What creates perpetuity? How does history persist? Does history persist? Big—if cryptic—questions…ones that I think are highly debatable. Arguably, there would be no need for archeologists and historians if we were confidently certain of the world’s memoir. History fades and is erased by time, by forgetfulness, by distraction, by war and empiricism, by men who wish to make their past mistakes invisible, as well as men who wish to define, create, and fabricate their own version of history.
One need look no further than the Taliban extremists who have in recent years destroyed the ancient art, architecture, and historical records of past civilizations in order to obliterate any record of their existence outside of the world and religion of the prophet of their own religion. Buddhas hundreds of feet tall carved into mountainsides have been dynamited. Tens-of-thousands of artifacts from the “cradle of civilization” in Iraq’s cultural museums have been smashed or stolen. Attempted genocides of Christians in Syria. The demonization of “the West” in Iran and other Middle Eastern countries. All of these things are current day examples of the [attempted] erasure of historical accuracy.
If such conscious alterations of modern history are occurring right now, they certainly have occurred throughout man’s history on earth as well. Every murder is a form of historical adjustment—thus, Cain is likely the first of these great offenders. (Perhaps this is one of the reasons for his extreme punishment… for trying to re-write God’s creation). Frankly, in a world designed by warrior superiority and military dominance, the conquering nation always defines history. Actions of successful conquest include plunder; elimination of one’s foes; destruction of their art, architecture, and culture; and the right of one’s scribes to write the annals of history.
The Church, as it’s own conquering cultural nation-state (of a higher order), has had reign of its own to define and write history. Not unlike the Taliban, the Catholic Church—as-a religious entity—has particularly been vicious and successful in defining history…to the point of making enemies of historians and scientists who might refute or prove the Church’s version incorrect. (Think of Galileo; think of the Council of Nicea; think of Constantine’s strategic decision to convert to Christianity.)
The Bible is a fascinating document. It is at times a historical record, a book of laws, a song book, a lament, an entertaining storybook, a prescription for communal living, and a prophesy…among other things. It is also contrived. This is not to say that the Bible’s writing were not divinely or spiritually inspired. However, the books that make up the Bible are only a small representation of a much larger body of ancient documents written about Jesus Christ and his followers that were suppressed. Church elders in a faction of the early Church debated and determined which documents (books) would be included in the official Church collection that would make up Church teaching. The remaining documents that didn’t make the “cut” were deemed heretical, and thus destroyed, suppressed, and every attempt was made for their “elimination” from man’s history. Some remained so popular with people that their mythologization eventually became part of unofficial Church doctrine (some of them eventually gaining full indoctrinization, not necessarily in canonical inclusion, but rather in Catholic social teaching through papal letters and exhortations).
The following videos give some example—if sensationalized somewhat—of how different versions of the gospels, different histories of the life of Jesus, were hidden, suppressed, and “lost.” The videos don’t contain any information that a first-year religious studies student wouldn’t be aware of…
So the point of this history of the biblical texts and gospels is… that many people are unaware of the full history of the texts included in the Bible; that there existed a much larger body of texts that were suppressed and of which much attempt was made to eliminate their existence from history; that the loss of such textual history makes for a much less colorful and less distinct picture of historical accuracy (as well as of the characters which the texts concern); that human tastes and attachments to stories help to make them more persistent; and that this overall “story” of the loss and re-discovery of these texts is a pretty fabulous story in-and-of itself!
This is the first in a series of blog entries in which I’ll share some thoughts on how storytelling has shaped history, and the effect of storytelling on our consciousness…how we conceive of our present world and interpolate our possible futures.