Inspiration, canon formation, or, "It's Turtles All The Way Down"
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03-11-2012, 01:15 AM (This post was last modified: 04-11-2012 08:40 PM by Bucky Ball.)
Inspiration, canon formation, or, "It's Turtles All The Way Down"
So for the *youngins* here, there is this nerdy dumb joke you're gonna hear a lot in your science classes, in college. No one knows where it really came from. It relates in a certain way to how four gospels were actually chosen to be in the Bible.

The story goes something like this. (BTW Stephen Hawking tells it in "A Brief History of Time", but he did not cook it up).

A scientist was giving a lecture on astronomy, one day. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun orbits around the center
of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said:
"What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise." The scientist smiled at her, triumphantly, feeling very superior, and said to her, But my dear, what is the tortoise standing on ?"

"You're very clever, young man, very clever," said the old lady. "But it's turtles all the way down!"

Why a turtle, you ask ? Turtles are stable, as they have four legs.
Guess what ?
That's the only reason the Bible has 4 gospels. It's turtles all the way down.

Canon Formation in the New Testament
Around 300 CE, 100 years after St. Irenaeus did his famous list, there was another round in the canon formation process. Round II. During this period, there were many gospels floating around, written, by many different people. They didn't really have an idea of how many there actually
were, until the Nag Hammadi Library was discovered, during the 20th Century in Northern Egypt.
The Library contained Gnostic texts which the early church tried to suppress, and thus were hidden, to save from being burned., and by virtue of
the hiding, were saved for History. Since there were many still circulating and in use, when Eusebius came on the scene, around 300 CE, he and
Constantine decided that since Christians had been (supposedly), killed for their beliefs, he better make it clear exactly what they had been dying
for, and make it damn simple. So he attempted suppression of most of the circulating gospels. Of the ones left, he picked four. The actual *reason* he picked 4, had nothing to do with the actual content of the gospels, (as they are VERY different, and conflicted in many respects). He used popularity, and most
important, his (capricious) standard was that "there were four winds and four pillars". *Four* was a "mystical" number, or a *foundational* sort
of *firm solid foundation* on which to rest the new religion.
Four was the number of pillars the ancients thought the Earth stood on. So four it was. A firm foundation on four legs. Turtles on four legs, all the way down. Eusebius didn't really cook this up himself, as Irenaeus had used the SAME justification of a "mystical four" in his "Against Heresies"
Obviously if the *four* are chosen for reasons OTHER than content or consistency, it puts the lie to "inspiration". They were chosen NOT for "inspired
content", but for a relationship to a "mystical" firm foundation. (Or at least that's the justification they cooked up).

Two more things are important. about canon formation. There was at least some discussion of the subject in almost all the proceedings of all the
Councils, and synods. When Constantine told Eusebius to deliver fifty bibles, had had to decide what exactly would be put in them.

In his brilliant book, "Voting About God" Professor, (Dr.) Ramsay MacMullen, (Yale) explains how the councils developed, discussed and then
VOTED on what would become Christian doctrine. It was neither "inspired", nor "revealed". It was the direct result of an open, obvious
and VERY human process. You can actually read the proceedings of all these councils, for yourself.

Just as the development of the actual Old Testament was intimately rooted in priestly politics and warfare, so was the development in the early
Christian cult.

The historical accuracy of the Council of Jerusalem, (in Acts 15) was seriously questioned in the 20th Century. This council was unaware of any written gospel yet. .
Then there were other "meetings" before the church really had accumulated many adherents.

There were also many synods in Antioch, which debated and developed the doctrines about many subjects.

It's important to remember the literacy rate was no higher than 5%, and there was NO communication, no radio, no TV, no phones. So really what
developed in Alexandria would be completely unknown to followers in, for example, Rome, except for letters,and occasional meetings of the bishops.
The communities developed in isolation, thus the existence of many gospels is not surprising.

Thus finally when the later councils were still fighting over doctrine, they often referred to gospels,
and scriptural content, and we can get, in context, hints about what the early church actually thought about the meanings of scripture.
Ultimately what ended up in the canon was NON-UNANIMOUSLY VOTED into the canon by human beings, in the councils.

So when you hear the nerdy joke, kids. Just remember. All of Western religion is built on the same idea.
Turtles. All the way down.

Big Grin

Insufferable know-it-all.Einstein
"And you quit footing the bill for these nations that are oil rich - we're paying for some of their *squirmishes* that have been going on for centuries" - Sarah Palin
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