; is their "skimpiness" an issue?

    The relative length of Mark and Luke is used to suggest, "Stories do indeed grow with the retelling." This is a cart-before-the-horse argument. Even given a one-year ministry, it is obvious that it is always possible to report more or less about a person that is still absolutely true. Zindler is bypassing proof of the requisite middle premise showing that the difference is indeed due to fabrication.

  • Mark is dismissed as unreliable, based on quotes from G. A. Wells who brings up an issue we have covered here, issues of geography covered in the link above, points covered here, as well as this claim:

    One further evidence of the inauthenticity of Mark is the fact that in chapter 7, where Jesus is arguing with the Pharisees, Jesus is made to quote the Greek Septuagint version of Isaiah in order to score his debate point. Unfortunately, the Hebrew version says something different from the Greek. Isaiah 29:13, in the Hebrew reads "their fear of me is a commandment of men learned by rote," whereas the Greek version - and the gospel of Mark - reads "in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men" [Revised Standard Version). Wells observes dryly [p. 13], "That a Palestinian Jesus should floor Orthodox Jews with an argument based on a mistranslation of their scriptures is very unlikely." Indeed!

    Indeed, NOT. Zindler (and Wells) is apparently unaware that the LXX was accepted for such uses (see here), and as the point of the Hebrew is the same (hypocrisy) for Jesus' purposes, it hardly matters which authoritative version he used.

  • John's Gospel is dismissed on issues we cover in the link above, and a vague claim that there is "no hint that Jesus ever wore diapers: pure spirit from the beginning."

    Pure spirit? John 1:14 ("the word became flesh") is just the start of the Gospel in which Jesus eats, weeps, bleeds, and suffers. Is "pure spirit" capable of this?

  • Zindler also makes much of fallible human memory, but needs to look into ancient oral memory practices (see here; see also here) and abandon his graphocentric assumptions (i.e., "We also might wonder why an eye-witness of all the wonders claimed in a gospel would wait so long to write about them!") once he learns about ancient orality.
  • Appeal is also made to literary theories of John as a composite document, which is a theory of no more credence that the Q thesis (other than John 21 being an addendum by John himself, which is perfectly in line with ancient literary practice, and which Zindler will need to deal with in more than a paragraph).

    Allusion is made to Dionysus turning water to wine (see here) and it is said, "Nor is there anything in the Signs Gospel that would lead one to suppose that it was an eye-witness account." What is missing that would, then, lead someone to suppose such a thing, and what are some contemporary examples of eyewitness accounts that have this factor, and why is it a problem for reliability in the first place?

  • Paul is passed off first as an epileptic who had visions of Jesus; his other references are dismissed using Wells, who does not go as far as Earl Doherty but whose points are nevertheless refuted by the same response.
  • An objection is made about "hearsay" without explaining why it is problematic. (See here.)
  • Paul is divested of all but 6 of his 13 letters based on the word of unnamed, undescribed "Bible scholars and computer experts" -- see points here, here, and here for an exposure of the flaws in such methodology.
  • The rabbis who thought Jesus was historical are conveniently dismissed, with no analysis of their intelligence or critical capability, as uncritical and taking Jesus' historicity for granted.
  • We are given the Trypho error.
  • Josephus and Tacitus are dismissed using few new reasons than those we cover in the link above. Among the new:

    "As late as 891, Photius in his Bibliotheca, which devoted three 'Codices' to the works of Josephus, shows no awareness of the passage whatsoever even though he reviews the sections of the Antiquities in which one would expect the disputed passage to be found. Clearly, the testimonial was absent from his copy of Antiquities of the Jews. The question can probably be laid to rest by noting that as late as the sixteenth century, according to Rylands, a scholar named Vossius had a manuscript of Josephus from which the passage was wanting."

    A reader who has consulted Rylands' work notes that he offers no documentation for this claim concerning Vossius. This is probably Gerard Vossius (1577-1649) and I regard this claim as being as bogus as the Pope Leo X quote.

    For Photius the three "codices" were naught but summaries that give only thin slices out of all of Josephus' work, amounting to a few pericopes; lack of mention of the Jesus passages means nothing at all.

    Finally, this: "According to William Benjamin Smith's skeptical classic Ecce Deus, 15 there are still some manuscripts of Josephus which contain the quoted passages, but the passages are absent in other manuscripts..."

    According to Josephan scholars -- Smith is not one of them -- there are no manuscripts at all that lack the passages.

  • Here are a couple of Tacitus points: We have answered in a link above about Tacitus using the "incorrect" title for Pilate, but Zindler adds, "without saying procurator of what!"

    Of what? Tacitus says Christ was executed in Judaea, by Pilate; was Pilate conducting executions for other provinces?

    And: "According to Robert Taylor, the author of another freethought classic, the Diegesis (1834), the passage was not known before the fifteenth century, when Tacitus was first published at Venice by Johannes de Spire. Taylor believed de Spire himself to have been the forger."

    Taylor is now outdated by copies of Tacitus from the 11th century, but should never be used as a source anyway, as he is profligate in his errors and/or fabrication; see an example here.

  • On Greek and Roman writers not writing of the darkness at the crucifixion or not otherwise noting Jesus, see link above for specifics and here and here for some general principles of ancient recording of history. Zindler also might consider this with reference to the forming of a new religion.
  • So how did Christianity arise without a historical Jesus, and how did the historical Jesus arise? Zindler supposes that further study of the "communal psychopathologies which infested the Eastern Mediterranean world" (i.e., in less prejudiced terms, religious movements) will eventually allow us "to reconstruct in reasonable detail the stages by which Jesus came to have a biography."

    In essence, he has no explanation, but he does have faith (in the religious sense) that one will be discovered.

  • Appeal is made to "Remsberg's List", which we have dealt with here.
  • Now we move into the footnotes. On the spread of Christianity, Zindler says, "A similar argument could be made, however, in the case of the earlier rapid spread of Mithraism. I am unaware of any Christian apologists who would argue that this supports the idea of an historical Mithra!"

    Nothing in Mithraism had anything to do with a historical figure or a historical fact (other than the procession of the equinoxes), so this comparison is illicit. See again here (including the supplemental essay on Mithraism).

  • Brief reference is made in support of Marcan priority: "...it may be noted that shortening of miracle stories is completely out of keeping with the principles of religious development seen everywhere today."

    Everywhere today? I do not think for a moment that Zindler has actually examined the documentarian practices of any number of religious movements and found evidence of such development to any extent.

  • It is said that "at least one of these sayings [ascribed to Jesus] ("We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced…" Matt. 17:11; Luke 7:32) derives from Æsop's Fables, not from a sage of Galilee!"

    Zindler does not say where he gets this, much less does he say which fable of Aesop this is from, but he has the Matthean cite backwards (it is Matthew 11:17); no Matthean scholar knows of such a connection to Aesop, and the passage does translate back into a metrical pattern in Aramiac [Keener, 341].

  • "I say 'official gospels' because there are, in fact, many other gospels known. Once people started making them up, they sort of got stuck in over-drive. Only later on in Christian history did the number get pared back to four."

    Not even one of these gospels is named or analyzed, so this is merely a vague and unsubstantiated assertion.

  • Brief appeal is made to the idea of a Gnostic Paul, based on analysis from a book written in 1929.
  • There are comments about Jesus being rude to his family as evidence of "a political struggle [which] had developed between apostolically governed sects" but we can reflect that mirror-reading here.
  • On Tacitus it is said, "Latinists often dispute the possibility of the passage being a forgery on the grounds that Tacitus' distinctive Latin style so perfectly permeates the entire passage. But it should be noted that the more distinctive a style might be, the easier it can be imitated. Then too, there is a lapse from normal Tacitean usage elsewhere in the disputed passage. In describing the early Christians as being haters 'of the human race' (humani generis), the passage reverses the word order of normal Tacitean usage. In all other cases, Tacitus has generis humani."

    Zindler does not record all the other places where the order is reversed, much less find us a Latinist who finds this an issue, but assuming this is true at all, apparently we can have our cake and eat it too: If it has things not like Tacitus' work, it is a forgery; if it does look like Tacitus' work, it is a clever forgery. How is this any different from our idea above re fabricated coins and statues of Tiberius?

  • And, appeal to Nazareth not existing; see link above.

    So what more needs be said? Zindler has a lot of research to do before he can be regarded as worthy of a respectable hearing

    -JPH