See also: Conspiracy as History? An easy to follow pictorial destruction of Acharya S' historical dishonesty.
I love a good conspiracy theory and I don't think I am alone in that. When they premiered that documentary questioning the moon landing a number of years ago everyone was watching and talking about it, myself included. But no matter how interesting a conspiracy theory is, there is a reason why it is a conspiracy. The theory simply lacks the evidence that mainstream theories do. With this in mind, this is the hermeneutic with which one should approach Acharya's book. It is a book about a conspiracy theory and it should not be confused with rigorous or even accurate historical inquiry.
Before tackling this book, a note should be made about the author. Acharya S, also known as D.M. Murdock, is a new-aged conspiracy styled author over at her long running website www.truthbeknown.com. While she often refers to herself as a highly educated scholars, this is only a self-perception with little real value. She seems to grasp at straws to increase her credentials in the most amusing ways. She tells us of her undergraduate Bachelor of Arts, which is intrinsically superior because it is from the "17th oldest college in the United States" which appears "in the "highly selective" category in guides to the top universities and colleges." She recounts her time in Greece where she had an exam that took "several hours to complete." She has been under the impression that counting footnotes is a sign of scholarship, conveniently missing out the fact that her footnotes are generally references to 19th century works such as those by poet Gerald Massey who argued the Book of Revelation was written over 4000 years ago. But without going ad hominem, lets see what Acharya has to say.
As an indicator for the rest of the book, the preface tells us that we should expect conspiracy and not history. It is written by conspiracy theorist Kenn Thomas author of some interesting works such as Mind Control, Oswald & JFK (1997), NASA, Nazis & JFK: The Torbitt Documents; the Kennedy Assassination (1996) and Maury Island UFO: The Crisman Conspiracy (1999). Thomas pans from Acharya's apparent "impressive set of academic credentials" to her website discussing "conspiracy and UFO/alien realities"
Thomas introduces Acharya's thesis:
The thesis of her work, that Christianity was created artificially out of older religions to consolidate Roman state control over those religions, as well as various mystery schools and secret societies, is a wellspring of awareness for students of conspiracy. Acharya S also makes a clear case for the existence of an ancient global civilization. (4)
Chapter 1: Introduction
The chapter begins negatively branding religion as the cause of "extreme racism, sexism and even speciesism."(3). I assume Acharya envisions that the world would be some sort of utopia without religion. Her arguments do not appear to be sound at all. She quotes Hitler as being a Catholic, and maintains Stalin was an Eastern Orthodox. What is the result? All Christians are militant madmen. While historians hold that Jesus and movement was in no way a militant revolution, Acharya views Jesus' preaching as "exhorting his followers to violence" (7) while Paul was a terrorist terrorising the pagans. Note that here for Jesus to exhort violence he must have existed as a historical figure, something Acharya attempts to take apart later in the book.
The chapter moves on to the issue of martyrdom and the early Christian persecutions. However, Acharya gives it her conspiracy twist - it is now "the myth of martyrdom" (8). She takes on the historicity of the persecutions against Christians by challenging a single reference by Tacitus. Although in honesty, the challenge is actually an assertion that it is "a forgery" fitting it into her conspiracy theory theme as "one of many made by the conspirators in the works of ancient authors." She makes no argument against authenticity. She then ends the sections claiming Christians weren't persecuted, and it was the Christians who started persecuting non-Christians.
Interestingly enough, there is nothing about Pliny's letter to Trajan (Letters 10.96); no mention of the Deciun persecution or the numerous edicts under the Great Persecution. Having read the book, in hindsight I suggest two equally plausible solutions. First of all, it may be that Acharya simply did not know about them. The engagement with ancient sources is almost non-existent and the best source she could come up with here was G.A. Well's Jesus Did Not Exist. The second case would be that she simply did not include it as it would destroy her conspiracy theory regarding Christian origins. I am not a mind reader so I leave it to the reader to make their own decision.
She also calls the spread of Christianity a myth. I will not bother dealing with it here but those interested should look up the work by Rodney Stark.
Chapter 2: The Quest for Jesus Christ
In this chapter she turns her attention to the person of Jesus, noting him as Christianity's "legendary founder" (13). After a few legitimate comments about many people finding the historical Jesus they want, she moves onto the question of Jesus' historicity. Obviously enough, she truly misrepresents the argument:
Indeed, the majority of people are taught in most schools and churches that Jesus Christ was an actual historical figure and that the only controversy regarding him is that some people accept him as the Son of God and the Messiah, while others do not. However, whereas this is the raging debate most evident today, it is not the most important. Shocking as it may seem to the general populace, the most enduring and profound controversy in this subject is whether or not a person named Jesus Christ ever really existed. (emphasis hers, p.14)The most enduring debate about the person of Jesus is whether or not he really existed? Among whom? Her select sources from the 1800's? Here references to German language scholar G.A. Wells? Mark Allan Powell summarises the position of Jesus' historicity rather well:
A hundred and fifty years ago a fairly well respected scholar named Bruno Bauer maintained that the historical person Jesus never existed. Anyone who says that today--in the academic world at least--gets grouped with the skinheads who say there was no Holocaust and the scientific holdouts who want to believe the world is flat. ( Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee. p. 168)She furthers her misrepresentations of the debate. Now, the "popular bookstores" are the ones responsible for misrepresenting the debate. She raises Wells as an example. Ironically enough, Wells works are popular press in popular bookstores. The facts of the matter are that historians do not argue that Jesus did not exist.
In proving the popularity of the argument she uses some dubious logic. Regarding a written response to Wells, she states "It should be noted that no such book would be needed if the existence of Jesus Christ as a historical figure were a proven fact accepted by all." Anything can categorically be argued by such dubious means.
She then proceeds to separate the school of thought on Jesus' historicity into interesting categories. Those who believe Jesus existed are "the believers and the evemerists." The believers are those who "take the Judeo-Christian bible as the literal “Word of God,” accepting “on faith” that everything contained within it is historical fact infallibly written by scribes “inspired by God”" (15) that authenticate Jesus. The second group, the Evemerists, are non-Christians who falsely believe that Jesus existed for no reason other than "mental programming." She goes on that such an "opinion [is] usually based on the fact that it is commonly held, not because its proponents have studied the matter or seen clear evidence to that effect." (16).
We then come to the final group, the enlightened mythicists. For some reason or another, this groups conclusions need not be backed up, as they are so overwhelmingly obvious. As if there is no debate surrounding her claim, Acharya remarks, "not only is there no proof of his existence but virtually all evidence points to him being a mythological character." (19). This statement is rather paradoxical. There is no evidence of Jesus' existence, yet there is evidence and that points to him not existing.
She then goes on to paint the picture of historical Jesus scholarship. She doesn't agree with the scholarly norm that finds overwhelming evidence for Jesus but argues that "the mythicists’ arguments have been too intelligent and knifelike to do away with." In fact, the works of these guys are "fearfully suppressed because they are somewhat irrefutable." (19). Other than asserting the Christ myth position as being correct and unchallengable, she moves onto the next chapter.
Chapter 3: The Holy Forgery Mill
This chapter begins with nothing much other than a few pages other than demonising the history of Christianity. She then goes to some very convincing authorities such as Joseph Wheless, a 19th-early 20th century lawyer who states, "The gospels are all priestly forgeries over a century after their pretended dates." She backs this up with Barbara Walker (The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets) who contends that the "discovery that the Gospels were forged, centuries later than the events they described, is still not widely known even though the Catholic Encyclopedia admits." (22). I would love to see the Catholic Encylopaedia admit that the gospels were forged centuries after Jesus. Evidently, instead of turning to even an introductory text on the dating of the gospels, Acharya S prefers non-historians/biblical scholars to support her conspiracy theory.
In the fashion of the Da Vinci Code, she contends that it was after the Council of Nicaea that the "autographs" were destroyed; they were again "revised" and "retouched" in "506 CE under Emperor Anastasius." She cites a 19th century work on this point, obviously unaware of a few important details. (1) We have numerous text types by the 6th century; (2) it would have been impossible for a 6th century Emperor to modify all these independent pre-6th century manuscripts and, (3) the existence of Codex Sinaiticus among other important 4th/5th century codices.
These great discoveries that the gospels were forged centuries after Christ, is followed by a number of quotes by people I have never heard of before. Following her usual pattern, I have assumed they are 19th century public domain sources available online and composed by non-scholars. While failing to demonstrate anything but her uncritical eye and unschooled understanding, she concluded the chapter stating, "We have established the atmosphere of the foundation of Christianity: conspiracy, forgery and fraud, the result of which are its sacred texts, falsely alleged to be infallible accounts by eyewitnesses to the most extraordinary events in human “history.”"
Chapter 4: Biblical Sources
In this chapter she begins with the contention that their was no sort of Christian canon at all for 1000 years. Here she is apparently unaware of the reception of the proto-orthodox documents by orthodoxy. We have works which were consistently accepted as authoritative such as the four gospels (Irenaeus, the Muratorian fragment, early codices cf. Gamble, Hengel and Stanton); etc. No closed canon is not equal to no uniformity on accepted texts. She continues under the Da Vinci Code impression - that is, the Christian documents were forcefully chosen at a council "from some 200 admitted forgeries called Gospels" (here citing Wheless, p.26).
She turns to the Pauline epsitles claiming they "never discuss a historical background of Jesus...any person in the gospel account of the Passion" and "never quotes from Jesus’s purported sermons and speeches..." (27). Anyone with an understanding of the Pauline epistles knows that Acharya is more than stretching the truth here. Paul places Jesus in recent past, and quotes his words and events a few times. For example, Paul recounts the narrative of the last supper including the words of Jeuss in 1 Cor 11:23-26 (compare to Matthew 26; Mark 14; Luke 22.) Paul is aware of Jesus' teachings on divorce in 1 Cor 7:10-11 ("not I, but the Lord") as reflected in Matthew 5.
Similarly, any argument exploiting Paul's relative silence demonstrates a complete ignorance of the genre of the Pauline epistles. Marcus Borg summarises this rather well:
"But Paul’s letters tell us very little about the life and message of Jesus. This does not mean that Jesus’s historical life was unimportant to Paul, as some scholars have suggested. Rather, Jesus mattered greatly to Paul. Paul spoke of Jesus as Lord and as God’s Son, as did early Christians generally. He wrote about life “in Christ,” “Christ crucified,” and “imitating Christ.” But narrating the story of Jesus was not the purpose of his letters. Rather, as the literary genre of “letters” indicates, Paul was writing to Christian communities about issues that had arisen in their life together." (Marcus Borg, Jesus p.32)Ironically enough, after arguing that the Pauline epistles are not evidence of Jesus' existence, she goes on to claim (through extensive quoting of the unknown Wheless) that "there are none of them by Paul...They are all, without distinction, pseudographia. (sic)" (27). That she believes all the Pauline epistles to be "pseudographia" or as those who know what they are talking about would say, "pseudepigrapha", really questions the extremes which she goes to to argue a conspiracy. Once again, after demonstrating nothing but her ignorance of the issues she concludes, "It is clear that the epistles do not demonstrate a historical Jesus and are not as early as they are pretended to be, written or edited by a number of hands over several decades during the second century, such that the “historical” Jesus apparently was not even known at that late point." (28)
She turns her attention towards the gospels, opening with something completely ridiculous. She claims they "were forged at the end of the 2nd century, all four of them probably between 170-180." She appears to be completely unaware that we have quotations of the gospels as well as physical manuscript evidence from before that time. For exaple, P52 is a fragment of the Gospel of John generally dated to the first half (or even quarter?) of the second century. While arguing that the canonical gospels were late 2nd century (a date no scholar I know of affirms) she goes on to claim that the four were chosen by Irenaeus in the 2nd century, not because they were previously accepted, but because it is "Masonic, and these texts represent the four books of magic of the Egyptian Ritual." (29)
She dates the Gospel of Luke to 170 (30), Mark to 175, John 178 (while arguing an outdated Gnostic John hypothesis) (31) and Matthew to 180 (32). Following the delusion of her late second century date, she argues that the Gospels were based on Marcion's gospel, which dates to around the 150s, "[The Gospel of the Lord] predated the canonical gospels by decades." (29) As there is no evidence to support this (well, we do have evidence against it such as manuscripts above) such a position is rejected by all scholars I know of. It is generally held that Marcion's gospel was a version of the Gospel of Luke without a birth narrative as well as references to the Hebrew scriptures. This mutilation of the text was for theological reasons, namely, Marcion rejected the Israelite God and to have Jesus (or Paul) in that tradition was theologically detestable. While she discusses Marcion's gospel (which only survives through literary fragments), she claims that it demonstrates "the conspiracy" of Jesus' non-existence. (29) To Acharya, not containing the birth narrative necessitates Jesus was a Gnostic redeemer who came down from heaven. A logic which is flawed to the core and, ironically enough, doesn't apply to Mark.
She attempts to dabble in textual criticism and bases her argument, again, on Wheless who is neither a historian or biblical scholar. Quoting Wheless, she contends that "Of the 150,000 variant readings which Griesbach found in the manuscripts of the New Testament, probably 149,500 were additions and interpolations." (33) Other than the fact her source is a hundred or so years outdated regarding the number of variants, the claim that 99.7 of them are malicious interpolations is simply false. The vast majority of textual variants are unintentional scribal mistakes, or changes in word order. The conspiracy of mass textual corruption is simply fanciful fiction. (See Daniel Wallace's review of Misquoting Jesus for more information on textual criticism.)
Despite having already argued (well, asserted as no argument was presented) that Jesus didn't exist, it is still odd that she entertains Jesus existing just to attack him. For example, in chapter 1 she claimed Jesus was exhorting people to violence. Now, we find that Jesus was mythical. We find this out while Acharya attempts to dabble in theology. She doesn't appear to recognise the consistent theological theme of Jesus ministry which Paul summarises as "to the Jew first and also to the Greek." (Romans 1:16).
Having achieved nothing in this chapter, she moves on to the Non-Biblical Sources.
Chapter 5: Non-Biblical Sources
She begins, noting her achievement of arbitrarily assigning a late second century date to the gospels that "We have seen that the gospel accounts are utterly unreliable as history and cannot serve as evidence that Jesus Christ ever existed." (38) In this chapter, Acharya asserts that we have no non-Christian evidence for Jesus. She begins with Josephus, who she claims "they have been dismissed by scholars and Christian apologists alike as forgeries, as have been those referring to John the Baptist and James, “brother of Jesus.”" (39) However, most Josephan and historical Jesus scholars agree that Josephus made mention of both Jesus and John the Baptist. Regarding the longer reference of Jesus, most scholars agree on embellishment, while none that I know of dispute the second reference. From The Missing Jesus (Bruce Chilton, Craig A. Evans and Jacob Neusner):
"In the part of this embellished text that virtually all regard as authentic Josephus describes Jesus as a teacher and wonderworker who was accused by the leading men (i.e., ruling priests) before the Roman governor." (p.21)Evidently, Acharya's claim that everyone agrees they are forgeries is very far from true scholarly opinion summarising it as "virtually all". A similarly dishonest assertion is made for Tacitus and other non-Christian sources. Evidently, to support her conspiracy she needs to employ utter deception and msirerpesentation. This is continued in chapter 6.
Chapter 6: Further Evidence of a Fraud
She opens by summarising her baseless assertions, "There is basically no textual evidence of the existence of Jesus Christ, other than forged biblical books and epistles." (42). However, in reality we have seen that there is evidence - Christain and non-Christian. Similarly, her claims disputing the authenticity of such appear to be nothing but fanciful deception. However, let us entertain her thesis.
She tries to argue that Christians saw Christianity as nothing new - but, like her conspiracy, simply a rehash of pagan religions which they copied. In this case, she attempts to raise primary evidence for the argument - something very rare in the book. She quotes Eusebius in chapter 4 of his church history as stating that Christianity and its core principles were "built on the natural concepts of those whom God loved in the distant past . . ." (42) However, as an honest reading of Eusebius demonstrates, he was referring to God's knowledge from creation in the Jewish tradition. For example, he names the continuous tradition in which he identifies, stating that "the Hebrews are not a youthful people, but are respected by all men for their antiquity and are known to all." Indeed, a far cry from Acharya's misrepresentation - and one which anyone acquainted with early Christian apologetics would know (e.g. Origen in Contra Celsum.).
She goes onto the topic of Gnosticism, claiming that "the fact is that Gnosticism was proto-Christianity."(45) In fact, she also pinpoints a date - Gnosticism "eventually changed into orthodox Christianity around 220" (46). A position thoroughly at odds with our evidence of Christianity which arose from a Jewish mileu, based on torah, etc. She now argues that everyone was a Gnostic. Irenaeus, who she earlier demonised for being orthodox, is now a Gnostic. (45). Regarding Augustine, "after the Council of Nicea, when he was “converted,” i.e., promised a prominent place in the newly formed Catholic Church, such that he then excoriated his former sect." (45) A pity such fanciful claims are unreferenced. Or even plausible. Augustine was born a good 25 years after the Council of Nicaea, so I do not know why he would have converted because of it. Similarly, why promise a "prominent place" to a heretic for converting? In essence, an absurd and unreferences claim at the logical and chronological level. A final note is that she is of the opinion that Augustine converted from Mandaenism, when in fact he was a Manichaeism.
The rest of this chapter is mostly massive block quote, followed by massive block quote of non-scholars such as Gerald Massey and Kersey Graves.
Okay, I am going to call it quits here for now.