Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Bizarro Christianity

If there is any subject upon which Mark Steyn writes, and anyone else, and you have to choose which to read, I have some advice. Read Mark Steyn. Okay, that pretty much goes for any situation, anything he writes, anytime. Guess that makes me a fan.

I may have to rethink my “James Lileks is the best writer on the web,” although it in no way slights Lilek’s excellent prose to claim an equal stature for Steyn.

To the point of all this. My friend John at Blogotional links to a Steyn column on The DaVinci Code and the Gospel of Judas. Here’s what Steyn says about the ersatz Gospel:

The latest Bizarro Christ bestseller is the so-called Gospel of Judas, lost for 1,600 years but apparently rediscovered 20 minutes ago, edited by various scholars and now published by the National Geographic Society in Washington. Evidently, National Geographic has fallen on hard times since the days when anthropological studies of remote tribes were a young man's only readily available source of pictures of naked women. So I hope this new wrinkle works out for them. Renowned betrayer Judas Iscariot, you'll recall, was the disciple who sold out Jesus. Only it turns out he didn't! He was in on the plot! The betrayal was all part of the plan! For, as the Gospel of Judas exclusively reveals, Christ came to him and said, "Rudolph, with your nose so bright . . ." No, wait, that's a later codex. Christ said to Judas that he "will exceed all" the other disciples because it had fallen to him to "sacrifice the man that clothes me."

Steyn notes that the Gospel of Judas strives for the same air of pseudo-scholarship that pervades The Da Vinci Code. He quotes the first sentence of the Gospel of Judas:

"The secret account1 of the revelation2 that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot during a week3 three days before he celebrated Passover4."

Yet when read, the footnotes offer nothing more than synonyms or render a phrase with an alternative but completely equivalent translation. Steyn explains a likely purpose of this technique:

On the face of it, sticking a bunch of speed bumps into every sentence would not normally be considered helpful to the reader. But once again the point is tonal: it's to remind you, relentlessly, that this is "authentic" -- it was actually written by long-time Jesus sidekick Judas! Well, okay, it wasn't. It's a fourth-century Coptic text by some guy, but it's believed to be pretty close to the original second-century Greek text. Okay, Judas wasn't around in the second century, but the fellows who wrote his "Gospel" likely got it from a friend of a friend of a friend of his. As Dr. Simon Gathercole of the University of Aberdeen told my old pal Dalya Alberge in the London Times, the alleged Gospel of Judas "contains a number of religious themes which are completely alien to the first-century world of Jesus and Judas, but which did become popular later, in the second century AD. An analogy would be finding a speech claiming to be written by Queen Victoria, in which she talked about The Lord Of The Rings and her CD collection."

Steyn’s beef with these aging heresies are the same that I have. They beguile a public already too biblically ignorant and illiterate. They lead non-believers further astray. These are not Christian works, nor are they true, nor do they in any meaningful way refute what are commonly understood as the facts of the Bible.

Disbelieve if you will, but not on the basis of old deceptions delightfully packaged to make their authors and promoters fabulously rich. Dismiss faith as personally unnecessary or unwanted, but don’t try to have a theological argument (or anything approaching one) using such fabrications. It’s like selling fake religious artifacts or indulgences.

Steyn makes a similar observation, and a fine suggestion, if you ask me:

It's interesting that so many non-churchgoing readers are interested in Jesus, disheartening that they're so Biblically illiterate. Still, given the success he's had dismissing the premise of the New Testament as a fraud, perhaps Dan Brown could try writing a revisionist biography of acclaimed prophet Muhammad. Just a thought.

More than just a thought, now there’s an idea.

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