It is very common for young people to imagine that all people who lived prior to, say, 1950 were very foolish and ignorant and can have nothing to contribute to our understanding of the world. This kind of arrogance and temporal parochialism seems to come very naturally to humanity. Thus we hear from the modern-day 'Jesus' publishing industry that people in times gone by did not really understand the difference between a factual report and fantasy. These categories, it is alleged, were simply lacking from their minds; according to the late Marcus Borg, it was the Enlightenment which taught the people that facticity matters: ". . .if these statements aren't historically factual, then they aren't true; they are exaggeration, fantasy, or even lies. This reasoning is a legacy of the Enlightenment, which led many in Western Culture to identify 'the true' with 'the factual.'" (Marcus J. Borg, Jesus: Uncovering the Life, p. 49).

  • “This is an extremely difficult matter for modern readers of the gospels to grasp, but Luke never meant for his story about Jesus's birth at Bethlehem to be understood as historical fact. Luke would have had no idea what we in the modern world even mean when we say the word 'history.' The notion of history as a critical analysis of observable and verifiable events in the past is a product of the modern age. . .The readers of Luke's gospel, like most people in the ancient world, did not make a sharp distinction between myth and reality; the two were intimately tied together in their spiritual experience.”
  • (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 53).

So, we learn from the 'experts,' the people who learned in their rhetoric courses to classify the various types of metaphor did not, in fact, understand there is any difference between metaphor and mundane report of fact: "No, I would not say that, because in a pre-Enlightenment world, the difference between the literal and metaphorical that we are forcing upon it from a post-Enlightenment mode is not valid. . .I think we are imposing a literal/metaphorical disjunction on a pre-Enlightenment world that didn't make it." (John Dominic Crossan, debate with James White, 1:33:27-1:34:29). Fortunately this is a testable contention. Perjury is legal testimony in which metaphorical 'rightness' displaces correspondence to the facts. How did the ancients treat it? With respect, indifference, or as a capital crime?

Moses Twelve Tables
Untangling the Threads Fact-Checking
Seth Speaks Quintilian
Self-Incrimination Pythagoras
Who's Zooming Who? Historiography
False Musaeus Jerome's Vulgate
Publishing Contract


The law of Moses is very negative on perjury, beginning with Exodus 20:16: "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor." Perjury could be a death penalty crime, depending upon the circumstances. If the false testimony was offered in a death penalty case, then the perjurer receives that penalty:

  • "If a false witness rises against any man to testify against him of wrongdoing, then both men in the controversy shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who serve in those days. And the judges shall make careful inquiry, and indeed, if the witness is a false witness, who has testified falsely against his brother, then you shall do to him as he thought to have done to his brother; so you shall put away the evil from among you. And those who remain shall hear and fear, and hereafter they shall not again commit such evil among you. Your eye shall not pity: life shall be for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot."
  • (Deuteronomy 19:16-21).

  • "Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness."
  • (Exodus 23:1).

  • "Ye shall not steal, neither deal falsely, neither lie one to another. And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.
  • (Leviticus 19:11-12).

When the testimony is taken under oath, and the testimony is false, Philo prescribes death as penalty:

"Against those who call God as a witness in favor of assertions which are not true, the punishment of death is ordained in the law; and very properly, for even a man of moderate respectability will never endure to be cited as a witness, and to have his name registered in support of a lie. But it seems to me that he would look upon any one who proposed such a thing to him as a thoroughly faithless enemy; on which account we must say this, that him, who swears rashly and falsely, calling God to witness an unjust oath, God, although he is merciful by nature, will yet never release, inasmuch as he is thoroughly defiled and infamous from guilt, even though he may escape punishment at the hands of men. And such a man will never entirely escape, for there are innumerable beings looking on, zealots for and keepers of the national laws, of rigid justice, prompt to stone such a criminal, and visiting without pity all such as work wickedness, unless, indeed, we are prepared to say that a man who acts in such a way as to dishonor his father or his mother is worthy of death, but that he who behaves with impiety towards a name more glorious than even the respect due to one's parents, is to be borne with as but a moderate offender." (Philo Judaeus, A Treatise On the Honor Commanded To Be Paid to Parents, Chapter IX).

It is also true that some legal traditions have sought a way around Moses' stringency: "The anxiety to exalt the Law and to banish all opposition in the rival party was so great that upon one occasion Judah ben Tabbai had a witness executed who had been convicted of giving false testimony in a trial for a capital crime. He was, in this instance, desirous of practically refuting the Sadducaean views, forgetting that he was at the same time breaking a law of the Pharisees. That law required all the witnesses to be convicted of perjury before allowing punishment to be inflicted; and, as one witness alone could not establish an accusation, so one witness alone was not punishable." (History of the Jews, by Heinrich Graetz, Volume II, Chapter II, p. 53.) This Pharisaic 'reform' all but nullifies Moses' law, whose intent is clear enough.


LogoTwelve Tables

It is difficult to give a single-word characterization of Moses' law as 'harsh' or 'lenient,' because it is both: harsh with regard to adultery, for instance, but lenient with regard to property crimes, certainly by comparison with how such crimes were treated in the English law of several centuries ago. There is no such difficulty, however, in classifying the pagan Roman law of the Twelve Tables; they are harsh, favoring capital punishment as a universal remedy. Perjury is punished with death, in the form of being flung down from the Tarpeian rock:

  • "In 451 B.C. the Twelve Tables, the first written laws of Rome, were issued. These dealt chiefly with private disputes between individuals, and even the few instances of offenses against the Roman state — receiving bribes and aiding an enemy of Rome — had to be prosecuted privately before the assembly of the people. . .Conviction for some offenses required the payment of compensation, but the most frequent penalty was death. Among the forms of capital punishment in effect were burning (for conviction of arson), precipitation from the Tarpeian Cliff (for perjury), clubbing to death (for composers of scurrilous songs about a citizen), hanging (for theft of the crops of others , apparently a form of punitive human sacrifice to the goddess Cebes), and decapitation."
  • (The Oxford History of the Prison: The Practice of Punishment in Western Society, by Norval Morris, David J. Rothman, p. 14).

What offenses merit the death penalty is a clue to what societies value, or despise. Theft, punished at times by execution under Anglo-Saxon law, is composed in Mosaic law by a property settlement. Adultery, on the other hand, is a death penalty crime. That perjury was punished by death offers a clue to what the Romans valued. School-children were expected to learn the Twelve Tables, an achievement of early Republican Rome, by heart. In later years tossing people off the Tarpeian rock began to seem harsh, and so other measures were adopted. The Roman censor would degrade a known perjurer in rank. For example, a knight known to have committed perjury would lose his horse (cease to be a knight):

"For I think that I ought not to pass over the instance of that most eminent and most illustrious man, Publius Africanus; who, when he was censor, and when Gaius Licinius Sacerdos had appeared on the register of the knights, said with a loud voice, so that the whole assembly could hear him, that he knew that he had committed deliberate perjury and that if anyone denied it, he would give him his own evidence in support of this assertion. But when no one ventured to deny it, he ordered him to give up his horse." (Cicero, Against Cluentius, XLVIII, Section 134).

No one thought perjury a matter of indifference. Livy also mentions a case in which the censors degraded those who sought too diligently for a 'loop-hole' in evading an oath: "After them were cited those persons who showed too much ingenuity in inventing a method of discharging the obligation of their oath, namely, such of the prisoners as concluded that the oath which they had sworn to return, would be fulfilled by their going back privately to Hannibal's camp, after setting out on their journey. Such of these and of the above-mentioned as had horses at the public expense were deprived of them, and all were degraded from their tribes and disfranchised." (Livy, Roman History, Book XXIV, Chapter 18). These men lost their citizenship rights, because they were thought less than honest.

We Americans are a litigious people; the Romans were like us, even the little children played at courtroom dramas:

"On another occasion when a kinsman on his birthday invited to supper other boys and Cato with them, in order to pass the time they played in a part of the house by themselves, younger and older mixed together; and the game consisted of trials, and accusations, and carrying off those who were convicted." (Plutarch's Lives, Life of Cato, Chapter II).

While these draconian measures were undoubtedly enacted against perjury because people were perjuring themselves, not because they weren't, the suggestion that these people had no mental categories to differentiate made-up stories from fact is fatuous.

A similar fate awaited Athenians who committed perjury, though they had to do it three times before they were disenfranchised:

"Such was one form of disenfranchisement. According to a second, delinquents lost all personal rights, but retained possession of their property. This class included all persons convicted of theft or of accepting bribes — it was laid down that both they and their descendants should lose their personal rights. Similarly, all who deserted on the field of battle, who were found guilty of evasion of military service, of cowardice, or of withholding a ship from action, all who threw away their shields, or were thrice convicted of giving perjured evidence or of falsely endorsing a summons, or who were found guilty of maltreating their parents, were deprived of their personal rights, while retaining possession of their property." (Andocides, On the Mysteries, Chapter 74).

To lose the right to vote and to attend the assembly is a serious penalty. If the ancients thought making up stories was either trivial misbehavior or did not even understand the accusation, examining the legal standing of the perjurer in antiquity cannot confirm this recently made-up 'fact.' The man lying still at the foot of the Tarpeian rock, might, in his fleeting final thoughts, for all anyone knows, have realized, 'gosh, this is not something you should do.'

According to Diodorus Siculus, perjury was a death penalty crime in ancient Egypt:

"Now in the first place, their penalty for perjurers was death, on the ground that such men are guilty of the two greatest transgressions — being impious towards the gods and overthrowing the mightiest pledge known among men. . .Those who brought false accusations against others had to suffer the penalty that would have been meted out to the accused persons had they been adjudged guilty."

(Siculus, Diodorus. Complete Works of Diodorus Siculus (Delphi Ancient Classics Book 32) (Kindle Location 1643-1650).)

Cicero perceived this point as a dividing line between the civilized nations and the barbarians, who, he alleges, lacked any concept of the importance of truthful testimony:

". . .is any one, the most honorable man in all Gaul to be compared, I will not say with the most honorable men of our city, but even with the meanest of Roman citizens? Does Induciomarus know what is the meaning of giving evidence? Is he affected with that awe which moves every individual among us when he is brought into that box?. . .I suppose Induciomarus, when he gave his evidence, had all these fears and all these thoughts; he, who left out of his whole evidence that most considerate word, to which we are all habituated, 'I think,' a word which we use even when we are relating on our oath what we know of our own knowledge, what we ourselves have seen; and said that he knew everything he was stating." (Cicero, the Fragments which Remain of the Speech of M. T. Cicero on behalf of Marcus Fonteius, Sections 27-29).

While this noble ideal was no closer to realization in that day than in this, it is fatuous to suggest that these people lacked any conceptual framework competent to distinguish objective fact from made-up stories. Aristotle gives the credit to Charondas of Catana for the epoch-making discovery that made-up stories are not quite the same thing as an accurate account of events as experienced by the witness: "In the legislation of Charondas there is nothing remarkable, except the suits against false witnesses. He is the first who instituted denunciation for perjury. His laws are more exact and more precisely expressed than even those of our modern legislators." (Aristotle, Politics, Book II, Chapter 12). This great discovery having been made in antiquity, there is no need for the modern Jesus Seminar to make it anew, nor even for the Enlightenment to have revived it.


LogoUntangling the Threads

Several different issues intersect here: false testimony before a tribunal, false testimony under oath, false swearing, blasphemy, and lying in general. As should be clear to any Bible reader, all are morally wrong, though under most legal codes the bar-room story-teller need not listen for the foot-fall of the police:

"These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, an heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, a false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren." (Proverbs 6:16-19.)

"He that speaketh truth sheweth forth righteousness: but a false witness deceit...The lip of truth shall be established for ever: but a lying tongue is but for a moment. Deceit is in the heart of them that imagine evil: but to the counsellors of peace is joy. There shall no evil happen to the just: but the wicked shall be filled with mischief. Lying lips are abomination to the LORD: but they that deal truly are his delight." (Proverbs 12:17-22.)

"A righteous man hateth lying: but a wicked man is loathsome, and cometh to shame." (Proverbs 13:5).

"A false witness shall not be unpunished, and he that speaketh lies shall not escape...A false witness shall not be unpunished, and he that speaketh lies shall perish." (Proverbs 19:5-9).

"The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a vanity tossed to and fro of them that seek death." (Proverbs 21:6).

"A false witness shall perish: but the man that heareth speaketh constantly." (Proverbs 21:28).

"A man that beareth false witness against his neighbour is a maul, and a sword, and a sharp arrow." (Proverbs 25:18).

"A lying tongue hateth those that are afflicted by it; and a flattering mouth worketh ruin." (Proverbs 26:28).

"You shall destroy those who speak falsehood; The LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man...For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; their inward part is very wickedness; their throat is an open sepulchre; they flatter with their tongue.
Destroy thou them, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; cast them out in the multitude of their transgressions; for they have rebelled against thee." (Psalm 5:6-10).

"They speak vanity every one with his neighbour: with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak. The LORD shall cut off all flattering lips, and the tongue that speaketh proud things: Who have said, With our tongue will we prevail; our lips are our own: who is lord over us?" (Psalm 12:2-4).

"LORD, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart." (Psalm 15:1-2).

"Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile." (Psalm 32:2).

"Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!" (John 1:47).

"The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart: his words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords. Cast thy burden upon the LORD, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved. But thou, O God, shalt bring them down into the pit of destruction: bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days; but I will trust in thee." (Psalm 55:21-23).

"Deliver my soul, O LORD, from lying lips, and from a deceitful tongue. What shall be given unto thee? or what shall be done unto thee, thou false tongue? Sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals of juniper." (Psalm 120:2-4).

"And they bend their tongues like their bow for lies: but they are not valiant for the truth upon the earth; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they know not me, saith the LORD. Take ye heed every one of his neighbour, and trust ye not in any brother: for every brother will utterly supplant, and every neighbour will walk with slanders. And they will deceive every one his neighbour, and will not speak the truth: they have taught their tongue to speak lies, and weary themselves to commit iniquity. Thine habitation is in the midst of deceit; through deceit they refuse to know me, saith the LORD. Therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts, Behold, I will melt them, and try them; for how shall I do for the daughter of my people? Their tongue is as an arrow shot out; it speaketh deceit: one speaketh peaceably to his neighbour with his mouth, but in heart he layeth his wait. Shall I not visit them for these things? saith the LORD: shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?" (Jeremiah 9:3-9).

"But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.  For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue hath muttered perverseness. None calleth for justice, nor any pleadeth for truth: they trust in vanity, and speak lies; they conceive mischief, and bring forth iniquity." (Isaiah 59:2-4).

"These are the things that ye shall do; Speak ye every man the truth to his neighbour; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates: And let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbour; and love no false oath: for all these are things that I hate, saith the LORD." (Zechariah 8:16-17).

"And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God." (Revelation 14:5).

"But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death." (Revelation 21:8).

"Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour." (Exodus 20:16, Deuteronomy 5:20).

"He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness..." (Matthew 19:18).

"Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness." (Exodus 23:1).

"Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it." (John 8:44).

"But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine; according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust." (1 Timothy 1:8).

"Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another." (Ephesians 4:25).

"And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them." (Romans 1:28-32).

"As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: and the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes." (Romans 3:10-18).

"Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious." (1 Peter 2:1-3).

"For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth:..." (1 Peter 2:21-22).

"For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it." (1 Peter 3:10-11).

Plato, in his 'Laws,' advocated a scheduled series of punishments for perjury, beginning with disqualification from serving as a witness to capital punishment:

"And either of the parties in a cause may bring an accusation of perjury against witnesses, touching their evidence in whole or in part, if he asserts that such evidence has been given; but the accusation must be brought previous to the final decision of the cause. The magistrates shall preserve the accusations of false witness, and have them kept under the seal of both parties, and produce them on the day when the trial for false witness takes place. If a man be twice convicted of false witness, he shall not be required, and if thrice, he shall not be allowed to bear witness; and if he dare to witness after he has been convicted three times, let any one who pleases inform against him to the magistrates, and let the magistrates hand him over to the court, and if he be convicted he shall be punished with death."
(Plato, The Laws, Book XI).

If we look at ancient legal procedure in its actuality, we cannot confirm that these people lacked categories for distinguishing between make-believe and what really happened. The orators insisted that even unlikely, but real, occurrences must be made to seem plausible and natural:

  • “Our Statement of Facts will be clear if we set forth the facts in the precise order in which they occurred, observing their actual or probable sequence and chronology. . .Our Statement of Facts will have plausibility if it answer the requirements of the usual, the expected, and the natural; if account is strictly kept of the length of time, the standing of the persons involved, the motives in the planning, and the advantages offered by the scene of action, so as to obviate the argument in refutation that the time was too short, or that there was no motive, or that the place was unsuitable, or that the persons themselves could not have acted or been treated so. If the matter is true, all these precautions must none the less be observed in the Statement of Facts, for often the truth cannot gain credence otherwise.”
  • (On Rhetoric to Herennius, Book 1, Chapter 9, Section 15-16).

M. Cornelius Fronto wonders whether his client is being quite straight with him: "Volumnius Serenus of Concordia, if in what he tells me he has subtracted nothing from the truth, nor added anything to it, has every right and claim to my services as his advocate and intercessor before you. . . I will set forth the whole matter as Volumnius has stated it to me, and ask you at the same time as to each point, whether it is true." (M. Cornelius Fronto, Correspondence, Volume II, Fronto to Arrius Antoninus, 164 A.D., Loeb edition, p. 177). Is it really possible this celebrated lawyer had no inkling what it might mean to add nothing, nor subtract anything, from the truth?

Josephus mentions that the Jews of Jerusalem were skeptical when they heard that Jotapata had fallen, because they had no eye-witness:

"But now, when the fate of Jotapata was related at Jerusalem, a great many at the first disbelieved it, on account of the vastness of the calamity, and because they had no eye-witness to attest the truth of what was related about it; for not one person was saved to be a messenger of that news, but a fame was spread abroad at random that the city was taken, as such fame usually spreads bad news about." (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book III, Chapter 9, Section 5).

If they really could not distinguish between made-up stories and reality, then why were they awaiting an eye-witness? To be sure there are people who cannot distinguish between fantasy and reality, but they all seem to have publishing contracts with Harper & Row. These people regard all the peoples of antiquity as if they were untutored children, savages dancing round the campfire. But it is needless to explain epistemology to the Greek or jurisprudence to the Roman: "Again, 'The duty of the prosecutor is to bring the charges; that of the counsel for the defense to explain them away and rebut them; that of the witness to say what he knows or has heard; that of the presiding justice to hold each of these to his duty. Therefore, Lucius Cassius, if you allow a witness to argue and to attack by means of conjecture, passing beyond what he knows or has heard, you will be confusing the rights of a prosecutor with those of a witness, you will be encouraging the partiality of a dishonest witness, and you will be ordaining for the defendant that he defend himself twice.'" (On Rhetoric to Herennius, Book IV, Section 35.47). What was wanted from a witness is not "conjecture." Knowing this, is it not plain that they understood the difference between testimony and "conjecture?"

Taken all in all, it is impossible to reconcile the ancient legal understanding of perjury with what the 'Jesus Seminar' is telling us about the ancient mind. According to these modern scholars, the ancients had no mental categories by which one could differentiate between what is factual and what is imaginary. But if they had no such categories, then how did they prosecute and convict anyone of perjury, which they certainly did, and throw him off the Tarpeian rock, which they also did? This is precisely what perjury is: an account which substitutes metaphor or 'what feels right' for what actually occurred. These modern fantasies can only be described as wishful thinking, indulged in by people who are too busy forging a new religion to attend to the details of what they are overturning as they go crashing by.



No doubt readers of classical literature find to hard to escape the perception that the entire fact-checking department was on extended vacation during the entire phase of classical antiquity. Why else, in a book on natural history, not mythology, do we read, "He speaks also of another race of men, who are known as Monocoli, who have only one leg, but are able to leap with surprising agility." (Pliny the Elder, Natural History, Book VII, Chapter 2). Those men with one leg are still hopping along lonesomely out there, never yet having been discovered. But the resolution to the difficulty these men propose: 'of course we do not believe the gospel, but that's OK, because neither did the gospel authors,' is wishful thinking.

LogoThe modern reader who concludes that no ancient historian had enunciated the goal of accuracy and objectivity would be mistaken. Though Reza Aslan claims, "Luke would have had no idea what we in the modern world even mean when we say the word 'history,'" ancient historians stated the goal of objectivity and facticity with admirable scope; criticizing his predecessors, Polybius says:

"Now, judging from their lives and principles, I do not suppose that these writers have intentionally stated what was false; but I think that they are much in the same state of mind as men in love. Partisanship and complete prepossession made Philinus think that all the actions of the Carthaginians were characterized by wisdom, honor, and courage: those of the Romans by the reverse. Fabius thought the exact opposite. Now in other relations of life one would hesitate to exclude such warmth of sentiment: for a good man ought to be loyal to his friends and patriotic to his country; ought to be at one with his friends in their hatreds and likings. But directly a man assumes the moral attitude of an historian he ought to forget all considerations of that kind." (Polybius, Histories, Book I, Chapter 14).

Polybius was aware that there were historians who made up quotes. He disapproved:

  • “Surely an historian’s object should not be to amaze his readers by a series of thrilling anecdotes; nor should he aim at producing speeches which might have been delivered, nor study dramatic propriety in details like a writer of tragedy: but his function is above all to record with fidelity what was actually said or done, however commonplace it may be. For the purposes of history and of the drama are not the same, but widely opposed to each other.”
  • (Polybius, Histories, Book II, Chapter 56, Kindle location 3221-3224, Delphi Classics).

Logo The concept was not alien to Christian writers; Macarius Magnes says, "Again, it is not allowable for a historian to write anything beyond the things done or said, even though the language be barbarian." (The Apocriticus of Macarius Magnes, Book II, Chapter XVII).

Indeed even the concept, 'Though I may disagree with what you say, I will defend to the death your right to say it,' was articulated by the general Verginiaus Rufus:

". . .Cluvius had once addressed him in these terms: 'You know, Verginius, the truthfulness which is due to history; accordingly, if you should read anything in my histories different from what you would wish, pray forgive me.' To which he replied, 'Are you ignorant, Cluvius, that I did what I did precisely that it might be free to you authors to write what you chose?'" (Pliny the Younger, Letters, Book IX, Letter 19, To Ruso, Complete Works of Pliny the Younger, Kindle location 5292).

Both modern and ancient historians articulated the goal of historical accuracy; which, if either, ever achieved it?— the ancients, with their 'quantum' history, enumerating completely different accounts in the interests of disinterestedness, or the moderns, who produce unprecedented, made-up stories under the auspices of the 'Jesus' Publishing Industry? Even into the twilight of the ancient era, historians realized this is what you are supposed to say: "It was his conviction that while cleverness is appropriate to rhetoric, and inventiveness to poetry, truth alone is appropriate to history." (The Complete Procopius Anthology, The Persian War, Chapter I, Kindle location 139). Those modern writers who project their fantasies into the world of first century Palestine should heed the warning.

I've never noticed that modern readers hold the paganism of the ancient historians against them. Even though these writers may regale us with a catalog of calf-headed monstrosities born in a given year, information which seemed meaningful to them though not to us, we do not throw their books aside at that point. And even though everyone knows Josephus was a believing Jew, no one discards his books on that grounds alone. It is different with Christianity. The mere awareness that the authors were Christians is sufficient grounds for some readers to dismiss the gospels as fictions, as if it were self-evident that Christians lie and make stuff up. But if any religious community needs to demonstrate its historical credibility, it's the atheists, who for much of the twentieth century cut down forests to produce densely argued and all but impenetrably written tomes whose Marxist-Leninist historical analysis led inevitably and invariably to false prediction. The twentieth century was a gigantic field experiment which demonstrated the inutility of Marxism. Yet, failing to acknowledge that their own track record is abysmal, the atheists continue to loudly demand that only they be permitted to do history, the other players, they allege, being biased.


Seth Speaks

LogoSome of the 'main-line' churches were suckered into adopting 'liberal' Bible criticism by the assertion, often made in the literature, that people in ancient times were just not troubled by forgery at all:

"That writings should be pseudonymous, be put forth under another name, was then not so uncommon as it is to-day, and was by no means infrequent. In the time just subsequent to the New Testament we find, for example, a "Revelation of Peter" "a Gospel of Peter," "a Discourse of Peter" all of them pseudonymous works. We have the same phenomenon in the domain of Judaism. All the numerous apocalypses, that is, revelations which there were written in this time, do not appear under the name of their actual author, but under a name famous of yore: Enoch, Moses, Isaiah, Ezra, Daniel. But also in the sphere of the heathen educated world there are analogous facts. For example, under the name of Pythagoras dozens of treatises were published in those centuries. These facts show us that that time in this respect had different ideas from our own. The large number of such pseudonymous works would otherwise not be intelligible. A correct judgment of a period is only then possible if we measure it by its own moral standard. This whole literary procedure, therefore, means something different from what it would mean today. And consequently it is not right to brand such pseudonymous works, apart from special cases, with the moral stigma of forgeries. Plainly the authors of the many Jewish apocalypses did not regard themselves as literary forgers. Nay, the teaching which was put into the mouth of a revered teacher of past time is traced back to him by a kind of pious devotion. It was considered that his thoughts agreed with the author's, and by this means he sought to increase their weight, and so he put them forth under such authority. " (Wrede, William (1909-01-01). The origin of the New Testament (Kindle Locations 379-391).)

A corollary that follows from the presumed ancient innocence with regard to the distinction between fact and fiction is the conclusion that no ancient work, including the New Testament, should ever be granted the authorship ascribed to it in antiquity, because these attributions were not intended seriously: "Writing in the name of the founder of a school was common practice at this time, so the scholars' conclusion that these letters are pseudonymous (written under a false name) should not suggest dishonesty on the part of those who wrote them." (Burton L. Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament? The Making of the Christian Myth, p. 183).

But, this is far from the truth. Like the ancients, as a rule twentieth century Americans did not accept forged works with equanimity. Notice how harshly Vitruvius condemns plagiarism:

"So, while they deserve our thanks, those, on the contrary, deserve our reproaches, who steal the writings of such men and publish them as their own; and those also, who depend in their writings, not on their own ideas, but who enviously do wrong to the works of others and boast of it, deserve not merely to be blamed, but to be sentenced to actual punishment for their wicked course of life. With the ancients, however, it is said that such things did not pass without pretty strict chastisement." (Vitruvius, Ten Books of Architecture, Book VII, Introduction, Section 3, p. 195)

The same view generally held in twentieth century America. There were, however, exceptions:

"In 1888 The Secret Doctrine, the major work of Theosophy, purporting to be derived from a spiritual hierarchy of masters in contact with Madame Blavatsky, appeared. The Secret Doctrine set the stage for other Theosophists to produce documents received from the masters. . .In 1970 the first volume of The Seth Material appeared. Seth was an entity who spoke through Jane Roberts, a house-wife who lived quietly in upstate New York. The unexpected response to her first volume led to a sequel, Seth Speaks (1972), and more than ten others."
(Perspectives on the New Age, by James R. Lewis, p. 22)

Though it might strike young people today as bizarre that people back then were so gullible, I can remember talking with friends who thought the 'Seth' material legit. Though I never actually bothered to read it, to the best of my recollection 'Seth' propounded a set of maxims of the 'Be wise, my child' variety. The house-wife who produced this material was, in her own mind at least, 'channelling' the communications of a personage by the name of 'Seth,' by a process of automatic writing. For people who believe in the legitimacy of this method of communication, which include not only the 'New Age'ers of the present day but also the gnostics of old, Jane Roberts was not 'forging' the 'Seth' materials, she was 'transmitting' them. It wasn't, of course, William Wrede's "pious devotion" which led Jane Roberts to mouth 'Seth's' words; rather, she believed this type of communication was not, in the end, really all that different from any other type of dictation. It should be obvious that these practices are meaningful to those who accept it underlying principles such as reincarnation, not to those who do not. Some people did believe like this in antiquity: the gnostics. The orthodox, meanwhile, were aware that Moses had criminalized communication with the dead:

How did Christian folk react when presented with pseudonymous works,— not the 'Orphic' hymns written centuries after the semi-mythical Orpheus, nor 'Pythagorean' treatises written centuries after his death,— the pagan authors may have sincerely believed they were 'channelling' these voices. But what did the Christian say when presented with 'Christian' treatises under false authorship? Punish the blackguards:

"But if the writings which wrongly go under Paul’s name, claim Thecla’s example as a license for women’s teaching and baptizing, let them know that, in Asia, the presbyter who composed that writing, as if he were augmenting Paul’s fame from his own store, after being convicted, and confessing that he had done it from love of Paul, was removed from his office." (Tertullian, 'On Baptism,' Chapter 17).

Tertullian speaks disapprovingly of apocryphal writings:

"But why need we care, since these philosophers have also made their attacks upon those writings which are condemned by us under the title of apocryphal, certain as we are that nothing ought to be received which does not agree with the true system of prophecy, which has arisen in this present age; because we do not forget that there have been false prophets, and long previous to them fallen spirits, which have instructed the entire tone and aspect of the world with cunning knowledge of this (philosophic) cast?" (Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul, Chapter 2, p. 325 ECF)

Dionysius of Corinth's condemnation of interpolated letters shows two things: that this material was produced, but also that its production inspired the most vehement anathemas: "For I wrote letters when the brethren requested me to write. And these letters the apostles of the devil have filled with tares, taking away some things and adding others, for whom a woe is in store. It is not wonderful, then, if some have attempted to adulterate the Lord's writings, when they have formed designs against those which are not such." (Dionysius of Corinth, Fragments from a Letter to the Roman Church, Chapter 4, p. 1511). So it happened, but it was harshly condemned.

It was not, amongst Christian folk, an accepted convention of authorship for writers to pretend to be who they were not. Nevertheless, there is no shortage of this material. Where did it come from? In some cases it is difficult to avoid the sense of a school composition assigned by a preceptor at a convent, as for instance in the piece which begins portentiously, "I am Joseph of Arimathea, who begged from Pilate the body of the Lord for burial. . ." This was a common category of school exercise: 'I am Alexander the Great,' etc.; the intent was not fraud. The author is evidently female; she introduces a daughter of Caiaphas, 'Sarah,' regarded by the Jews as a prophetess. The author also imagines there is, like, one copy of the law, and is apparently a juvenile. A work composed by an author who does not intend to deceive the reader, like 'I, Claudius,' is not properly a forgery even if such a manuscript, 'discovered,' might be taken for such. If the convents were full of young ladies earnestly producing this material, there is nothing disgraceful in this. There also exists a mass of material compiled by gnostics and other con-men where the intent evidently was, plainly and simply, fraud. They wanted their inventions to be confused with the authentic apostolic records. This is also what the modern 'Jesus' publishing industry wants. Shame on them both. The church wants to make a distinction, in the interests of quality control.

Irenaeus also disclaims any policy of the church to promote forgery:

"True knowledge is [that which consists in] the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither receiving addition nor [suffering] curtailment [in the truths which she believes]; and [it consists in] reading [the word of God] without falsification, and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy; and [above all, it consists in] the pre-eminent gift of love, which is more precious than knowledge, more glorious than prophecy, and which excels all the other gifts [of God]." (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book IV, Chapter 33, Section 8, pp. 1014-1015, ECF_0_01).

To which one might reply, so what, of course they deny it, who wouldn't. The prisons are full of people who deny doing what they did. But the way some in the church have been enticed to swallow this poison was by mixing it with honey. They assure us, in that world, forgery was taken for granted, no one thought it disreputable. It wasn't.



The 'Jesus' Publishing Industry, in defense of their idea that false attribution was routine and non-controversial in the ancient world, points out that youngsters in the classical era were expected, in a popular school exercise, to write in the style of various historical figures. This is true. Quite incredibly, this practice is advanced as if it were an argument that the ancients really did not care whether the words attributed to these same historical figures were actually ever spoken by them or not:

  • “Students learned to compose speeches-in-character in school. Quintilian, a teacher of rhetoric who lived during the first century, explained that, to write a good speech one needed to imagine oneself in the situation and character of the speaker. . .So the standards for judging the appropriateness of a speech attributed to a particular person had little to do with modern notions of historical truth, but much to do with ethos, or the correspondence of a person's speech and character.”
  • (Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel, The Book of Q and Christian Origins, p. 198).

 Institutes of Oratory

The student was instructed, for instance, to write a speech reflecting Pompey's thinking on the eve of the battle of Pharsalus, in keeping with the historic situation and Pompey's character and known means of expressing himself. A moment's reflection will show that, if indeed Quintilian and his peers had intended these student compositions in the style of one historical figure or another to be accepted as bona fide works of that personage, then entropy and reversion to the mean would have overtaken the whole field, with the result that no author's words could be distinguished from any other, all being marked by tongue-tied mediocrity. Generating 'new' works by these worthies was not the point of the exercise, as Burton Mack wrongly supposes.

Quintilian was aware of the problem of false attribution, as were all grammarians; that is part of what they did, sifting the false from the true:

"For not only is the art of writing combined with that of speaking, but correct reading also precedes illustration, and with all these is joined the exercise of judgment, which the old grammarians, indeed, used with such severity, that they not only allowed themselves to distinguish certain verses with a particular mark of censure, and to remove, as spurious, certain books which had been inscribed with false titles, from their sets, but even brought some authors within their canon, and excluded others altogether from classification." (Quintilian, Institutes of Oratory, Book I, Chapter IV, Section 3).

Part of what the student was intended to learn in his emulation of those who had gone before was that the best authors are, in fact, inimitable, each in his own way:

"In addition, the difficulty of the exercise is most serviceable. Are not our greatest authors by this means studied more carefully? For, in this way, we do not run over what we have written in a careless mode of reading, but consider every individual portion, and look, from necessity, thoroughly into their matter, and learn how much merit they possess from the very fact that we cannot succeed in imitating them."  (Quintilian, Institutes of Oratory, Book X, Chapter V, Section 8).

Student work was not thought to be interchangeable with the originals by anyone save Burton Mack. His argument that, because the ancients assigned to students the project of writing as an historic personage would have done, therefore they did not really care who had written anything, can meet with nothing but a big 'Huh'? It may after all be that an author capable of writing, "Style. . .referred to the way in which one handled the material in the process of composition. . .Clarity was frequently mentioned as all-important." (Burton Mack, Rhetoric and the New Testament, p. 33), is constitutionally incapable of getting with the program of ancient rhetoric.



The real world can be a cold and indifferent place, and many people find a comforting escape in adopting a lofty if unrealistic view of themselves and their place in the world, imagining themselves perhaps as exiled European royalty hoping to be recalled. Some people, who have no positive contribution to offer and are seldom noticed or remembered, nevertheless see themselves as very, very dangerous, as unnoticed tigers it may be:

  • “The Christian myth is particularly vulnerable to unsettling questions. Most myths take place once upon a time in an irreal world. Like all stories, they allow the listener to suspend judgment while watching the story unfold. Christian myth claims to be history and asks its adherents to believe that it is true. . .If, however, the history yields to other explanations and the fantastic features of the gospels are explained as mythic, the Christian gospel will be in very deep trouble, and Christian mentality will have to renegotiate both its real and imaginary worlds.”
  • (Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel, The Book of Q and Christian Origins, p. 237-238).

LogoThis author does not imagine the gospel's dangerous vulnerability to be a new thing, a consequence perhaps of the Age of Enlightenment; rather, he solemnly informs us that Christianity has been engaging in a cover-up from the very beginning. The New Testament incorporates a history of the church, the Book of Acts; but this history differs from what Burton Mack is marketing, because Luke is unaware that Jesus and his original followers were Gentiles with a mocking, counter-cultural sensibility, sort of like hippies. Rather, he describes them as Jews. A cover-up, right from the start! Burton Mack's Jesus people so far vanished without a trace, that no sign of their existence has ever been found; certainly Luke had never heard of them. Therefore Luke's history has to be fiction, or else our author's is: "Luke was a daring genius for his time. . .Luke's history became the official account precisely because of its apostolic mythology." (Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel, The Book of Q and Christian Origins, p. 234). But the people who feel the need for a cover-up are not people who cannot tell the difference between history and mythology, but precisely people who can.

So, notice how the claims these people are making are self-negating. Purportedly, people in the ancient world were unconcerned about forgery, because they did not really notice or care whether the name on the fly-leaf was the actual author. Nor could they even formulate the question whether the events recounted in the story actually occurred. In spite of their inability to make distinctions of this kind, the gospel authors positioned their stories as real history, and thereupon they and their successors were committed to a course of falsification and cover-up, their elaborate fraudulent structure threatened by revealer figures like the mighty Burton Mack, a very, very dangerous man. But people who engage in cover-ups, and do so right from the start, like Luke, are not people who cannot tell the difference between myth and history, but precisely people who can! Even the authors of the 'Jesus' Publishing Industry do not believe their own protestations, so why should anyone else?



According to Burton L. Mack, it was standard operating procedure for Hellenistic schools of philosophy to attribute later doctrine to their founder. He himself recommends the works of Diogenes Laertius as illustration for this tendency. As he points out, the 'Gospel of Thomas' embellishes Jesus' statements:

  • “It is extremely important to see that the Thomas people developed the mythology of a Jesus movement by investing the sayings of Jesus with private and esoteric significance. Although these teachings counted as teachings of Jesus, they were actually the teachings of the Thomas community, for the Thomas community developed as any Hellenistic school tradition would have, by continuing to attribute new ideas to the founder of the school.”
  • (Burton L. Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament? The Making of the Christian Myth, p. 64).

That there is such a tendency at work is undeniable; the Gospel of Thomas does attribute new, gnosticizing sayings to Jesus that He is little likely to have said, and by the time Diogenes Laertius wrote, a whole library of Neo-Pythagorean literature had grown around the historical figure of Pythagoras. But did the people of the day just go with the flow; did they indeed see nothing out of the ordinary in attributing to the founder things he cannot possibly have said, or did they make vigorous efforts, by all the means at their disposal, to get to the bottom of what Pythagoras did say, and what he did not?

The latter is what persons of good will did in those days, decidedly. There were reductive critics who denied that Pythagoras had even written anything at all, much less the wealth of material attributed to him:

"There are some who insist, absurdly enough, that Pythagoras left no writings whatever. At all events Heraclitus, the physicist, almost shouts in our ear, 'Pythagoras, son of Mnesarchus, practiced inquiry beyond all other men, and in his selection of his writings made himself a wisdom of his own, showing much learning but poor workmanship.'" (Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, Volume II, Pythagoras, Chapter VIII, p. 325 Loeb)

Diogenes Laertius undeniably understands the question, what did the man himself write, or say? He does not uncritically and without objection bundle later writings with the original body of doctrine; it matters to him who said what, and he does his best to get to the bottom of it, following a rational protocol of consulting earlier rather than later writers. There is nothing here to confirm Mack's accusation that these people did not care whether a saying went back to the founder or was contributed by later generations. While he may not always succeed in the ventures he aspires to accomplish, and which of us does, Diogenes is not acting the way Mack claims he acts at all; instead, he is making a good faith effort to get at the facts, by rational and defensible means.


Who's Zooming Who?

The authors of the 'Jesus Seminar' expect their contemporary readers to share their disdain for the New Testament authors, who, they claim, did not hold back even from forgery. Yet in order to convince the reader to accept their claim that these works are pseudonymous, in the absence of any documentary or historical evidence that they are any such thing, they are obliged to pretend that people in the ancient world saw nothing at all wrong in producing spurious works of this kind, to this end even teaching the art of forgery to their children in school.

Hereupon results a disconnect. They accuse the New Testament authors of outrageous imposture, using forgery to convince innocent gulls that the apostles held views they did not hold:

  • “The New Testament letters were written to support the apostolic fiction, to insert the authority of the apostles into the chain of tradition that was imagined to have run from Jesus to the overseers. Because of this authorial fiction, the letters in the New Testament cannot compete with the warm, authentic, and personal style of Ignatius's letters. . .Imagine an overseer writing a letter in the name of Peter in which 'Peter' says that Christians should obey the overseer. The fiction is obvious in all of these letters, and the circularity of the preachment ridiculous. That Christians have apparently had no trouble regarding these letters as authentic demonstrates just how important the apostolic fiction is to the Christian imagination.”
  • (Burton L. Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament? The Making of the Christian Myth, p. 204).

Stop and think a moment,— an exercise which in and of itself will be sufficient to break the spell of the 'Jesus' Publishing Industry. If no one expected that a letter bearing the name of an important personage was in point of fact written by that individual, then how could any such fraudulent production procure the "authority of the apostles" for the writer's views? This is like saying, 'Everyone knows that Confederate currency is not worth anything, and yet people will undoubtedly be happy to trade this currency, known to be worthless, for goods and services, yes, even for gold and silver.' It makes no sense. If no one expected an actual apostle to have written a letter with an apostolic signature at the bottom, then such a letter could contribute not one iota to the 'authority' of any view or practice the letter promotes. For this accusation to hold water, there must be an elite, the 'Illuminati,' say, who do know that 'apostolic' letters are forgeries, and a mass of ignorant gulls, who do not know this. Is there some reason, other than to escape the wrath of the victims they are thus scamming, that the 'Illuminati' refrain from explaining the system? Because if the secret gets out, what indignation can we expect to hear from the gullible readers who thought an apostle actually wrote it! And so, it turns out, not every one approved of the practice of pseudonymous authorship; those duped by it cannot have approved, and they must have been numerous if this imposture worked as alleged. Either signing a letter 'John' lent "great authority" to a letter:

"As we shall see, the letters were actually written by an unknown elder who was mightily interested in bringing that gospel tradition into alignment with what I have called the centrist gospel tradition. One way to do that was to claim apostolic authority for the gospel and, as one of the three legendary intimates of Jesus, John could lend great authority to the writings." (Burton L. Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament? The Making of the Christian Myth, p. 205).

In which case, people must have believed it was written by John, and therefore there is no cultural consensus in favor of pseudonymous authorship. . .or, if these authors are correct and no one believed signing 'John' at the bottom meant a thing, then no one was fooled and nothing was gained in so doing.


Logo Historiography

According to Burton Mack, it was A-OK with the ancient historians, standard operating procedure, to make stuff up out of whole cloth. This author claims that the Acts of the Apostles, a New Testament book, was written in the second century, long after the events of the apostolic age recounted therein, none of which ever actually happened anyway. And according to him, this is just how ancient history was done, just what everyone expected, nothing out of the ordinary:

  • “The achievement of this fiction, a fiction so well done that it has been read as factual history for nearly two thousand years (Cameron 1994), is marked by great erudition and extremely clever design. What the author had to work with were the standard conventions for composing speeches-in-character, plotting novels, arranging anecdotes for the construction of a famous person's 'life,' crafting scenes for the miracles and sayings performed by the divine man, and for writing history as an etiology and encomium of some social institution. . . . It is very important to see that this author was not violating normal conventions of historiography when he invented the history of the apostolic church.”
  • (Burton L. Mack,  Who Wrote the New Testament? The Making of the Christian Myth, pp. 230-231).

LogoIs it really possible anyone could be so numb as to imagine that the conventions of ancient historiography allowed the historian to make up the entire thing, no different from fiction? Yet this is our author's breath-taking claim. The principle that history needed to be true to be history was well-established in antiquity, though of course their actual performance skirted the margins of propaganda as often as does ours: "Indeed, all rules respecting it are obvious to common view; for who is ignorant that it is the first law in writing history, that the historian must not dare to tell any falsehood, and the next, that he must be bold enough to tell the whole truth? Also, that there must be no suspicion of partiality in his writings, or of personal animosity? These fundamental rules are doubtless universally known." (Cicero, On Oratory, Book 2, Chapter XV, Section 62-63).

Truth to tell, Burton Mack's accusation has been made before, that the ancient historians were liars, in the second century, by no less a heavy-weight than Plutarch, who accused Herodotus of systematic bias against Plutarch's native region in northern Greece. Plutarch, a Boeotian patriot, seeks to vindicate his native land against Herodotus's careless charges of desertion, treason and the like, in a choleric denunciation called 'On the Malice of Herodotus.' The problem of bias persists in history today, as any reader can judge by comparing the accounts of capitalist historians with communist ones. Plutarch accuses Herodotus of malice in always crediting the worst: "Moreover, in things confessed to have been done, but for doing which the cause and intention is unknown, he who casts his conjectures on the worst side is partial and malicious." (Moralia, Book IX, On the Malice of Herodotus, Plutarch, Section 6). Plutarch sets about vindicating the steadfastness and patriotism of the Boeotians, not by penning a counter-fiction, but by the perfectly rational means of visiting graveyards and town squares and noticing the incidence of war monuments from the years in question:

"Lastly they set up an altar, on which was engraven this epigram:
"'The Greeks, by valor having put to flight
The Persians and preserved their country's right,
Erected here this altar which you see,
To Jove, preserver of their liberty.'
Did Cleadas, O Herodotus, or some other, write this also, to oblige the cities by flattery? What need had they then to employ fruitless labor in digging up the earth, to make tombs and erect monuments for posterity's sake, when they saw their glory consecrated in the most illustrious and greatest donaries?" (Moralia, Book IX, On the Malice of Herodotus, Plutarch).

This would be as if, to counter a revisionist historian who alleged that the Union forces always ran away during the Civil War,— certainly they did so on some occasions,— the patriot pointed to all the memorials to the war dead in New England town greens. It's a rational procedure. In Plutarch's mind at least, it was not standard operating procedure to misrepresent historical fact, if indeed the much-maligned Herodotus intentionally did such a thing. He seems to have felt his job was to pass along what he had heard, as an empiricist. Cicero also alleges that Herodotus sometimes crossed the line into territory allowed the poet, but denied the historian:

"Marcus. . .It is preposterous to expect an exact statement of matters of fact in a poem of this nature, as if I had written it not as a poet, but as an eye witness upon oath. . .Quintus. I understand you, my brother; you think that the historian must maintain a closer adherence to fact than the poet. Marcus. Certainly. History has its laws, and poetry its privileges. The main object of the former is truth in all its relations: the main object of the latter is delight and pleasure of every description. Yet even in Herodotus, the father of Greek history, and in Theopompus, we find fables scarcely less numerous than those which appear in the works of the poets." (Marcus Tullius Cicero, Treatise on Laws, Book I).

While the ancients sometimes stumbled in this field, were their missteps ever as bad as what we daily encounter in modern-day 'historical Jesus' research? Did they simply make stuff up, the way they do today? Livy was a Roman patriot, but he did not dwell in a land of make-believe of his own creation. Ancient historians understood the difference between made-up tales and true history, and kept to the sunny side of this street, without controversy, more often than does the modern-day 'Jesus' publishing industry.


Pure Words Sufficient
Blind Eyes The Logos
Unbroken Doctrine of the Trinity
To What Purpose? Tradition

LogoFalse Musaeus

Onomacritos, an enterprising interpreter of the ancient sage Musaeus, did more than interpret; he interpolated. How were his innovations greeted by the pagans?:

". . .for there was one Onomacritos an Athenian, who both uttered oracles and also had collected and arranged the oracles of Musaios; and with this man they had come up, after they had first reconciled the enmity between them. For Onomacritos had been driven forth from Athens by Hipparchos the son of Peisistratos, having been caught by Lasos of Hermion interpolating in the works of Musaios an oracle to the effect that the islands which lie off Lemnos should disappear under the sea. For this reason Hipparchos drove him forth, having before this time been very much wont to consult him." (Herodotus, Histories, Book VI, Chapter 6, Volume II, p. 135).

They drive you out of town. Could be worse. Incidentally, this interpolated prophecy was not ex eventu, as they always imagine. What would people do today if a phony like Onomacritos showed up, claiming, for instance, that he had been brought up in jihad in a foreign land?:

Logo Precious little; this man is presently president of a Southern Baptist Convention college in Georgia. He was, however, careful to deliver his fictitious biography in spoken testimonies rather than in writing. Since nothing much has happened to Ergun Caner, though his promotion of a made-up autobiography has been widely publicized, can we fairly conclude modern people do not care about phonies? No. No more than we can conclude ancient people were unconcerned about integrity of authorship, though they never really got a handle on the problem. Properly enforced copyright laws, with their inherent guarantee of authenticity, have undoubtedly cleaned up quite a bit of useless trash, but not all of it. People of the day, however, certainly knew the difference between history and fantasy, and if they did not always know when one was being foisted on them in place of the other, it was not for lack of trying.

To this day, false attribution is a problem; take for instance the Getty Kouros, ossuary inscriptions, scraps of papyrus about Jesus' 'wife,' etc. The motive power that produces these aberrations is the profit motive. So it was in that day as well, says physician Galen:

"Or, if someone is not able to explain this, let him seek no more trustworthy witness that this book is legitimate, than Plato. . . For before the kings of Alexandria and Pergamon became so ambitious to possess ancient books, authorship was never falsely attributed. However, after the ones who collected the writings of a given ancient author for these kings first received a reward for this, they immediately collected many works, which they falsely inscribed. But these kings lived after the death of Alexander, and Plato wrote this passage before Alexander the Great, when these men had not yet treated the inscriptions dishonestly, but when each book displayed its particular author in a clear statement. . .For at the time when the Attalid and Ptolemaic kings were vying with each other in the acquisition of books, a recklessness began to arise with respect to the attribution and preparation of books on the part of those who, for money, brought back to the kings the writings of well-known men." (Galen, On the Nature of Man, Works of Hippocrates and Galen, Section 104-109, pp. 336-337).

Lacking any enforceable copyright law, they had no effective control mechanism, but notice that Galen does not say, 'Who cares who actually wrote the thing?'



When Jerome updated the Old Latin translation of the gospels in the fourth century A.D., he already anticipated trouble:

"Is there a man, learned or unlearned, who will not, when he takes the volume in his hands, and perceives that what he reads does not suit his settled tastes, break out immediately into violent language and call me a forger and a profane person for having had the audacity to add anything to the ancient books, or to make any changes or corrections therein." (Jerome, Preface to the Four Gospels, quoted p. 71, How We Got the Bible, Neil R. Lightfoot).

But why on earth would they react this way, as people still do to a new translation, if their attitudes were as described by the 'Jesus' Publishing Industry? Why not say instead, 'Oh goody, a new version with lots of new, made-up stories.' Instead they obsessed about Jonah's gourd.


LogoPublishing Contract

Harper & Row, the publishing house who put out much of this material, seem eager to give a publishing contract to anyone willing to scoff at how gullible people were in the old days, compared to how canny, shrewd and discerning they are today. So why not this author:

  • “And it is the more surprising in the case of Romulus, because all the other men who are said to have become gods lived in times when men were less well-informed, when the making of myths was easy, and when the ignorant were readily induced to believe in them. Romulus, on the contrary, lived less than six hundred years ago, at a time when, as we see, letters and learning had already been long established and had banished barbarism and primitive delusions from the lives of men. . .It may thus be seen that Homer preceded Romulus by a  great many years, so that there was hardly any longer an opportunity for myth-making, since by this time men were educated and the age itself was well-informed. In ancient times, indeed, quite crude myths sometimes passed for the truth; but the age of Romulus, of which I speak, was already so sophisticated that it rejected with mockery every impossible tale. . . Thus it may be easily understood that the belief in the deification of Romulus obtained currency at a time when civilization had already been long established and when civilized ways were practiced and known.”
  • (Marcus Tullius Cicero, On the Commonwealth, Book II, Chapter X, Scipio).

Logo He talks the talk, does he walk the walk? Cicero is aware of the counter-narrative of Romulus' disappearance, namely that the parties responsible for his demise spread the story of his apotheosis to discourage any search for the body. But since Cicero/Scipio is prepared to recite the spiel, 'People sure were backwards then, now they're so sophisticated!', will they give him the book contract that goes along with it? Why not? Maybe it's because Cicero was assassinated in 43 B.C., inconveniently before the New Testament era. Did humanity ever reach that happy promised land, where we reject out of hand such claims? Evidently not; Father Divine and Wallace D. Fard flourished in the twentieth century. Perhaps part of the reason the claims cannot be outgrown is that it cannot be known prior to investigation that they are false. It seems like this rap, 'People used to be so gullible, now they're discerning,' is one of those evergreen themes that you hear at all times and places. People do have a tendency to say, of their own tribe, clan, country, or age, 'We are brave, they are cowardly; we are wise, they are simpletons.' Have you ever noticed?

All in all, who were more gullible, the ancients or the moderns? Early in the twentieth century, John Romulus Brinkley, a pioneer in the field of xenotransplantation, implanted testicular tissue from goats into grateful human patients. He was quite successful and owned a yacht. The American Medical Association hounded him for years, finally driving him out of business. The ancients never did that. The next time you're at the supermarket, take a look at the periodicals for sale by the register, and notice the nature of the facts recorded therein. The generation past was convinced, by 'medical doctor' Sigmund Freud, to believe that men in general want to have sex with their mother and murder their father, and that this explains a great deal about the world. If you cruise the internet, you will discover conspiracy theories like QAnon that are, to put it mildly, lightly sourced and documented. The idea that we moderns are, in general, prudent and enlightened, and the ancients slovenly and gullible, is an over-reach and should not form the basis of pseudo-scholarly activities like New Testament studies.