28 December 2009

Reinventing Jesus (Pt. 2)

In continuing the look at the book Reinventing Jesus that I started discussing yesterday, we move into section three, which discusses the canonizing of Scripture. For those not familiar with the term, when we say canon, we are speaking of those books of the Bible that are included as authoritative. The Protestant church has held that there are 66 books in the canon of Scripture, and those outside of that are considered non-canonical, or extra-biblical, and not authoritative or necessarily inspired.

Eventually, four Gospels and twenty-three other texts were canonized (declared to be the Holy Scriptures) into a Bible. This did not occur, until the sixth century.
-Dan Burstein Secrets of the Code, 116
So, the question is discussed as to whether there was any kind of early consensus in the church as to what books or letters were considered official, inspired Scripture, and what caused some book to be passed over in that decision. These modern writers would have us believe that it didn't come together till hundreds of years after Christ, and that there was a sort of conspiracy to hide some "truth" that the church at the time didn't agree with.

We learn that while the church in general held the majority of books and letters as inspired and canonical early on in history (way before the sixth century), there was some dispute over some between the churches; books like 2 & 3 John, Jude, 2 Peter and Revelation were disputed and almost didn't make the cut. We also learn a bit about many of the other writings that were rejected, and why.

It is a remarkable fact that although nearly all modern forms of Christianity do not question the texts included in the New Testament, in the first four centuries every single document was at some time or other branded as either heretical or forged!
-Timothy Freke
and Peter Gandy,
The Jesus Mysteries, 224
I have had a special interest in the canon, and the extra-biblical writings for a couple years now. So this section was nice to read why some were rejected. There were many writings that were considered beneficial, though not necessarily inspired, that the churches read and used and were deeply familiar with back in the day. There were others that were initially considered worthy of canonization, but over time were deemed unsuitable. There were many that were considered forgeries, and immediately dismissed, while others were determined to be too modern at the time, and thus outside the realm of Apostolic inspiration. Some were forgeries, some purposely written to damage the Gospel, or of definite Gnostic origins. We get some insight into how this process of choosing often played out, and what was examined to make these decisions. When it is done, you will hopefully see that the decisions were not made rashly, or with some hidden agenda, as modern authors like to claim.

The Lost Books of the Bible: The Great Rejected TextsMany of the writings that were read and used, though never canonized, I have started to track down to examine personally. There are many, many of these additional writings that have been recently rediscovered in the last 100-200 years that were all but "lost" for the past century and a half of church history. Aside from the known Gnostic and heretical writings making a big splash today, there are many other writings, both from the Old and New Testament eras that shed additional light and understanding on the life, times and theologies of the times when Scripture was written. Some of these I have mentioned in previous posts, like the books of Jasher, or Enoch. Many of these writings are contained in large bodies of work, making it easy to get a hold of a bunch of them at once. Books like "The Lost Books of the Bible" and "The Lost Books of the New Testament" both by Joseph Lumpkin, whose has released a truckload of modern translations of such extra-biblical writings.

You do need to be careful in reading some of this stuff, to know what was considered heretical, and what was considered helpful to read; that is why a book like the one we're discussing, helps to give some background on the issue. All in all, any of them can be considered entertaining to read.

The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume 1: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments (The Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library)Other writings not related to the topic at hand, are the ones usually related with the Old Testament times. These writings, while also not necessarily authoritative, are nonetheless beneficial in studying to know what the mindset and understandings were in the early Jewish and Hebrew Scripture days. One such set worth checking out, is "The Old Testament Pseudipigrapha" which is available in two volumes. I have read through a chunk of these writings and am fascinated at the thought patterns these early writers give us. From the fantastical to the intriguing, either way, these were many of the writings that were common place, commonly read, and occasionally referred to in early writings, and even in the scripture.

The next section of the book begins dealing with the issue of whether Christianity has borrowed from the pagan religions of the day. Sounds interesting.

Continue to PART 3