THE ULTIMATE HERESIES PAGE by Yuri Kuchinsky _An Introduction_ I have been studying biblical history for great many years. For about three years I have been active on the Internet in various biblical history discussion groups, taking part in discussion of current issues in the field with many professional scholars, many of them at the top of their field. All this time, I've considered myself as belonging to the liberal wing of the biblical studies community. Generally, our biblical scholarship professionals can be broadly divided into the liberals and the conservatives. The liberals, the broad mainstream of our academic community, are secular scholars who take great pains to stipulate that their scholarship and their faith, if any, should be separate. While many of them _are_ Christian believers of some sort or another, they nevertheless accept that the historical scholarship should be scientific, and should not suffer any interference from personal faith, which, of course, cannot really be understood as having much to do with science. Perhaps the ultimate expression of the liberal wing of biblical scholarship at this time is THE JESUS SEMINAR, a group of prominent scholars who investigate the problem of the Historical Jesus from the standpoint of scientific objectivity. (Click here to go to THE JESUS SEMINAR site) The mainstream liberal scholarship has broadly accepted certain facts of biblical history, such as: - the authors of our New Testament gospels are unknown; their current names were given to the gospels long after they were composed, and perhaps even somewhat arbitrarily. Where the gospels were composed is likewise unknown, although Syria is strongly suspected as the place of composition for most of them. The gospels themselves are composed over time based on previous sources, such as the "Q gospel". Certain parts of some gospels betray extensive editing over time. - the historical accounts of the New Testament are not really historical as such, but rather they constitute, for the most part, legitimations of Christian faith of the later generations of believers -- the manuals of Christian instruction. Or, to put it in other words, the biblical histories can be considered by and large as "pious fictions". - our biblical narratives are often confusing and contradictory. Historical critical method is necessary in order to try to determine the real history of the Christian movement. And often this can be done but imperfectly, as our reliable sources are fragmentary and few. The conservative wing of the biblical scholarship are of course the confessional scholars. While they also, for the most part, accept the necessity of scholarly objectivity in their work, or at least claim to do so, their work is much more about faith. Their writings are apologetic in nature, i.e. they tend to defend the traditional interpretations of Scripture handed down to the believers by the Church, or by the founders of their denominations. These are perhaps a minority in the academic community. It is curious how the general public is often unaware that the biblical studies in our time are mostly the preserve of liberals and agnostics. Indeed, the typical biblical scholar that I know is a secular humanist, and is not really interested in discussing the matters of faith too much. As I said, for many years I've considered myself as belonging to the mainstream liberal-secular tradition, the tradition of the Jesus Seminar, of Dominic Crossan, Burton Mack, and such other prominent authors. I have been rather sceptical about the conservative traditionalists; these children of the dogma appeared to me as rehashing endlessly the faith formulas that have been rehashed for hundreds of years previously. Their commitment to the historical study of the Bible, and to the scientific method, if any, always seemed to me skin-deep. While I still respect greatly the work of the liberal scholars, I have now come to the conclusion that these two camps, as I've perceived them, for the most part, are really just one camp. I've come to the conclusion that far from following the scientific method as they profess to, the mainstream liberal scholarship has really created for itself a new set of dogmas that, when looked at closely, are quite comparable to the faith commitments of the conservative scholars. So what are these "ultimate biblical heresies" that I'm talking about? Well, the main one, it seems to me, is the myth of the "monolithic unity of our texts". Almost all contemporary scholars, whether liberal or conservative, accept broadly the principle of the "monumental textual unity" of the books of the New Testament. Yes, there are some exceptions, but these are few and far in between. Perhaps it is only with the Gospel of John that the situation may be more nuanced. The view that it is of a more composite nature is quite widespread. While our scholars accept rather broadly that John betrays much editing and interpolation, we're very far from any sort of a consensus on how it was written over time. It is also accepted that the endings of Mark (there are believed to be perhaps three of them in various manuscripts) are problematic. But this is about it. Otherwise, it is broadly assumed that, for the most part, the texts of the gospels as we have them are "monolithic unities". They were composed all in one piece, and remained "textually frozen" up to our time. This assumption, I believe, is grievously wrong, especially in the case of Mark's and Luke's Gospels. And now, we get to the Pauline writings, a very substantial part of the New Testament. The 14 Epistles that the New Testament itself attributes to Paul can generally be divided into three groups. There are the 7 epistles that are generally seen as genuine writings of Paul; they are Rom, 1 Cor, 2 Cor, Gal, 1 Thes, Phil, Phlm. At the other end of this spectrum, there are the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tm, 2 Tm, Ti) that very few, if any, commentators accept as genuinely Pauline. These are certainly the work of Paul's followers. (Of course, there are still some conservative commentators who believe that all the 14 supposedly Pauline Epistles were in fact authored by Paul, but these are very few indeed). And in the middle, there's a bit of a grey area. Epistles to the Hebrews, Colossians, and Ephesians, and the 2 Thes, are mostly seen by scholars as deutero-Pauline (i.e. written by the followers of Paul), but there are still some seemingly competent scholars who refuse to consider them so. Some good arguments can be made that parts of this middle group may indeed contain certain authentic passages borrowed from some genuine Pauline letters that did not survive in their entirety. In any case, at this time, in my experience, something like 99% of biblical scholars, both conservative and liberal, accept that the Historical Paul himself was the author of these seven epistles: Rom, 1 Cor, 2 Cor, Gal, 1 Thes, Phil, Phlm. It is my view that in this area especially the liberal consensus is completely off base. The belief in the authenticity of the 7 "genuine letters of Paul" _in their entirety_ is, it seems to me, as much an item of faith as the belief in the Immaculate Conception. And recently I have found on the Net quite a few scholars who agree with me on this. Please visit their site. This is the website that has some of the really radical biblical criticism. It is so radical, few people even know about it yet. (Click here to go to The Journal of Higher Criticism site at Drew University.) So what -- some might say. Paul himself did not write these Epistles, his followers did -- big deal. Well, it is a big deal. In the study of early Christianity it is a very big deal indeed. Because the Pauline literature is generally supposed to be written in the early 50s of our era, and thus it comprises the earliest Christian writings we possess. (The Gospels, Mark the earliest among them, are believed to have been written at least 20 years later.) And so, a very great deal hinges on when these Pauline writing were really written. Pick up any book dealing with early Christian history and see for yourself how much hinges on the reliability of the information found in the Pauline writings. If, as I propose, many of the passages in these 7 letters were authored and interpolated in the second century, long after Paul himself passed off from the scene, much in our understanding of early Christianity will need to be revised. Anyone familiar with modern biblical New Testament interpretations will know that all modern scholars, both liberal and conservative alike, always quote Paul's writings without any second thoughts in regards to whether or not the passages quoted are really authentic. This is what I mean by scholarship based on faith rather than science. The second item I would like to bring up for discussion here is the true nature of the Gospel of Mark. Mark is our earliest Christian gospel. It provided the foundation for the writing of the other two Synoptic gospels, Matthew and Luke. It is generally accepted by both the conservative and the liberal scholars alike that Mark is a textual unity (with the exception of the endings, on which there are a few dissenting voices among scholars). The liberal consensus seems to be that Mark was written all in one piece sometime around 70 AD. This, I believe is highly questionable. I believe that the earlier, and a substantially different, version of Mark, what I call the proto-Mark (pMark), circulated widely in early Christian communities. At a later stage, this early version was substantially reworked and expanded to result in our present-day canonical Mark. How exactly, and why, this process happened is a very complex matter, and I will deal with this later. The answers in this area are certainly not all clear. But I have no doubt in my mind that this basically was what happened. None of what I said above is _really_ new. Detailed studies in this area are available. And yet none of those belonging to the contemporary biblical world (I mean something like 99.9%) have heard of any of this. Of this, I'm pretty sure -- for one thing, my experience on the Internet has given me a very good opportunity to gauge academic opinions on a wide variety of subjects. All these theories are so obscure that even the professional scholars of the Pauline literature, and of Mark, people who studied these matters all their lives, and wrote books on this -- even these scholars wouldn't know what I'm taking about right now. This is because the studies that I referred to above have been done, to a large extent, nearly a hundred years ago. Yes, how easily we assume that the progress in scholarship is always linear and direct... How easily are we seduced by this evolutionary idea that today scholars know more than they did yesterday, and that, likewise, tomorrow they will know more than they know today. I wish it were always so... Whatever the case may be, I have good reasons to believe that in biblical studies a substantial "foray into the wilderness" has taken place in the last couple or so of the scholarly generations. And our mainstream biblical scholarship is still out there, chasing up on those fleeting visions and the mirages of the desert... (Of course, another example of such a "wrong track" of academic scholarship can be provided by my research in the area of transoceanic cultural contacts in ancient times -- the other major parts of my two websites. You don't have to take my word for it, go to those files and see for yourself, if interested. It is well known that the academic scholarship of only 30 years ago or so was much more receptive to these ideas, compared to the climate prevailing in this field today.) [Later addition to this article (April, 2000) -- It seems like in the last year or so, the ice started to crack in American archaeology. An awful lot of new research in this area has now begun to appear. See my webpage for details.] I have come to this conclusion about contemporary liberal biblical scholarship after I discovered the work of the great French biblical scholar Alfred Loisy. How this discovery took place is perhaps traceable in the Crosstalk exchanges available on this webpage. Everything started with the discussion of the earliest versions of the eucharist (the Lord's Supper) in the New Testament. For some time, I've inclined to the view that the "Jewish type of the eucharist", found in the Didache, an early Christian manual of instruction, is very early. This eucharistic liturgy, or at least the parts of it that can be considered as the most ancient, talks about the sharing of the Communion in a way that is quite different from what we find in the canonicals. Eating the Host, in this version, stands for the future hope of humanity, for the regathering of the humanity in a better and happier Heavenly world. This version of the eucharist does not mention the rather morbid idea of celebrating the death of the Lord, and of consuming his flesh. I knew all this before, but I have never pursued the matter beyond this until recently. My Crosstalk discussions in the Fall of 1997 moved me to examine in detail the various versions of the eucharist found in the New Testament, and to review the scholarly debates in this area. What I discovered was that there are two basic types of eucharist in the New Testament, the Markan (this one being quite close to the Didache eucharist), and the Lukan. And then there's the version of the eucharist in Paul's 1 Cor 11. On closer inspection, this one was amazingly close to the Lukan version. Was it possible that the writer of Luke copied his eucharist from Paul? But the scholars believe it very unlikely that Luke knew the writings of Paul! Or was it Paul who copied his eucharist version from Luke? But it is generally believed that Luke was written much later than Paul... So we have a conundrum here. One answer to this is to suppose that the 1 Cor 11 eucharist passage was really not authored by Paul. Could this passage be a later liturgical formula, possibly borrowed from Luke (or from a common source), that some later editor inserted into the 1 Cor, an authentic Pauline Epistle? This was an answer that soon suggested itself to me. Seemed like a logical idea. So I went to the library to look up the standard commentaries on this Epistle. Surely someone should have suggested this idea before? Was I the first one to think of this? I somehow doubted it, since the idea seemed pretty obvious to me... But to my serious surprise, my initial investigations drew a blank. None of the standard commentaries that I consulted seemed to be aware of such a possibility. Mystified, I delved deeper into more commentaries. And this is where I came across the work of Alfred Loisy on the eucharist. His name came up in a footnote, and he indeed suggested the possibility that the 1 Cor 11:24,25 verses were interpolated. Eureka! This, for me, was the beginning of a new journey indeed. I was aware of this scholar previously; his name still comes up in footnotes now and then, but only in a very cursory fashion. There was some big controversy with the Vatican. He got into some hot water way back when, almost a 100 years ago. That's as far I was aware of the existence of Alfred Loisy. And now it seemed like Loisy, back in the 20s and 30s, managed to figure out these troublesome textual relationships quite well, and explained all these things rather adequately. Of course I started to read more of Loisy at that point. And the more I read him, the more I liked him. And so, the idea for my new big research project was born... In this Introduction to my latest research, I only outline in the briefest way the process that led me to this new course in my biblical research. Much more needs to be said about Loisy, his life, and all his many theories. In his time, he wrote and published dozens of books. Some of the most important ones were translated into English, but they are all out of print at this time. (Only two of his books are in print currently, and these are not the ones where you would find much about his theories on the Pauline writings, or on the Gospel of Mark.) Something about his theories can be found in these Crosstalk postings. But my main work of bringing his research back to light, and of making his ideas available to modern readers, is still ongoing. I will be uploading my writings here by and by. I hope my book, when it is ready, will find a good publisher. But in any case, much of my research will be made available on my webpage. Best wishes to all, Yuri.Click here to go one level up in the directory.