Pliny on Christians ca. 110 CE: Authentic (My view)

A New Account of Christian Origins / pt. 18 I have finished reading Hermann Detering’s chapter “Pliny the Younger—Christian persecution in Bythynia” from his book Falsche Zeugen (“False Witnesses”), and have also surveyed the rather copious literature on this seemingly obscure topic—at least, the literature readily available at my university library and online. While I have immense respect for the late Dr. Detering’s work, I have to disagree with him regarding these two Pliny letters (Bk. 10:96–97). Of course, few things are 100% certain in history, and Detering marshals evidence for his argument that the letters in question are forgeries. Uncharacteristically, however, he used outdated (19th century) references that became obsolete when newer evidence came to light in the early twentieth century. … Continue reading

Pliny on Christians ca. 110 CE: A forgery? (Detering’s view)

A New Account of Christian Origins / pt. 17 Adieu Pliny! June, 2011 by the late Dr. Hermann Detering Translated from the German by R. Salm with light editing for style. Note: In the comments below I play the ‘devil’s advocate’and intentionally give Dr. Detering’s argument a hard time.—R.S. It’s been a good 35 years since I first read the two so-called “Christian letters of Pliny” (Book X, nos. 96 and 97—in English here). At the time, I was—along with other graduate students—sitting in a New Testament seminar whose topic I have forgotten. I do remember the November rain prattling against the windows and, of course, the lecturer Dr. Walther Schmithals, who read the Latin text of the letter to us, amiably … Continue reading

The two Christian messiahs

A New Account of Christian Origins / pt. 16 Some readers may notice that occasional entries on this weblog change after the initial posting. This is because—when new information requires—I go back and revise passages in older posts to conform to new discoveries. I used to keep the older post in an ‘archive’ section of this site, but I rarely do that anymore because my capacity to revise prior entries is limited by time and energy—after all, there are now over 300 posts on this site! If a book ever results from all this material, that will be the time to revise and put this “New Account of Christian Origins” into proper order. Thankfully, I’ve not yet had to take down a … Continue reading

“Marcion” did not exist

A New Account of Christian Origins / pt. 15 On this website six years ago I wrote a series of posts “Questioning the gospel of Marcion.” The thrust of those posts was my novel thesis (not taken up anywhere else, to my knowledge) that there was no “gospel of Marcion”—not as a text, at any rate. My argument still stands, but here I expand it and reject the existence of Marcion himself. “Marcion” was, as I shall describe below, a convenient tool of the Catholics, an invented figure used to establish the (false) priority of their new gospels and epistles and to anathematize all those who believed in the spirit Jesus—which, as we have seen elsewhere, was the dominant paradigm among Jesus … Continue reading

Forgery as a means of Christian survival

A New Account of Christian Origins / pt. 14 “Misinformation works.” — Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky A few nights ago I picked up Bart Ehrman’s book Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew (Oxford, 2003). I have been looking through some of his books of late—not for knowledge so much as to check the current heartbeat of American Christianity—which, unfortunately, is undergoing a frightful irregularity. On the one hand are informed Christians—those who read books, who care (at least a little) about facts, and who may have taken a religion class or two in college. They are the target of Ehrman’s more popular books. On the other hand are the legions of unschooled Christians for … Continue reading

The early (nonexistent) Church Fathers

A New Account of Christian Origins / pt. 13 For hundreds of years scholars have been largely relying on the Church Fathers to reconstruct the history of Christianity. The Fathers tell us when something happened, who did it, what the circumstances were, and also the consequences. Regarding the archheretic Marcion, for example, we learn that he was either a nauclerus (Lat. “ship-owner” or “ship-builder”) or the excommunicated son of a bishop (there are two traditions), that he tried to buy his way into the Church, that he was a disciple of a certain Cerdo, that he had a distinguished disciple named Apelles, that he came to Rome in 144 CE and/or 155 CE (again, there are two traditions), etc. And now let … Continue reading

Encratism and the first-century Jesus religion

A New Account of Christian Origins / pt. 12 To understand the second-century origins of ‘Christ-ianity’ (a religion based on the fleshly, miracle-working Christ), we have to go back and understand the competing forces that eventually split the fellowship. Throughout the first century, as we have seen, the “Christ” did not exist—that awesome figure from Nazareth had not yet been invented. What did exist was belief in the spirit of God, a spirit of wisdom that can save ( –> Jesus, “Savior”), sometimes simply referred to as “the Lord”: 1.    … 2.    I am putting on the love of the Lord.       And His members are with Him,       And I am dependent on them; and He loves me. 3.    For I should not have known how … Continue reading


A New Account of Christian Origins / pt. 11 Paul didn’t exist. I’m surprised it took me so long to arrive at this conclusion, but I’m hardly the first to do so—Bruno Bauer and Edwin Johnson (Antiqua Mater) knew as much in the 1800s, and Hermann Detering more recently. Let’s reason it through, one step at a time: (1) If Jesus of Nazareth didn’t exist (as mythicists quite correctly maintain), then the over-the-top story recounted in the canonical gospels was also invented. (2) But if the gospel storyline was invented, then the setting (time and place) of the canonical Jesus story is arbitrary. (3) In turn, given the arbitrary nature of the setting, and the fictiveness of the story, one must conclude … Continue reading

The “Christ”

A New Account of Christian Origins / pt. 10 The preceding post ended as follows: We can imagine the scene, say, in the gnostic Christian congregation of Philippi, ca. 150 CE. The Reader or First Servant stands before the congregation and says solemnly: “My dear brothers and sisters in Jesus: there is great news! Even as some of us suspected, the full power of God entered into a man about one hundred years ago. I have his story here, and it has just arrived. Let us say a communal prayer of blessing, and then I will read to you The Good News According to Markus.” Stunned, wide-eyed silence. The communal prayer was intoned. And then the First Servant proceeded to read The … Continue reading

The birth of Catholic Christianity

A New Account of Christian Origins / pt. 9 Pre-Catholic Christianity If we could go back nineteen hundred years, to the year 122 CE, we would find no Christians at all—no one whom we would today call a ‘Christian.’ Yet Jesus followers were around, lots of them. But not one of them believed in Jesus of Nazareth—for that figure had not yet been invented. The first century religion of Jesus was much different from the religion that we would recognize today. The many Jesus followers who existed before the mid-second century CE were what we would call ‘gnostics’ and ‘heretics.’ They believed in a savior (in semitic savior is ‘Jesus,’ yeshua), but their savior was an invisible and completely ineffable entity—a clarity … Continue reading