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In the name of God/s, part 2: Christianity

  • Founder/s: debatable but I would say Saul of Tarsus (now known as Paul the Apostle or Saint Paul)
  • Approximate age: 2000 years
  • Place of origin: debatable; either Israel/ Palestine, modern Jordan, Syria* or Greek/Roman-occupied Egypt
  • Holy book/s: Bible
  • Original language of holy book/s: Aramaic or Greek
  • Demonym of adherents: Christians
  • Approximate number of current global adherents: 2,400,000,000
  • Place of worship name/s: church, kirk, chapel, cathedral

* This trail, going from Jerusalem (Palestine/ Israel) through Jordan to Damascus (Syria), is what’s known as the Road to Damascus, where Saul converted to Christianity. However, the New Testament was written in Egypt, which at the time was occupied by Greeks & Romans.

Why did I call Saul/ Paul the founder instead of Ieshua (Jesus)? Continue reading In the name of God/s, part 2: Christianity

Poem: Whose Myth is True?

After hundreds

Of thousands

Of millions of years

We have evolved to Homo de spirituali dominus

– Man, master of spirituality!

We got more than one good book:

Qur’an, Vedas and Guru Granth Sahib,

Tripitaka and Torah

As well as the Bible

To spell out the will of God

In six different shades of black & white,

Save us from the scary black darkness,

Keep us in the pwetty white light.

Walk toward and into the light,

And death is guaranteed to be better

Than this Devil’s Domain called

Life.

But!

Backtrack to the days of BC – Before Clerics

Were afraid of their religions’ origins,

Before pagan was redefined from local & home-grown to

Spiritual Atavism To All Nations,

The world believed in different myths:

Before heaven & hell were spiritual destinations for the dead

One was the searing red ocean beneath the land,

The other the vast blue roof where birds flirted with clouds.

Blue was a foreign colour to most tongues, anthropologists believe

But I think people were smarter than that.

On the far East side we had guardian dragons

Raining good fortune and education on us from above,

While angels’ Assyrian ancestors hunted us like birds of prey.

The skies of Zambia, Angola & Congo are windows to prehistory

Because they still see pterodactyls!

Ala was an Igbo goddess as well as an Arab god,

At the tip of Africa’s horn the world was balanced on the horns of a bull

Tethered in front of the cow he loved –

Maybe the common ancestor of the Egyptian sky-cow,

As Somalis & Ethiopians were the common ancestors of Egyptians?

The Slavic sun is too lazy to inhabit the sky,

She lives on an island served by the 4 winds,

Long before Avraham preached fear of God

Inuktitut (Eskimos) preached fear of everything!

Kaluli women are the mothers of Mother Nature,

Men only have supremacy because

A male snake ate an Aboriginal goddess’s daughters,

But Chinese emperors were legally required

REQUIRED

To sexually satisfy 121 women in 15 nights!

Modern Indians caste their devotion toward fair skin

When they used to believe darker = holier.

Asian Indians meant their own skins,

American “Indians” meant that of Africans

But both stopped once pale-skins

Installed themselves in positions of superiority.

Complex, I know.

The disciples had never heard of Jesus,

Their messiah’s name was Ieshua,

Freedom fighter to them, to Roman powers terrorist.

Science and maths hadn’t yet tested the theory that

Virginity + pregnancy = impossibility,

But we had the Greek intelligence to know daemons could be

Good, evil or don’t give a shit

And the Judean intelligence to know Satan was just doing his God-given job

– But given by which God?

The New Testament one who so loved the world

He agreed with Caiaphas that

It’s better for one man to perish in place of the nation,

Sent his Judean heir to die for Gentiles’ royal screw-ups?

Or the Old Testament one who smote the world

Then remembered to keep Noah alive,

Knows idols can’t hurt him but admits

I am a jealous god?

Whose god is true?

Whose myth is true?

© One Tawny Stranger, July 2015

TRACKING CHANGES TO THE BIBLE THROUGHOUT HISTORY, PART 4 – REAL HISTORY OF JESUS & CHRISTIANITY (continued)

So who exactly was the man we nowadays call Jesus Christ?

 

 

 

As I mentioned throughout, his real name was Yeshua or Ieshua, Christ (translation of mashiah, anointed) being a title. He was a 1st century Judean, a blood descendant of King David (which is what 1st century Jews meant by ‘son of God’) and a zealous follower of Judaism, living during the time of Roman invasion of Israel & Judea.

However, there’s much more to the story than that. Much of Jesus’s real identity has been hidden and lied about in the entire history of Christianity, but artefacts are slowly uncovering it.

Back to the son of God part, even the modern New Testament itself makes no direct references to that. Jesus seldom if ever called himself that; most of the time he calls himself son of man. That was both a messianic title and a poetic way of saying human. The vast majority of the time it was other people calling Jesus son of God, not Jesus himself. Furthermore, the further back you trace the Bible these references become fewer and fewer. Even those earliest references are highly suspect, because it was common practice for authors to attribute words the characters would’ve said in the authors’ opinion! In fact, the text can be traced back even further to when Paul/ Saul first wrote his letters (ie. before the gospels existed) and be found to contain NO references to son of God at all!

My damn disciples. I diluted Judaism down enough for them but they couldn’t leave it alone, could they?

In part 3 I mentioned he was a saviour, marked out (anointed) to save people. However, as a Judean living under Roman occupation and a possible member of the Zealots, he wasn’t out to save the world from sin & death. Just like all other Jews who’d fought and died during that time, he was trying to save the Judeans and Israelites from Roman rule and reinstate the old kingdoms of Judea & Israel!

SHOCK HORROR!

Hollywood you lied to me!!!

And he was definitely not the only one. His messiah status made him a POTENTIAL fulfiller of the promise God made to king David in the OT. Many others before him came to fulfill it too, one of them being what the Hebrew Bible calls Yochanan the immerser. We know him as John the baptist. Potential messiahs needed to be plentiful because the Romans kept killing their asses!

Which leads me to another point. Compared to other people Jesus’s crucifixion was nothing special; crucifixion was a torturous execution method reserved specifically for enemies to Rome. In other words, a punishment for treason. In stark contrast to what Christians believe, the Jews had nothing to do with it. They never wanted Jesus dead (except the treacherous Sadducees); why would they if he was their saviour? And yes, contrary to what the Qur’an teaches evidence indicates Jesus was crucified. Though in the same vein as people who can’t accept Elvis is dead, some Jews believed he was raised up to heaven in a similar manner to Elijah. The gospels may have bought into this and got carried away; they all claim he survived crucifixion, escaped from his tomb (with help) and continued to live like an ordinary man doing ordinary stuff like eating, fishing & going for walks.

Unlikely but technically possible, since crucifixion doesn’t kill straight away. It could also be the origin of the Muslims’ claim that Jesus was raised up to heaven.

It’s important to note that while Jews used the term son of God freely, they ABSOLUTELY NEVER called anyone Lord except God. Not even their own leaders. Remember one of the anti-Roman movements was called ‘no Lord but God’. Paul’s followers, on the other hand, had no issue calling their leaders Lord, and Paul (being the creator of Christianity wanting to keep his congregations happy) got the ball rolling so Jesus became known as Lord.

Now on to his family. Today we’re led to believe the only family Jesus had were Mary, his “father in heaven” (Christian doctrine, obviously wrong), possibly Joseph and figuratively his disciples. However, when the NT is traced back in time through its older versions, it becomes clearer and clearer that he had many more family members around.

First it should be made clear that the Nativity story is pretty much all a lie, made up by the author/s of Matthew.

For example Joseph, Mary’s fiancé (husband according to some) who accompanied her to the manger in Bethlehem according to the Nativity, was not her fiancé. He only appears in the Nativity story but isn’t mentioned again, not even at the crucifixion! If this man was Jesus’s earthly father figure, why would he not be present at his execution? Especially since Mary was? It has been argued that he died some time beforehand, but the Bible doesn’t mention this. Strange. Cresswell argues that Joseph is really one of two things:

  1. A non-existent figure inserted into the story to distract readers from the cover-up of Jesus’s real family, or
  2. (more likely) not Mary’s fiancé but Mary’s dad. In other words, Jesus’s granddad! This is supported by an Old Syriac version of Matthew called Sinaiticus Palimpsest, a late 4th century 358-page long manuscript for members of the Eastern Church. Unfortunately this might be inaccurate as it’s a Syriac translation of Greek.
Sinaiticus Palimpsest, aka. Syriac Sinaiticus

Also, this may be offensive to Christians, Muslims, Bahá’ís, etc. but Mary was absolutely not a virgin. She conceived Jesus in exactly the same way all other women do – by having sex with a man. Where did the virgin story come from? From the gospels again, specifically Matthew & Luke which used a prophecy in Isaiah that claimed a young woman would bear a son who’ll save Israel. Somehow the Hebrew word for young woman was mistranslated to virgin in Greek.

So if not God/ the holy spirit, who was Mary impregnated by? The synoptic gospel of John mentions the term “Mary of Clopas”. This could mean daughter or wife or mother, but St Jerome – on authority of Eusebius who quoted from Hegesippus – made the authoritative decision that Clopas was the husband of Mary’s sister (who was confusingly also called Mary*), making Joseph Mary mother of Jesus’s husband after all. But this caused problems for the immaculate conception myth, which may have led to Clopas’s name being glossed over or scratched out altogether. According to Cresswell, however, Clopas (in other versions called Cleopas/ Alphaeus, all Greek/Latin renditions of the Aramaic name Chalphai) is Mary mother of Jesus’s husband and therefore Jesus’s real father!

* Mary, or Mariam/ Maryam (ܡܪܝܡ) in proper Aramaic, was a common name. But two  sisters being given the same name? A bit farfetched. 

Through the older versions of the NT, we also find some interesting info on other members of his family. Acts 1:13 mentions

Mary the () of James and Judas () of James

Obviously words have been deleted. What words? Evidence suggests (mother) and (brother) respectively, though it’s been argued that James was Mary’s father. These words were deliberately deleted by the otherwise conscientious scribe A, who was copying from another flawed exemplar, then added back in by Ca (the boss corrector), then re-deleted by Cb2! Remember Cb2 made a habit of undoing Ca’s work.

All this means that James* was also a son of Mary and therefore Jesus’s brother. And since Judas was James’s brother, that also makes him Jesus’s brother. Yes, Judas was one of Jesus’s blood brothers! Knowing this, as well as the fact that Jews didn’t participate in the crucifixion, the betrayal-by-a-kiss story no longer makes sense.

* Jesus’s disciple James son of Alphaeus, as there was another James, son of Zebedee. When this line is traced back we see Zebedee was the husband of Salome, one of the women present at the crucifixion who also was Mary’s sister. This makes Salome Jesus’s auntie and James son of Zebedee Jesus’s cousin! 

And that’s not all. Through careful reading of old NTs it emerges that Jesus had at least 4 brothers – James, Judas, Joseph/ Joses and Simon the cana (zealot). St Jerome’s interpretation of John, however, calls Joses & James his cousins and calls Salome Mary! No wonder Christianity is so confusing for many people.

And who’s Mary Magdalene, otherwise known as Mariam of Migdal/ Magdala?

Though the Bible doesn’t say such, she’s often seen as a harlot or prostitute whom Jesus forgave (and according to the end of Mark drove 7 demons out of her, not giving any explanation on how she had them in her in the first place). According to this site, this myth came about from a misreading of Luke. It speaks of an unnamed “sinful woman” who brought Jesus a flask of ointment and washed his feet with her tears, and she came to be identified with a Mary of Bethany. In the next chapter (Luke 8:2) Mary Magdalene is introduced, and by the 6th century the “sinful woman”, Mary of Bethany & Mary Magdalene were generally assumed to be one and the same person. However, the synoptic gospels clarify that this woman was Jesus’s wife!

WHAT?!?!? My wife is being called a prostitute? No forgiveness for you!

Honestly this claim isn’t news anymore. Many people have been claiming Jesus was married. There’s a fragment of papyrus written in Coptic (an ancient Egyptian alphabet) nowadays known as the gospel of Jesus’s wife, line 4 reading … “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…” (rest of line missing). Obviously faithful Christians – too scared to admit that the saviour could’ve had sexual desires like a normal man – have denied it. Given the wholesale alteration of Christian doctrine throughout the ages (the reduction of accepted gospels to 4, switching of Jesus’s birthday to 25th December, blaming Jews for the crucifixion, believing in virgin births, holding asexuality/ eunuchism as a spiritual ideal, etc) I don’t find this Jesus’s-wife story especially hard to believe. In short, the 3 women who came to Jesus’s crucifixion were Mary (his mother), Mary Magdalene (his wife) and Salome (his auntie) – makes sense since they would’ve been significant figures in his life.

Funnily enough, though scribe A’s rant

scribe A's angry note

was in good faith, scribe D had re-added in certain details of this part of the text regardless – Mark 15:47 to 16:1, those women saw Jesus being put into the tomb! Then Ca, seemingly not realising this, added it in again!

Some Christians in the past and present believe/d the original Bible can be reconstructed or discovered. Brooke Westcott and Fenton Hort (collectively called Westcott-Hort, or WH) in the 19th century, for instance, spent almost 30 years creating a new NT using Vaticanus & Sinaiticus as sources. They worked on the belief that both came from an original source. Bruce Metzger also assumed the existence of an original but lost NT that analysis can tease out.

So we were wrong?
So we were wrong?
So I was wrong?

 

Yes. Evidence shows that as old as Sinaiticus & Vaticanus are, they’re not the original Bibles. Throughout and before the creation of both was a bundle of Jewish texts, evolving Christian mythologies and new versions, all of which led to a possible exemplar for both: P45 from the early 3rd century. Cresswell also describes an exemplar from the end of the 2nd century which contained all the gospels and possibly Epistles & Acts; I didn’t quite understand if this was the same as P45 or another. Either way, it shows both Vaticanus & Sinaiticus were written about a century after some earlier version/s.

So who was Jesus Christ? A Europeanised mythical figure, loosely based on an ancient Judean king-aspirant & anti-Roman rebel most likely called Ieshua/ Yeshua, whose birth, life & death were deliberately mis-recorded by Saul, a guy who had it in for the Jewish authorities and diluted Judaism’s many pedantic rules to win over polytheistic Greco-Romans who happened to have political, cultural & military clout.

Note that this post, as well as the 3 previous ones on the topic, are my own summary of the book. To get more detailed information on the subject, become a religious historian! Or read the book The Invention of Jesus, and see the appendices (pp. 293-346) for specific examples of mistakes made in Sinaiticus & Vaticanus. 

Tracking changes to the Bible throughout history, part 3 – real history of Jesus & Christianity

Keep in mind I’m not and have never been a Christian so I was never raised on Bible stories. However, according to Christians & ex-Christians I’ve spoken to and my old RE lessons Jesus was:

  • born by parthenogenesis (virgin birth) in a manger in Bethlehem,
  • an only child,
  • a miracle worker,
  • the literal son of God and/ or God incarnate,
  • saviour of all humanity,
  • an unwavering pacifist, ever ready to forgive his enemies and stand up for the downtrodden,
  • hated and reviled by the Jewish authorities,
  • single and celibate his whole life,
  • betrayed by Judas,
  • crucified then returned to life three days later,
  • is still alive in heaven awaiting his heavenly father’s command to return to Earth and establish God’s kingdom.

With references galore and many other historians corroborating him, Cresswell shows that pretty much every single one of these descriptions is wrong. However, some of the contemporary account is true:

  • He was a Jew: This is a point Christians misunderstand or try to not dwell on; he was a Jew by “ethnicity” (usually thinking of modern European Jews like Ashkenazim) but had nothing in common with other Jews. This is false. The term Jew didn’t exist back then; there were Judeans (citizens of Judah/ Judea), Israelites (citizens of Israel and/ or descendants of the man Israel who used to be called Jacob) and Hebrews (more or less synonymous with Judean & Israelite but its true meaning is debated). Nevertheless, there was the law of Judaism which Judeans/ Hebrews/ Israelites adhered to – zealously, in Jesus’s case. In this article I’ll treat them all as synonymous with Jew.
So was he one of us or not? That’s the important question.
Or one of us? (Ndi-Igbo Jews, Nigeria)
Or us? (Mizrahi Jews, Egypt)
  • He lived in the “Middle East”: Christians also like to gloss over this, but Jesus lived his whole life in what is now called Israel/ Palestine/ the West Bank (the yellow sliver in the pic below). In case anyone is confused, this is in southwest Asia, only on the opposite side of the Dead Sea from Jordan & Saudi Arabia. His native language was Aramaic so he probably would’ve called it something similar to the Hebrew word Yehuda (Judea/ Judah).
Funny how they don’t talk about the unjust so-called “Arab” occupation of Asian & African lands
  •  He was recognised as a saviour: but not for all humanity, and certainly not to save them from sin & death. In accordance with an Old Testament prophecy, as the messiah he was expected to free his people – FELLOW JUDEANS – from foreign occupation!

When Jesus was born just over 2000 years ago (year 0001 by our calendar, but by the Jewish calendar it would’ve been approximately 3761! Definitely not on 25th December) the kingdoms of Israel & Judea were being ravaged, ransacked and raided by Romans.

Everywhere Romans went they committed mass subjugation, persecution and carnage – England, Wales, France, Egypt, Germany, Carthage (Tunisia), Spain, Syria, Turkey, Judea, and more! This post is about the history of the Bible, however, so I’ll stick to Judea.

Not unlike the slave revolts of TAST-era America, Jews were fighting and dying for freedom from this disgusting state of affairs. Unfortunately the Romans were too well-trained, well-armed and experienced so they kept thrashing Jewish revolts left, right and centre. So the Jews became more hardline and split into different groups: Pharisees, Essenes, Sicarii (assassins!), Zealots (not much different to Sicarii, and Jesus might have been one), a “No Lord but God” movement, and others. However, there was a sellout group who helped the Romans – the aristocratic priest class Sadducees.  The gospels mention one of them, king Caiaphas, who was scared the messiah might overthrow the Romans and said “it’s better for one man to die for the people than the whole nation to die” (John 11:50).

Damn right!!!

However, it wasn’t just the Romans the Judeans were concerned about. They also raised huge debates over what to do with other non-Jews who were coming into their fold. James* was an observant Jew so he said they should follow the whole of Moses’s law just like them. Saul, aka. Saint Paul, reckoned the Torah and its laws should be reformed, going so far as to claim even Jews didn’t need to circumcise their children anymore! This caused a massive uproar among the Jewish elders & High Priests, so much so he was called before them twice to explain himself, and on the second time a riot broke out!

* possible leader of the Jerusalem-based Ebionites, based on the Hebrew word evyonim meaning poor people. In Acts & Corinthians Saul/ Paul was asked to remember the poor – meaning collect funds for the Jerusalem community!

Paul gained many congregations in Turkey, Greece & Syria. Eventually his followers broke away to form a new sect, dubbed Christianity by some of his followers from Antioch, Turkey. This new religion took in many different aspects of Mithraism and other followers’ previous pagan faiths. These included the demi-god/ godman/ literal son of God* concept and veneration of 25th December (claimed as Jesus’s birthday since the 4th century).

* note: Jews originally coined the term son of God but they used it as a title referring to themselves as a whole, not to any one particular person! This was based on the OT in which God promises to treat King David and his descendants as his own sons (2 Samuel 7: 12-14) and to reward David like a firstborn son and establish his descendants as the perpetual rulers of Israel (Psalms). In other words, son of God = blood descendant of King David! To them it was fucking obvious they didn’t have godly DNA! But many pagan mythologies were addicted to the self-sacrificing & resurrected godman archetype, hence Jesus being crucified and resurrected for the salvation of the world.

The modern Bible is also wrong to say Jesus of Nazareth. The Bible makes it clear calling someone by their birthplace was not the norm; they’d be known by their job or relatives, eg. John the Baptist (job), Mary mother of Jesus (relative). Also, though there was a town in the region called Nazareth there’s no evidence Jesus was born or ever went there. Blame the gospel of Matthew for that lie. All the NT action is in Capernaum, where Jesus and his family spent most of their time. Older Greek texts also show he was never known as Jesus of Nazareth, but Jesus the Nazarene/ Nazorean.

What’s the difference?

Nazarenes/ Nazoreans were not demonyms of Nazareth, as we may think from looking at the words. They were another hardline Jewish group, branches of David’s bloodline charged with bringing back the old kingdoms of Israel & Judea and guardingkeeping to God’s covenant. It was literally in the name; natzar means to keep/ guard/ watch in Hebrew & Aramaic, and netzer means branch in Hebrew. Saul/ Paul used to be seen as a member of this group, and his new followers used to be known by this name (also briefly called Iessaeians/ Essenes). On a related note, Jesus’s disciple Simon was a cana (Aramaic for Zealot, one of the radical Jewish groups mentioned above) but modern Bibles call him Simon of the town Cana!

Ironically Epiphanius, 4th century Cypriot bishop and author of Against Heresies (original title: Panarion), considered Paul’s lot heretical to Christianity because they still followed some old Jewish laws!

And your point is…?

As Christianity took off in the 2nd century, both Nazarenes and Ebionites were marginalised. Nazarenes were seen by Jews as heretics for failing to participate in another uprising (again foiled by Romans) in 132 AD, and it didn’t help that Paul was associated with them too. Ebionites were persecuted out of existence altogether.

A knowledgeable eye will notice, though, a contradiction. The gospel of Matthew invented the ‘Nazarene-means-native-of-Nazareth’ line but makes no reference to Nazareth! The 1st 15 verses of Mark do, and remember above I said Matthew was a copy of Mark. Why’s this reference not in Matthew, who would’ve needed it much more than Mark? Cresswell argues that Mark (at least the version Matthew copied from) didn’t have anything on Nazareth at first so that was added in later. Keep in mind when Matthew was written: Jewish rebels got their asses kicked yet again and were dispersed all over the land. They’d have used the word Nazarean/ Nazorean liberally in their conversations, and if any knowledgeable gentile overheard they could undermine Paul’s new faith. Hence Matthew reinterpreted Nazarene as meaning ‘of Nazareth’. Nevertheless, Jews knew what it really meant:

Nazorean/ Nazarene = militant Jew, keeper of God’s covenant, descendant of king David, potential fulfiller of prophecy to emancipate Jews & end foreign (ie. Roman) rule of their lands

In other words, Christianity is an anti-orthodox sect of Judaism created by Paul to appease pagans who were eager to convert to Judaism but still loyal to Rome. But though Paul founded Christianity he couldn’t control or predict how it would evolve throughout the centuries; in fact after his pagan followers brought in the godman archetype, he struggled with the question of why Jesus was God’s son. This is evinced by various epistles (letters) he wrote, recorded in the NT. He eventually settled on the resurrection, but Christianity of today claims it was by birth! See how things change?

(to be continued)

Tracking changes to the Bible throughout history, part 2 – history of the Bible

It’s understood nowadays that the original message of Ieshua (Jesus) would have been in Aramaic*, and dated to the 1st century AD (because his life is the starting point of the Gregorian, ie. Western solar, calendar system). However, no such writings exist due mainly to the passage of time. What we have now is fragments of old New Testaments (NTs) recovered from ancient Egyptian rubbish heaps, cracks and crevices in walls, and jars hidden in the desert. The first writers of the NT usually wrote it on papyrus (paper) but at times parchment (animal skin) was used instead, and none date any earlier than the 3rd-4th centuries AD.

* A language in the Semitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family, along with Hebrew, Syriac, Arabic, Ge’ez, Akkadian, and others. 

Why in Egypt? The book doesn’t make it clear but I know from background checking that Egypt was one of the very first countries in the world to accept Christianity as a national religion.

ASTAGFIRULLAH!!! How dare you call us Christians?!?

One interesting point is those early writers also usually wrote it in book format (aka. codices, singular: codex) rather than scroll format like the Jews would’ve done. Why? Maybe to distinguish themselves from the Jews. Maybe to use a medium that was already well in use – by the Romans, which is significant as I’ll explain later on.

The dating is interesting too, for it’s from the end of the 2nd / start of the 3rd century that the canon of the 4 gospels were first written up. That’s also the time the authorities were deciding what to include (and exclude) from the Bible, so they could have an official version to disseminate. One such excluded gospel was that of the Gnostics, a Christian sect that effectively believed in 2 gods – one perfect who created the spiritual realm, one demiurge who created the imperfect material world. Their teachings were banned so thoroughly they no longer exist, though we know of them through one of their well-hidden surviving texts – Nag Hammadi.

So far there are 2 near-complete old versions of the Bible:

  • Codex Vaticanus (approximately 325-350 AD, named after the Vatican Library where it’s been conserved since at least the 15th century),
  • Codex Sinaiticus (approximately 330-360 AD, named after Sinai, Egypt where it was first found).

They’re both in Greek, on parchment and were made to be reference/ master copies for later versions. As intact as they are, they’re laden with errors and gaps which later versions have attempted to correct. However, what becomes clear upon comparison is Vaticanus scribes gave much more attention to accuracy and presentation than Sinaiticus scribes. This suggests the Sinaiticus scribes wrote it in a bit of a hurry. And as with all religious books once an official version is written up, all alternate versions (including original sources!) are destroyed – as many as they can find anyway, which is why scraps of earlier versions can still be found here and there. However, ALL the ones before Vaticanus & Sinaiticus found so far only total as much as a modern Bible, and often contain massive gaps in key parts especially at the beginning and end (which are naturally more prone to age-related wear and tear).

Why are they in Greek if they were produced in Egypt? Because the 4th century was during one of many occupations of Egypt (and north Africa in general) by European invaders, specifically Greeks & Greek-speaking Romans at that point in time. This did have an effect on the ethnic constitution of the Egyptian populace but that’s for another post.

Just to prove my point. Sorry Muhammad Abdo but no.

There are other versions that came later in the late 4th-early 5th century, eg. Codex Alexandrinus, Ephraemi Rescriptus, Codex Bezae, Codex Washingtonensis, Versio Vulgate. The Vulgate is interesting in that it’s a Latin translation of a Greek Bible, put together by one of Pope Damasus I’s priests Jerome, which became so popular it was deemed better than the predecessors!  It’s important to note that later doesn’t necessarily mean less authentic; for instance when comparing Bezae against Sinaiticus & Vaticanus it has different omissions, extra details and a different verse order. However, the rule still stands that

GENERALLY, OLDER = MORE AUTHENTIC

Regarding those changes due to human error, many abound. The most common ones are:

  • iotacism – mistaking a word for another that sounds identical but has different spelling & meaning, eg. saw & sore, key & quay – only possible if scribes are copying by dictation,
  • homeoteleuton* – using last words/ letters/ syllables of a line as marker to stop – and restart in a wrong place because some later lines end with exactly the same markers! Caused by copying by sight,
  • homeoarcton* – same as homeoteleuton but using markers at beginning of lines, caused by copying by sight,
  • dittography – aka. copy error; repeating words/ letters/ syllables, not as common as homeoteleuton & homeoarcton, caused by copying by sight.

* collectively known as skip errors

Overall, judging from the number and types of mistakes, it’s much more likely the texts were copied by sight not by dictation. That means that the scribes (however many there were) would’ve been sitting in a scriptorium, eg. Caesarea, reading and copying from a reference/ master copy rather than having it read to them.

example of what it might have looked like in a scriptorium

And they’d have been reading to themselves out loud, as silent reading probably didn’t exist back then! Or at least it wasn’t the norm in scriptoria. An important note is ancient Greek writing had no punctuation marks at all, not even spaces between words! Therefore it was up to scribes to work out where ends of words, sentences, paragraphs, topics, etc. were! They kept to an average number of characters per line (about 20-25).

soforexampleatextwas

writtenjustlikethisi

nboththeexemplarsand

thenewlycopiedversio

nssoboththescribesan

dreaderswouldhavetou

setheirownintelligen

ceandbackgroundknowl

edgeofthegreeklangua

getobeabletoreadwhat

waswritten

codexsinaiticus – Sorry, codex Sinaiticus

Obviously the scribes did correct themselves, when errors were spotted and were small enough, otherwise they’d mark them out and let the correctors deal with it at the end. Historians have thus identified about 9 different correctors for Codex Sinaiticus alone, but most corrections of the Old & New Testaments were done by just ONE guy (who’s been dubbed Ca)! He was most likely the diorthotes, or scriptorium corrector – the boss corrector. His job was to go throught the whole text himself and correct mistakes the scribes either didn’t catch or marked out for him. Evidence shows he did that very well – BUT at some point in the future another diorthotes (dubbed Cb2) re-corrected it! This mostly involved undoing Ca’s corrections and harmonising the whole text with still-evolving Christian dogma!
The Sinaiticus scribes’ main job was to get the text down accurately but quickly, so making it look good wasn’t a concern for them like it was for Vaticanus scribes. Judging by the relative lack of wear-&-tear and candle wax stains, both Vaticanus & Sinaiticus were both deemed good enough to use as exemplars, or master copies. Despite its greater accuracy and better appearance, Vaticanus still had many of the same types of skip and copy errors as Sinaiticus, as well as the same average line length. This suggests that the two are very closely related. It was once argued they both were copied from the same exemplar, but the book argues it’s more likely Sinaiticus was the exemplar for Vaticanus* AND the two may have been written in the same scriptorium at the same time!

* except for the Book of Isaiah; a different exemplar seems to have been used there.

One thing that should be kept in mind is the rule of harder readings. This basically means when it comes to ancient texts, if there are different versions of the same story the one you find harder to understand is usually the older one! Why? Because later writers tend to try to harmonise texts with the common culture’s and/ or religious authorities’ beliefs (such as corrector Cb2!), while earlier writers just try to get the story down!

(And remember that older = usually more authentic!)

Cresswell gives examples of harmonisation:

  • In the story of Jesus meeting a leper, the gospel of Mark says Jesus healed him and felt compassion. The 5th century Codex Bezae, however, says he healed the leper then scolded him and cast him out! Despite their uncanny similarities to Mark, Matthew and Luke don’t mention Jesus’s emotional response!
  • In the story of Jesus and the man with the withered hand, Mark says Jesus tried to report him to the religious authorities for breaking Sabbath law. Matthew & Luke have the same story almost verbatim but totally omit the anger!
  • Mark 1:11 and Luke 3:22 have God saying to Jesus, “You are my son, today* I have begotten you,” most likely stolen from Psalm 2 verse 7. Meanwhile Codex Sinaiticus, P5 (the 5th Bible papyrus fragment found) and P106 (the 106th fragment found) render it as “elect of God” rather than son!

* Today? Kind of contradicts modern Christian belief in him being God’s son by birth doesn’t it? 

Regarding the gospels, despite being named after specific people (Mark, Matthew, Luke & John) it’s almost certain they weren’t authored by four individual guys called Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, but by groups of guys back in the Greek/ Latin scriptoria. In fact, the gospels originally weren’t separate from each other! They were all just editions of each other/ another exemplar!

The gospels Mark, Matthew and Luke are exceedingly similar, and for this reason are called synoptic. The commonalities are so striking it’s  obvious they copied and borrowed from each other, but whom from whom exactly? Though it’s been argued Matthew was first, the book argues Mark was first. There is some info in Matthew and Luke that doesn’t appear in Mark, which Mark authors didn’t have access to for whatever reason. Examples include:

  • the sermon on the mount,
  • Ieshua’s infancy,
  • The Lord’s prayer,
  • John’s birth,
  • Judas’s death,
  • the guard at Ieshua’s tomb

They’re both also longer than Mark, but despite that the parts of them that are equivalent to Mark’s accounts are shorter and less detailed! For example,

Mark 4:38 – Jesus slept on a cushion in a boat during the storm,

Mark 2:3 – 4 men carried a pallet on which a paralytic man lay,

Mark 2:1-5 – those men couldn’t reach Jesus in his house so they made a hole in his roof and let the patient down through! Jesus was shocked at their faith in him.

However, Mark, Matthew and Luke have important differences.  Mark has a logical time sequence while Matthew & Luke don’t. Mark was originally written in Greek, translating directly from Aramaic – even using original quotes and phrases! Probably for dramatic effect and to claim authenticity. For some strange reason Matthew & Luke were re-translated to Aramaic then back to Greek!!! And they don’t use original quotes and phrases, most likely because the back-and-forth translations would have brought up a lot of redundancies & repetitions. Furthermore, Mark keeps the quotes in Aramaic but the whole of Matthew contains only ONE Aramaic word: bariona. This was a nickname of Simon Peter, and literally means ‘outlaw’, i.e. criminal, wanted man. The gospel of John then mistranslated it as ‘son of John’. Another harmonisation methinks.

Although it seems Mark was the most authentic of the lot, one must keep in mind that none of the gospel authors ever met Ieshua. They weren’t even alive in his time! That makes all of their accounts doubtful at best.

On the topic of Mark, Cresswell points out that the last 12 verses (9 to 20) totally break from the rest of the text. Many believe they were added in afterward, which makes sense considering they don’t exist in Sinaiticus or Vaticanus! Basically, Mark 16:1-8 has the story of 3 women (Mary his mother, Mary Magdalene & Salome, to be discussed in part 4) going to Jesus’s tomb and finding a random man who told them Jesus was on his way to Galilee. Codex Bobiensis (written at the end of the 4th century) briefly mentions the women going back to tell Peter while Jesus spread the “sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation”, then continues with today’s verses 9-20. Most versions skip straight to 9-20, in which Mary Magdalene is introduced as “she from whom he cast out 7 demons”, omits the other Mary & Salome and makes no mention of what happened to Jesus if or when he reached Galilee. The break theory makes sense: why would Mary Magdalene need to be introduced when she’d already been introduced in the first 8 verses? Why are the other Mary & Salome not mentioned?

And that 7 demons bit, what the actual fuck?!?

It seems Mark’s author was supposed to have a big climax either before or instead of these 12 verses but it’s gone. Why? It’s usually claimed he couldn’t finish for some reason, eg. he went for a coffee break and got martyred before he could get back so the other scribes filled in what they thought he intended to write. No other copy existed at the time. It could be yet another harmonsiation, ie. deliberate omission of Mark’s proper ending, BUT this is hard to prove as Paul couldn’t keep track of everything his followers did and the church didn’t yet have central authority.

It’s also possible it was meant to end at verse 8, as there were several different versions of Mark. When Emperor Constantine ordered Eusebius (late 3rd to early 4th century, bishop of Caesarea) to create 50 copies of the NT Eusebius preferred the ending without 9-20.

However, when we look at Sinaiticus (inner bifolium of quire 77, folio 4 & 5, end of Mark & start of Luke) we see a huge gap in the text! This was definitely deliberate because a scribe (dubbed D) stretched and compressed the text before & after it to try to hide the gap while still staying within the confines of the bifolium. Or possibly to make more alterations later…?

Photo sourced from The Nazaroo Zone
Photo sourced from The Nazaroo Zone
Photo sourced from The Nazaroo Zone

Scribe A, who otherwise worked closely with D, was pissed. Unlike D he had a problem with people constantly trying to rewrite the exemplar, so much so he left this message:

scribe A's angry note

Overall, evidence suggests the scribes were not divinely inspired so much as just doing a job. They did their best and truly believed in the importance of what they were doing (by then Christianity had spread among the Greco-Roman world) but got tired & sloppy from time to time, just like normal humans. They also got into petty disagreements over what was authentic and what wasn’t, leading to rewrite after rewrite after rewrite after rewrite. But while many scribes were doing what they sincerely believed was correct, others fully knew their amendments were filthy lies, which I’ll go through in the next parts…