If you’ve seen a picture of this book on the internet, you may have been taken in by a hoax. But you might be surprised: the hoax probably isn’t what you think it is. The book is probably not a forgery.
A short while back, the government of Turkey told the world that they seized a book from smugglers that appears to be about 1500 years old. The book claims, among other things, that Jesus wasn’t crucified, was not resurrected, and was a prophet but not the “son of God”. For those of you who do not know, this is essentially the Islamic view of Jesus: great guy, definitely a prophet… but not divine. Experts in Tehram say it seems like an authentic 1500+ year old book; the Vatican says it is probably a forgery from the middle ages.
Then internet freaked out. “1500 Year Old Bible Confirms That Jesus Christ Was Not Crucified!” say the conspiracy-theorist websites. Atheist or “skeptical” websites begin their articles with phrases like “Much to the dismay of the Vatican…” and say they hope this discovery will “cure” people of blind faith. Youtube proclaims “Jesus Christ Was Not Crucified, Vatican In Awe!!!” and Facebook says, “REAL OR FAKE? YOU DECIDE!”
All of these headlines are wrong.
In fact, even neutral-seeming headlines such as “1500 year old Bible claims that Jesus was not crucified” are wrong. For one thing, the book isn’t a full “Bible” (i.e. that thing that comes in various versions and various languages, but generally begins with the famous phrase “In the beginning…”). It is merely a book that is written as a first-hand account of the goings-on during the later part of Jesus’ life, told from the point of view of Barnabas, one of Jesus’ disciples. That makes it a “Gospel” and not a “Bible”.
But that’s just a technicality. The real “hoax” going on in these new stories is the idea that this book—even if authentic—is something new and earth-shattering. Many people don’t know this, but there were literally dozens (if not hundreds) of documents written in between the years 1 and 400 or so about the life of Jesus. These include the “Gnostic Gospels” as well as other writings, such as the Gospel of Barnabas: the text that is claimed to be contained in the above book.
These books are “authentic” in the sense that they were truly written around the same time as the “official” books of the Bible. They may even have been written by the people whom the books claim they were written by. And these books say some of the most cracked-out weird-ass shit you’ve ever seen. So let’s look at some examples.
[NOTE: My two primary sources are Bart D. Ehrman’s Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make It into the New Testament , and Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are by the same author. Both of these books are written in a very accessible way, and you should pick them up if you are interested at all in this topic.]
The Gospel of Peter (a.k.a. The Talking Cross Gospel)
It was written some time around or before the year 100. For a while it was considered an official part of the Bible in some parts of the early Christian church.
What’s weird about it? After Jesus is crucified and put into the tomb, two angels who appear as young men who are as tall as mountains come down, roll away the stone, go in and bring out Jesus. Oh yeah and when Jesus comes out of the tomb, he is even taller than the angels are! His head reaches up “above the sky”. That’s probably about 8,000 feet, right?
Then a voice comes from the skies and says “Have you preached to those who are asleep?” Who do you think replies? Jesus? No. The angels? No.
The cross on which Jesus was crucified pipes up and says: “Yes!”
“34 Early in the morning, as the Sabbath dawned, a crowd came from Jerusalem and the surrounding area to see the sealed crypt. 35 But during the night on which the Lord’s day dawned, while the soldiers stood guard two by two on their watch, a great voice came from the sky. 36 They saw the skies open and two men descend from there; they were very bright and drew near to the tomb. 37 The stone cast before the entrance rolled away by itself and moved to one side; the tomb was open and both young men entered. 38 When the solders saw these things, they woke up the centurion and the elders—for they were also there on guard. 39 As they were explaining what they had seen, they saw three men emerge from the tomb, two of them supporting the other, with a cross following behind them. 40 The heads of the two reached up to the sky, but the head of the one they were leading went up above the skies. 41 And they heard a voice from the skies, “Have you preached to those who are asleep?” 42 And a reply came from the cross, “Yes.”” —Gospel of Peter, 34-42
At some point the Christian church decided not to include this as part of the Bible.
The Gospel of Thomas (a.k.a Pro-Cyborg Jesus)
This is an old collection of “saying of Jesus” found in Egypt, translated from Greek into Coptic. Experts know these sayings have been around since around the year 100, if not earlier.
It’s a weird little book, not following the normal format of a Gospel. It contains no stories of miracles, just little sayings. It claims to have been written by the apostle Thomas. It has a lot of weird sayings that make absolutely no sense.
This book is sometimes called the “Secret Teachings of Jesus”, although they seem to be less secret and more just… odd.
13 Jesus said to his disciples, “Compare me to someone and tell me whom I am like.” Simon Peter said to him, “You are like a righteous angel.” Matthew said to him, “You are like a wise philosopher.” Thomas said to him, “Master, my mouth is wholly incapable of saying whom you are like.” Jesus said, “I am not your master. You are drunk.”
I admit it: I like the idea of Jesus fishing for compliments. Even more when his response makes him out to be kind of a bitch. My favorite from this book, however, is this little ditty from The Lord:
22. Jesus said to them, “When you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, and when you make the male and the female one and the same, so that the male not be male nor the female female; and when you fashion eyes in place of an eye, and a hand in place of a hand, and a foot in place of a foot, and a likeness in place of a likeness; then will you enter [the kingdom].”
Now, there are a few ways we could look at this. But when taken all together, it tells us that when there is no difference between males and females, when we create artificial eyes and hands and feet, we will enter heaven. I’m pretty sure Jesus is saying we should all become cyborgs.
The Epistle of the Apostles (a.k.a. The Bad Prophet)
According to Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make It into the New Testament by Bart Ehrman, the name “Epistle of the Apostles” is a bit of a misnomer: “It is not really an epistle, but a Gospel. The book does start out as a letter, written by the apostles to the churches around the world; but its content involves a conversation between Jesus and his eleven remaining disciples after his resurrection—Judas having already hanged himself.”
The book was written some time in the 100’s A.D. or so, and in it the apostles ask Jesus when he will return to judge the world. Jesus makes a very specific prediction:
17 And we said to him, “O Lord, how many years yet?” And he said to us, “When the hundred and fiftieth year is completed, between pentecost and passover will the coming of my Father take place.” And we said to him, “O Lord, now you said to us, ‘I will come,’ and then you said, ‘he who sent me will come.’ ”
Jesus was a very good man. A great man, even. He may have even been a great Son of God.
But when it comes to specific dates and times, apparently he was a very bad prophet.
The Infancy Gospel of Thomas (a.k.a. Smallville Jesus)
Jesus was a kid once. The “official” books of the Bible don’t really talk about it. But there is a book that does. It claims to have been written by “Thomas, the Israelite” although it is not clear if this is meant to be Judas Thomas or someone else.
The book was circulating at least as early as the early 100’s A.D., possibly before then. According to this book, Jesus was a bad boy. A very bad boy.
4 Somewhat later he was going through the village, and a child ran up and banged into his shoulder. Jesus was aggravated and said to him, “You will go no further on your way.” And right away the child fell down and died. […] The parents of the dead child came to Joseph and blamed him, saying “Since you have such a child you cannot live with us in the village. Or teach him to bless and not to curse—for he is killing our children!”
I guess it’s sort of like the “Smallville” stories of young Superman… sometimes you have to go through a bad phase to motivate the later goodness of the adult.
The Gospel of Philip (a.k.a. God Fucked Up)
If there was ever a book that the internet would report with the catchphrase “THE VATICAN IN AWE!”, it should be this one. It appears to have been compiled in the third century, and is a list of philosophical reflections that were supposedly collected and put down by the apostle Philip.
Here are some of my faves. As today’s Buzzfeed style headlines would say: Prepare to be amazed!
3 Those who inherit the dead are dead and inherit the dead. Those who inherit living things are alive, and they inherit the living and the dead. Those who are dead inherit nothing. For how will the one who is dead inherit? If the dead one inherits the living he will not die, but the dead one will live more. […]
17 Some say Mary was impregnated by the Holy Spirit. They err. They do not know what they say. When did a woman become pregnant by a woman? […] The Lord would not have said, “My Father who is in Heaven,” if he had not had another Father [emphasis added]. But he would have simply said: “My Father.” […]
99 The world came into being through an error. For he who created it intended to create it imperishable and immortal. He failed to attain his hope. For the world is not imperishable and neither is he who created the world.
So, to sum up: Dead people can’t inherit anything, duh; Jesus really did have a (mortal) father; and God made an “oopsie” when he created the world.
A quick reminder of why we’re going through these fun examples: The fact that an ancient book has been discovered that says things that contradict the Bible, and even things that are wild and outrageous, IS NOTHING NEW.
That’s the “hoax” you were taken in by. Even if the book is actually from the time period it says it is from, and even if it was written by an apostle, the fact that it says weird shit just isn’t a big deal. There are lots of those books out there, and we’ve known about them for a long time.
There is an episode of The West Wing (“The Fall’s Gonna Kill You”) where the administrative assistant (Donna) for one of the main characters (Josh) finds out that a Chinese satellite is falling out of the sky and is going to hit the earth. She gets very worried, and the rest of the work staff around her decide to have a little fun with her. They don’t explain to her that this kind of thing happens all the time, it won’t cause any damage, and it doesn’t mean anything. So she spends almost the entire episode thinking that the end of the world is nigh, and doesn’t understand why everyone else isn’t more upset.
To me, the way the internet has been reporting on this book is much the same thing. You might call it a hoax—like the little game that Donna’s co-workers were playing on her, taking advantage of her naïveté—except for one problem:
The people who wrote those articles on the internet probably didn’t know any better.