Just as modern scientists are certain that humankind evolved from lower life forms so too are critical scholars certain that the Bible is a product of an evolutionary process of its own. How else can one explain how the greatest god in heaven (Gen. 14:18-22 ) became the "only god in heaven" in the later books of the Bible? And is there any other way to explain how the cold, dark and dreary underworld of Sheol became the fiery underworld of Hades except as a process of theological evolution?
In fact, it was the setting of Sheol on fire by certain radical Jews who were influenced by the Greek concept of Hades that was instrumental in bringing the evolution of Judaism to a grinding halt. The Jews believed that the ghosts of everyone who had ever lived were in Sheol, including all of their saints. The notion that the whole place was on fire was pure insanity. They canonized the Old Testament books, bringing Jewish evolution to an end.
It was the radical schismatics who now carried on the evolutionary process. They focused on the Messianic prophecies and added a new mission to the Christ's "list of things to do when I get to earth." That new item was "get the good people out of Hades." How the Messiah would accomplish this was heavily debated throughout the intertestamental period.
Any and all claimants to the Messianic crown (John the Baptist for one) were blown out of the water by the shrewd promoters of Jesus of Nazareth. His movement took the name "Christianity" and began its own evolutionary process.
Convincing a meaningful number of people that an ordinary mortal had been the Messiah required a truly hard-sell effort. Accomplishing it required that Jesus be promoted as something far above the ordinary mortal. Rumors of miraculous acts performed by him were soon circulating on his behalf. Almost a century would pass before the Gospel writers would record these legends. By that time, the stories about his supernatural deeds had been so expanded and had been repeated so often that his claim to Messiahship was secure.
But stories of Jesus' miraculous exploits continued to be invented long after the Gospels were written, and each new story seemed intentionally designed to surpass the last in its incredibility. Many of these stories were written down and were considered by early Christians to be as divinely inspired as any of the books of the Bible in our present canon. Many were read at church services as regularly as we read from the Gospels in today's services.
And still the legends grew. Even as new books were written, the church fathers wrangled over which of them were "authoritative" and which were "spurious." It was not until early in the fourth century that a catalogue of New Testament writings similar to those in the present canon was first suggested to be authentic by Eusebius of Caesarea.
Deifying Jesus had been essential to Christianity, but somewhere along the line, the evolutionary process that had made him bigger than life had to be halted lest he become a transparent collection of superhuman cliches. The little white lies that had laid the snowy blanket of Christianity were becoming a full-blown blizzard threatening to wipe out the whole movement.
So the evolutionary process had gone too far. Eusebius and other church fathers realized that a bit of "devolution" was called for. Thus, books that contained creative history so overly exuberant as to be immediately transparent were expunged from the canon. As it turned out, that included practically everything written after c. 150 B. C.
What I have said so far might sound like unsubstantiated hypothesizing from a notorious Bible-hater, but I would counter that you can see the substance of my argument by examining some of the expunged books for yourself. When you've seen the incredible proportion of the lies told in the latest of them and follow the process back to the earliest of them (the Gospels themselves) you will recognize that they too contain similar untruths with similar intents.
It is an eye-opening exercise that will impress even a "true Christian" with how far early Christians were willing to go to inflate the image of their Messiah. Here are just a few examples.
As a boy, Jesus was playing on a river bank on the Sabbath. Another boy came along and saw young Jesus making fish pools and became righteously indignant over Jesus' breaking of the Sabbath laws. The boy set about destroying the pools, whereupon Jesus struck him dead. In the same chapter, Jesus struck another boy dead for bumping into him while running in the street (I Infancy 19).
After dying on the cross, Jesus descended into hell. There he defeated Death, Satan, and the Prince of Hell. He then took the saints with him to Paradise (Nicodemas 16-19). [One can only wonder how anyone was expected to believe that this was an eye-witness account.]
When Herod ordered the murder of the infants, Elizabeth, Mary's cousin, fled with her baby, John the Baptist. Finding no place to hide, she said a prayer to God. Immediately a whole mountain split open, and Elizabeth and her baby hid inside under the protection of an angel (Protoevangelion 16).
After Jesus' death, Pilate began to worry that he might have killed the real Messiah. He went to the temple to have the scribes examine the Scriptures. Having the same worry, the scribes had already consulted their writings. Sure enough, there was proof in the Old Testament that Jesus was the Messiah (Nicodemus 22).
The passage cited as this proof was Exodus 25:19 , "And they shall make an ark of shittim wood: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof, and a cubit and a half the height thereof." The scribes had interpreted this as a prophecy that five thousand five hundred years (a thousand years per cubit) after the creation of Adam, the Christ would come.
Obviously, this author was no mathematician. According to the complete biblical genealogy, the number of years from Adam to Jesus was just slightly more than 4,000. So if we accept the dimensions of the ark of the covenant as a prophecy in the manner reckoned by these scribes, the true Messiah could not have arrived until several centuries after the time Jesus allegedly lived.
Fundamentalists decry the use of the "lost books" as a tool for disputation of the canonical books. They claim that God himself inspired information in the New Testament canon (a distasteful concession fundamentalists are forced to make to canonical selections made by the Catholic Church). But they should take a lesson from what every spy and detective knows: you can learn an awful lot from what you find in a person's trash.
(T. Brett Bottger, Bible Origins Research Institute, 5938 South Albany Avenue, Chicago, IL 60629.)
Editor's Note: According to ages given in the
genealogies of Genesis
, there were 1,656 years from the time of Adam's creation
to Noah's flood. The postdiluvian genealogies of Genesis 11
list 297 years from the flood to the birth of Abraham, who
was100 years old when Isaac was born (Gen. 21:5
). Isaac was 60 years old when Jacob wasborn (Gen. 25:26
), and Jacob was 130 years old when Joseph presented him to
Pharaoh shortly after the Israelite migration into Egypt (Gen. 47:9
). Hence, 2,243 years passed from Adam to the descent into
Egypt. The Israelites sojourned in Egypt 430 years (Exodus12:40
), and Solomon, in the fourth year of his reign, began to
build the Temple 480 yearsafter the Israelite exodus (1 Kings 6:1
). Therefore, the Bible's own chronology teaches that 3,153
years transpired from Adam to the fourth year of Solomon's reign,
when construction on the temple began. Bible chronologists assign
930 B.C. as the year of Solomon's death (see SOLOMON, Eerdmans
Bible Dictionary, 1987, p. 959). Since Solomon reigned
for 40years (2
), construction on the temple would have begun 36 years earlier
in 966B. C., so if the 966 years that separated the fourth year
of Solomon's reign from the birth ofJesus are added to the above
3,153 years, we have only 4,119 years. Since Jesus was about33
when he was allegedly crucified, we see that Bible chronology
allows for only 4,152 yearsfrom Adam to the crucifixion. Hence,
Bottger was exactly right in saying that the temple scribes and
the author of the apocryphal book Nicodemus were poor mathematicians.