Sunday, December 6, 2009

Book Review

Fabricating Jesus (How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels)
By: Craig A. Evans

I couldn't get through the first six chapters without slamming the book shut in disgust. For having over twenty-five years experience in looking at and translating ancient biblical texts, Mr. Evans' logic is .... I can't find the appropriate word. Appalling. Frightening. Shortsighted. Those are the closest approximations of emotion I could find. Oh, add a thick layer of disdain to that. Yeah. That'll cover it.

The author's grand pronouncement that the scholars who have translated the Nag Hammadi scrolls are dating it incorrectly is quite frankly anti-climactic. Gnostics wax poetic and have always assigned their dialogues with Christ as visions or meetings in the mind. And even more confounding to modern dogmatic Christian scholars, gnostic writers sometimes even refer to each other as Christs. Or sparks. Or a piece of light. Or a million other symbols. If you don't understand the jargon of gnostics it all looks like a twisted mess.

Here's the main idea Mr. Evans attempts to convince his audience: the Old Testament is truly the OLD Testament. The gnostic gospels really belong in the NEW Testament because of their supposed age, if they belong there at all.

We've got a problem, though. When the powers that be in Christiandom met for the first Council of Nicaea(325AD) all the New and Old Testament books were agreed upon and even edited to everyone's satisfaction. You're talking about rewriting and re-interpreting the Word Of God(supposedly). Man rewriting God's Book. It was decided that yes, Jesus was the literal son of God and not some human prophet with a gift for words or even a human baby who came into his divinity at a certain age. The human child was never born from humanity. He was born from God. A study of Arius, one of the priests to be excommunicated during the Council of Nicaea, shows that he was a not-so-quietly-in-the-closet gnostic. The base of truth was there, right in front of Constantine's eyes and for all to see. But it was blasphemous and deemed dangerous for the souls of Christians to contemplate. So naturally Arius was excommunicated and his works were burned. And then he was murdered. Nice touch, that.

My point is that the Old and New Testament books all have such shady history and interpretation that exactly how can one even establish which was written first in the instance of the Old Testaments in relation to the Nag Hammadi collection? Mr. Evan's argument that many of the Nag Hammadi books were either perfect copies of or very close paraphrases of a multitude of passages of books in the Old Testament only proves one thing- there were common themes. How do we know that the Old Testament books weren't copied from the Nag Hammadi books and then filled out with more appropriate fluff to stupefy the masses? Why is it that the Old Testament is sacrosanct and yet everything we find after it simply must be either a) a forgery or b) written after the Old Testament books? Why can't they coexist in peace as a part of history?

This isn't a debate over a chicken and her laid egg. This is an argument over who has edited texts, burned them, murdered people for their "hypocrisy" and then those people who simply want to spread God's love and be left alone. There is a 350 year period when all these books were written(and edited to please the masses) and the Vatican clearly fails when it comes to proving authenticity with Irenaeus as their chief historian.

Mr. Evans placed a very touching preface in his book, detailing how his faith has been changed through his decades of hard work. While others in his field lost their faith his merely shifted in focus. After reading only six chapters of his book I can summarize the author in three words: very polite apologist. While trying to rationalize the New Testament he only succeeds in pointing out his own flaws in deduction by not saying what he should. If you're going to attack the authenticity of one document saying it's "secondary and not primary" then you better be able to coherently discuss the shenanigans which happened while "authenticating" and outright editing the primary. Not talking about it doesn't mean that it didn't exist and you can't sweep it under the rug.

Gnostics don't care if another gnostic believes Jesus was maybe a brighter spark than the rest of us. We don't care if he really walked as a human or was merely a heavenly apparition who lingered thirty-three years. We don't care because we know that it's all about the evolution of gnosis and personal experience with the All. Free thinking at its best. That's why gnostics have a multitude of sects- happily! Literal Christians, however, have big Councils to decide such things and then damn anyone who disagrees. Murder and mayhem have always been dealt out by literal religions. Isn't it funny how exclusive inclusive religions become? They always morph into a society which teaches their children to hate the 'others.'

Doesn't anyone get metaphors anymore? Irenaeus certainly didn't. I think his inner child died too early.

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