CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

So, back around 2000, some smugglers were caught smuggling antiquities around Turkey, and a quite interesting text was picked up while raiding them (or so the story goes), written in gold(ish?) ink in Syriac on leather.

Now it's mid-December 2015, and more importantly Christmas time, and more importantly than that it's time to generate some hits on websites y'all! So let's see just how much anti-Christian conspiracy we can wring out of this curiousity!

Or maybe get some web-hits out of pouring cold water on the feverish fires of anti-Christian conspiracy. Y'know, whichever. Option 2 sounds more fun, so let's go with that.


• SO IS THIS A 1500 YEAR OLD BIBLE?!

No, because it isn't a "Bible". It's one text. Which would still be pretty interesting, but don't be fooled by hysterical claims of it being a "Bible" (except in the sense of it being a book, loosely speaking). There are actual collections of scriptural texts that are 1500 years old, but this isn't one of them.


• BUT IT'S 1500 YEARS OLD, RIGHT?!

Only if whoever inscribed it thought that the year 500(ish) was the fifteen hundredth year of the "Lord" of whoever inscribed it "in the name of the Lord". Probably the "Lord" is Jesus, based on contexts of the work. If the "Lord" is supposed to be God (and not Jesus), or for that matter anyone else, it's hard to figure out why the inscriber is reckoning a 1500 year count of that person's Lordship.

So, no, the text itself is 500 years old. (Maybe, unless it's totally a hoax.)


• BUT... uh... IT COULD BE COPYING A 1500 YEAR OLD TEXT, RIGHT?!

I dunno. Maybe? Who knows? Scholars haven't been able to study it very well yet.


• BECAUSE IT HAS BEEN KEPT SECRET BY THE VATICAN OR SOME OTHER CHRISTIAN AUTHORITY, RIGHT?!

No, it was being held by the Turkish government, who are increasingly Muslim in their sympathies (and who govern a largely Muslim nation), until they could get enough reassurance that they could legally claim ownership (in case the smugglers stole it from a rightful owner), whereupon they sent it to a Turkish antiquities museum in Ankara. Now that it's at an actual scholarly museum, the Vatican has applied for permission to send scholars to study it.


• BUT SOMETHING ABOUT IT IS SUPPOSED TO BE SECRETLY SECRET, RIGHT?!


Maybe the identities of whoever is paying millions of dollars for photocopies of its pages are supposed to be secret. But, and I think this is important to stress, Turkey (and/or the museum, and/or some enterprising fellow at the museum) is selling photocopies of its pages for millions of dollars. It's only "secret" if you can't afford to look at it. Which probably means you, yes you, aren't worthy to see its secrets. Because you have better things to spend your million dollars on. Or don't have a million dollars.

Please note that if anyone wants to donate two million dollars to me, I will try my hardest to post a photocopy of one of the pages here on the Cadre Journal. I promise!


• IF IT ISN'T ALL THAT SECRETLY SECRET, WHY DOES THE VATICAN WANT TO STUDY IT?!

Because the Vatican has a lot of renowned antiquity geeks who are interested in the history of the church, warts and all, including the ancient opponents to the orthodox party because those are also part of the history of the church. And any antiquity geek, whether Christian or not, would want to study it. Including to evaluate whether it's even legitimately 500 years old. (See: ridiculous amounts of money being paid for photocopies.)


• IF IT ISN'T ALL THAT SECRETLY SECRET, WHY WOULD PEOPLE PAY RIDICULOUS AMOUNTS OF MONEY FOR PHOTOCOPIES?!

Why does a plush figure of Baragon from Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidora: Giant Monsters All-out Attack sell for $150 on Amazon? He isn't even in the title of the movie!

Honestly, you'd have to ask those people. I suspect the buyers are largely wealthy Muslims wanting to see if this is, as rumored, a(nother) copy of the Gospel of Barnabas.


• WHY WOULD A MUSLIM CARE ABOUT A RESPECTED ANCIENT LEGITIMATE ORTHODOX EPISTLE THAT WAS EVEN TREATED AS CANONICAL OR NEAR-CANONICAL BY SOME OF THE ORTHODOX FATHERS, AND WHICH WE HAVE PLENTY OF COPIES OF?!

No, no, you're thinking of the Epistle of Barnabas.

• WHY WOULD A MUSLIM CARE ABOUT AN ORTHODOX TEXT FROM THE 400s THAT WAS POPULAR IN LATE ANTIQUITY AND WHICH WE ALREADY HAVE A COUPLE OF GREEK AND ONE LATIN COPY OF?!

No, no, you're thinking of the Acts of Barnabas.

• WHY WOULD A MUSLIM CARE ABOUT A GOSPEL FROM AN ORTHODOX JEWISH CHRISTIAN EVANGELIST WHO WAS THE COUSIN OF ST. PAUL OF TARSUS AND LIVED IN THE APOSTOLIC AGE?!

Ah. Well, there's a tale. Settle back while I history-geek a bit.

The writers of very late Christian antiquity (500s and 600s, just prior to the rise of Islam) knew of a "Gospel of Barnabas" but did not regard it highly enough to mention it by anything other than name; neither did they censor or warn against it, other than to reject its authenticity. So the best inference in light of what little data we have is that they thought it was a Catholic text (whether Eastern or Western) of respectable doctrine, popular in some small areas, but of late composition and so while harmless not to be promoted as legitimate.

We don't have a surviving copy of this Gospel. We do have exactly two copies of another text called "the Gospel of Barnabas", which for convenience I'll call GosBarn2.



Possibly GosBarn2 was based originally on a surviving copy of GosBarn1, but it is impossible to tell. The GosBarn2 text is a harmonization of the four canonical Gospels, and that would explain the relatively neutral attitude toward the now lost GosBarn1.

However, the earliest known reference anywhere to the current GosBarn2 is the writing of a Spanish Muslim in the mid 1600s, and only two versions of the text survive today, one in Spanish and one in Italian (the Spanish version of the text having been fairly recently rediscovered).

Obviously the text must predate the earliest known reference, and the Moriscan author regards it as being easy enough to find in his area (wherever that is, probably Turkey where many Spanish Muslims fled). No ancient Arabic versions of the text have been found by scholars so far as I know, nor ancient versions in any other relevant language (Syriac, Hebrew, Coptic, Ethiopian, Greek or even Latin which might show translation from an earlier language). Attempts have been lately made to identify a Gospel found in the late 400s (supposedly) buried with the body of St. Barnabas as GosBarn (1 or 2), but at the time the text was regarded as GosMatt and a Christian scholar not long afterward in the early 500s studied it looking for a Matthean textual variation that it did not have, indicating no other problems and thus confirming that however late that Gospel may have been composed it was nothing other than GosMatt. This text was last heard of in the 1000s (when an Eastern bishop reported it without controversy to be a unical manuscript, an early form with all capital letters), but has since been lost.

The Italian text of GosBarn 2 was certainly printed sometime in the late 1500s or early 1600s. There are notes in Arabic but written by a native Italian. The text has 42 blank pages (apparently intended for an introduction and commentary), with 457 pages devoted to translating GosBarn2, providing a wordcount approximately the same as all four canonical Gospels (partly due to the work being a harmonization of all four canon texts). Not incidentally, legitimate photos of the Turkish Syriac text that the internet is all atwitter about this week, show a text that cannot possibly be nearly that size. (Don't be fooled by stock photos of an old text, photographed in a close up end view, showing numerous "quires" or collections of paper bound together as in modern hardback books. Those aren't photos of the new Ankara text.)

This Italian text was the basis for the most popular English version (known as the Ragg version after Larua Ragg, one of the translators). It was then translated from English to Arabic by Rashid Rida for its first Egyptian publication in 1908. The Italian translator was not a professional scribe by the standards of the time, but does appear to have intended the text for scholarly publication. The underlying text is late medieval Tuscan (Italian) in dialect although a Venetian Italian produced the current text, so there was at least one Italian translation behind this one, apparently from a Turkish language copy. The now-lost Tuscan version was probably translated from Turkish about 100 years earlier. It is impossible to even guess the history of the Turkish edition.

A Spanish edition printed in the 1700s was recently rediscovered (in the 1970s), but was well known among English scholars of that time who translated it into English (which may still survive along with some references to it among various English scholars and as one of the Bampton Lectures of 1784). The rediscovered Spanish text claims to have been translated from Italian by an Aragonese (Spanish) Muslim named Mustafa de Aranda writing in Istanbul (thus after the Turkish conquest of Constantinople), and includes a preface by someone calling himself Father Marino (specifically a false name to avoid discovery, created from the name of the suburb of Rome where the preface author's patroness of the Colonna family lived) who claims to have stolen the Italian text (behind the Spanish translation but different from the surviving Italian text) from the library of Pope Sixtus V. "Fra Marino" claims to have been posted in the Inquisition Court where he acquired several works from which he decided the canonical Biblical text had been corrupted and genuine apostolic works had been excluded -- but so far as I can tell the preface author makes no mention of the sensational Muslim claims of GosBarn2. He also claims to have previously heard of the Gospel of Barnabas from an allusion in a work supposedly written by the late 2nd century Irenaeus against St. Paul, citing a citation in a book presented to him by his patroness; but this vague trail cannot be reproduced and no such known text from Irenaeus (or even purportedly by him) exists. It would be super-weird for such a text to be legitimately from Irenaeus, who liked to cite Rom 5, Rom 11, and 1 Cor 15 as evidence of Christ's high Christology (especially in Christ's capability of saving sinners) against the heretic groups of his day.

The Spanish text of GosBarn2 is smoothly written in a Castilian dialect of the 1500s, without indications of translation from Italian. There are a number of chapters missing, but few other differences in actual content between the surviving Italian and Spanish texts.

There is literally no reason to believe GosBarn2 was composed any earlier than the 1300s (and more likely later as the surviving texts show some familiarity with phrases from Dante and Latin Gospel harmonizations, although these may be due to subsequent copies or translations touching up the language with popular styles of the time). The Arabic annotations of the Italian text are so riddled with elementary errors that it is unlikely to have been actually written by an Italian living in Istanbul (much less transcribed from any original Arabic commentary).

So little is known about the history of the text, that there is a lively debate among scholars of it, whether the non-orthodox/Muslim portions are original to the text or were late additions to it. If Turkish Istanbul was indeed part of its transmission, at that time there were radical anti-trinitarian Protestants fleeing Catholic (and orthodox Protestant) persecutions, who set up small publishing companies in the city and its region, protected by the Muslim rulers for their anti-trinity stances but not generally hired by them for translation; because at the time Muslim teaching strongly opposed printing (rather than handwriting) Islamic or even Arabic non-religious texts. In other words, the Muslim authorities regarded them as useful propaganda tools against their Catholic neighbors to the west.

The Spanish text shows signs of a supposed Catholic conspiracy popular among known forgeries from this time and place: we know there were radical non-Muslim anti-trinitarian Protestant publishers in Istanbul during the first Protestant centuries, who definitely forged texts, trying to pass them off in Catholic countries like Italy and Spain by pretending they had been discovered by Catholic priests now doubting Catholic orthodoxy and canon. GosBarn2 fits this profile very well, except for its strongly Muslim color; but on the other hand there are details which run strongly against accepted Muslim belief, such as Mary giving birth without pain, Jesus permitting the drinking of alcohol, Jesus commanding monogamy, hell being only for those who commit the seven deadly sins, paradise requiring circumcision, God having a soul (as well as a spirit), and a rejection of God predestining the saved and the lost, all of which contradict the Koran or mainstream Muslim religious tradition of the time. GosBarn2 includes the tale from the late but (in our day) recently rediscovered Gnostic Gospel of Judas (from the Cainite sect who revered traitors of the Bible back to Cain as a way of opposing majority authority in their day), that Judas miraculously substituted for Jesus on the cross; but until very recently (after GosBarn2 began to be promoted by some Muslims in the 20th century as a dangerous early threat to orthodox Christianity) this was not a popular Muslim belief (although Jesus being taken alive to heaven is a major Islamic teaching, the idea being that God would not allow crucifixion for such a faithful prophet.)

The text has a few similarities to the teachings of Spaniard anti-trinitarian Christian universalist Michael Servetus (whom Calvin misled to be murdered), coming close to a purgatorial universalism: only persistently impenitent sinners will stay in hell, with true penitents being offered salvation out of hell. Certainly this is not any kind of mainstream Muslim belief either.

One of the versions of GosBarn2 involves Jesus denying being the Messiah, prophecying that the Messiah would be from the tribe of Ishmael (thus Arabic).

GosBarn2 is sometimes cited by Muslim counter-Christian apologists who don't know much (or perhaps don't care) about evidence in favor of late medieval composition, and who either aren't familiar with the text's occasional anti-Muslim stances or who know about them but obscure the differences in order to promote the apparently prophetic references to Mohammad and to Islam. I don't know any good reason to regard this text as being historically accurate to Jesus and early Christianity (aside from details it picks up from the canonicals), and we can be sure it certainly wasn't written by anyone directly knowledgeable of 1st century Palestine (such as St. Barnabas) because of the numerous errors and anachronisms which happen to fit late medieval times much better.


• BUT THIS TEXT OF THE GOSPEL OF BARNABAS IS WRITTEN IN THE ORIGINAL LANGUAGE OF JESUS AND THE APOSTLES, RIGHT?! WOULDN'T THAT BE EVIDENCE OF EARLY AUTHORSHIP??

It might if this was even the Gospel of Barnabas, but (per The Christian Post) theology professor Ă–mer Faruk Harman told Today Zaman, "Muslims may be disappointed to see that this copy does not include things they would like to see and it might have no relation with the content of the Gospel of Barnabas." Unfortunately, details are still sketchy about what the text does say. Some sites are reporting details from GosBarn2 as though this text at Ankara is GosBarn2, but if it was obviously excerpts from GB2 (it can't possibly be all of GB2 in any case) there would be no question about whether it has any relation to GB2.

• BUT AT LEAST IT'S WRITTEN IN ARAMAIC, THE ORIGINAL LANGUAGE OF JESUS AND THE APOSTLES, WHICH MEANS IT MUST BE EARLY INFORMATION ABOUT JESUS, RIGHT?!

No, it's written in Syriac, not Aramaic. I don't know yet what kind of dialect of Syriac. Syriac is related to Aramaic, the way modern Italian is related to late medieval Latin. Like the Latin being written back around when this Syriac text was produced! (Heh.)


• BUT, BUT, {sigh} BUT WHAT IF, JUST WHAT IF, THIS TEXT HAD IN FACT BEEN COMPOSED FIFTEEN HUNDRED YEARS AGO, WOULDN'T OR COULDN'T THAT STILL MEAN IT HAS HISTORICALLY ACCURATE DATA ABOUT JESUS?!?1?

{shrug} Sure. We already have scads and oodles of texts written fifteen hundred years ago, and even longer ago, that preserve historically accurate data about Jesus; so that isn't impossible. You can go read them on the internet or buy critical editions of those texts at any time, if you want to read fifteen hundred year old texts.

You can even get good translations of nearly-two-thousand-year-old texts with historically accurate data about Jesus, texts written much closer to the time Jesus lived, with some strong connections to Aramaic if you think that sort of thing is important (which I agree you should). You may have to look around a little to find English translations of those texts -- like in a hotel room, or at a doctor's office, or handed out on the street corner, or piles of them thrown away in garbage dumps -- but they're on the internet and in bookstores, too. And scholars like to spend a Godawful amount of time, energy, and ink, talking about those older texts (mainly because they're so much older than the texts that are only fifteen hundred years old, or only five hundred years old, and because ancient people thought those oldest texts were so important that they translated them into a bunch of ancient languages, including yes into various Syriac dialects), so I don't think you'll have any trouble finding analyses and commentaries on all kinds of things about those older texts. I mean, if you're hot to read and to read about the oldest historical claims about Jesus.

Whereas, you may have to wait a year or two or five, now that the Turkish government has started selling -- ahem, I mean releasing -- information about this one five hundred year old Syriac text, before you get to read it or much scholarly discussion about it.

Meanwhile, I recommend not getting your hopes up, that this one text is going to accurately report anything new that hasn't been reported, inaccurately or not, a long time before.


• BUT, BUT... BUT IF THIS TEXT IS NOT ALL THAT MUCH OF ANYTHING, WHY IS THE INTERNET AFLUTTER WITH SHOCKING SHOCK ABOUT ITS EXISTENCE?!

Because it's Christmas time, silly. And Christmas is boring old news. Except when people think or pretend that Christmas is being threatened somehow.


4 comments:

Registering for comment tracking.

JRP

what comment tracking? no one ever comments

Outstanding. But I hadn't even heard about this. It would be helpful to provide a link to what you are writing about.

I did provide one link, somewhere after the middle there; I'll try to remember to post a couple more.

JRP

Use of Content

The contents of this blog may be reproduced or forwarded via e-mail without change and in its entirety for non-commercial purposes without prior permission from the Christian CADRE provided that the copyright information is included. We would appreciate notification of the use of our content. Please e-mail us at christiancadre@yahoo.com.