The Gospel Truth, by William P. Lazarus : part 1 · part 2 · part 3
William Paul Lazarus reacted to: part 1
"In other words, Peter Parker is a hack who shouldn't be allowed anywhere near a newsroom, much less receive the industry's highest possible award."
Read More: Peter Parker is a terrible journalist
List item 1 on / Things about Spider-Man comics you only notice as an adult (Looper)
This is a bit reminding of the journalism of William P. Lazarus. At times.
For one, can he really honestly miss that Reimarus could quite as easily be a pseudepigraphon by Lessing as any Gospel really by a hypothetic non-Mark, non-Luke etc?
But Reimarus' main contribution to theological science was his analysis of the historical Jesus, Apologie oder Schutzschrift für die vernünftigen Verehrer Gottes ("An apology for, or some words in defense of, reasoning worshipers of God" — only read by a few intimate friends during his lifetime), which he left unpublished. After Reimarus' death, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing published parts of this work as "Fragments by an Anonymous Writer" in his Zur Geschichte und Literatur in 1774-1778, giving rise to what is known as the Fragmentenstreit. This had a deep impact as the beginning of critical research of the historical Jesus Reimarus pointed out the differences between what Jesus said and what the apostles said, identifying Jesus as a Jewish preacher. Jesus, according to this view, was an apocalyptic prophet preaching about a worldly kingdom soon to come. This view is current in modern scholarship. Reimarus also considered Christianity to be a fabrication. The disciples, he said, stole Jesus’ body to fake his resurrection and found a new religion. This explanation is now considered erroneous, as first demonstrated by another great critic in Jesus scholarship, D. F. Strauss.
WPL says so, as well, and misses the implication. Papias and Irenaeus are at least not claiming to themselves have discovered any hitherto un-published four Gospels. As far as anyone can tell, they were very fine thanks with Gospels coming from the named authors well before they said so, and knowedly to everyone concerned so.
When X claims to publish a hitherto unpublished piece of writing, precisely as when Y claims to open up a hitherto even more esoteric society to interested initiates, they are in a position to make and even fake the product, as much as Joseph Smith to fake gold plates, or fake Nephitic content of non-extant gold-plates or even fake translation of non-extant Nephitic content.
Especially as Lessing on his part is extremely well known adherent of another tenet of Deism, as examplified by his "ring parable", as examplified by Nathan the Wise, in which you find it, namely of making "three Abrahamic religions" (roughly) equivalent (with tacit preference for Judaism) and therefore any specific content of any of the three diverse from others very moot. In other words, had he wanted to fake Reimarus, he had a motive as well as an opportunity.
Now, WPL is, all through several chapters, arguing that whoever wrote the Gospels were people who had both motive (namely to give the sect some content of doctrinal type, thitherto inadequate) and opportunity. The scenario is this:
The early Church of Jerusalem got quite lost. It was eradicated when the Romans came. Therefore, the one faction of several which could have been a corrective, could have given some real tradition from Christ, is as lost as original openly existing order of Templars and men like Jacques Molay were when Scottish Rite Freemasons claimed to represent the Templars.
To be fair, I can buy that Templars did contribute to Speculative freemasonry after infiltrating the operative lodges, just as I can buy that Reimarus actually wrote things which Lessing then published. I don't like any of these, so I can consider them as morally equivalent in badness. Therefore possibly identic in fact. But the point is, with Freemasons impersonating "survived Templar order" or with Lessing finding an unpublished manuscript of Reimarus, we have a historically known, attested in narrative, certain opportunity and at least with reference to Templars a nostalgic motive.
What WPL is saying about the lost Church of Jerusalem is the equivalent of all this, BUT without any historic evidence for it, either implied or presented.
Yes, the Church in Jerusalem was in Jerusalem before AD 70. Yes, Jerusalem was destroyed and those found in it were mostly butchered in year 70. That part is historically correct. What is not correct is to imagine that the Church in Jerusalem remained to be butchered. Heeding the prophecies (yes, the traditional scenario does say they had been made by Christ beforehand), they left Jerusalem in time. What is more, they fled to Pella, in a region which to Isaiah would have been known as "Edom, Moab and Ammon", now Jordan. This means, they were perhaps less consultable for a time, but they survived. They could be consulted again. What is more, they started the Christian Church in Edom, Moab and Ammon, meaning these tribes (with some admixtion of later arrivals) were Christians, under the leadership incoming (invading if you like) from Jerusalem.
WPL also imagines that "the Christian Church" was such a chaos of competing factions that one could not know how close or not close any other Church in any other city was to that in Jerusalem. Like, the Church in Jerusalem never thought of any mission outside Jerusalem, no ... well, Samaria, of course (Acts 8), meaning that there was a Christian population in Judea and Samariah as well as in Galilaea, recruited from Samarian as well as from Jewish religions. And when St James became bishop of Jerusalem, it was because St Peter left to Antioch, from where he later went to Rome.
In other words, the first Church in Jerusalem had not only survived, but also disseminated before having to leave the place for some time.
Wait, there is a little pattern here. Isaiah 11 first says sth midway about "His sepulchre shall be glorious" and then continues to tell us what the Messiah will accomplish (apparently post mortem) after being laid in a sepulchre which was glorious (or became so by the Resurrection). Re-Union of Judah and Israel (Judah and Ephraim, to be precise)? Check, first Church in Jerusalem, second in Samariah. Conquest of Edom, Moab and Ammon? Check, when Church of Jerusalem fled to Pella, they converted these peoples to Christianity.
How do we know these things happened?
They are in Acts. Acts was accepted as a valid self account by the Church. It was an officially approved account. That is what a canonic book of the NT means : officially approved, from start, by the officials of the Church. So, in the last resort, I know this because of the tradition of the Catholic Church.
What does WPL or any late offshot of Lessing-Reimarus type of scholarship against this?
- Self accounts of communities seen with undue suspicion (unless of modern Western state type) - an ironic reference on whether the Catholic accepts Rome was founded by Romulus (we do, St Augustine considered he was made a god by his followers because they loved him), whether we agree the Spartan dynasty has ruled in Sparta since grandsons of Hercules (we do, another Church Father said "Hercules was a strong man, not a god"), whether we accept Yngling dynasty started with Odin and his stepson Frey (Snorri did and I do, with some hesitation, since Saxo considered immediate Swedish successors to Odin were non-Ynglings - but that could have been another region); WPL seems to take this suspicion (again, except to modern Western state type of community) so for granted, he does not even say so, in the chapters I have so far read - but he implies it in also not believing self account of Israelites previous to King David;
- The fact Jerusalem was destroyed - but rather than say our explanations why the doctrine from original Church survived is wrong and tell us why, he simply ignores it exists : either he is not aware or does not think it is worth mentioning, in the chapters I have so far read;
- The fact there were sects rival to "what became" Catholic Christianity (or orthodox, if you prefer) - presented as splinters on an equal footing with each other and with the Church. The funny part is, he claims to know about these sects because of the Church Fathers denouncing it, but he is deaf to what they (notably St Irenaeus and St Ignatius) have to say on continuity of the Church - this he does mention;
- Silence about the relevant facts of our claim in such and such writers which, according to him, would have been very well equipped to and motivated to mention the facts if they had been true - on his estimation. This also he does mention.
Now, let's deal first with what he does mention, since he thought that most important.
He or Carrier or, I suppose, the late Marcus Borg, would argue or would have argued:
- We know that Ebionites, Gnostics, Marcionites and a few more existed, since Church Fathers spent so much time arguing against them;
- We know of the canon of Marcion before we know of any Christian canon;
- Therefore we are free to imagine, once Jesus had died, all these groups came from him, and some from Paul, and the one coming from Paul managed to subsume the others and absorb them by gradual doctrinal compromse till Christianity as we know it had emerged.
I would on the other hand argue:
- We know several groups existed because the Church Fathers spent so much time arguing against them, but from the same source we also know, the heretical groups did not remain the same. By the time when Montanists "emerged", i e were clustering around the charismatic figure Montanus, an anti-Pope, probably Ebionites were already gone, either taking Judaism or taking Christianity without Jewish rites, as the Temple fell, and we see no trace of Ebionites rejecting John (which was written by the Apostle against them) but keeping Synoptics (which they were abusing) - in other words, the Catholic Church has been a constant since Christ, and sects, but no one sect, have been constantly rivalling it (no one sect except Judaism, that is);
- While Marcion's canon is older than Muratorian fragment, we can well imagine that each book finally making it into NT had at least a good backing from many Churches, it is at least certain they are very different from Marcion's canon;
- We must conclude, the rival groups were not of an equal type, but later derived imitations and split-offs - precisely as Utah and Texas and California free states and Confederation never were exactly the same as United States.
The point is not that WPL is arguing forcefully against this, the point is, he is ignoring it - even while most of what I said is there in the source material (Church Fathers) from whom they claim to derive it.
Next, silence. Or conspicuous silence.
- Josephus is silent on Nazareth;
- Very Early Church Fathers (St Clement I of Rome, St Ignatius of Antioch) don't quote the Gospels;
- Paul ("our earliest preserved Christian writer" - since he denies Matthaean origin of Matthew) is silent on this and that and sundry, including Jesus having a real body and really walking among us.
Here my answers would be:
- Josephus was arguably, as already conjectured, refraining from mentioning the Church;
- Does WPL have ANY idea of how short the combined text of Sts Clement and Ignatius would be? I checked : 32 p. on a printout, 39 p. on a "libre office writer" document, 29 037 words. I came to 13 717 words on 19 chapters of Genesis - and considering the prolix rhetorical epistle style of the episples, "I have become acquainted with your name, much-beloved in God" is less than first of thirteen lines of captatio benevolentiae, which does quote St Paul's Epistle to same Ephesians, btw, considering this, the 13 717 words might be roughly equivalent - also, OT is cited in Clement;
- St Paul clearly does mention a bodily resurrection in more than one place.*
Another favourite of WPL is silence or absence or inaccessibility of "official records". This means those of the Maccabaean-Jewish authorities as well as those of the Romans.
The word official actually means "on duty". Officium means duty. A judge who writes a letter to his wife is writing off-duty, not officially as to his capacity as judge, but a judge writing a verdict is writing officially, on-duty, as to his capacity as a judge. Obviously, the verdict is equally unofficial and off-duty in his relation to his wife and his letter to his wife is equally official, on-duty, in his capacity as a husband. There is no specific thing about being a judge which makes a man more truthful and reliable in it than in his duties to his wife. A man may be cheating, and therefore lying to his wife. A judge may be corrupt, for money or to suppress opponents, and therefore lie in his verdicts. A wife may be tolerant of inattention and confusion in his letters, but a well reputed judge will often not be challenged as to inattention and confusion in his verdicts.
However, modern historiography arose very lately, in what was then technically Prussia : the kingdom of the Brandenburg dynasty.** Just a bit before it became II Reich. Judges and other administration in Prussia were proud of not being corrupt. Prussian prejudice was for religious tolerance, and therefore against reliance on religious documents. Therefore, logically, the historiography born in Prussia will set more value on official documents of state administration (unless the state is too obviously unlike Prussia, like Iroquois federation for having oral records and not keeping up administration, or Spanish one in admitting miracles and Catholic dogma), than on religious officials.
I do not advise WPL to stay with this ideology, it can't be replicated successfully when arguing for the Holocaust and deaths in gas chambers. I don't know any person whose death in a gas chamber was officially recorded as such by the administration of camps, arising in the Prussian tradition. A code 6, Sonderbehandlung, was officially recorded, it is now thought to mean "death by gas chamber", but that is not what the official documents directly say. If we have any reasonable knowledge of anyone actually dying in a gas chamber and not in any other way nor surviving, it is from the kind of factors this type of historiography deems hopelessly inadequate : personal memory, collective memory of a community with victim status. There is one official document from Israel, from a court, in which 50 people swear on oath having seen and survived seeing gassings. There are obviously official documents from Nuremberg trials implying this was done, by investigating who was most culpable for it. Again, these are not official documents from the administration in place when this was - at least supposedly - happening.
You consider it proven gas chambers were used to kill people, I might (perhaps risking prison or mental hospital for saying so, perhaps something else***) disagree. I do NOT disagree that this or that or sundry survivor was badly treated. Like Marcel Cling. Or that at least one person is known to have been going into a gas chamber, but getting out of it alive, namely Jo Wajsblat. I do not disagree, because I do consider personal testimony of Marcel Cling and Jo Wajsblat as proof, even while it is not in the Prussian sense an official document. So, you want to prove camp guards were (often enough to hurt) the extreme brutal equivalent of school yard bullies, you also do not wish to stay with this ideology of historiography.
So, you might want to reassess your criteria for historic reliability a bit.
If you do, one of the things you will notice is that apologias are sometimes private ventures (as in Justin Martyr), sometimes more like official responses (when by men like Origen writing Against Celsus on demand). Either way, them not being state administration type of official does not mean that they can't be used as historic proof.
The real answer to the challenge given in this type of argument, over more than one chapter, is that the Catholic Tradition on Church history is reliable self record of a community. The fact that Gnostics and Marcionites are not giving their version in it is irrelevant (except to a hopelessly Prussian mind). If we had had the self record of these sects, we would not see them going straight back to all of the apostles. Cerinthus would have needed some kind of excuse for the real disciple of Our Lord, St John, shunning him to the point of very quickly leaving a bath where he was entering, and explaining the gesture by saying a house where Cerinthus enters is more at risk than other houses of fallin victim to the wrath of God. We don't have the Church history of Cerinthus' Church. It might be interesting, but I don't think we need it to assess that of the Catholic Church as correct.
Now, I said I have read several chapters after that first on which I made, there was more in them than just this. This time, I am not going chapter by chapter, but taking certain thematics across chapters. Next thematic will be a few obvious blunders in WPL's work, after that I will go to a few real difficulties (I will admit the archaeological difficulty on Nazareth is one I have no full solution to - except the general one, not everything is preserved in archaeology).
The silence of Josephus, on the other hand, I have no problem in explaining.
- 1) It could be a "wait and see" type of silence, as I suggested previously;
- 2) it could also be that apart from briefly mentioning Christ Jesus among the portents and calamities in the days of Pilate, Josephus thought the Christian Church outside his scope, because, unlike what WPL contents, it was already markedly something different from Judaism.
Hans Georg Lundahl
Vigil of Sts Simon and Jude°
* I enumerated quotes from Romans, I Corinthians, II Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians and Philippians in this earlier response:
Twelve Pieces of a Doherty Puzzle (it's Too Early to Dismiss Historicity)
** I presume the Weibull school of Sweden is somewhat later.
*** I seem to have been pretty clearly silenced as far as others recognising me as a writer is concerned, in their writings. For instance.
° Yesterday, it was St Evaristus, a Pope of Rome who was martyred under Emperor Hadrian.