When I was a child, I spake as a child,
I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when
I became a man, I put away childish things.
This case study is a little different. Here we will look at
how the mainstream Churches have changed their views, and why
they have changed their views, on the reliability of the Bible.
Porphyry (c.232-c.303) demonstrated that the book of Daniel
could not have been written when Jews and Christians claimed
it was. His works were later condemned and burned , and facts
he had unearthed were denied, then forgotten. Christian writings
attempting to refute his works were also burned, as even these
works were too compromising. Again, early Christians had been
well aware that the scriptures contradicted each other, but
this too was denied. Anyone who could read could see the contradictions
for themselves. For a long time laymen were not permitted to
learn to read, so there was little danger of them finding out
the truth. Those who let out the secret were dealt with. Those
outside the Church could expect death. Those inside could expect
the same, unless they were already respected scholars. Pierre
Abélard is perhaps the best known example. In the eleventh
century he was sentenced to life imprisonment for listing Church
contradictions in a work entitled Sic et Non (Yes
When humanist scholars returned to Hebrew and Greek texts of
the Bible, they discovered that many passages had been badly
misinterpreted. The authority of many medieval accretions was
destroyed, and this created a wave of reaction against the Church.
Humanists ridiculed the Church in works such as Sebastian Brandt's
Narrenschiff (Ship of Fools) of 1494, and
Erasmus's Moriae Encomium (In Praise of Folly)
of 1509. Written soon after the introduction of printing, such
works became best sellers, and their widespread popularity ensured
the life and liberty of their authors. Humanism and the revival
of learning would fuel the Reformation.
When Protestant Churches came into being, the Bible became
available to all, even in vernacular translations. Now it was
not only scholars who were aware of discrepancies and textual
irregularities in the Bible. By the seventeenth century men
of learning were starting to air the existence of contradictions
publicly. In his Leviathan, published in 1651, Hobbes
gave cogent reasons why Moses could not possibly have written
the whole of the Pentateuch. He risked his life in doing so.
A few years later, in 1679, a student at Edinburgh University
made the same assertion, along with other similar ones, and
was hanged for it. Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) risked persecution
by Jews and Christians when he pointed out biblical mistakes,
inconsistencies and impossibilities, thus denying the infallibility
of scripture. Newton doubted the authenticity of the New Testament
but chose to keep his views to himself.
In an academic study of 1711 a German minister, H. B. Witter,
disclosed his discovery that the Bible's account of the creation
was really two interwoven stories, written by different authors
and at different times (see page
30 ). In the 1720s Thomas Woolston was put under house arrest
for life, for voicing doubts about the Resurrection and other
biblical miracles. In 1753 Jean d"Astruc, a physician to
Louis XV, took Witter's ideas a stage further, revealing in
an anonymous booklet that different hands could be seen in the
book of Genesis. By the simple method of stripping out the text
in which the author referred to God as Jahveh, and
the text in which the author referred to him as Elohim,
is was possible to identify coherent strands that had been edited
together. Suddenly the duplication two creations, two
accounts of the flood, and so on made sense. Witter's
ideas rapidly gained acceptance among scholars.
A few years later Thomas Paine popularised the right to doubt
in England. In The Age of Reason he established that
the Old Testament books could not have been written by the authors
ascribed to them, that their chronologies were absurd, that
they contradicted themselves on many points, and that many of
the claims traditionally made for them were untenable. He purported
to show that the story of Jesus was false and that the canonical
gospels had not been written by their ascribed authors. He said
that the biblical story of Jesus had every mark of fraud and
imposition stamped upon the face of it. At the time Paine's
findings were denied, and he was considered a blasphemous atheist.
But now the facts were available to all, not just a closed circle
of scholars. People were teaching themselves to read specifically
so that they could read Paine's works for themselves.
By the end of the seventeenth century the genie was well and
truly out of the bottle. Protestant scholars were pioneering
new forms of biblical criticism, particularly in Germany, where
biblical scholarship was not under Church control as it was
elsewhere in Europe. H. S. Reimarus , Professor of Hebrew and
Oriental Languages at Hamburg, rejected the biblical miracle
stories, held that Jesus was a failed revolutionary, and deduced
that biblical authors were fraudulent. Such opinions were highly
controversial, and would have cost Reimarus his job if they
had been published during his lifetime.
Scholars started wondering who had written the Pentateuch if
it had not been Moses. J. G. Eichorn (1752-1827), a German Old
Testament scholar, confirmed d"Astruc's view that there
are two distinct strands in Genesis, a J strand where God is
called Jahveh, and an E strand where he is referred
to as Elohim. There were thus at least two authors.
Eichorn's work was fiercely rejected by theologians, and attempts
to have it translated into English were frustrated by Church
and university authorities. It was finally translated only in
the twentieth century.
By the end of the eighteenth century scholarly scepticism was
gathering pace, though scholars were still paying a high price
for their integrity. W. M. L. De Wette , a Berlin professor
in the first part of the nineteenth century, doubted biblical
miracles and regarded the stories of Jesus" birth and the
Resurrection as mythical. He was deprived of his professorial
chair. Around the same time F. C. Baur founded the Tübingen
School, which held that the New Testament was largely a second
century synthesis of ideas from Jewish followers of Peter and
gentile followers of Paul. In 1835 the first part of D. F. Strauss's
Leben Jesu (Life of Jesus) was published.
Comparing the gospel accounts, Strauss deduced that the miracle
stories were mythical, and that the gospel stories were not
eyewitness accounts, but later conflations of garbled traditions.
He was dismissed from his post at Tübingen University.
His colleagues, though sympathetic, dared not speak out for
fear of their own positions.
No matter how many teachers were dismissed, or professors deprived
of their chairs, the movement was now unstoppable. In the same
year the Berlin philologist Karl Lachmann argued that contrary
to Church teaching, the Mark gospel was an earlier work than
the Matthew gospel, a view that is now almost universally accepted.
By the 1880s Julius Wellhausen had identified the four main
strands running through the Pentateuch.
Closely related to textual analysis of the Bible was modernism.
Modernists accepted the fallibility not only of the Bible, but
also of other authorities, including tradition, councils and
Modernists were however still sincere Christians. Attempting
to salvage something from the consequences of their own scholarship
they advocated the reinterpretation of Church teachings. They
held that Christianity must be continuously revised in the light
of contemporary requirements and advances in scientific opinion.
As time went on, and scholarship became more refined, positions
veered ever further from traditional teaching. Albert Schweitzer
(1875-1965) believed Jesus to have been a badly mistaken man
whose crucifixion came as rather a nasty shock to him. Rudolf
Bultmann, Professor at Marburg between 1921 and 1951, saw almost
the whole of the New Testament as mythical. German Protestants
had to accommodate themselves to an entirely new theology where
the Bible was at best figurative rather than literal, and at
worst a mish-mash of various people's fantasies. Many scholars,
like D. F. Strauss, ended their lives no longer Christians at
The position of the Church of England had been crystallised
soon after the Reformation. Its position on any matter of doctrine
that might have been in doubt was stated explicitly in the 39
Articles of Religion. The King's Declaration prefixing the Articles
specifically prohibited "the least difference from the
said Articles" and took pride that clergymen "all
agree in the true, usual, literal meaning of the said Articles".
Nevertheless, scepticism grew within the Church of England.
Many educated people, including at least one Archbishop of Canterbury,
had harboured doubts about the Trinity even in the seventeenth
century, but most kept their views to themselves*.
By the early eighteenth century Anthony Collins was able to
point out discrepancies between Old Testament prophecies and
their supposed fulfilment in the New*.
Widespread doubts were becoming publicly visible in the late
eighteenth century as more and more people read Thomas Paine.
By the nineteenth century a school of Modernists known as Neologians
flourished in Oxford. They survived through influential support
and a relatively liberal atmosphere. Even so, many clerics felt
obliged to leave the Church, even though it meant giving up
their university positions. Notable losses included Arthur Hugh
Clough (1848), J. A. Froude (1849) and Sir Leslie Stephen (1862).
The Professor of Theology at King's College, London lost his
chair in 1853 for making observations about eternity that now
seem particularly unremarkable*.
Neologians, or Broad Churchmen as they came to be known, became
ever more vocal. Their views seemed particularly threatening
after Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859.
In 1860 a collection of Essays and Reviews by Broad
Churchmen raised a storm of controversy, and two of its authors
were tried for heresy: one for denying the inspiration of scripture,
the other for denying eternal punishment. Five counts were upheld
in the ecclesiastical court (the Court of Arches), and sentence
passed, but the verdicts were overturned on appeal to the Judicial
Committee of the Privy Council. At around the same time the
Bishop of Natal in South Africa was also tried for heresy for
pointing out biblical contradictions, denying accepted authorship
and doubting eternal punishment. He was condemned, deprived
and excommunicated, but then acquitted on appeal to the Privy
The requirements of His Majesty's declaration had become untenable.
In 1865 an Act of Parliament, the Clerical Subscription
Act, decreed that the clergy were not to be bound by every
word of the 39 Articles, but that they should assent to their
general tone and meaning. The Church approved this in the following
year. It opened the door to questioning all of the Articles
openly, although the implicit understanding was that theologians
should do so only amongst themselves. It was a sort of open
secret among the educated classes that science had discredited
traditional teachings and that they could no longer be interpreted
literally. Yet it was not permissible to admit such a thing
openly. In the 1880s an eminent Scottish professor, William
Robertson Smith, was tried for contributing articles to the
Encyclopaedia Britannica that discussed Wellhausen's
discoveries and suggested the Bible could be analysed scientifically.
Smith won his case but lost his chair at Aberdeen University.
The fallibility of traditional Church teaching was still a
sort of open secret, and scholars were still expected to keep
quiet about certain matters in public. In the twentieth century
a number of leading churchmen caused uproar in the Church by
breaking this convention, for example by openly rejecting the
Virgin Birth, denying the Resurrection, and questioning whether
Christ had instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper. Among
them have been E. W. Barnes, the Bishop of Birmingham, in 1947;
and J. A. T. Robinson, the Bishop of Woolwich, with his book
Honest To God in 1963. Robinson felt safe enough to
concede that "God is intellectually superfluous, emotionally
dispensable and morally intolerable". Later, numerous theologians
contributed to The Myth of God Incarnate in 1977; and
David Jenkins, Prince Bishop of Durham, made various pronouncements
throughout the 1980s on subjects such as his scepticism about
Jesus" physical Resurrection. In his 1998 book Why
Christianity Must Change or Die, John Spong Episcopal bishop
of Newark, New Jersey, dismissed the idea that Jesus was divine
and pointed out that the God that most traditional Christians
believe in is an ogre. Richard Holloway, Archbishop of Edinburgh,
published a book called Godless Morality in 1999, destroying
the myth that morality is a specifically Christian characteristic.
Each time there were excited calls for resignations, defrockings
and heresy trials. The furore was not so much over the ideas,
which were increasingly widely shared, but over the breaking
of the convention that the faithful masses should not be told
about scholarly opinion within the Church.
The experience of the Roman Church was somewhat different.
It was wary of allowing its scholars access to the opinions
of others because so many had so often defected in the past.
A number of crusaders, for example, had joined the Eastern Churches,
or converted to Islam, and preachers sent to convert heretics
were themselves frequently converted. Even senior churchmen
defected, most notably Bernardino Ochino (1487-1564). Ochino,
who had been head of the Capuchin Order, had been granted permission
to study Protestant books in order to refute them. In the course
of his studies he converted to Protestantism. A safer reaction
to the views of non-Catholics was to ignore them. Such views
were heretical, and no good could come from studying them. The
best safeguard was ignorance.
Traditionalist Catholics saw Modernism
as a dangerous heresy, its evil tentacles embacing schools,
churches, colleges and other Christian institutions. Cartoon
by Catholic cartoonist E J Pace (1880-1946)
Pope Clement XI, in his constitution Unigenitus of
1713, insisted that the reading of the holy scriptures was not
for everyone. Open debate was not for Roman Catholics. No matter
that the genie had been long gone, the Roman Church still hoped
to force the stopper back into the bottle. Cardinal Newman,
who regarded anyone who questioned the infallibility of the
Bible as being wicked at heart, kept his copy of Paine's The
Age of Reason locked up in a safe to protect his students.
Late in the nineteenth century Roman Catholic theologians became
aware of the spectacular progress in understanding of the origins
of the Bible that had been made by German Protestants. Catholic
scholars were being left far behind, as the Germans" critical
approach was almost universally accepted in academic circles
outside the Roman Church. The then Pope, Leo XIII, relented.
He permitted new research because he wanted Roman Catholic scholars
to be able to refute the views of Protestant ones. His hopes
misfired, for the more his theologians studied the Bible scientifically,
the less easy they found it to accommodate themselves to Roman
A Roman Catholic Modernist movement soon created difficulties
throughout Europe. In England the Modernist George Tyrrell was
obliged to retire to the countryside after writing about Hell
in 1899. He was later expelled from the Jesuit order and excommunicated.
In France the threat to orthodoxy grew ever greater. Theological
books by Lucien Laberthonnière in 1903 and 1904 were
placed on the Index. Pierre Batiffol, who was associated with
the Modernists, was forced to resign as Rector of the Institut
Catholique at Toulouse in 1905, and his book on the Eucharist
was placed on the Index in 1911. Alfred Loisy, one of the leaders
of Roman Catholic Modernism in France, published works that
acknowledged that, far from being divine and infallible, the
Bible is full of errors. He doubted the Virgin Birth and the
authenticity of the John gospel. Five of his works were placed
on the Index in 1903-4, he lost his chair at the Institut
Catholique in Paris, and he was excommunicated in 1907,
along with Tyrrell.
The Catholic cartoonist E J Pace, perhaps
correctly, saw Modernism as the first step towards atheism.
In the cartoon below drawn in 1922 he intends to horrify
his readership by showing the steps from Christianity
to atheism. It is not obvious why "no diety"
appears before "agnosticism".
Modernism was in danger of running away with orthodoxy, and
had to be stopped. Pope Pius X condemned the Modernist movement
in the decree Lamentabili, as part of his attack on
theological novelties in 1907. He treated progress as something
akin to heresy. Soon afterwards a papal encyclical, Pascendi
dominici gregis, envisaged a massive conspiracy, inspired
by Protestants, to undermine the Roman Church. The Pope was
particularly opposed to the heresy of Americanism a species
of Modernism that upheld democracy, progress, secular education
and unfettered reason. In 1910 Pius authorised a strong anti-Modernist
oath to be taken by all ministers and teachers. More writers
were excommunicated, and the Church was cleansed. Modernism
apparently disappeared from the Roman Church, and Roman Catholic
teaching was back in the Middle Ages. A Handbook of Heresies,
published some 20 years later and bearing the Roman Catholic
imprimatur, states the position as follows:
In the Catholic Church, true to the dogmatic principle taught
by the living Voice, Modernism could retain no foothold. Outside
the Unity it was far otherwise: in all sects, but especially
the Anglican Establishment, owing to her boast of comprehensiveness,
and to her purposely ambiguous formulas, modernism has triumphed.
One by one the old creeds, the old doctrines are restated,
re-interpreted, rejected. To-day there is no sect in Europe
of any size or standing that dares insist on the acceptance
of any dogma whatever in its literal meaning
as a condition of membership or even ministry. The Catholic
Church alone stands today as she has ever stood, judging
not judged by modern thought ...*
The position is not really quite so straightforward. For one
thing popes are still finding it necessary to censor clerical
opinion. Hans Küng, Edward Schillebeeckx and Leonardo Boff
have all been silenced for voicing opinions that differ from
the Pope's . The first woman to hold a chair of Roman Catholic
theology (Uta Ranke-Heinemann) had her teaching licence withdrawn
in 1987, after she questioned the Virgin Birth. On the other
hand, during the twentieth century the Roman Church has slowly
been doing what it always said it would never do, reconciling
itself to progress. Around the beginning of the 1980s, Pope
John Paul II finally acknowledged what Eichorn had known well
over a century before, that there are two distinct strands in
Genesis, a J strand where God is called Jahveh, and
an E strand where God is referred to as Elohim*.
If John Paul II had said this when he was a young priest, he
would never have been allowed a licence to teach theology, and
could have been excommunicated as a Modernist heretic. If he
had said it a few centuries earlier he would have been burned
at the stake. The fact is that the Roman Church shifts ground
just like the more liberal Churches it is just that it
moves so slowly that not everybody notices.
Many biblical scholars now agree with Thomas Paine that the
biblical story of Jesus has every mark of fraud and imposition
stamped upon the face of it, and they may not have to wait long
before a pope agrees, although his wording may be a little more
He who will not reason is a bigot; he who cannot is a fool,
and he who dare not is a slave. George Gordon, Lord Byron
There are still a few sensitive areas where Churches will try
to defeat science and scholarship by the traditional techniques
of interpreting and "losing" important evidence. We
have seen that traditionally the Church would destroy inconvenient
writings and replace them with its own forgeries. It cannot
hope to get away with forgeries in the twenty-first century,
but there is still scope for traditional methods of manipulation.
One such case in which the Roman Church has been involved is
that of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which have been described as the
most important archaeological discovery ever*.
In 1948 a number of ancient scrolls were discovered in a cave
in the Judæan hills, at a place called Qumran. More scrolls
were discovered buried in nearby caves. The scrolls dated from
before AD 70, most of them Old Testament biblical texts at least
1,000 years older than other known copies. There were also other
texts, previously unknown. The excavation of these scrolls was
overseen by Father Roland de Vaux, a Roman Catholic priest,
who taught at the Ecole Biblique et Archéologique,
a French Catholic Theological School in Jerusalem. This
institution was run by Dominicans, and had been established
in 1890, in accordance with the Church's then policy of using
biblical and archaeological studies to strengthen the faith.
Some of the scrolls disappeared, but others ended up in the
Rockefeller Museum, the Palestine Archaeological Museum in East
Jerusalem. A group of scholars was assembled to study the scrolls
under the leadership of de Vaux, almost all Christians, and
with a heavy concentration of Roman Catholics nominated by the
Ecole. No Jews were included, ostensibly for political
reasons, although the scrolls were clearly Jewish, and needed
a Jewish historian to set them in context. No atheists were
included, although one agnostic, John Allegro, was allowed access
to selected texts. De Vaux continued to refuse to allow any
Jews to work on the scrolls in the Rockefeller, even after Jerusalem
came under Israeli control in 1967.
It was soon apparent that the scrolls contained information
that did not fit well with Christian orthodoxy. In particular
the scrolls revealed that whoever occupied Qumran, they had
their own Davidic messiah, whom they regarded as a "son
of God" and as begotten of God. This text was not officially
published, although details were leaked and published in the
Biblical Archaeology Review in 1990*.
In other inconvenient texts, the word messiah is translated
as "thine anointed" apparently in order to disguise
its full import exactly as earlier translators had done
with biblical texts. Also it came to light that the Qumran community
practised baptism, recognised 12 leaders based in Jerusalem,
and shared goods in common (cf. Acts 2:44-6). They also used
many phrases now regarded as characteristically Christian (such
as "followers of the Way" and "poor in spirit").
They also recognised a Teacher of Righteousness, echoing
a title accorded to Jesus" brother James and perhaps to
Jesus himself*. They ate
meals together, a priest blessing the bread and wine.
And when they gather for the Community table …and
mix the wine for drinking, let no man stretch forth his hand
on the first of the bread or the wine before the priest, for
it is he who will bless the first fruits of bread and wine…And
afterwards, the Messiah of Israel shall stretch out his hands
upon the bread.... *
Some passages link together and explain early Christian texts,
but these too were not published. Despite many striking similarities
between the community at Qumran and early Christianity, the
Roman Catholic Church scholars insisted that they were completely
different. De Vaux consistently misinterpreted evidence
archaeological, numismatic, textual and palaeographological
in order to make the facts fit his preconceptions. Despite the
evidence he continued to hold that the site was occupied by
a peace-loving Essene community, and that it dated from a century
or two before Christian times. In fact there is good evidence
that Zealots occupied the site during and after the time of
Jesus. De Vaux and his fellow priests not only advocated their
own (objectively untenable) theory, but they also did their
best to discredit anyone who made alternative suggestions about
interpretation, virulently denouncing scholars like John Allegro,
Robert Eisenman and Edmund Wilson who pointed out that de Vaux's
team had interpreted the texts to suit their own religious beliefs.
Sometimes the team found it necessary to minimise the importance
of texts that do not conform to Roman Catholic preconceptions.
In a particularly striking example, de Vaux dismissed one scroll
(the important "copper scroll") as a mere fantasy,
claiming that it was of interest to historians of folk-lore,
and dismissing it as "a whimsical product of a deranged
A suspicious level of control was exercised in the allocation
of material, and some of it was kept secret. All fragments were
brought first to de Vaux or another Ecole nominee (Milik),
and complete secrecy was kept until they had had the opportunity
to study them*. By the
mid-1950s a gulf was opening up between John Allegro and other
members of the team. Allegro's objective assessments were not
at all to the liking of his Christian colleagues.
In 1956 de Vaux was appointed to the Pontifical Biblical Commission
, providing a direct chain of control from the Vatican. Since
1956 every director of the Ecole Biblique has also
been a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. The Church
seemed to be tightening its grip. By the end of 1957 Allegro
realised that "the non-Catholic members of the team are
being removed as quickly as possible.... "*.
Later he claimed that ".... de Vaux will stop at nothing
to control the scrolls material" and "I am convinced
that if something does turn up which affects Roman Catholic
dogma, the world will never see it. De Vaux will scrape the
money out of some other barrel and send the lot to the Vatican
to be hidden or destroyed.... "*.
Since the Catholic faction exerted total control, there is no
way of knowing whether Allegro was right. Many suspect that
inconvenient material was suppressed, in much the same way that
inconvenient material has been suppressed in previous centuries.
Access to the scrolls was allowed only to those who could be
trusted to promote the approved Church line. This seems to have
been one reason why Jewish scholars were denied access, despite
the fact that the scrolls were Jewish documents, written by
Jews for Jews. Ignorance of Judaism was no bar to being involved,
and dislike of Judaism appears to have been acceptable. John
Strugnell, who became head of the Qumran team in 1987, published
almost nothing of the mass of materials available to him. He
was unusually open about his views on Judaism, even if badly
mistaken about his facts. In a widely reported interview he
disclosed that Judaism is "a horrible religion. It's a
Christian heresy, and we deal with our heretics in different
ways"*. Apart from
any other implications, this did little to inspire confidence
in his scholarship, and particularly his understanding of the
relationship between Judaism and Christianity.
In the opinion of many, the secrecy surrounding the Dead Sea
Scrolls is an outrage*.
The scrolls were kept secret for decades by men with strong
religious convictions and a strong interest in maintaining Roman
Catholic orthodoxy whatever the objective evidence might be.
De Vaux never published a final report of the original excavations.
There has never been a full inventory of all the scrolls and
fragments , and some of the more interesting texts were published
after forty years only because they had been leaked. After half
a century, Allegro, the sole agnostic, was still the only scholar
to have published all of the material in his care. The failure
of the others is widely recognised as scandalous. Morton Smith,
Professor Emeritus of Religion at Columbia University, has described
the failure to publish the scrolls as "too disgusting"
even to talk about. Geza Vermes, Reader in Jewish Studies at
Oxford University, has called the secrecy about and excessive
control over the scrolls "the academic scandal par
excellence of the twentieth century".
There are other candidates for the title "the academic
scandal par excellence of the twentieth century",
including archaeological abuses. An example is the archaeology
carried out at St. Peter's Basilica, the church of the Vatican.
According to a late tradition Saint Peter was buried here. In
1939 an archaeological excavation in the grottoes below the
current Basilica uncovered Roman mausoleums from the necropolis.
In the area under the high altar, the excavators found a structure
resembling a temple that they named the aedicula (meaning little
temple). There, they allegedly found the tomb of St Peter. This
discovery lacks scientific credibility and a number of scholars
consider the findings fraudulent. Here are a few of the relevant
- The excavators were Jesuits
- Although it was already known that the basilica was built
on top of a large pagan necropolis on the Vatican Hill, but
no relevant independent experts with this specialism were
- the entire excavation was kept secret for 10 years.
- The excavation destroyed the aedicula floor. Inadequate
records were kept, so that it is impossible for independent
archaeologists to assess whether the findings are genuine
- the bones were found when the pope himself visited the excavation
- An independent scholar allowed to examine the bones was
only allowed to do so on condition that he did not publish
- The bones cannot all be Peter's, there are leg bones from
at least 5 separate legs. The bones also includes the remains
of farm animals.
- The arrangement of bones sounds distinctly unlikely for
the burial of an important Christian. The various bones, including
chicken bones, had been heaped together and piled under a
wall in an otherwise empty grave.
- Soil attached to the bones does not appear to match soil
in the grave.
- In 1942, the Administrator of St. Peter's, Monsignor Ludwig
Kaas,who oversaw the dig, but had no knowledge of archaeological
practice, secretly ordered some of the bones to be stored
elsewhere for safe-keeping.
- After Kaas's death, tests revealed that the remains belonged
to a man in his sixties. On the basis of this, Pope Paul VI
announced on June 26, 1968 ,that the relics of St. Peter had
been discovered. Antonio Ferrua, the leading archaeologist
at the excavation said that he was not convinced that the
bones that were found were those of St. Peter
- There is no evidence that the grave was that of Saint Peter.
The identification is based on an incomplete graffito, one
possible meaning of which is "Peter is here". This
graffito is itself suspect, but even if it were genuine and
even if the incomplete text "...pet... en..." had
been correctly interpreted as, it could mean "Peter [the
graffiti artist] was here".
- The graffito was found after the bones, when Catholics were
looking for a connection to Peter.
- The graffito was found on a piece of plaster. There is no
photograph or other record of the location of the original
plaster. The plaster is a fragment which had allegedly broken
from a nearby wall. It is no longer possible to determine
where it came from.
Church still advertises the site as the tomb of Saint Peter.
Sceptical scholars suspect deliberate manipulation by someone
who did not think through the implications of their fraud. Sceptics
suggest that bones had been collected by the excavators from
around the necropolis, and grouped together by Jesuits or Vatican
officials, the graffito having also been found elsewhere, and
possibly chipped to leave a few words that can be interpreted
as meaning that Peter was nearby. By doing this, the Jesuits
would be relieved of the embarrassment of a Pagan temple directly
under the high alter of Saint Peter's Basilica, and furnished
with evidence of the existence of the man they regard as the
first pope. The sceptics' case is bolstered by the fact that
the Vatican has still not permitted a proper independent scientific
investigation of the evidence.
A great deal of intellectual dishonesty is evidenced in the
history of Christianity. This dishonesty seems to have continued
from the earliest times to the present day. Why should any organisation
have engaged in such extensive forgery, destruction and manipulation?
Why have honest scholars been persecuted for 2,000 years whenever
they have pointed out a problem? And why has it been necessary
to shift ground so radically so radically that bishops
and popes now hold beliefs that were previously so heretical
that people were burned alive for holding them?