Atwill Documentary...excellent stuff
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08-06-2014, 05:11 PM (This post was last modified: 08-06-2014 05:30 PM by Mark Fulton.)
RE: Atwill Documentary...excellent stuff
(08-06-2014 05:14 AM)Bucky Ball Wrote:  
(08-06-2014 01:00 AM)Michael_Tadlock Wrote:  Ok, your right. According to this source, Mathew borrowed heavily from Mark which was believed to have been written in the 70s.

http://www.theopedia.com/Gospel_of_Matthew

"Theopedia'' and "church fathers" ? You can't possibly be serious. And not one mention of the Q source. Really ? The 4 (now canonical) gospels are vastly different literary works, with vastly different concepts and (pre) suppositions in each. They (as Carrier has demonstrated) exhibit a highly stylized mythological literary format. Each address to a very specific audience, each showing specific developments and understandings.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILldt2XHZw0
Does Atwill address the question of who and why produced all the other (Gnostic) gospels ? I've never seen that anywhere. I don't see why Rome would have had to even think about doing this. If they did, it would have been in a pattern of other similar attempts, in other places. Are there other examples where Rome attempted this in other places ?

"Does Atwill address the question of who and why produced all the other (Gnostic) gospels ?"

No. And he should have. My guess, and it is only a guess, is that the other forms of Christianity such as the Gnostics originated from the government too. I suspect this was the government's pre-war effort. They were pre-Jesus (because the gospels were written after the war) so only referred to the Christ, as per Paul for example.
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08-06-2014, 05:17 PM
RE: Atwill Documentary...excellent stuff
(08-06-2014 04:16 AM)Chas Wrote:  
(08-06-2014 01:37 AM)Mark Fulton Wrote:  Ok. Here is the odd thing though. None of the Church Fathers in the first century quoted from Matthew Mark Luke or John. In fact the gospels didn't have these names attached to them until the 180s! So I don't think anyone, including Atwill, knows for sure when the gospels were first written, although it was before 180 CE.

Justin Martyr, writing in the 150s in Rome, and has as a lot of surviving writings, never quotes diirectly from any of the four gospels. Interesting heh!

Does that not conflict with the fact that the Flavian dynasty was from 69 - 96 CE?

Yes. It does. This is a problem with Atwill's theory. It's also a problem for all scholars who place the Gospels (as we now know them) prior to the time of Justin Martyr. If anyone out there has a comment about this I would be very glad to hear it.
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08-06-2014, 05:28 PM (This post was last modified: 08-06-2014 06:05 PM by Mark Fulton.)
RE: Atwill Documentary...excellent stuff
(08-06-2014 05:14 AM)Bucky Ball Wrote:  
(08-06-2014 01:00 AM)Michael_Tadlock Wrote:  Ok, your right. According to this source, Mathew borrowed heavily from Mark which was believed to have been written in the 70s.

http://www.theopedia.com/Gospel_of_Matthew

"Theopedia'' and "church fathers" ? You can't possibly be serious. And not one mention of the Q source. Really ? The 4 (now canonical) gospels are vastly different literary works, with vastly different concepts and (pre) suppositions in each. They (as Carrier has demonstrated) exhibit a highly stylized mythological literary format. Each address to a very specific audience, each showing specific developments and understandings.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILldt2XHZw0
Does Atwill address the question of who and why produced all the other (Gnostic) gospels ? I've never seen that anywhere. I don't see why Rome would have had to even think about doing this. If they did, it would have been in a pattern of other similar attempts, in other places. Are there other examples where Rome attempted this in other places ?

"Are there other examples where Rome attempted this in other places ?"

Not in the same way. Don't forget Judaism was very unique. The Jews were obsessed with their Scriptures. I don't think there was another religion at the time in which the participants were so obsessed with pouring over parchments. What the Romans usually did was took the gods of conquered nations and made them their own. Nearly every day of the Roman calendar was dedicated to some god or another. They built temples for foreign gods in Rome. They couldn't do this with Judaism… there was only one temple, the daddy of all temples, and it was in Jerusalem. It was difficult to suddenly become a Jew. You had to lose the tip of your penis, couldn't eat certain foods, had to stop work on Saturday, and had to worship a violent, primitive anti Gentile god, and you thought you were one of God's chosen, and therefore deserved to be on top of the tree (where the Romans in reality were.) So I think the government just decided to reinvent what it meant to be a Jew and this was how Christianity was born.
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08-06-2014, 05:42 PM (This post was last modified: 08-06-2014 05:59 PM by Mark Fulton.)
RE: Atwill Documentary...excellent stuff
(08-06-2014 09:47 AM)Michael_Tadlock Wrote:  
(08-06-2014 01:37 AM)Mark Fulton Wrote:  Ok. Here is the odd thing though. None of the Church Fathers in the first century quoted from Matthew Mark Luke or John. In fact the gospels didn't have these names attached to them until the 180s! So I don't think anyone, including Atwill, knows for sure when the gospels were first written, although it was before 180 CE.

Justin Martyr, writing in the 150s in Rome, and has as a lot of surviving writings, never quotes diirectly from any of the four gospels. Interesting heh!

Yeah I have to admit, I don't really understand how the gospels are dated. Christian sources try and put Mathew at 50AD but that is impossible. I found an atheist source that claims Mark came about no earlier than 70CE, and according to wikipedia most scholars places mathew in 80-90CE. The names of the apostles were not attributed to them at the time and the content and gospels themselves to do give a name, that was added later. From what I understand, Mathew, at least, is in part dated by an early church leader from 100CE who was quoted by another chuch leader in 200CE as having quoted the gospels Undecided . So talk about second and third hand sources!

I've written a bit about how the gospels became canonical. It's a bit long, but if you're interested, here it is...

The legitimacy that the New Testament enjoys in Christian circles is in part provided by the assumptions that early church authorities, who compiled and edited the texts, had good reasons to believe they were the inspired words of God and truthful records of history. I think these assumptions are totally unfounded.

The process of compiling a New Testament canon was a protracted and complicated affair. It started in the late second century and only finished toward the end of the fourth. The following summary provides a brief overview.

It was over a century after Jesus’ death before the concept of a New Testament was even thought of. Most groups at this time considered only the Septuagint to be scripture, so nascent Christianity, except for the Marcionists, was quite “Judaeo-Christian.”

Why were the four Gospels chosen over others, and how were they related to Yeshua? Did they document real history? What did the church fathers know about the historical Jesus? How did Paul’s letters and the other epistles become part of the bible?

In the writings of Papias, which survive only as quoted by others, he stated that he relied only on oral tradition as the source of Jesus’ sayings.

Polycarp penned a letter that purports to contain some of Jesus’ words, and some of these resemble phrases appearing in the Gospels, (and even passages written in epistles, which weren’t attributed to Jesus) but he doesn’t name any sources.

Clement’s first epistle, traditionally dated to 95 CE, but more likely written decades later, did “quote” Jesus, and some of these quotations resemble sayings from the Gospels, but he never referred to a source.

There’s a collection of letters allegedly written by Ignatius while on the road to his trial in 110 CE, which are mainly forgeries (http://www.bible.ca/history-ignatius-for...50AD.htm). They include a few phrases and paraphrases that resemble ideas from Paul’s epistles, but the author doesn’t acknowledge they were Pauline. There are also phrases and ideas also found in Matthew and John, but the sources aren’t named.

In the second century, written and oral traditions ran side by side, distorting one another. There were hundreds of “Gospels” - a mass of inconsistent writings. Books were hand-written and manuscripts replicated one at a time, so thousands of copiers were able to alter, add to, or omit whatever they wanted; remarks written in margins by one transcriber were transferred into the next text, and were then indistinguishable from the original. Myth became overlaid with myth. In the second and third centuries there was no one dominant church to control the proliferation of these writings, just hundreds of different communities scattered throughout the empire, all with their own beliefs, written and oral, about Jesus.

Imagine the conundrums early Christians had to sort out or gloss over when compiling a canon. The ethnocentric concept of the Jews’ covenant with God on Mount Sinai had to somehow be sold to a crowd that wasn’t Jewish, and then the idea had to be undermined by claiming there was a new covenant. Just who was Jesus’ father? The Holy Ghost was said to be his dad, yet Jesus was also a son of David. How could he have a divine and a human father? Was or wasn’t he the messiah? A Jewish messiah was supposed to liberate Israel from the Romans, yet Jesus didn’t do that. Instead, he somehow saved Gentiles from their sins. Who was Christ? A god, a spirit, or a human? No lasting agreement was reached until well into the fourth century, when it was decided he was all three, a dimwitted doctrine that barely made it into the bible. Yahweh and Jesus both said the Law was to be obeyed for all time, but Paul had written that faith in Christ the sacrifice annulled the Law. Then there was James, maybe the brother of Jesus, who contradicted Paul’s doctrine of salvation by faith. There must have been a lot of head scratching and “cutting and pasting” to morph Paul’s Christ into Jesus’ story. There were hundreds of inconsistencies and errors in the Gospels that had to be glossed over. (http://www.infidels.org/library/historic...r_5.html).

The reconciliation of these polarized themes into a sensible, consistent doctrine was impossible. That the Christians managed to do it on a shop floor, but never on an intellectual level, speaks volumes about how easily the simple people of the time, most of who couldn’t read, were won over.

The first person to attempt to define a Christian canon was Marcion (110–160 CE) in the 140s. He suggested that the “new covenant,” as proposed by Paul, was part of a new religion separate from Judaism. His canon consisted of Paul’s letters and the Euangelion (which was similar to, but shorter than, canonical Luke.) He ignored all other religious literature, including Jewish Scripture. He either knew nothing of Mark, Matthew, or John, or neglected to acknowledge them.

The proto-orthodox groups coalesced around the name “Catholic,” and Justin Martyr became their preeminent apologist. He was unaware of the concept of a New Testament canon, or that there should only be four Gospels, or of the existence of any of the four now canonical gospels. (http://www.thenazareneway.com/gospels_se...ings.htm). He used more than three hundred quotations from the Old Testament, and nearly one hundred from now-apocryphal books, but none from the four Gospels. One of four things must be true; either the Gospels hadn’t been written yet, or they were in a very different state from what they are today, and unnamed, or they existed but he had never seen any of them, or that he knew of them but failed to mention them.

All “Christian” groups in Rome were competing with each other and other cults for the favor of the Roman state, so Gospels had to have pro-Roman elements and an absence of anti-Roman features.

Around this time the first instances of organized suppression of some Christian texts occurred. So the people whose writings would survive as Christian history labeled the Marcionites and Gnostics as “heretics,” and their ideas were derided. It was largely due to this competition with Marcion and the Gnostics that the idea of a Catholic New Testament canon was born.

Paul’s Letters Become Important

Marcion may have introduced Paul’s writings to Rome in the 140’s CE. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcionism, http://confessionsofadoubtingthomas.blog...ers.html).

In the mid to late second century, the canon first began to take shape. The Catholics in Rome did with Marcionism/Paulinism what they often did with other social or cultural or religious beliefs and practices: absorbed them. Paul had (probably) thought up the theology of individual salvation - “justification by faith” - that dispensed with the difficult dictates of Mosaic Law. He also promised heaven, a concept convenient for the Catholic Church to promote. His ideas were so suitable it was easy to adopt his scripts, call them scripture, and then, (almost certainly) edit them (http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com.au/20...ons.html).

There was, however, a problem. Paul said nothing about priests. He’d claimed the end of the world was imminent, so why would clerics be required? Anonymous authors forged three more “Pauline-styled” epistles: 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus, which made a case for a church structure, and promoted obedience to priests. They also implied a more human Jesus than the earlier Paulines, so paradoxically, were used as anti-Marcionite propaganda.

Let’s pause to put Paul’s epistles in perspective. They were probably first written as pro Roman government propaganda. The so-called heretic Marcion, who clearly thought Christ was a ghost, promoted them. Catholics then interpolated them, and new letters were forged in Paul’s name to explain the existence of priests. They barely mentioned Yeshua’s exploits. It’s obvious that today’s churches have an unjustifiable reverence for these ramblings.

Peter, John and Acts

No-one knows who wrote 1 and 2 Peter, (http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/1peter.html, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/2peter.html) or 1, 2, and 3 John. (http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/go...h20.html). None of the authors mentioned Jesus’ miracles, I think because they wrote before the Gospels. If they’d known of a miracle-working idol, they would undoubtedly have documented the fact.

The book of Acts, probably penned around the mid second century, propped up the incorrect impression that Paul had taught the traditions of Yeshua and his disciples. It made Paul, Marcion’s patriarch, the key proponent of what was to become orthodoxy, and refashioned him as an apostle, which he obviously wasn’t (despite his claims.) It served the Catholic purpose, yet was for the most part fictional, and in my opinion a feeble effort to create history.

The Gospels Appear

Irenaeus of Lyons attempted to list the first known Catholic canon in 180-190 CE, although he never compiled a definitive list of books. He knew that many people were attracted to Gnosticism and feared that his account of Christianity couldn’t compete. Formalizing doctrinal authority so that everyone had the same beliefs was his solution to what he saw as a problem.

His list included the four canonical Gospels. This was the first record of anybody mentioning the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, over 150 years after the events they purported to record. (http://firstnewtestament.com/gospels_ear...yons.htm). Irenaeus gave no good explanation as to who wrote them, or how the authors were connected to Yeshua. He did write
“Matthew published his Gospel among the Hebrews in their own language, while Peter and Paul were preaching and founding the church in Rome. After their departure Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, also transmitted to us in writing those things which Peter had preached; and Luke, the attendant of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel which Paul had declared. Afterwards John, the disciple of the Lord, who also reclined on his bosom, published his Gospel, while staying at Ephesus in Asia.” (“Against Heresies” 3.1.1.) This is an attempt to legitimize all four gospels in three sentences. It’s woefully inadequate because of the lack of detail, and sounds like a cheap commentary concocted so that the topic of the Gospels’ authorship could be glossed over. He implied that Matthew, Luke and John were written independently of Mark, which modern scholars know wasn’t the case. (The passage can be read in context at http://carm.org/irenaeus-heresies3-1-14.).

He did claim a work could be accepted as canonical if the early church fathers had used it, and this established a theoretical basis for determinations of orthodoxy, yet he never provided any such evidence for the books he chose. He made the ridiculous claim that as there were only four directions from which the wind blew, there could only be four Gospels. (http://ephesians411.wordpress.com/2011/0...onicity/).

He accepted Acts, yet gave no details about its authorship either, and all the Pauline letters.

Origen, a religious fanatic, was probably the most influential biblical commentator of the first three centuries of Christianity (http://www.ntcanon.org/Origen.shtml). He categorized books into three groups: those accepted by all churches he associated with, those disputed, and those not accepted in any of his churches, which he called “spurious.” So the only basis Origen used in practice to determine canonicity was how popular the books were in the churches of which he approved. He does mention that the Gospel of Mark was composed under the instruction of Peter, which he claimed he learned from Papias’ writing, but gives no details about Peter or Mark, which makes it an almost worthless comment. His acknowledged books were the four Gospels, Acts, the thirteen Pauline Epistles, I Peter, I John, and Revelations. He may have considered some others canonical, namely “Barnabas,” “Didache,” and “the Shepherd,” because he used the word “scripture” for them. Origen’s disputed books were the Apocalypse of Peter, and II Peter, II John, III John, James, and Jude, all five of which are now in the bible. He identified a number of books as spurious, such as Acts of Paul, the Teaching of the Apostles, Thomas, Matthias, Acts of Andrew, and others. He considered them to have been written by heretics under the names of the apostles.

Enter Eusebius

Eusebius rewrote his History of the Church many times as he tried to cover the topic with an orthodox account. He claimed that heresy only developed after the apostolic age, and was then countered by his version of Christianity…Catholicism.

He tried to explain the pedigree of Mark’s gospel thus;
“Having become the interpreter of Peter, Mark wrote down accurately whatever he remembered. However, he did not relate the sayings of deeds of Christ in exact order. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter. Now, Peter accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord’s saying. Accordingly, Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For one thing, he took special care not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements.” (Church History 1.155.) He claimed to be quoting Papias, who somehow (not explained) knew of a Mark, who somehow (not adequately explained) knew Peter. Mark, under pressure from unnamed enthusiasts, documented some of the Christ’s sayings that he remembered from Peter, who had fashioned what he taught to be appropriate to his listeners. Eusebius wrote this about 250 years after it allegedly happened. It’s nothing but “spin;” a weak attempt to justify the historicity of Mark.

Eusebius had access to Origen’s library and his writings, and copied him by claiming to use the criteria that a book had to have been written by an apostle, or by someone who was acquainted with an apostle. Yet he too never gave any good evidence of a link with the apostles. He just picked books that were already popular. To the four Gospels he added Acts, 1 Peter and 1 John, and all the Pauline epistles. Among his disputed but not heretical texts he placed James, Jude, 2 Peter, and 2 and 3 John. He stated 2 Peter was not canonical (it now is.) So he didn’t deliver a definitive list. By 327 CE, when Eusebius finished the final draft of his Church History, there was still no official bible.

Eventually church councils were convened to choose a single set of books. The first was the Synod of Laodicea (in Asia Minor) in 363 CE. There were twenty to thirty bishops present. They accepted all of the books of today’s canon except Revelations, which was rejected, possibly because of its anti-Roman prejudice. The official verdict was that:
“No psalms composed by private individuals nor any uncanonical books may be read in the church, but only the Canonical Books of the Old and New Testaments” (Catholic Encyclopedia.) The bishops made no comment about what criteria were used to choose this canon, nor why scores of other works were excluded. They must have been very busy, as this was the last of sixty new rules they laid down at the time. (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3806.htm).

Today’s Bible Emerges

The current cannon first surfaced in a letter written by Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, in 367 CE. This list was officially accepted by the church in 382 CE at a synod held in Rome under Pope Damasus, at which Jerome was present. This is how the Catholic Encyclopedia describes this most important event:
“The West began to realize that the ancient Apostolic Churches of Jerusalem and Antioch, indeed the whole Orient, for more than two centuries had acknowledged Hebrews and James as inspired writings of Apostles, while the venerable Alexandrian Church, supported by the prestige of Athanasius, and the powerful Patriarchate of Constantinople, with the scholarship of Eusebius behind its judgment, had canonized all the disputed Epistles. St. Jerome, a rising light in the Church, though but a simple priest, was summoned by Pope Damasus from the East, where he was pursuing sacred lore, to assist at an eclectic, but not ecumenical, synod at Rome in the year 382. Neither the general council at Constantinople of the preceding year nor that of Nice (365) had considered the question of the Canon. This Roman synod must have devoted itself specifically to the matter. The result of its deliberations, presided over, no doubt, by the energetic Damasus himself, has been preserved in the document called Decretum Gelasii de recipiendis et non recipiendis libris, a compilation partly of the sixth century, but containing much material dating from the two preceding ones. The Damasan catalogue presents the complete and perfect Canon which has been that of the Church Universal ever since.”

So the definitive canon wasn’t determined at an ecumenical council, (http://mb-soft.com/believe/txs/councils.htm) which would have had representatives from all the major areas, but at a much smaller synod. There’s no record of who attended this synod, other than Damasus and Jerome, nor of their deliberations. So Pope Damasus, brimming over with energy, Jerome, and possibly a few bishops, got together and made the definitive decision, using undocumented criteria, about which books were the word of God and which weren’t! It’s obvious from the above commentary that the primary purpose of the synod was to unite church factions, not to determine the historicity of biblical texts.

Augustine commanded three synods on canonicity: the Synod of Hippo in 393 CE, Carthage in 397 CE, and another in Carthage in 419 CE, yet none of these changed the canon. He must have concluded that after 350 years of confusion it was time to call it a day.

Some Conclusions

The men who compiled the canon wrote volumes attacking their opposition and arguing with their critics, so would have recorded solid facts to bolster the credibility of their books if they had them. They didn’t because they couldn’t.

Nowhere in the New Testament is there an explanation to vouch for the authenticity of any of the Jesus accounts that could convince an objective historian. Outside the bible, some church fathers, bishops, and academics pass fleeting commentary that has survived, yet it was written 100 or more years after Yeshua’s death, is very sparse, piecemeal, and always raises more questions than it answers. They wrote volumes about the early church’s followers and martyrs, but there is one thing conspicuously absent from their writings; bona-fide details about a flesh and blood historical Jesus.

There was much disagreement about what was or wasn’t the word of God, and it took 350 years after Jesus’ death for the canon to be definitively decided.

The criteria used to choose the canon were unscholarly and never strictly applied. The key case for inclusion in the canon was that the scripts were already popular in particular parishes. This standard is obviously flawed: firstly, popularity has little to do with historical truth. Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter are popular books, but no one thinks they’re true history just because they’re well liked. Secondly, it ignored the accounts of Christians who weren’t card carriers in conformist churches. The Gnostics and numerous other Christian groups had writings that were labeled as heretical. Catholics took what they thought was useful from them, and then destroyed nearly all their writings. To destroy literature one doesn’t like isn’t the conduct of people interested in the truth, but the behavior of narrow-minded empire building bigots.

We find falsely signed letters throughout the bible; rarely in the writings of antiquity are the true identities of so many authors so hidden from the reader. Some of Paul’s epistles are the only works for which we know the author’s real identity, and even then his writings have been interfered with by unknown others. I suspect the real identities of the authors were never recorded, because that would have exposed how fabricated the writings were. Anonymous authors meant answers didn’t have to be given to difficult questions. It was easier to foster faith than facts.

The church fathers either presumed or pretended the Gospels were true, but couldn’t prove it. This leaves a massive hole in Christianity’s legitimacy.
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08-06-2014, 06:50 PM
RE: Atwill Documentary...excellent stuff
(08-06-2014 05:42 PM)Mark Fulton Wrote:  Nowhere in the New Testament is there an explanation to vouch for the authenticity of any of the Jesus accounts that could convince an objective historian. .......................... bona-fide details about a flesh and blood historical Jesus.

The criteria used to choose the canon were unscholarly and never strictly applied. The key case for inclusion in the canon was that the scripts were already popular in particular parishes. This standard is obviously flawed: firstly, popularity has little to do with historical truth. Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter are popular books, but no one thinks they’re true history just because they’re well liked. Secondly, it ignored the accounts of Christians who weren’t card carriers in conformist churches. The Gnostics and numerous other Christian groups had writings that were labeled as heretical. Catholics took what they thought was useful from them, and then destroyed nearly all their writings. To destroy literature one doesn’t like isn’t the conduct of people interested in the truth, but the behavior of narrow-minded empire building bigots.

We find falsely signed letters throughout the bible; rarely in the writings of antiquity are the true identities of so many authors so hidden from the reader. Some of Paul’s epistles are the only works for which we know the author’s real identity, and even then his writings have been interfered with by unknown others. I suspect the real identities of the authors were never recorded, because that would have exposed how fabricated the writings were. Anonymous authors meant answers didn’t have to be given to difficult questions. It was easier to foster faith than facts.

The church fathers either presumed or pretended the Gospels were true, but couldn’t prove it. This leaves a massive hole in Christianity’s legitimacy.

Very interesting.
A few comments. "Falsely signed" letters was the norm. (See Harvardx's course on the Pauline letters .. )
https://www.edx.org/course/harvardx/harv...5UB8SjyQSo
It did not mean then what it does today. "Students" wrote letters with the names of their teachers attached all the time. Letter writing in the ancient world was far different than today. It was just the way things were done then. We have a different view of the practice. You can't judge another time/culture with your values, unless you at least acknowledge you understand the practices, IMO.
Today we presume that what is "true" must be "historically accurate". They may not have thought that. We judge with our values 2000 years removed. Historical accuracy may not have been highly valued or primary, (as hard as it is for us to get that). "Un-scholarly", and "chosen by popularity not historical truth" is a value judgement. If the communities valued a common experience they valued higher than "historical" and thought the texts they used, reflected that common community-authenticated experience, then it honestly reflected their values. Not saying that's a good thing or a bad thing. But judging other cultures with our values may not be the most enlightening way to try to understand them.

But your points stand. Canon formation was a long convoluted completely HUMAN process, which took many twists and turns. A four gospel canon (the Tetramorph) was asserted by Irenaeus - "It is not possible that the gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four-quarters of the earth in which we live, and four universal winds, while the church is scattered throughout all the world, and the 'pillar and ground' of the church is the gospel and the spirit of life, it is fitting that she should have four pillars breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh… Therefore the gospels are in accord with these things… For the living creatures are quadriform and the gospel is quadriform… These things being so, all who destroy the form of the gospel are vain, unlearned, and also audacious; those [I mean] who represent the aspects of the gospel as being either more in number than as aforesaid, or, on the other hand, fewer."

So inclusion / exclusion was ultimately (apparently) based on bad science, and ignorance, and not "inspired content", no matter what the "community - authenticated" claim is (??)

Insufferable know-it-all.Einstein God has a plan for us. Please stop screwing it up with your prayers.
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09-06-2014, 05:14 AM
RE: Atwill Documentary...excellent stuff
(08-06-2014 06:50 PM)Bucky Ball Wrote:  
(08-06-2014 05:42 PM)Mark Fulton Wrote:  Nowhere in the New Testament is there an explanation to vouch for the authenticity of any of the Jesus accounts that could convince an objective historian. .......................... bona-fide details about a flesh and blood historical Jesus.

The criteria used to choose the canon were unscholarly and never strictly applied. The key case for inclusion in the canon was that the scripts were already popular in particular parishes. This standard is obviously flawed: firstly, popularity has little to do with historical truth. Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter are popular books, but no one thinks they’re true history just because they’re well liked. Secondly, it ignored the accounts of Christians who weren’t card carriers in conformist churches. The Gnostics and numerous other Christian groups had writings that were labeled as heretical. Catholics took what they thought was useful from them, and then destroyed nearly all their writings. To destroy literature one doesn’t like isn’t the conduct of people interested in the truth, but the behavior of narrow-minded empire building bigots.

We find falsely signed letters throughout the bible; rarely in the writings of antiquity are the true identities of so many authors so hidden from the reader. Some of Paul’s epistles are the only works for which we know the author’s real identity, and even then his writings have been interfered with by unknown others. I suspect the real identities of the authors were never recorded, because that would have exposed how fabricated the writings were. Anonymous authors meant answers didn’t have to be given to difficult questions. It was easier to foster faith than facts.

The church fathers either presumed or pretended the Gospels were true, but couldn’t prove it. This leaves a massive hole in Christianity’s legitimacy.

Very interesting.
A few comments. "Falsely signed" letters was the norm. (See Harvardx's course on the Pauline letters .. )
https://www.edx.org/course/harvardx/harv...5UB8SjyQSo
It did not mean then what it does today. "Students" wrote letters with the names of their teachers attached all the time. Letter writing in the ancient world was far different than today. It was just the way things were done then. We have a different view of the practice. You can't judge another time/culture with your values, unless you at least acknowledge you understand the practices, IMO.
Today we presume that what is "true" must be "historically accurate". They may not have thought that. We judge with our values 2000 years removed. Historical accuracy may not have been highly valued or primary, (as hard as it is for us to get that). "Un-scholarly", and "chosen by popularity not historical truth" is a value judgement. If the communities valued a common experience they valued higher than "historical" and thought the texts they used, reflected that common community-authenticated experience, then it honestly reflected their values. Not saying that's a good thing or a bad thing. But judging other cultures with our values may not be the most enlightening way to try to understand them.

But your points stand. Canon formation was a long convoluted completely HUMAN process, which took many twists and turns. A four gospel canon (the Tetramorph) was asserted by Irenaeus - "It is not possible that the gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four-quarters of the earth in which we live, and four universal winds, while the church is scattered throughout all the world, and the 'pillar and ground' of the church is the gospel and the spirit of life, it is fitting that she should have four pillars breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh… Therefore the gospels are in accord with these things… For the living creatures are quadriform and the gospel is quadriform… These things being so, all who destroy the form of the gospel are vain, unlearned, and also audacious; those [I mean] who represent the aspects of the gospel as being either more in number than as aforesaid, or, on the other hand, fewer."

So inclusion / exclusion was ultimately (apparently) based on bad science, and ignorance, and not "inspired content", no matter what the "community - authenticated" claim is (??)

Thanks for your comments and I agree with them. I should've included these ideas in my spiel.

Christians today commonly treat these ramblings as historical documents and they think they know who wrote them. They're not and they don't. I think that's the point I'm trying to make.

ps... nice to know someone actually read it! LOL
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09-06-2014, 08:02 AM
RE: Atwill Documentary...excellent stuff
(08-06-2014 06:50 PM)Bucky Ball Wrote:  "Falsely signed" letters was the norm. (See Harvardx's course on the Pauline letters .. )
https://www.edx.org/course/harvardx/harv...5UB8SjyQSo
It did not mean then what it does today. "Students" wrote letters with the names of their teachers attached all the time. Letter writing in the ancient world was far different than today. It was just the way things were done then. We have a different view of the practice. You can't judge another time/culture with your values, unless you at least acknowledge you understand the practices, IMO.

Do you have good references for this? I checked the link but there was nothing in the intro page about this. The main reason I ask is because I recall Bart Ehrman trying to debunk this some years ago (if you're saying what I think you're saying):

Bart Ehrman in Forged Wrote:Some scholars have argued, strenuously, but without much evidence, that it was a common and accepted practice in schools of philosophy to write a philosophical treatise and sign your master’s name to it (Plato, Pythagoras, etc.), rather than your own, and that no one looked askance at this practice. As we will see in Chapter 4, there is little evidence indeed that this happened. Ask a modern-day scholar who claims that in antiquity this was a widespread practice to cite an ancient source for it. In almost every instance, you will find a tongue-tied scholar.

The relevant, somewhat lengthy part from Chapter 4:

Bart Ehrman in Forged Wrote:So other scholars have tried to find grounds for legitimizing pseudepigraphal writings in the pagan tradition, where these authors have their roots. Such scholars sometimes claim that it was common for disciples of a philosopher to write treatises and not sign their own name, but the name of their teacher. This, it is alleged, was done as an act of humility, that authors felt that their ideas were not actually theirs, but had been given to them by the leader of their philosophical school. So, to give credit where credit was due, they attached their master’s name to their own writings.

New Testament scholars often claim that this can explain why someone claimed to be Paul when writing Colossians, Ephesians, or the pastoral letters. In one of the standard commentaries on Colossians, for example, we read the following: “Pseudonymous documents, especially letters with philosophical content, were set in circulation because disciples of a great man intended to express, by imitation, their adoration of their revered master and to secure or to promote his influence upon a later generation under changed circumstances.” A more recent commentator on Colossians and Ephesians states something similar: “Viewing Colossians (or Ephesians) as deutero-Pauline should not be mistakenly understood as meaning that these documents are simply examples of forgery. For example, to write in the name of a philosopher who was one’s patron could be seen as a sign of honor bestowed upon that person.”

I should point out that, as happens so often, neither of these commentators actually provides any evidence that this was a common practice in philosophical schools. They state it as a fact. And why do they think it’s a fact? For most New Testament scholars it is thought to be a fact because, well, so many New Testament scholars have said so! But ask someone who makes this claim what her ancient source of information is or what ancient philosopher actually states that this was a common practice. More often than not you’ll be met with a blank stare.

The scholars who do mention ancient evidence for this alleged practice typically point to two major sources. But one of the two says no such thing. This is the third-century Neoplatonic philosopher Porphyry, who is alleged to have said that in the school of the ancient philosopher Pythagoras (who lived eight hundred years earlier) it was a common practice for disciples to write books and sign their master’s name to them. This statement by Porphyry is a little hard to track down, because it is not in his surviving Greek writings; it is only in an Arabic translation of one of his works from the thirteenth century.

I doubt if any of the New Testament scholars who refer to this statement of Porphyry’s has actually read it, since it is, after all, in Arabic, and most New Testament scholars don’t read Arabic. I don’t either. But I have a colleague who does, Carl Ernst, an expert in medieval Islam. I asked Professor Ernst to translate the passage for me. As it turns out, Porphyry doesn’t say anything about followers of Pythagoras writing books and then signing his name to them. Instead, he says that Pythagoras himself wrote eighty books, two hundred books were written by his followers, and twelve books were “forged” in the name of Pythagoras. The twelve books are condemned for using Pythagoras’s name when he didn’t write them. The forgers are called “shameless people” who “fabricated” “false books.” The two hundred books are not said to have been written by Pythagoras’s followers in his name; they were simply books written by Pythagoras’s followers.

This, then, is one of the two ancient references sometimes cited by scholars to indicate that the practice of writing in a master’s name was “common.” I should point out that, in Porphyry’s other writings as well as in this passage, he shows a keen interest in knowing which books are authentic and which are forged, and he condemns the forgeries, including the Old Testament book of Daniel, which he thinks could not have been written by an Israelite in the sixth century BCE.

The other reference to a tradition in the philosophical schools does say what scholars have said it says. This one is in the writings of Iamblichus, another Neoplatonic philosopher from about the same time as Porphyry. In his account of Pythagoras’s life, Iamblichus says the following: “This also is a beautiful circumstance, that they [i.e., Pythagoras’s followers] referred everything to Pythagoras, and called it by his name, and that they did not ascribe to themselves the glory of their own inventions, except very rarely. For there are very few whose works are acknowledged to be their own.”

1. For this tradition to have made an impact on such a wide array of early Christian authors, it would have had to be widely known. But it wasn’t. The tradition is not mentioned by a single author from the time of Pythagoras (sixth century BCE) to the time of Iamblichus (third to fourth century CE). As a result, there is nothing to suggest this view was widely known. Quite the contrary, no one else seems to have known it for eight hundred years.

2. More specifically, Iamblichus was living two hundred years after the writings of 1 and 2 Peter and the Deutero-Paulines. There is no reference to this tradition existing in the time of the New Testament writings. It could scarcely have been seen as a widely accepted practice at the time.

3. Iamblichus refers to what happened only within one of the many philosophical schools. He makes no claims about a wider tradition in philosophical schools outside of Pythagorean circles.

4. As recent scholars of Pythagoreanism have pointed out, there is reason to think that what Iamblichus says in fact is not even true of the Pythagorean school:

a. First, he was writing eight hundred years after Pythagoras and would have had no way of knowing that what he was saying is true. He may well simply have thought this is how it worked.

b. None of the other philosophers or historians who talk about Pythagoras and his school prior to Iamblichus says any such thing about pseudonymous works written in his name.

c. Iamblichus’s comment is completely casual and off the cuff.

d. To cap it all off, when Iamblichus’s statement can be checked, it appears to be wrong. The vast majority of the writings of the Pythagorean school were not done in the name of Pythagoras. His followers wrote in their own names.

As a result, the brief and casual comment by Iamblichus (who, it must be remembered, lived more than two hundred years after Paul and Peter) cannot at all be taken as evidence of what happened in the days of Pythagoras and his students (six hundred years before Paul and Peter), let alone what happened commonly in the philosophical schools, let alone what probably happened in early Christianity.

For these reasons, New Testament scholars need to revise their views about philosophical schools and their impact on the forgery practices of early Christians. There is almost nothing to suggest that there was a tradition in these schools to practice pseudepigraphy as an act of humility.

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09-06-2014, 12:12 PM
RE: Atwill Documentary...excellent stuff
(08-06-2014 05:42 PM)Mark Fulton Wrote:  
(08-06-2014 09:47 AM)Michael_Tadlock Wrote:  Yeah I have to admit, I don't really understand how the gospels are dated. Christian sources try and put Mathew at 50AD but that is impossible. I found an atheist source that claims Mark came about no earlier than 70CE, and according to wikipedia most scholars places mathew in 80-90CE. The names of the apostles were not attributed to them at the time and the content and gospels themselves to do give a name, that was added later. From what I understand, Mathew, at least, is in part dated by an early church leader from 100CE who was quoted by another chuch leader in 200CE as having quoted the gospels Undecided . So talk about second and third hand sources!

I've written a bit about how the gospels became canonical. It's a bit long, but if you're interested, here it is...

The legitimacy that the New Testament enjoys in Christian circles is in part provided by the assumptions that early church authorities, who compiled and edited the texts, had good reasons to believe they were the inspired words of God and truthful records of history. I think these assumptions are totally unfounded.

The process of compiling a New Testament canon was a protracted and complicated affair. It started in the late second century and only finished toward the end of the fourth. The following summary provides a brief overview.

It was over a century after Jesus’ death before the concept of a New Testament was even thought of. Most groups at this time considered only the Septuagint to be scripture, so nascent Christianity, except for the Marcionists, was quite “Judaeo-Christian.”

Why were the four Gospels chosen over others, and how were they related to Yeshua? Did they document real history? What did the church fathers know about the historical Jesus? How did Paul’s letters and the other epistles become part of the bible?

In the writings of Papias, which survive only as quoted by others, he stated that he relied only on oral tradition as the source of Jesus’ sayings.

Polycarp penned a letter that purports to contain some of Jesus’ words, and some of these resemble phrases appearing in the Gospels, (and even passages written in epistles, which weren’t attributed to Jesus) but he doesn’t name any sources.

Clement’s first epistle, traditionally dated to 95 CE, but more likely written decades later, did “quote” Jesus, and some of these quotations resemble sayings from the Gospels, but he never referred to a source.

There’s a collection of letters allegedly written by Ignatius while on the road to his trial in 110 CE, which are mainly forgeries (http://www.bible.ca/history-ignatius-for...50AD.htm). They include a few phrases and paraphrases that resemble ideas from Paul’s epistles, but the author doesn’t acknowledge they were Pauline. There are also phrases and ideas also found in Matthew and John, but the sources aren’t named.

In the second century, written and oral traditions ran side by side, distorting one another. There were hundreds of “Gospels” - a mass of inconsistent writings. Books were hand-written and manuscripts replicated one at a time, so thousands of copiers were able to alter, add to, or omit whatever they wanted; remarks written in margins by one transcriber were transferred into the next text, and were then indistinguishable from the original. Myth became overlaid with myth. In the second and third centuries there was no one dominant church to control the proliferation of these writings, just hundreds of different communities scattered throughout the empire, all with their own beliefs, written and oral, about Jesus.

Imagine the conundrums early Christians had to sort out or gloss over when compiling a canon. The ethnocentric concept of the Jews’ covenant with God on Mount Sinai had to somehow be sold to a crowd that wasn’t Jewish, and then the idea had to be undermined by claiming there was a new covenant. Just who was Jesus’ father? The Holy Ghost was said to be his dad, yet Jesus was also a son of David. How could he have a divine and a human father? Was or wasn’t he the messiah? A Jewish messiah was supposed to liberate Israel from the Romans, yet Jesus didn’t do that. Instead, he somehow saved Gentiles from their sins. Who was Christ? A god, a spirit, or a human? No lasting agreement was reached until well into the fourth century, when it was decided he was all three, a dimwitted doctrine that barely made it into the bible. Yahweh and Jesus both said the Law was to be obeyed for all time, but Paul had written that faith in Christ the sacrifice annulled the Law. Then there was James, maybe the brother of Jesus, who contradicted Paul’s doctrine of salvation by faith. There must have been a lot of head scratching and “cutting and pasting” to morph Paul’s Christ into Jesus’ story. There were hundreds of inconsistencies and errors in the Gospels that had to be glossed over. (http://www.infidels.org/library/historic...r_5.html).

The reconciliation of these polarized themes into a sensible, consistent doctrine was impossible. That the Christians managed to do it on a shop floor, but never on an intellectual level, speaks volumes about how easily the simple people of the time, most of who couldn’t read, were won over.

The first person to attempt to define a Christian canon was Marcion (110–160 CE) in the 140s. He suggested that the “new covenant,” as proposed by Paul, was part of a new religion separate from Judaism. His canon consisted of Paul’s letters and the Euangelion (which was similar to, but shorter than, canonical Luke.) He ignored all other religious literature, including Jewish Scripture. He either knew nothing of Mark, Matthew, or John, or neglected to acknowledge them.

The proto-orthodox groups coalesced around the name “Catholic,” and Justin Martyr became their preeminent apologist. He was unaware of the concept of a New Testament canon, or that there should only be four Gospels, or of the existence of any of the four now canonical gospels. (http://www.thenazareneway.com/gospels_se...ings.htm). He used more than three hundred quotations from the Old Testament, and nearly one hundred from now-apocryphal books, but none from the four Gospels. One of four things must be true; either the Gospels hadn’t been written yet, or they were in a very different state from what they are today, and unnamed, or they existed but he had never seen any of them, or that he knew of them but failed to mention them.

All “Christian” groups in Rome were competing with each other and other cults for the favor of the Roman state, so Gospels had to have pro-Roman elements and an absence of anti-Roman features.

Around this time the first instances of organized suppression of some Christian texts occurred. So the people whose writings would survive as Christian history labeled the Marcionites and Gnostics as “heretics,” and their ideas were derided. It was largely due to this competition with Marcion and the Gnostics that the idea of a Catholic New Testament canon was born.

Paul’s Letters Become Important

Marcion may have introduced Paul’s writings to Rome in the 140’s CE. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcionism, http://confessionsofadoubtingthomas.blog...ers.html).

In the mid to late second century, the canon first began to take shape. The Catholics in Rome did with Marcionism/Paulinism what they often did with other social or cultural or religious beliefs and practices: absorbed them. Paul had (probably) thought up the theology of individual salvation - “justification by faith” - that dispensed with the difficult dictates of Mosaic Law. He also promised heaven, a concept convenient for the Catholic Church to promote. His ideas were so suitable it was easy to adopt his scripts, call them scripture, and then, (almost certainly) edit them (http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com.au/20...ons.html).

There was, however, a problem. Paul said nothing about priests. He’d claimed the end of the world was imminent, so why would clerics be required? Anonymous authors forged three more “Pauline-styled” epistles: 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus, which made a case for a church structure, and promoted obedience to priests. They also implied a more human Jesus than the earlier Paulines, so paradoxically, were used as anti-Marcionite propaganda.

Let’s pause to put Paul’s epistles in perspective. They were probably first written as pro Roman government propaganda. The so-called heretic Marcion, who clearly thought Christ was a ghost, promoted them. Catholics then interpolated them, and new letters were forged in Paul’s name to explain the existence of priests. They barely mentioned Yeshua’s exploits. It’s obvious that today’s churches have an unjustifiable reverence for these ramblings.

Peter, John and Acts

No-one knows who wrote 1 and 2 Peter, (http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/1peter.html, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/2peter.html) or 1, 2, and 3 John. (http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/go...h20.html). None of the authors mentioned Jesus’ miracles, I think because they wrote before the Gospels. If they’d known of a miracle-working idol, they would undoubtedly have documented the fact.

The book of Acts, probably penned around the mid second century, propped up the incorrect impression that Paul had taught the traditions of Yeshua and his disciples. It made Paul, Marcion’s patriarch, the key proponent of what was to become orthodoxy, and refashioned him as an apostle, which he obviously wasn’t (despite his claims.) It served the Catholic purpose, yet was for the most part fictional, and in my opinion a feeble effort to create history.

The Gospels Appear

Irenaeus of Lyons attempted to list the first known Catholic canon in 180-190 CE, although he never compiled a definitive list of books. He knew that many people were attracted to Gnosticism and feared that his account of Christianity couldn’t compete. Formalizing doctrinal authority so that everyone had the same beliefs was his solution to what he saw as a problem.

His list included the four canonical Gospels. This was the first record of anybody mentioning the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, over 150 years after the events they purported to record. (http://firstnewtestament.com/gospels_ear...yons.htm). Irenaeus gave no good explanation as to who wrote them, or how the authors were connected to Yeshua. He did write
“Matthew published his Gospel among the Hebrews in their own language, while Peter and Paul were preaching and founding the church in Rome. After their departure Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, also transmitted to us in writing those things which Peter had preached; and Luke, the attendant of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel which Paul had declared. Afterwards John, the disciple of the Lord, who also reclined on his bosom, published his Gospel, while staying at Ephesus in Asia.” (“Against Heresies” 3.1.1.) This is an attempt to legitimize all four gospels in three sentences. It’s woefully inadequate because of the lack of detail, and sounds like a cheap commentary concocted so that the topic of the Gospels’ authorship could be glossed over. He implied that Matthew, Luke and John were written independently of Mark, which modern scholars know wasn’t the case. (The passage can be read in context at http://carm.org/irenaeus-heresies3-1-14.).

He did claim a work could be accepted as canonical if the early church fathers had used it, and this established a theoretical basis for determinations of orthodoxy, yet he never provided any such evidence for the books he chose. He made the ridiculous claim that as there were only four directions from which the wind blew, there could only be four Gospels. (http://ephesians411.wordpress.com/2011/0...onicity/).

He accepted Acts, yet gave no details about its authorship either, and all the Pauline letters.

Origen, a religious fanatic, was probably the most influential biblical commentator of the first three centuries of Christianity (http://www.ntcanon.org/Origen.shtml). He categorized books into three groups: those accepted by all churches he associated with, those disputed, and those not accepted in any of his churches, which he called “spurious.” So the only basis Origen used in practice to determine canonicity was how popular the books were in the churches of which he approved. He does mention that the Gospel of Mark was composed under the instruction of Peter, which he claimed he learned from Papias’ writing, but gives no details about Peter or Mark, which makes it an almost worthless comment. His acknowledged books were the four Gospels, Acts, the thirteen Pauline Epistles, I Peter, I John, and Revelations. He may have considered some others canonical, namely “Barnabas,” “Didache,” and “the Shepherd,” because he used the word “scripture” for them. Origen’s disputed books were the Apocalypse of Peter, and II Peter, II John, III John, James, and Jude, all five of which are now in the bible. He identified a number of books as spurious, such as Acts of Paul, the Teaching of the Apostles, Thomas, Matthias, Acts of Andrew, and others. He considered them to have been written by heretics under the names of the apostles.

Enter Eusebius

Eusebius rewrote his History of the Church many times as he tried to cover the topic with an orthodox account. He claimed that heresy only developed after the apostolic age, and was then countered by his version of Christianity…Catholicism.

He tried to explain the pedigree of Mark’s gospel thus;
“Having become the interpreter of Peter, Mark wrote down accurately whatever he remembered. However, he did not relate the sayings of deeds of Christ in exact order. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter. Now, Peter accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord’s saying. Accordingly, Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For one thing, he took special care not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements.” (Church History 1.155.) He claimed to be quoting Papias, who somehow (not explained) knew of a Mark, who somehow (not adequately explained) knew Peter. Mark, under pressure from unnamed enthusiasts, documented some of the Christ’s sayings that he remembered from Peter, who had fashioned what he taught to be appropriate to his listeners. Eusebius wrote this about 250 years after it allegedly happened. It’s nothing but “spin;” a weak attempt to justify the historicity of Mark.

Eusebius had access to Origen’s library and his writings, and copied him by claiming to use the criteria that a book had to have been written by an apostle, or by someone who was acquainted with an apostle. Yet he too never gave any good evidence of a link with the apostles. He just picked books that were already popular. To the four Gospels he added Acts, 1 Peter and 1 John, and all the Pauline epistles. Among his disputed but not heretical texts he placed James, Jude, 2 Peter, and 2 and 3 John. He stated 2 Peter was not canonical (it now is.) So he didn’t deliver a definitive list. By 327 CE, when Eusebius finished the final draft of his Church History, there was still no official bible.

Eventually church councils were convened to choose a single set of books. The first was the Synod of Laodicea (in Asia Minor) in 363 CE. There were twenty to thirty bishops present. They accepted all of the books of today’s canon except Revelations, which was rejected, possibly because of its anti-Roman prejudice. The official verdict was that:
“No psalms composed by private individuals nor any uncanonical books may be read in the church, but only the Canonical Books of the Old and New Testaments” (Catholic Encyclopedia.) The bishops made no comment about what criteria were used to choose this canon, nor why scores of other works were excluded. They must have been very busy, as this was the last of sixty new rules they laid down at the time. (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3806.htm).

Today’s Bible Emerges

The current cannon first surfaced in a letter written by Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, in 367 CE. This list was officially accepted by the church in 382 CE at a synod held in Rome under Pope Damasus, at which Jerome was present. This is how the Catholic Encyclopedia describes this most important event:
“The West began to realize that the ancient Apostolic Churches of Jerusalem and Antioch, indeed the whole Orient, for more than two centuries had acknowledged Hebrews and James as inspired writings of Apostles, while the venerable Alexandrian Church, supported by the prestige of Athanasius, and the powerful Patriarchate of Constantinople, with the scholarship of Eusebius behind its judgment, had canonized all the disputed Epistles. St. Jerome, a rising light in the Church, though but a simple priest, was summoned by Pope Damasus from the East, where he was pursuing sacred lore, to assist at an eclectic, but not ecumenical, synod at Rome in the year 382. Neither the general council at Constantinople of the preceding year nor that of Nice (365) had considered the question of the Canon. This Roman synod must have devoted itself specifically to the matter. The result of its deliberations, presided over, no doubt, by the energetic Damasus himself, has been preserved in the document called Decretum Gelasii de recipiendis et non recipiendis libris, a compilation partly of the sixth century, but containing much material dating from the two preceding ones. The Damasan catalogue presents the complete and perfect Canon which has been that of the Church Universal ever since.”

So the definitive canon wasn’t determined at an ecumenical council, (http://mb-soft.com/believe/txs/councils.htm) which would have had representatives from all the major areas, but at a much smaller synod. There’s no record of who attended this synod, other than Damasus and Jerome, nor of their deliberations. So Pope Damasus, brimming over with energy, Jerome, and possibly a few bishops, got together and made the definitive decision, using undocumented criteria, about which books were the word of God and which weren’t! It’s obvious from the above commentary that the primary purpose of the synod was to unite church factions, not to determine the historicity of biblical texts.

Augustine commanded three synods on canonicity: the Synod of Hippo in 393 CE, Carthage in 397 CE, and another in Carthage in 419 CE, yet none of these changed the canon. He must have concluded that after 350 years of confusion it was time to call it a day.

Some Conclusions

The men who compiled the canon wrote volumes attacking their opposition and arguing with their critics, so would have recorded solid facts to bolster the credibility of their books if they had them. They didn’t because they couldn’t.

Nowhere in the New Testament is there an explanation to vouch for the authenticity of any of the Jesus accounts that could convince an objective historian. Outside the bible, some church fathers, bishops, and academics pass fleeting commentary that has survived, yet it was written 100 or more years after Yeshua’s death, is very sparse, piecemeal, and always raises more questions than it answers. They wrote volumes about the early church’s followers and martyrs, but there is one thing conspicuously absent from their writings; bona-fide details about a flesh and blood historical Jesus.

There was much disagreement about what was or wasn’t the word of God, and it took 350 years after Jesus’ death for the canon to be definitively decided.

The criteria used to choose the canon were unscholarly and never strictly applied. The key case for inclusion in the canon was that the scripts were already popular in particular parishes. This standard is obviously flawed: firstly, popularity has little to do with historical truth. Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter are popular books, but no one thinks they’re true history just because they’re well liked. Secondly, it ignored the accounts of Christians who weren’t card carriers in conformist churches. The Gnostics and numerous other Christian groups had writings that were labeled as heretical. Catholics took what they thought was useful from them, and then destroyed nearly all their writings. To destroy literature one doesn’t like isn’t the conduct of people interested in the truth, but the behavior of narrow-minded empire building bigots.

We find falsely signed letters throughout the bible; rarely in the writings of antiquity are the true identities of so many authors so hidden from the reader. Some of Paul’s epistles are the only works for which we know the author’s real identity, and even then his writings have been interfered with by unknown others. I suspect the real identities of the authors were never recorded, because that would have exposed how fabricated the writings were. Anonymous authors meant answers didn’t have to be given to difficult questions. It was easier to foster faith than facts.

The church fathers either presumed or pretended the Gospels were true, but couldn’t prove it. This leaves a massive hole in Christianity’s legitimacy.


Everything you say supports Atwill's approach. If you find a book and all it has on it as the author's name is "Bob" and it is about flying men, then you assume it is not true, for a start.

If you then start to recognize some sort of ethical message in it and a story of the flying men which correspoinds to some other story you have read, the intelligent approach would be to examine the text itself and see if it is based on some other text, has some ideas in it which come from somewhere else, so you can figure out who wrote it and "why" they wrote it, what purpose it has. Beyond that, and certainly relying on it as accurate in any way is pure folly of the worst kind becaue you can't rely on any of it.

No one would take, for instance, anything like a gospel style piece of writing and present it as evidence in a court other than as evidence of itself, like a loaf of bread, rather than it's truth.

What happens in religious discussions is that "different rules" apply. People make them up as they go along or just don't have the sophistication to even understand what it is to say that one is able to "prove" anything by referring to a book whose author is unknown.

Atwill goes about as far as one can in showing that the book itself is just a fraud because it discloses patterns which show it is a plagiarism and fake. Until anyone can counter that, he presents the best evidence to date that the work is fiction. Whether it has some historical basis is another matter but there isn't any point trying to use it as a historical work because if it is a fiction then any of it or all of it can be invented including the names of the authors, dates, times, events. It may be a deliberately misleading piece of fiction in which those aspects which seem most reliable, like its setting in the time of Herrod are, in fact the most misleading.
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09-06-2014, 03:37 PM
RE: Atwill Documentary...excellent stuff
(09-06-2014 08:02 AM)John Wrote:  
(08-06-2014 06:50 PM)Bucky Ball Wrote:  "Falsely signed" letters was the norm. (See Harvardx's course on the Pauline letters .. )
https://www.edx.org/course/harvardx/harv...5UB8SjyQSo
It did not mean then what it does today. "Students" wrote letters with the names of their teachers attached all the time. Letter writing in the ancient world was far different than today. It was just the way things were done then. We have a different view of the practice. You can't judge another time/culture with your values, unless you at least acknowledge you understand the practices, IMO.

Do you have good references for this? I checked the link but there was nothing in the intro page about this. The main reason I ask is because I recall Bart Ehrman trying to debunk this some years ago (if you're saying what I think you're saying):

Bart Ehrman in Forged Wrote:Some scholars have argued, strenuously, but without much evidence, that it was a common and accepted practice in schools of philosophy to write a philosophical treatise and sign your master’s name to it (Plato, Pythagoras, etc.), rather than your own, and that no one looked askance at this practice. As we will see in Chapter 4, there is little evidence indeed that this happened. Ask a modern-day scholar who claims that in antiquity this was a widespread practice to cite an ancient source for it. In almost every instance, you will find a tongue-tied scholar.

The relevant, somewhat lengthy part from Chapter 4:

Bart Ehrman in Forged Wrote:So other scholars have tried to find grounds for legitimizing pseudepigraphal writings in the pagan tradition, where these authors have their roots. Such scholars sometimes claim that it was common for disciples of a philosopher to write treatises and not sign their own name, but the name of their teacher. This, it is alleged, was done as an act of humility, that authors felt that their ideas were not actually theirs, but had been given to them by the leader of their philosophical school. So, to give credit where credit was due, they attached their master’s name to their own writings.

New Testament scholars often claim that this can explain why someone claimed to be Paul when writing Colossians, Ephesians, or the pastoral letters. In one of the standard commentaries on Colossians, for example, we read the following: “Pseudonymous documents, especially letters with philosophical content, were set in circulation because disciples of a great man intended to express, by imitation, their adoration of their revered master and to secure or to promote his influence upon a later generation under changed circumstances.” A more recent commentator on Colossians and Ephesians states something similar: “Viewing Colossians (or Ephesians) as deutero-Pauline should not be mistakenly understood as meaning that these documents are simply examples of forgery. For example, to write in the name of a philosopher who was one’s patron could be seen as a sign of honor bestowed upon that person.”

I should point out that, as happens so often, neither of these commentators actually provides any evidence that this was a common practice in philosophical schools. They state it as a fact. And why do they think it’s a fact? For most New Testament scholars it is thought to be a fact because, well, so many New Testament scholars have said so! But ask someone who makes this claim what her ancient source of information is or what ancient philosopher actually states that this was a common practice. More often than not you’ll be met with a blank stare.

The scholars who do mention ancient evidence for this alleged practice typically point to two major sources. But one of the two says no such thing. This is the third-century Neoplatonic philosopher Porphyry, who is alleged to have said that in the school of the ancient philosopher Pythagoras (who lived eight hundred years earlier) it was a common practice for disciples to write books and sign their master’s name to them. This statement by Porphyry is a little hard to track down, because it is not in his surviving Greek writings; it is only in an Arabic translation of one of his works from the thirteenth century.

I doubt if any of the New Testament scholars who refer to this statement of Porphyry’s has actually read it, since it is, after all, in Arabic, and most New Testament scholars don’t read Arabic. I don’t either. But I have a colleague who does, Carl Ernst, an expert in medieval Islam. I asked Professor Ernst to translate the passage for me. As it turns out, Porphyry doesn’t say anything about followers of Pythagoras writing books and then signing his name to them. Instead, he says that Pythagoras himself wrote eighty books, two hundred books were written by his followers, and twelve books were “forged” in the name of Pythagoras. The twelve books are condemned for using Pythagoras’s name when he didn’t write them. The forgers are called “shameless people” who “fabricated” “false books.” The two hundred books are not said to have been written by Pythagoras’s followers in his name; they were simply books written by Pythagoras’s followers.

This, then, is one of the two ancient references sometimes cited by scholars to indicate that the practice of writing in a master’s name was “common.” I should point out that, in Porphyry’s other writings as well as in this passage, he shows a keen interest in knowing which books are authentic and which are forged, and he condemns the forgeries, including the Old Testament book of Daniel, which he thinks could not have been written by an Israelite in the sixth century BCE.

The other reference to a tradition in the philosophical schools does say what scholars have said it says. This one is in the writings of Iamblichus, another Neoplatonic philosopher from about the same time as Porphyry. In his account of Pythagoras’s life, Iamblichus says the following: “This also is a beautiful circumstance, that they [i.e., Pythagoras’s followers] referred everything to Pythagoras, and called it by his name, and that they did not ascribe to themselves the glory of their own inventions, except very rarely. For there are very few whose works are acknowledged to be their own.”

1. For this tradition to have made an impact on such a wide array of early Christian authors, it would have had to be widely known. But it wasn’t. The tradition is not mentioned by a single author from the time of Pythagoras (sixth century BCE) to the time of Iamblichus (third to fourth century CE). As a result, there is nothing to suggest this view was widely known. Quite the contrary, no one else seems to have known it for eight hundred years.

2. More specifically, Iamblichus was living two hundred years after the writings of 1 and 2 Peter and the Deutero-Paulines. There is no reference to this tradition existing in the time of the New Testament writings. It could scarcely have been seen as a widely accepted practice at the time.

3. Iamblichus refers to what happened only within one of the many philosophical schools. He makes no claims about a wider tradition in philosophical schools outside of Pythagorean circles.

4. As recent scholars of Pythagoreanism have pointed out, there is reason to think that what Iamblichus says in fact is not even true of the Pythagorean school:

a. First, he was writing eight hundred years after Pythagoras and would have had no way of knowing that what he was saying is true. He may well simply have thought this is how it worked.

b. None of the other philosophers or historians who talk about Pythagoras and his school prior to Iamblichus says any such thing about pseudonymous works written in his name.

c. Iamblichus’s comment is completely casual and off the cuff.

d. To cap it all off, when Iamblichus’s statement can be checked, it appears to be wrong. The vast majority of the writings of the Pythagorean school were not done in the name of Pythagoras. His followers wrote in their own names.

As a result, the brief and casual comment by Iamblichus (who, it must be remembered, lived more than two hundred years after Paul and Peter) cannot at all be taken as evidence of what happened in the days of Pythagoras and his students (six hundred years before Paul and Peter), let alone what happened commonly in the philosophical schools, let alone what probably happened in early Christianity.

For these reasons, New Testament scholars need to revise their views about philosophical schools and their impact on the forgery practices of early Christians. There is almost nothing to suggest that there was a tradition in these schools to practice pseudepigraphy as an act of humility.

Thanks for reminding me of this...I'd forgotten Bart is of this opinion. Who's "right" about this? Does the "answer" lie somewhere in the middle?
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09-06-2014, 03:46 PM
RE: Atwill Documentary...excellent stuff
(09-06-2014 12:12 PM)Deltabravo Wrote:  
(08-06-2014 05:42 PM)Mark Fulton Wrote:  I've written a bit about how the gospels became canonical. It's a bit long, but if you're interested, here it is...

The legitimacy that the New Testament enjoys in Christian circles is in part provided by the assumptions that early church authorities, who compiled and edited the texts, had good reasons to believe they were the inspired words of God and truthful records of history. I think these assumptions are totally unfounded.

The process of compiling a New Testament canon was a protracted and complicated affair. It started in the late second century and only finished toward the end of the fourth. The following summary provides a brief overview.

It was over a century after Jesus’ death before the concept of a New Testament was even thought of. Most groups at this time considered only the Septuagint to be scripture, so nascent Christianity, except for the Marcionists, was quite “Judaeo-Christian.”

Why were the four Gospels chosen over others, and how were they related to Yeshua? Did they document real history? What did the church fathers know about the historical Jesus? How did Paul’s letters and the other epistles become part of the bible?

In the writings of Papias, which survive only as quoted by others, he stated that he relied only on oral tradition as the source of Jesus’ sayings.

Polycarp penned a letter that purports to contain some of Jesus’ words, and some of these resemble phrases appearing in the Gospels, (and even passages written in epistles, which weren’t attributed to Jesus) but he doesn’t name any sources.

Clement’s first epistle, traditionally dated to 95 CE, but more likely written decades later, did “quote” Jesus, and some of these quotations resemble sayings from the Gospels, but he never referred to a source.

There’s a collection of letters allegedly written by Ignatius while on the road to his trial in 110 CE, which are mainly forgeries (http://www.bible.ca/history-ignatius-for...50AD.htm). They include a few phrases and paraphrases that resemble ideas from Paul’s epistles, but the author doesn’t acknowledge they were Pauline. There are also phrases and ideas also found in Matthew and John, but the sources aren’t named.

In the second century, written and oral traditions ran side by side, distorting one another. There were hundreds of “Gospels” - a mass of inconsistent writings. Books were hand-written and manuscripts replicated one at a time, so thousands of copiers were able to alter, add to, or omit whatever they wanted; remarks written in margins by one transcriber were transferred into the next text, and were then indistinguishable from the original. Myth became overlaid with myth. In the second and third centuries there was no one dominant church to control the proliferation of these writings, just hundreds of different communities scattered throughout the empire, all with their own beliefs, written and oral, about Jesus.

Imagine the conundrums early Christians had to sort out or gloss over when compiling a canon. The ethnocentric concept of the Jews’ covenant with God on Mount Sinai had to somehow be sold to a crowd that wasn’t Jewish, and then the idea had to be undermined by claiming there was a new covenant. Just who was Jesus’ father? The Holy Ghost was said to be his dad, yet Jesus was also a son of David. How could he have a divine and a human father? Was or wasn’t he the messiah? A Jewish messiah was supposed to liberate Israel from the Romans, yet Jesus didn’t do that. Instead, he somehow saved Gentiles from their sins. Who was Christ? A god, a spirit, or a human? No lasting agreement was reached until well into the fourth century, when it was decided he was all three, a dimwitted doctrine that barely made it into the bible. Yahweh and Jesus both said the Law was to be obeyed for all time, but Paul had written that faith in Christ the sacrifice annulled the Law. Then there was James, maybe the brother of Jesus, who contradicted Paul’s doctrine of salvation by faith. There must have been a lot of head scratching and “cutting and pasting” to morph Paul’s Christ into Jesus’ story. There were hundreds of inconsistencies and errors in the Gospels that had to be glossed over. (http://www.infidels.org/library/historic...r_5.html).

The reconciliation of these polarized themes into a sensible, consistent doctrine was impossible. That the Christians managed to do it on a shop floor, but never on an intellectual level, speaks volumes about how easily the simple people of the time, most of who couldn’t read, were won over.

The first person to attempt to define a Christian canon was Marcion (110–160 CE) in the 140s. He suggested that the “new covenant,” as proposed by Paul, was part of a new religion separate from Judaism. His canon consisted of Paul’s letters and the Euangelion (which was similar to, but shorter than, canonical Luke.) He ignored all other religious literature, including Jewish Scripture. He either knew nothing of Mark, Matthew, or John, or neglected to acknowledge them.

The proto-orthodox groups coalesced around the name “Catholic,” and Justin Martyr became their preeminent apologist. He was unaware of the concept of a New Testament canon, or that there should only be four Gospels, or of the existence of any of the four now canonical gospels. (http://www.thenazareneway.com/gospels_se...ings.htm). He used more than three hundred quotations from the Old Testament, and nearly one hundred from now-apocryphal books, but none from the four Gospels. One of four things must be true; either the Gospels hadn’t been written yet, or they were in a very different state from what they are today, and unnamed, or they existed but he had never seen any of them, or that he knew of them but failed to mention them.

All “Christian” groups in Rome were competing with each other and other cults for the favor of the Roman state, so Gospels had to have pro-Roman elements and an absence of anti-Roman features.

Around this time the first instances of organized suppression of some Christian texts occurred. So the people whose writings would survive as Christian history labeled the Marcionites and Gnostics as “heretics,” and their ideas were derided. It was largely due to this competition with Marcion and the Gnostics that the idea of a Catholic New Testament canon was born.

Paul’s Letters Become Important

Marcion may have introduced Paul’s writings to Rome in the 140’s CE. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcionism, http://confessionsofadoubtingthomas.blog...ers.html).

In the mid to late second century, the canon first began to take shape. The Catholics in Rome did with Marcionism/Paulinism what they often did with other social or cultural or religious beliefs and practices: absorbed them. Paul had (probably) thought up the theology of individual salvation - “justification by faith” - that dispensed with the difficult dictates of Mosaic Law. He also promised heaven, a concept convenient for the Catholic Church to promote. His ideas were so suitable it was easy to adopt his scripts, call them scripture, and then, (almost certainly) edit them (http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com.au/20...ons.html).

There was, however, a problem. Paul said nothing about priests. He’d claimed the end of the world was imminent, so why would clerics be required? Anonymous authors forged three more “Pauline-styled” epistles: 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus, which made a case for a church structure, and promoted obedience to priests. They also implied a more human Jesus than the earlier Paulines, so paradoxically, were used as anti-Marcionite propaganda.

Let’s pause to put Paul’s epistles in perspective. They were probably first written as pro Roman government propaganda. The so-called heretic Marcion, who clearly thought Christ was a ghost, promoted them. Catholics then interpolated them, and new letters were forged in Paul’s name to explain the existence of priests. They barely mentioned Yeshua’s exploits. It’s obvious that today’s churches have an unjustifiable reverence for these ramblings.

Peter, John and Acts

No-one knows who wrote 1 and 2 Peter, (http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/1peter.html, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/2peter.html) or 1, 2, and 3 John. (http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/go...h20.html). None of the authors mentioned Jesus’ miracles, I think because they wrote before the Gospels. If they’d known of a miracle-working idol, they would undoubtedly have documented the fact.

The book of Acts, probably penned around the mid second century, propped up the incorrect impression that Paul had taught the traditions of Yeshua and his disciples. It made Paul, Marcion’s patriarch, the key proponent of what was to become orthodoxy, and refashioned him as an apostle, which he obviously wasn’t (despite his claims.) It served the Catholic purpose, yet was for the most part fictional, and in my opinion a feeble effort to create history.

The Gospels Appear

Irenaeus of Lyons attempted to list the first known Catholic canon in 180-190 CE, although he never compiled a definitive list of books. He knew that many people were attracted to Gnosticism and feared that his account of Christianity couldn’t compete. Formalizing doctrinal authority so that everyone had the same beliefs was his solution to what he saw as a problem.

His list included the four canonical Gospels. This was the first record of anybody mentioning the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, over 150 years after the events they purported to record. (http://firstnewtestament.com/gospels_ear...yons.htm). Irenaeus gave no good explanation as to who wrote them, or how the authors were connected to Yeshua. He did write
“Matthew published his Gospel among the Hebrews in their own language, while Peter and Paul were preaching and founding the church in Rome. After their departure Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, also transmitted to us in writing those things which Peter had preached; and Luke, the attendant of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel which Paul had declared. Afterwards John, the disciple of the Lord, who also reclined on his bosom, published his Gospel, while staying at Ephesus in Asia.” (“Against Heresies” 3.1.1.) This is an attempt to legitimize all four gospels in three sentences. It’s woefully inadequate because of the lack of detail, and sounds like a cheap commentary concocted so that the topic of the Gospels’ authorship could be glossed over. He implied that Matthew, Luke and John were written independently of Mark, which modern scholars know wasn’t the case. (The passage can be read in context at http://carm.org/irenaeus-heresies3-1-14.).

He did claim a work could be accepted as canonical if the early church fathers had used it, and this established a theoretical basis for determinations of orthodoxy, yet he never provided any such evidence for the books he chose. He made the ridiculous claim that as there were only four directions from which the wind blew, there could only be four Gospels. (http://ephesians411.wordpress.com/2011/0...onicity/).

He accepted Acts, yet gave no details about its authorship either, and all the Pauline letters.

Origen, a religious fanatic, was probably the most influential biblical commentator of the first three centuries of Christianity (http://www.ntcanon.org/Origen.shtml). He categorized books into three groups: those accepted by all churches he associated with, those disputed, and those not accepted in any of his churches, which he called “spurious.” So the only basis Origen used in practice to determine canonicity was how popular the books were in the churches of which he approved. He does mention that the Gospel of Mark was composed under the instruction of Peter, which he claimed he learned from Papias’ writing, but gives no details about Peter or Mark, which makes it an almost worthless comment. His acknowledged books were the four Gospels, Acts, the thirteen Pauline Epistles, I Peter, I John, and Revelations. He may have considered some others canonical, namely “Barnabas,” “Didache,” and “the Shepherd,” because he used the word “scripture” for them. Origen’s disputed books were the Apocalypse of Peter, and II Peter, II John, III John, James, and Jude, all five of which are now in the bible. He identified a number of books as spurious, such as Acts of Paul, the Teaching of the Apostles, Thomas, Matthias, Acts of Andrew, and others. He considered them to have been written by heretics under the names of the apostles.

Enter Eusebius

Eusebius rewrote his History of the Church many times as he tried to cover the topic with an orthodox account. He claimed that heresy only developed after the apostolic age, and was then countered by his version of Christianity…Catholicism.

He tried to explain the pedigree of Mark’s gospel thus;
“Having become the interpreter of Peter, Mark wrote down accurately whatever he remembered. However, he did not relate the sayings of deeds of Christ in exact order. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter. Now, Peter accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord’s saying. Accordingly, Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For one thing, he took special care not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements.” (Church History 1.155.) He claimed to be quoting Papias, who somehow (not explained) knew of a Mark, who somehow (not adequately explained) knew Peter. Mark, under pressure from unnamed enthusiasts, documented some of the Christ’s sayings that he remembered from Peter, who had fashioned what he taught to be appropriate to his listeners. Eusebius wrote this about 250 years after it allegedly happened. It’s nothing but “spin;” a weak attempt to justify the historicity of Mark.

Eusebius had access to Origen’s library and his writings, and copied him by claiming to use the criteria that a book had to have been written by an apostle, or by someone who was acquainted with an apostle. Yet he too never gave any good evidence of a link with the apostles. He just picked books that were already popular. To the four Gospels he added Acts, 1 Peter and 1 John, and all the Pauline epistles. Among his disputed but not heretical texts he placed James, Jude, 2 Peter, and 2 and 3 John. He stated 2 Peter was not canonical (it now is.) So he didn’t deliver a definitive list. By 327 CE, when Eusebius finished the final draft of his Church History, there was still no official bible.

Eventually church councils were convened to choose a single set of books. The first was the Synod of Laodicea (in Asia Minor) in 363 CE. There were twenty to thirty bishops present. They accepted all of the books of today’s canon except Revelations, which was rejected, possibly because of its anti-Roman prejudice. The official verdict was that:
“No psalms composed by private individuals nor any uncanonical books may be read in the church, but only the Canonical Books of the Old and New Testaments” (Catholic Encyclopedia.) The bishops made no comment about what criteria were used to choose this canon, nor why scores of other works were excluded. They must have been very busy, as this was the last of sixty new rules they laid down at the time. (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3806.htm).

Today’s Bible Emerges

The current cannon first surfaced in a letter written by Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, in 367 CE. This list was officially accepted by the church in 382 CE at a synod held in Rome under Pope Damasus, at which Jerome was present. This is how the Catholic Encyclopedia describes this most important event:
“The West began to realize that the ancient Apostolic Churches of Jerusalem and Antioch, indeed the whole Orient, for more than two centuries had acknowledged Hebrews and James as inspired writings of Apostles, while the venerable Alexandrian Church, supported by the prestige of Athanasius, and the powerful Patriarchate of Constantinople, with the scholarship of Eusebius behind its judgment, had canonized all the disputed Epistles. St. Jerome, a rising light in the Church, though but a simple priest, was summoned by Pope Damasus from the East, where he was pursuing sacred lore, to assist at an eclectic, but not ecumenical, synod at Rome in the year 382. Neither the general council at Constantinople of the preceding year nor that of Nice (365) had considered the question of the Canon. This Roman synod must have devoted itself specifically to the matter. The result of its deliberations, presided over, no doubt, by the energetic Damasus himself, has been preserved in the document called Decretum Gelasii de recipiendis et non recipiendis libris, a compilation partly of the sixth century, but containing much material dating from the two preceding ones. The Damasan catalogue presents the complete and perfect Canon which has been that of the Church Universal ever since.”

So the definitive canon wasn’t determined at an ecumenical council, (http://mb-soft.com/believe/txs/councils.htm) which would have had representatives from all the major areas, but at a much smaller synod. There’s no record of who attended this synod, other than Damasus and Jerome, nor of their deliberations. So Pope Damasus, brimming over with energy, Jerome, and possibly a few bishops, got together and made the definitive decision, using undocumented criteria, about which books were the word of God and which weren’t! It’s obvious from the above commentary that the primary purpose of the synod was to unite church factions, not to determine the historicity of biblical texts.

Augustine commanded three synods on canonicity: the Synod of Hippo in 393 CE, Carthage in 397 CE, and another in Carthage in 419 CE, yet none of these changed the canon. He must have concluded that after 350 years of confusion it was time to call it a day.

Some Conclusions

The men who compiled the canon wrote volumes attacking their opposition and arguing with their critics, so would have recorded solid facts to bolster the credibility of their books if they had them. They didn’t because they couldn’t.

Nowhere in the New Testament is there an explanation to vouch for the authenticity of any of the Jesus accounts that could convince an objective historian. Outside the bible, some church fathers, bishops, and academics pass fleeting commentary that has survived, yet it was written 100 or more years after Yeshua’s death, is very sparse, piecemeal, and always raises more questions than it answers. They wrote volumes about the early church’s followers and martyrs, but there is one thing conspicuously absent from their writings; bona-fide details about a flesh and blood historical Jesus.

There was much disagreement about what was or wasn’t the word of God, and it took 350 years after Jesus’ death for the canon to be definitively decided.

The criteria used to choose the canon were unscholarly and never strictly applied. The key case for inclusion in the canon was that the scripts were already popular in particular parishes. This standard is obviously flawed: firstly, popularity has little to do with historical truth. Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter are popular books, but no one thinks they’re true history just because they’re well liked. Secondly, it ignored the accounts of Christians who weren’t card carriers in conformist churches. The Gnostics and numerous other Christian groups had writings that were labeled as heretical. Catholics took what they thought was useful from them, and then destroyed nearly all their writings. To destroy literature one doesn’t like isn’t the conduct of people interested in the truth, but the behavior of narrow-minded empire building bigots.

We find falsely signed letters throughout the bible; rarely in the writings of antiquity are the true identities of so many authors so hidden from the reader. Some of Paul’s epistles are the only works for which we know the author’s real identity, and even then his writings have been interfered with by unknown others. I suspect the real identities of the authors were never recorded, because that would have exposed how fabricated the writings were. Anonymous authors meant answers didn’t have to be given to difficult questions. It was easier to foster faith than facts.

The church fathers either presumed or pretended the Gospels were true, but couldn’t prove it. This leaves a massive hole in Christianity’s legitimacy.


Everything you say supports Atwill's approach. If you find a book and all it has on it as the author's name is "Bob" and it is about flying men, then you assume it is not true, for a start.

If you then start to recognize some sort of ethical message in it and a story of the flying men which correspoinds to some other story you have read, the intelligent approach would be to examine the text itself and see if it is based on some other text, has some ideas in it which come from somewhere else, so you can figure out who wrote it and "why" they wrote it, what purpose it has. Beyond that, and certainly relying on it as accurate in any way is pure folly of the worst kind becaue you can't rely on any of it.

No one would take, for instance, anything like a gospel style piece of writing and present it as evidence in a court other than as evidence of itself, like a loaf of bread, rather than it's truth.

What happens in religious discussions is that "different rules" apply. People make them up as they go along or just don't have the sophistication to even understand what it is to say that one is able to "prove" anything by referring to a book whose author is unknown.

Atwill goes about as far as one can in showing that the book itself is just a fraud because it discloses patterns which show it is a plagiarism and fake. Until anyone can counter that, he presents the best evidence to date that the work is fiction. Whether it has some historical basis is another matter but there isn't any point trying to use it as a historical work because if it is a fiction then any of it or all of it can be invented including the names of the authors, dates, times, events. It may be a deliberately misleading piece of fiction in which those aspects which seem most reliable, like its setting in the time of Herrod are, in fact the most misleading.

"What happens in religious discussions is that "different rules" apply."

Good point. Evangelical types continually do this. In a couple of days I will be debating pastor Phil Fernandes on the topic "did Jesus rise from the dead" on radio in the USA. I've been listening to his podcasts and watching his debates. He commonly resorts to the tired old argument that we just must remember that the Bible is the word God… end of story. I've got a feeling I'm going to be repeatedly reminding him that you can't just do that and he's going to be replying that he can.

He rambles on about "hermeneutics" which as best I can work out is just the art of trying to make the Bible say what what you want it to say.
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