As I continue playing Jane Goodall among the Jesus mythicists in preparation for future installments of my e-book series, I am often astonished at the complete insularity of their “scholarship.” Sometimes you just have to wonder if they have ever read a book on the history of Christianity outside their own little group.
An example is someone named Samuel Butler. One of many Jesus mythicists who is long on accusations and short on scholarship, Butler released a crank book titled Beyond All Relgion wherein he decided that Christianity was invented in the fourth century. Needless to say, this would be a bit of a shock to most New Testament scholars – including atheist/agnostic ones – given that there are substantial examples of New Testament texts from the second and third centuries. However, Butler, who decided to write a sensationalistic book on the origins of the New Testament without ever bothering to read any scholarship on the subject, decided this was not the case. His “evidence” is often a comedy of errors as he demonstrates his complete ignorance on the subject.
For example, he claims the church admits the Gospels were not written in the first century. His evidence is a statement in the Catholic Encyclopedia:
when discussing the origin of those writings, “the most distinguished body of academic opinion ever assembled” (Catholic Encyclopedias, Preface) admits that the Gospels “do not go back to the first century of the Christian era” (Catholic Encyclopedia, Farley ed., vol. vi, p. 137, pp. 655-6).
Here, Butler only demonstrates his complete incompetence. It is quite obvious he copied this line from another anti-Christian crank. I first came across it in a book by the hack author Joseph Wheless who, in his Forgery in Christianity, made the same bogus claim. It seems (for reasons that will become clear later) that Butler copied it from Tony Bushby – an author so off the wall he makes David Icke seem almost rational by comparison.
In reality, the “quote” was taken out of context from a section in the Catholic Encyclopedia entry on Gospels dealing that dealt with the titles (e.g., the title Gospel of Mark) of the books. In the entry, it was stated that the general view of scholars was that the earliest copies did not have the current titles affixed. Thus, it was the titles of the Gospels and not the Gospels themselves that it was claimed did not go back to the first century. Furthermore, the Catholic Encyclopedia did not necessarily agree with that position but merely presented it as the general viewpoint.
This would have been avoided if Butler had bothered to read the entry in the Encyclopedia he cited – a work that has been available online for years (the specific entry can be seen here). However, as with many Jesus mythicists, Butler merely repeated a citation given like a trained parrot and did not bother actually investigating the matter. Or at least one may hope he didn’t since that would add reading comprehension to the list of the author’s deficiencies.
As further evidence of his claim for a fourth century origin of Christianity, Butler adds the following little tidbit from the same encyclopedia:
“the earliest of the extant manuscripts [of the New Testament], it is true, do not date back beyond the middle of the fourth century AD” (Catholic Encyclopedia, op. cit., pp. 656-7).
to which is added:
That is some 350 years after the time the Church claims that a Jesus Christ walked the sands of Palestine, and here the true story of Christian origins slips into one of the biggest black holes in history. There is, however, a reason why there were no New Testaments until the fourth century: they were not written until then, and here we find evidence of the greatest misrepresentation of all time.
The latter tidbit comes from Bushby himself and is as insane as most things he writes. In fact, the previous quotes from the Catholic Encyclopedia can be found in the same 2007 article just as Butler presented them.
So what of the claim there are no New Testament documents from earlier than the fourth century. This was indeed true when the Catholic Encyclopedia was published in 1907 but there has been a great deal of archaeology since then – including the important finds of early New Testament papyri throughout the twentieth century. This includes not only papyri from the third century (P1, P4, P5, P9, P12, P13, P15, P20, P22, P23, P27, P28, P29, P30, P32, P39, P40, P45, P46, P47, P48, P49, P53, P64, P65, P66, P69, P70, P75, P77, P80, P87, P91, P95, P101, P103, P106, P107, P108, P109, P111, P113, P114, P118, P119, P121) but even the second (P52, P90, P98, P104). How can one, for example, claim Constantine and his cohorts were writing the Gospels in 325 AD when P75 contained two of those Gospels over a century earlier? Similar results apply with other papyri for everything else in the New Testament.
Most embarrassing is that all of what I have described is readily available both in libraries and online. It is New Testament 101 material and would be known to anyone doing even the most superficial bit of research among New Testament scholars. Yet Butler was oblivious to it and continues to be so if his website is any indication. Needless to say, the quality of the rest of his material is equally inane.