Christian Deceptions 1: Suppress Inconvenient Evidence


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    The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of a martyr.
    Mohammed (c.570-629)


    Deliberate attempts have always been made to suppress material that was considered unsuitable by the Church. As already mentioned (page 39) Clement of Alexandria is known to have suppressed gospel material that did not suit him. As he explained in a letter, referring to the Secret Gospel of Mark:

    During Peter's stay in Rome he wrote an account of the Lord's doings, not however declaring all of them, nor yet hinting at the secret ones, but selecting those he thought most useful for increasing the faith of those who were being instructed. But when Peter died as a martyr, Mark came over to Alexandria, bringing his own notes and those of Peter, from which he transferred to his former book the things suitable to whatever makes for progress towards gnosis. Thus he composed a more spiritual gospel for the use of those who were being perfected.... *

    Here is confirmation not only that Peter was selective, but also that Mark subsequently tailored the information. What was in the original version of the gospel we may never know. The original was suppressed and its existence denied. Something similar seems to have happened to the story of Barabbas. The name Barabbas is composed of the elements bar (son of) and abba (father). In an early Greek version of Matthew, Barabbas was called Jesous Barabbas, which is a transcription of a Hebrew name that translates as Jesus son of the Father*. Were there two Jesuses, both claiming to be sons of God, and both arrested at the same time? It sounds unlikely. We may never know unless an earlier manuscript turns up. But scholars think it probable that there is more to the story than is related in surviving texts.

    Other important historical texts also suffered from tampering. For example Josephus recorded that a Judæan revolt (the First Jewish Revolt of AD 66) had been triggered by the killing of James, the brother of Jesus. The relevant passage does not occur in surviving manuscripts of Josephus, but authoritative Christian sources (both Eusebius and Origen) quote it. It would appear that the passage was edited out of the text by the Pauline line, which had an interest in minimising the importance of James.

    We know of many so-called heretics only through the works of their Christian enemies. The works of Helvidius are lost, and we know of them through the writings of St Jerome. Jerome thought that virginity was better than marriage (the line that came to be regarded as orthodox), while Helvidius held that Mary and Joseph had had a normal married life and that Jesus had younger brothers and sisters. As Jerome's line came to be orthodox his ideas are well documented while those of Helvidius are not. Similarly, we know of Gnostic ideas mainly through the writing of their mainstream Christian enemies. Marcion's ideas for example, or a distorted version of them, are known through Tertullian's work Against Marcion. Marcion's own writings are "lost", destroyed by the rival Christian faction that we now call orthodox. When Gnostic writings are recovered, as at Nag Hammadi in Egypt, it frequently turns out that Gnostics did not believe what "orthodox" critics said they believed. And of course in their writings the roles are reversed. The Gnostics see themselves as holding the true line, while the line that is now held to be orthodox is represented as merely another heretical faction*.

    As Christian doctrine developed, important early Christian writers came to be regarded as heretical, and their writings were destroyed. In this way the mainstream Church sought to root out any suggestion that its own version of orthodoxy was flawed. For example the book known as 1 Enoch was once regarded as scripture. It failed to be accepted into the biblical canon in the West, and was subsequently "lost". In the Ethiopian Church, however, it was accepted as scripture and so survived to be rediscovered by Western Christianity in modern times. Numerous gospels and letters, also "lost", are referred to in surviving documents. Origen mentioned a Jewish apocryphal work called the Prayer of Joseph, which might have shed considerable light on Jewish ideas about semi-divine men, but it has been "lost"*. Origen was a prolific writer but was himself later condemned as a heretic. Consequently, not one of his scriptural commentaries has survived in full.

    Eusebius refers to writings by one Symmachus that cast doubt on the gospel attributed to Matthew* — writings that have since been "lost". He also mentions the neo-platonist Porphyry, who is known to have written fifteen volumes against the orthodox line, exposing the scriptures as fraudulent (he knew what modern scholars have independently discovered, for example that the book of Daniel could not have been written when it was purported to have been ). He also pointed out that the apostles could hardly have been infallible if they quarrelled with each other as the New Testament said. His works were banned as soon as the Empire became Christian , and all fifteen volumes were "lost". Writings explicitly opposed to Christianity were also destroyed. The work of Aulus Cornelius Celsus, Truth Established, has also been "lost". Our knowledge of it comes from Origen's attempt to refute the book's arguments in Contra Celsum. Similarly we know of the Emperor Julian's criticisms of Christianity in his treatise Adversus Christianos only because of Cyril of Alexandria's attempts to refute them.

    Occasionally copies of lost works turn up unexpectedly. The Epistle to Diognetus was once "lost", but a copy was discovered in a fish market in Constantinople. Some works survived for centuries, before someone realised the threat to orthodoxy, or before negligence took its toll. Hegesippus's works were reputedly extant as late as the seventeenth century. They have all since disappeared, including five books of memoirs and a succession list of the earliest bishops of Rome. It is not known whether they were destroyed or hidden away. Other works were tampered with to make them orthodox, or to keep them orthodox. For example the seven letters of Ignatius of Antioch. suffered in this way. As one authority puts it:

    Eusebius clearly knew them all. But in their authentic form they became known again only in the seventeenth century, for in the fourth century the Ignatian Correspondence was added to, both by interpolation in authentic epistles and by the addition of spurious ones, and this so-called "Long Recension" all but cast into oblivion any witness to the authentic epistles*.

    Christian authorities have been responsible for the "loss" of countless invaluable historical and religious records over the last 2,000 years or so: purportedly apostolic and apocryphal writings, Gnostic and Ebionite writings, classical and philosophical writings, Jewish writings and the sacred writings of other religions, all criticism of Christianity, non-compliant histories, anything savouring of heresy or originality. Later we shall see that all manner of other works were also destroyed: science, mathematics, architecture, natural history, medicine, ancient classics — all writings in fact not currently considered orthodox, and in practice this meant everything except officially approved propaganda.

    Even the records of Church Councils and ancient biblical texts were mislaid, destroyed or otherwise "lost". Many such documents were for example collected for the famous Council of Trent (1546), never to be seen again. Other records have also been lost. For example Church records of trials for witchcraft and heresy are remarkably scanty. Much hard evidence comes from independent contemporary accounts, secret letters and municipal records. Other Church records have also been mysteriously lost — records of torture, show trials, interference in politics, and so on. Even recent records are prone to get unaccountably lost. Church records of proceedings against individuals and political groups even in the twentieth century have been mysteriously "lost".


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    § The word recension denotes a revised text.

    §. Toy, What are Apocryphal Writings, p 19. For more on this see Morton Smith, The Secret Gospel ( London, 1974).

    §. In the Novum Testamentum Graece et Latine, by Augustinus Merk, edited in 1933 for the Istituto Biblico Pontificio, Matthew 27:16 is given as " ...And they had then a notable prisoner, Jesus called Barabbas ...", which at least introduces the name Jesus, even if it leaves Barabbas untranslated.

    §. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, gives examples at pp 9, 15, note 8 on p 166.

    §. John Hick (ed.), The Myth of God Incarnate, p 113 citing Origen Comm. In Joh., 2.31.

    §. Eusebius, The History of the Church, 6:17.

    §. Andrew Louth (ed.), Maxwell Staniforth (trans.) Early Christian Writings, p 55.


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