Sunday, December 11, 2011

You Can't Find What Has Not Been Lost

(If you have NOT read Part One of this article...CLICK HERE)

What are the ingredients of a good conspiracy? It's actually not that complicated of a recipe. Take a few good measures of truth, sprinkle in a few unsupported accusations, and then stir up a good helping of doubt. Place it over the low heat of consistent media attention, and let it cool in the rumor mills. In no time at all, you'll have a tantalizing dish, irresistible to all those with an appetite for skepticism.

And what better base with which to cook up a delicious conspiracy than the Bible? Think about it, the purveyors of doubt know that the average person knows little of literary history, let alone Biblical/Christian history.  So, give the appearance of "respect" to the Bible, yet cast serious suspicion on either (a) the motives of it's "compilers", or (b) the integrity of it's contents, and voila--you have begun the sure process of eroding confidence in the Bible's authority, and it's veracity. They seek to undermine it's "tip" the debate in their favor.
Enter: the pop-culture phenomena of the supposed "lost books of the Bible." It's easy to see how these types of wild accusations get started. As people, we hate to admit it, but we love to see chinks in "perfect" armor, we are obsessed with, as the Eagles serenaded us--"dirty laundry." We take "shots" at our heroes and political figures...we enjoy seeing corporate giants fall to the ground, we have a bizarre fascination with the formerly high and mighty becoming the lowly and disgraced. Gulliver must come down! What higher target could we set our morbid sights on than...God?

But, we fear to take Him on directly, so, how about something that represents God, something we don't fear to malign? The Bible, the Word of God.

It's the latest in contemporary skeptical fashion to take pot shots at the scripture. From the average University professor to best-selling authors like Dan Brown, to be in vogue, cool, or current, you must challenge the Bible in some way. Claim that it was assembled by power-hungry "religious" leaders seeking to enslave and control the masses, or, better yet, make the accusation that parts of the "original" Bible were banned, left out, or "lost"---and that these "other scriptures" reveal new and revolutionary truths...information that will shake the very foundations of Christianity. (yawn).

There's Nothing New Under the Sun
If this all sounds familiar, did you know that this has been tried before? In the early part of the 19th century, skeptical scholars scoured all of the ancient pagan texts. What were they looking for? In a word...anything. There was a desperate attempt to make the case that Christianity was a "copycat" religion, merely an amalgamation, a tossed-salad of religious themes, from the incarnation, the virgin birth, sacrifice on a cross, and even, physical resurrection. Wild claims were made, and, in a short time, were all debunked. The so-called "borrowed" material in Christianity was shown to be original after all, with the other "similar" accounts, actually not so similar, or others, actually being post-Christian sources (copied FROM Christianity, not the other way around).

But the first attempt to discredit and subvert Christianity goes back farther than just a couple of centuries, it goes much, much farther back.

It's Not Who You Know, It's What You Know

In the late first century, and on into the second and third century, a mystical religion simmered and slowly emerged. It was an enticing and seductive philosophy, one that taught that we are all gods, but gods who have lost our way. It taught that the true path to enlightenment, to salvation, was in secret knowledge...a bit of mystical information that only a few privileged will grasp. All physical reality is evil, and only "spirit" is good. The new religion? Gnosticism (from the greek word GNOSIS: to know). Whereas Christianity teaches that we are people, created by God for a relationship with Him, a relationship that comes by knowing Jesus Christ, the Gnostics taught that we are gods, and that we need special knowledge to achieve our birthright--Godhood (similar to Mormonism and Scientology).

Trying to Hitch a Ride
The gnostics, though misguided and basically self-centered, were no fools. They witnessed the popular rise and spread of Christianity. They saw the appeal of the person of Jesus Christ, they were aware of the strong and established base of sacred apostolic writings, and the reverence that the early believers gave them. It was far too tempting of an apple to refuse. Like a wayfaring passerby, gnosticism tried to ride Christianity's coat-tails, in a word, to hijack, early Christianity. It was an elegant plan: forge some new "gospels" that purport to show that Jesus was not our Savior from sin, oh no, He was actually a great gnostic mystic, here to show us how to leave the evil of our bodies, to re-ascend to our Godhood.

It was brilliant, in a devious way, at the very least. As far we know, about 40 or so gnostic "scriptures" were written in the mid to late second century. The gnostic authors used a familiar technique in the ancient world, they assigned famous authors to their texts. There was the gnostic gospel of Judas, and of Peter, and of Thomas, and even of Mary Magdalene. It was a veritable cornucopia of (1) pick a famous name from early Christianity, and (2) slap it on a gnostic writing to give it credibility. You know, the old magician's trick...pick a "gospel", any gospel.

Epic Fail

What led to the sure downfall and demise of Gnosticism (chances are, most of you reading this knew nothing about Gnosticism)? Three primary lines of evidence defeated the Gnostic Coup:
1. Late authorship of the writings
2. Rebuttals by the early Christians
3. Lack of Old Testament Support

Without going into long and laborious explanations of these effective gnostic skewers, let's do a quick overview of each.

Too Little Too Late

All 27 books of the New Testament were written by either an apostle, or the close associate of an apostle (Luke, Mark, etc) well before the end of the first century. By the middle of the second century these had been preserved through hundreds and hundreds of meticulous manuscript copies, and were being recognized by the early Christians as inspired of God (similar to the way the Old Testament writings were canonized by the Jews). The Gnostic hijack attempt started about the middle of the second century and continued into the third century. The early Christians easily spotted these forgeries and rejected them. It was truly a case of too little, too late.

I'm Sorry, You're Wrong

The second factor that contributed to the fall of Gnosticism was the intellectual and theological prowess of the early Christian apologists. Similar to our word Apology, the greek work Apologia means to give a reasoned defense of something, similar to a legal argument. Those who are skilled in the area of Apologetics are those who can give reasoned, consistent, and well-supported arguments for their belief system. Capable apologists, such as Justin Martyr and Tertullian, were able to slice through the theological smoke-screen of Gnosticism, and give point-by-point refutations of it's major tenets. So effective were these rebuttals, that Gnosticism was, for all practical purposes, in the ashes of religious history within a few decades.

With almost no adherents of their philosophy to copy and pass on their writings, almost all of our knowledge of Gnostic teaching and writings were from Christian sources.  In fact, until the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Gnostic writings in the mid 1940's in Egypt, the writings of the early Christian apologists arguing against Gnostic teachings were about the only texts we had to study.

The New Undone by the Old

Finally, it was something much, much older that nailed the coffin before Gnosticism's burial. The well-established Old Testament scriptures could not be argued against. The Old Testament clearly prophesied of the coming Messiah, who would be born of a virgin, live a perfect life, be betrayed, die upon a cross as a payment for our sins, and then rise from the dead. All of the major teachings of Christianity were verified and prophesied in the Old Testament. But what of Gnosticism? Uh...well, not much. The hijack attempt failed. The Old Testament scriptures vindicated the traditional Christian message, and exposed Gnosticism as just the new-yet-not-true kid on the philosophical block.

A Juicy Story

"We are instantly fascinated by the suggestion of conspiracies and cover-ups; this has become so much the stuff of our imagination these days that it is only natural, it seems, to expect it when we turn to ancient texts, especially biblical texts. We treat them as if they were unconvincing press releases from some official source, whose intention is to conceal the real story;"
Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Digging for Dirt

Just at the close of World War II, a couple of brothers were looking for treasure in the hard soil of sun-baked Egypt near Nag Hammadi. They didn't uncover gold, or jewels, or even mummies...they actually found something that would bring more controversy than cash. They discovered 13 booklets, called codices, which were old, very old. They had brought to light several dozen writings, mostly Gnostic documents, dating from the early 3rd century. These were written in old Egyptian (Coptic) and were believed to be Egyptian translations of the original Greek Gnostic texts.

At long last, literary scholars could read (for the most part) the full text of many Gnostic "gospels" that had been previously known only in the quotes of the early church fathers and apologists who had successfully contradicted them 18 centuries before. Over the next few decades, a few more locations turned up a couple of other Gnostic texts, including the famous "gospel" of Judas (which actually makes out Judas to be the hero of the story, with Jesus giving him the important role helping him to get out of "the flesh of the man who clothes me.")
History Repeats Itself (again)

Unfortunately, modern man and modern "churchianity" knows little of the history of how quickly and effectively the early Christian apologists disproved and debunked the Gnostic attempt to hijack the faith. With the discovery of the Nag Hammadi texts and the "gospel" of Judas, the entire unfortunate takeover scheme is repeating itself in the modern world. The problem is, where are the great apologists of two millenia ago, who can rise up, to demonstrate (again) that these are late 2nd century forgeries, a shallow attempt to take over a deep faith.

Picture a court room drama, with the attorneys making their passionate presentations, and the jury passes a swift and final decision. But then, a lot of time passes, and some of the court room documents are lost. These written records are "rediscovered," some time later, and with little knowledge of the original court case, a new jury is selected to "retry" the case, not realizing a competent verdict was already reached long ago. This is the analogy of the Gnostic texts we have today.

These writings are not "lost", "hidden", or "banned" from the Bible. Imagine someone in the late 1800's appearing with "new" additions to the US Constitution. They claim that these were written by Jefferson, or Monroe, or Washington, and that they reveal that the founding fathers actually wanted America to be a copy of England, complete with a King and all. Preposterous. These would easily be rejected on two grounds: (1) too late---over 100 years after the fact, (2) contradicted by the known Constitution which does not call for anything of the sort.

Gnosticism is a man-centered false faith. It is diametrically opposed to the fundamental tenets of Christianity. It attempted to ride on the coat-tails of a rising faith that it ultimately failed to hijack.

It's a modern zombie story: a long-dead philosophy that has emerged from it's grave, still dead, but with the appearance of life to those unfamiliar with it's dark past.

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