This page in brief
The internet is an amazing source of information – we can find out almost anything we want to know with a quick visit to Google. But trust is involved – we have to trust websites to speak honestly about things they actually know.
But what happens when that trust is misplaced? Sometimes webpages lead us astray. We are living in a “post truth” age, people are saying, and wrong ideas can spread virally. And so erroneous and distorted information spreads out and is so often quoted until it can seem like it must be true.
Here is a case in point….
A post truth age?
Tony Bushby is an Australian who wrote 6 books between 2001 and 2008, about New Testament origins and/or the Catholic Church. While doing some research, I came across his 2007 article in Nexus magazine, The Forged Origins of the New Testament.
Many of his claims seem prima facie to be doubtful so I assessed nine specific claims from this article. And all nine pieces of “information” turned out to be false. I’ve listed the spurious statements and the actual facts in the second half of this post, but here is a brief summary:
- In 3 cases, the book he references doesn’t appear to exist.
- In 2 cases the quote he references cannot be found in the books he references.
- In 2 cases he has taken a genuine quote and applied it to a different fact or person.
- In 2 cases the historical/archaeological record contradicts his claim.
So it appears that Tony Bushby has invented apparent facts and distorted genuine information for his own purposes.
Believing what you want to hear?
It isn’t hard to find on the internet people who quote large chunks of Bushby’s writings uncritically and generally without attribution, as if they were fact, for example:
- This 2014 book In His Name, Volume 4 by Christopher Reyes.
- The Painful Truth website.
- Beyond all religion blog.
- Ex Witch Ministries website.
- Comments on blogs and forums – e.g. on Atheist Forums, the Way?, Quora, Network54 and Why Faith? – if you want to find the comments, search the page for words “Bembo” or “forgeries”.
- This interview on Biblioteca Pleyades
- The Lawkeepers and Love for Life websites quote almost all of Bushby’s article.
The most common of the Bushby inventions quoted are the references to Cardinal Bembo, quotes from the Catholic Encyclopedia and information about the Council of Nicaea – all supposedly historically accurate statements about the Catholic Church, but none of them are actually historically true.
Confirmation bias or lack of care?
Some of these are unusual websites, to say the least, but some of them and some of the blog comments appear to be sensible people making a reasonable point. How did it happen?
It is easy to want to find a quick reference to justify our existing opinion. I daresay we have all done it some time. So that may help explain some of this uncritical acceptance of Bushby’s statements. Confirmation bias is the name given to when we believe something because we want it to be true.
But it still surprises me. As a blog author, I hate to write something that is wrong – and I hate even more someone pointing a bad error out to me. So I try to make sure of facts, in several ways:
- Choose websites with known, reputable authors, or authors found trustworthy in the past.
- On any contentious matter, always check out a number of websites from various viewpoints, to see what is generally accepted. Read the extreme viewpoints, but they can often be discarded if they show themselves to be highly biased or just plain silly. Give most weight to the middle ground unless there is good reason not to.
- Go back to the source whenever possible – check the wording and context of quotes.
- Be wary of trusting memory on any important fact – it’s always safer to check!
People on the internet sometimes accuse their opponents of confirmation bias and poor referencing, but the reality is that all viewpoints can do it. So people of all viewpoints need to be wary if we want to stick to the facts.
Lies and deception?
It’s been a popular theme in recent years, on the web, in books and even in movies – the shocking secret origins of christianity revealed for the first time in some new “explosive” exposé of the evil deeds of the Catholic Church in the first few centuries of the christian era. In some cases it is claimed that the church down through the ages has known about these deceptions and concealed them.
But did the Catholic Church really invent Jesus, create legends about his life, write the New Testament which is more fiction than fact, and suppress the truth about the origins of christianity?
I assessed nine of the statements made in the Nexus article (all quotes in red are from the article), and this is what I found. (If anyone reading this finds any mistakes in my assessment, please include this in a comment here, so I can correct the record.)
The erroneous statements in detail
Fictitious resurrection narrative?
“The final chapter of the Gospel of John (21) is a sixth-century forgery, one entirely devoted to describing Jesus’ resurrection to his disciples.”
No historical references to Jesus?
Bushby infers there are no historical references to Jesus in the first three centuries. Frederic Farrar is quoted as saying that there is not “one certain or definite saying or circumstance in the life of the Saviour of mankind … there is no statement in all history that says anyone saw Jesus or talked with him” and Dr Constantin von Tischendorf is quoted as saying “we have no source of information with respect to the life of Jesus Christ other than ecclesiastic writings assembled during the fourth century.”
It turns out that Frederick Farrar did write a Life of Christ in 1874, but this quote didn’t appear when I searched for it there. I can find no book named Codex Sinaiticus by von Tischendorf, as claimed. He discovered the New Testament manuscript named Codex Sinaiticus, but I cannot find that quote anywhere (e.g. the extract The Discovery of the Sinaitic Manuscript doesn’t contain it).
It seems these quotes are the invention of Tony Bushby. In any case, the references, if genuine, would be very old. Current scholarship holds a very different view. For example, New Testament textual critic Bart Ehrman says that ten separate sources within the books included in the New Testament, plus two non-christian sources, all from less than a century from Jesus’ life, provide good historical evidence.
Paul’s epistles were forged?
Regarding Paul’s letters: “Cardinal Bembo (d. 1547), secretary to Pope Leo X (d. 1521), advised his associate, Cardinal Sadoleto, to disregard them, saying, “…. they were introduced on the scene later by a sly voice from heaven” and “the Church admits that the Epistles of Paul are forgeries, saying ‘Even the genuine Epistles were greatly interpolated to lend weight to the personal views of their authors'”.
The reference to Bembo and a book by “A L Collins” containing the quote seem to be an invention. Wikipedia makes no mention of any such letters, nor of the book the quote supposedly comes from. Others on the web have searched for these references and for the author A L Collins, and found nothing.
The second quote about the letters of Paul is a genuine quote from the Catholic Encyclopedia, but it actually refers to St Ignatius, not Paul. This appears to be a deliberate fabrication.
Acts is unhistorical?
St Jerome, one of the early church fathers, is supposed, in a book in the Library of the Fathers, to have said that the book of Acts was “falsely written”.
Christianity was a fourth century construct?
“the construct of Christianity did not begin until after the first quarter of the fourth century, and that is why Pope Leo X (d. 1521) called Christ a “fable” (Cardinal Bembo: His Letters)”
I’m not really sure what this statement means, but, as I’ve already explained, there appears to be no such book and no record of this quote. It appears to be another Bushby invention.
The gospels are not first century documents?
Bushby says that the Catholic Encyclopedia admits that the Gospels “do not go back to the first century of the Christian era”, but this is another misrepresentation. The Catholic Encyclopedia does indeed say this, but it is referring to the titles of the gospels (i.e. the authorship by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), not the existence of the gospels. In fact, official Catholic teaching is that the books of the New Testament “appeared one after another in the space of fifty years, i.e. in the second half of the first century”.
Strange events at the Council of Nicaea?
Bushby (p55) claims that this church council was asked by Constantine to choose a new God for the empire, and after 17 months they had narrowed down to a list of 5 (Caesar, Krishna, Mithra, Horus, Zeus). This and other information about the council are supposedly referenced in God’s Book of Eskra.
God’s Book of Eskra turns out to be part of a larger book named Oahspe, written in the 19th century. It purports to be a new Bible revealed by angelic “Embassadors”, and has no pretensions to being an historical account. I don’t know how much of Bushby’s claims are in that book.
When we turn to history, we find none of this – the Council ran for just one month (not 17), and it never discussed choosing a God (it discussed the theology of Jesus as son of God, the date for Easter, and other matters of church law).
A hard but necessary lesson
So Tony Bushby has made at least nine statements that can be clearly seen to be unsupported by the facts, and some are serious distortions of the truth and of supposed references.
Apparently reasonable websites can print outrageous misinformation. If we want to know truth, we need to be wary of believing what we read on the internet or in books, magazines or newspapers. We need to check everything – including what I have written here. Please check and verify, and let me know if I’ve missed anything.