I received a personal e-mail in response to an article I published on this blog. I wish the letter had come here (rather than to my private e-mail account) so I could address it for everyone. But the contents of the e-mail are noteworthy, and I am grateful that the author took time to write it. What that author wrote is a response to my line (in italics, below):
“The myth of the cross does not appear in Christian lore until the fourth century CE.”
But you might want to read the first Apology of Justin Martyr, which can be found numerous places on the Web. Here is one:
Since it is addressed to the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius, it was written between 150 and 155 CE.
Not only is this work full of references to the cross, it has long been of interest to freethinkers because many of Justin’s arguments are in the vein of, “we ALSO have a crucified savior, so we aren’t that different from you non-Christians.”
I am always grateful when someone replies, regardless if it is to praise or damn me, for true scholarship requires peer review and to know all opinions, reflect and research on them, and either acknowledge the opinions as better than my own, or to gently offer other information to substantiate what I wrote. My initial reply to this patient person of goodwill was:
I appreciate your response. However, the editions we have of Justin Martyr are not the originals (especially the First Apology) written in 151-160 CE, and while the “cross” does appear frequently (especially Chapter 55) it is coupled with numerous historical inaccuracies as in chapter 60 on Moses being borrowed by Plato; but much of this matches bishop Eusebius’ Praepartio Evengelica II.571f. “Crux” appears in fifth century copies of Justin which is more in keeping with torment by hanging (abi in malam crucem) which even the one-time Christian Tertullian used in reference to a gallows; but, third century scrolls show “transversus” rather than “crura” (of a person/people crucified). The main problem here is that Justin’s writings are in Latin, while the scriptural accounts are in Greek and not all were completed thus disabling Justin’s Defense or “Apology”.
The original Greek text in the Gospels (all) is stauros which means “stake.” Latin redactions appear as crux and crucis. But even Justin the Martyr confuses this (in later editions) with the Hebrew pereq which means “crossways” (chapter 60), which is a juxtaposition of gods (Justin uses the singular format) in the universe but universe was not a common term and then not as we understand today. Universe in Latin is universum, mundus, universitas which is closer to “beloved [in universum]” or “the whole [universitas]” as defined in Cicero, while “mundum” is “earth” or “world”.
What I am proposing in my forthcoming book is the much of what the “Ancient Fathers” wrote are actually redactions from the 4th and 5th century and made to appear as if written in the first century CE. There numerous “Christian Classic Libraries” online (e.g. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.viii.ii.lv.html
) but they either give a rendition or repeat a translation by a clergyman–but as with the NIV, which most biblical critics agree, there are addenda, amendments, add-ons, and glosses to cover “missing” parts, words, or phrases to make contemporary translations more agreeable.
… I have spent a lifetime discovering things I did not believe exist or was taught, and in blind faith, accepted as existing. …I find that reading original documents (some published by E J Brill of Leiden, others which can be ordered for various fees from “repositories” etc) and reading redactions and redactions of redactions, has changed my thinking. Back in the 1960s I actually wrote a thesis defending the Petrine Doctrine–which I firmly reject now. I have found too many errors (based on my own scholarship and interest in ancient languages) in Justin Martyr to accept the online editions or texts published in the last 200 years. Yes, I do own the entire Patrologia edited by Migne (all languages published in the 19th century), and I find even typos that missed readers. My book is to point out these problems.
Thank you for the kindness of writing. Best to you and your group….
Justin Martyr frequently cited the Old Testament (OT)–but he knew neither Hebrew nor Aramaic. While most of the OT was originally written in Hebrew, there are a couple of small sections that were written in Aramaic (Ezra 4:8-6:18, 7:12-26; Daniel chapters 2-7, and one verse in Jeremiah), Justin Martyr neither knew nor used Aramaic or Hebrew (although he did, later in life, study Hebrew with a Jew who converted to Christianity).
Aramaic is similar but not identical to Hebrew. Justin makes no reference to it, but it would have been the language of Jesus–which means the sayings of Jesus are redactions by later writers. Jesus was not educated in Greek or Latin, and the parables and prayers are in Greek.
Some contemporary scholars claim that Church Father Papias argued that at least the Gospel of Matthew was written in Aramaic. Papias wrote: “So then Matthew composed the oracles [in Aramaic “oracles” would be “sayings”] in the Hebrew [which can be, provisionally, translated as Aramaic] language, and each interpreted them as he could.”
Justin calls on the Gospels to support his theories–but Justin did not know early Greek and thus did not know specific words that he incorrectly used to build his own theology. The Gospels were favourite citations, but the authorship of the Gospels is not even discussed. Matthew was “a tax collector”. To engage in such a business, Matthew would have had to known Aramaic to be able to speak to the Jews, but he also would had to have known Greek (and maybe Latin) to have spoken to the Roman officials. How literate he was is a point of debate–with most evangelicals claiming that Matthew was a key writer (of the Gospel of Matthew).
The Apostle “Luke” is considered not only the author of the Gospel that carries his name, but also of the “Acts of the Apostles” or “Acts” and in Acts, Luke salutes or greets “most excellent Theophilus.” (Acts 23:26; 24:30) But Luke was not alone, for Philip, one of the apostles, was able to converse with Greeks, and according to the Gospel of John, he brought Greeks to Andrew and then to Jesus (John 12:20-23).
Peter is, allegedly, the key apostle (Matthew 16:18), but there are problems with his letters, which I consider to be forgeries from a far later date. There is a startling difference between the Greek of Peter’s two epistles. The first epistle is written in highly stylistic Greek. The second is written in very simple Greek. That indicates the first letter was written by someone very familiar with the Greek language, while someone (most likely “Silvanus, the faithful brother as I consider [him], through [whom] I wrote a few [words]”; 2 Peter 5:12) for whom Greek was a second language probably wrote the second. Later redactors up to the publication of the NIV Bible by Zondervan of Michigan adds missing words that do not exist in the original documents.
What is known of the original New Testament shows the texts being composed in kione [common] Greek (Ελληνιστική Κοινή) which was known throughout the Mediterranean world and is an ancestor to modern Greek–but like all ancestors is not equal to the current generation (cf. Κοπιδάκης, Μ. Ζ. (1999) ed., “Εισαγωγή στην Ελληνιστική Κοινή”, in Ιστορία της Ελληνικής Γλώσσας, Athens, 1999, pp. 82-92). It was a “street language” spoken from Egypt to the fringes of India, and like most vulgar (common) languages did not follow any grammar rules or organisation. It was in this street language that the New Testament was set and written. The reason for this was that the teachings of the Testaments were aimed at the most common (uneducated/undereducated people), and for that reason the authors of the New Testament used the most popular language of the era. (It is tantamount to contemporary publishers strangling the English language by printing in books such vulgar language as “gonna”, “wanna”, and so forth.)
Patristic Greek is sometimes used to describe the Greek written by the Church Fathers. These “Church Fathers” were early Christian theologians in late antiquity who tended to use a simple register of Koiné. When it was later “purified” (cleaned-up) textual errors were found and changed to fit current ideas. Justin shows no recognition of either form of Greek, any more than Hebrew or Aramaic. If that is the case, which I am convinced of, Justin would have had to read the Scriptures in Latin. But the question becomes: which Latin edition of the Bible?
There are various “Vetus Latina” Bibles, before Jerome who was commissioned by Pope Damasus I in 382 to make a revision of the old Latin translations. These Bibles have numerous errors and equally as numerous variations within the texts. Because of this, most texts are suspect of not only being inaccurate but counterfit–a reality that Augustine of Hippo lamented in De Doctrina Christiana (2, 16). For example one can compare a single bible verse (Luke 6:1) with the two forms of Latin. The verse in question is translated by modernists as “And it came to pass on the second first sabbath, that as he [Jesus] went through the corn fields, his disciples plucked the earns, and did eat, rubbing them in their hands.” (Douai, 1609). In the Vetus Latina (Codex Bezae) we read:
Et factum est eum in Sabbato secundoprimo abire per segetes discipuli autem illius coeperunt vellere spicas et fricantes manibus…
But in the Vulgate we read:
Factum est autem in sabbato secundo, primo, cum transíret per sata, vellebant discípuli eius spicas, et manducabant confricantes manibus.
(cf. Wordsworth, I., White, H.I., Sparks, H.F.D., Novum Testamentum Domini Nostri Jesu Christi Latine secundum editione S. Hieronymi, Oxonii 1889-1954.)
As noted earlier, there are numerous grammatical idiosyncrasies and variations on words, the handwriting is frequently run-together, and without punctuation (there are no crosses separating sentences, for example) meanings can change (see illustration from the Codex Bezae)
Codex Bezae for Luke 6:1
and can be found easily in any writing for the christian communities before the third century CE. This practice and style continued through the thirteenth century CE. Into this lot of errors falls the writings of Justin Martyr–who evangelical fundamentalist delight in citing in their defense of Christ being crucified on a cross, that he willingly surrendered his life at the command of his Heavenly Father, and that he released his spirit (soul/life) at the hour of his own chosing. The on-line translations of Justin Martyr (originally known as Justin the Martyr) are, for the most part, supplied by Roman Catholics and Roman Catholic institutions/universities (e.g. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08580c.htm).
Conservative Christians usually turn to particular manuscripts that they argue represent the writings of Justin Martyr, implying a large number of such manuscripts. However, there are but two–and both are corrupt with glosses and addenda (cp. Opera quae feruntur omnia. Ad optimos libros MSS. nunc primum aut denuo collatos recensuit, prolegomenis et commentariis instruxit, translatione Latina ornavit, indices adiecit Io. Car. Th. eques de Otto. Wiesbaden, M. Sändig ).
In a reading of any treatise by Justin Martyr, it is easily noticed that most of his ideas are borrowed from Plato and other Greek schools of philosophy. For example, Justin embellishes the ancient Egyptian and Mycenean concept of the Trinity and claims that Plato had a prefigured understanding of the Trinity of God and the redemptive Cross of Christ:
“And the physiological discussing concerning the Son of God in the Timaeus of Plato, where he says, ‘He placed him crosswise in the universe,’ he borrowed in like manner from Moses.”
(Quote from Roberts, Alexander Rev. and Donaldson, James (1867). Translations of the Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325. Edinburgh: L & T Clark, 1867, p. 58.)
In his First Apology [it should be First Defense of Christianity], Justin pronounces a Trinitarian devotion to “. . . the most true God, the Father of righteousness . . . and the Son (who came forth from Him and taught us these things, and the host of other good angels who follow and are made like to Him), and the Prophetic Spirit, we worship and adore . . . ” (cf. Placher, William (1988). Readings in the History of Christian Theology. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, p. 32.) Not only does Justin again take his concept of a Trinity from ancient philosophers, but he makes many into proto-christians as well as christians. This was a theologically-innovative suggestion that the “seeds of Christianity” (manifestations of the Logos acting in history) actually predated Christ’s incarnate existence, as can be seen in this tract he authored:
those who live according to the Logos are Christians, even though they may have been counted as atheists-such as Socrates and Heraclitus, and others like them, among the Greeks
(rev. McGrath, Alister E. (2007). The Christian Theology Reader, 3rd. ed. Malden, MA.: Blackwell Publishing, p. 3). This doctrine was later repudiated by the emerging state church (McGrath, Alister E. (1998). Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, p. 88.)
Justin saw the Logos as a being separate from god and subordinate to god: “For next to God, we worship and love the Logos who is out of the unbegotten and ineffable God, since also He became man for our sakes, that, becoming a partaker of our sufferings, He might also bring us healing” (2 Apology 13). To strengthen his claim that the Logos was separate from the unbegotten god, Justin wrote:
There is, and that there is said to be, another God and Lord subject to the Maker of all things who is also called an Angel, because He announces to men whatsoever the Maker of all things, above whom there is no other God, wishes to announce to them…. I shall endeavor to persuade you, that He who is said to have appeared to Abraham, and to Jacob, and to Moses, and who is called God, is distinct from Him who made all things, I mean numerically, not in will.
From this point it is but a short leap of unguided faith that Justin introduces the novel idea of Jesus Christ dying on a cross (actually a “instrument of torture). This was necessary to refute the arguments of various non-Christians who argued that their god(s) were also crucified and that Christianity was merely borrowing from established theologies/myths. What is unique with Justin is that his crucified saviour was separate from the Father and subordinate to the Father. For example, in chapter 129 of his Dialogue with Trypho (
a Jew), Justin makes a clear distinction, indicating that the “God” he refers to as Christ, is distinct from and subject to another, who is “Lord of the Lord”, and causes the “God” Christ to have his power and authority. This is not the theme of any other early Christian writer: from the Apostles through the first two centuries, but did give credence to sects within christianity that debated on whether or not Jesus was the adopted son of God (a concept that made its way into Islam), or a ghost, or some other manifestation such as the theory put forth by the priest Sabellius who argued the nontrinitarian belief that the Heavenly Father, Resurrected Son and Holy Spirit are different modes
of one God (Greek πρόσωπα prosopa
; Latin personae
), as perceived by the believer
, rather than three distinct persons in God Himself
(which is the orthodox concept ultimately defined by the bishops of the early church)–and which the majority of early Christians accepted and believed in (see: Tertullian, Against Praxeas, III
, c.213 at http://christiandefense.com/Tertullian.Prax.htm#3
; cf. The Biblical Repository
Andover: Gould and Newman, 1835;
vol. V, No. XVII – XVIII, pp. 35-36 at ). The early christian community was not united. For example: Nestorianism taught that Jesus was two persons. Monophysitism taught that Jesus had one nature, rather than two. Docetism, conversely, taught that Jesus’ humanity was merely an illusion (that Jesus was a ghost). This forced the Emperor Constantine to create a united imperial church and compel all sects into accepting his decision as what was a matter of faith and practice.
Tertullian, another Father of the Church (who also left the “communion of saints”) wrote in Adversus Praxean III, there was no separation between the Father and the Son, noting St. Paul’s admonition (that completely discredits Justin): “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ: for in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2.8-9). The idea of a tripartite God was utterly foreign to the universal [catholic] Church well into the third century, and issue of “the cross” a novel point that outside of Justin one cannot find elsewhere until it appears after the Emperor Constantine created the Christian church.
When Justin Martyr was beheaded beside his students (cf. Birley, Anthony. (2000). Marcus Aurelius: A Biography, London: Routledge, page 152ff.), and although the actual record of the trial no longer exists, from his other writings, attacking the Jews on a no-longer existing tract in a Midrash, condemning Greeks for worshipping gods he rejected, and calling on the Roman Senate and the emperor to convert, he was definitely seen as a threat to law and order and the rule of the day. The force of his convictions, especially in declaring his firm belief in a millennium and the overthrow of the established order overwhelmed basic sense when the empire was already being set upon by numerous revolutions and problems. When he condemned the “anti-Christ” many assumed he was talking about the Emperor (Marcus Aurelius), and detailed a “second coming”:
“But if so great a power is shown to have followed and to be still following the dispensation of His suffering, how great shall that be which shall follow His glorious advent! For He shall come on the clouds as the Son of man, so Daniel foretold [7:9-28], and His angels shall come with Him.”
This was easily construed as treason.