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Earliest Known Gospel Commentary: “Don’t Take The Gospels Literally”

Should Christians take the Bible as “Gospel”? Not according to this rediscovered work, which sheds light on the allegorical aspects and intent of early Church authors. With an increasing trend towards fundamentalism, literalism and an insistence that the Bible is a historical document (usually tied in with Flat Earth theories somehow), this is a refreshing insight and an important archaeological discovery.

https://theconversation.com/lost-latin-commentary-on-the-gospels-rediscovered-after-1-500-years-thanks-to-digital-technology-82874

The earliest Latin commentary on the Gospels, lost for more than 1,500 years, has been rediscovered and made available in English for the first time. The extraordinary find, a work written by a bishop in northern Italy, Fortunatianus of Aquileia, dates back to the middle of the fourth century.

The biblical text of the manuscript is of particular significance, as it predates the standard Latin version known as the Vulgate and provides new evidence about the earliest form of the Gospels in Latin.

Despite references to this commentary in other ancient works, no copy was known to survive until Dr Lukas Dorfbauer, a researcher from the University of Salzburg, identified Fortunatianus’ text in an anonymous manuscript copied around the year 800 and held in Cologne Cathedral Library. The manuscripts of Cologne Cathedral Library were made available online in 2002.

Scholars had previously been interested in this ninth-century manuscript as the sole witness to a short letter which claimed to be from the Jewish high priest Annas to the Roman philosopher Seneca. They had dismissed the 100-page anonymous Gospel commentary as one of numerous similar works composed in the court of Charlemagne. But when he visited the library in 2012, Dorfbauer, a specialist in such writings, could see that the commentary was much older than the manuscript itself.

In fact, it was none other than the earliest Latin commentary on the Gospels.

Pearls of wisdom

In his De Viris Illustribus (Lives of Famous Men), written at the end of the fourth century, Saint Jerome, who was also responsible for the revision of the Gospels and the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures known as the Vulgate, included an entry for Fortunatianus – who had been bishop of the northern Italian diocese of Aquileia some 50 years earlier. This prominent cleric had written a Gospel commentary including a series of chapter titles, which Jerome described as “a pearl without price” and had consulted when writing his own commentary on the Gospel of Matthew.

San Gerolamo (Saint Jerome) by Caravaggio. Galleria Borghese

Later Christian authors, such as Rabanus Maurus and Claudius of Turin, searched for it in vain. As with so many works from antiquity, it seemed to have been lost, the remaining copies destroyed in a Vandal raid or eaten by mice in a dusty library.

Among the features which attracted Dorfbauer’s attention was a long list of 160 chapter titles detailing the contents of the commentary, which corresponded to Jerome’s description of Fortunatianus’ work. In addition, the biblical text of the Cologne manuscript did not match the standard version of the Gospels produced by Jerome, but seemed to come from an earlier stage in the history of the Latin bible.

Groundbreaking discovery

This was where the University of Birmingham came in. The university’s Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing (ITSEE) is home to long-term projects working on new editions of the Bible in Greek and Latin. As a specialist in the Latin New Testament, I was able to compare the biblical quotations in the Cologne manuscript with our extensive databases. Parallels with texts circulating in northern Italy in the middle of the 4th century offered a perfect fit with the context of Fortunatianus.

Fortunatianus manuscript; by permission of Cologne Cathedral Library. Author provided

Astonishingly, despite being copied four centuries after the last reference to his Gospel commentary, this manuscript seemed to preserve the original form of Fortunatianus’ groundbreaking work.

Such a discovery is of considerable significance to our understanding of the development of Latin biblical interpretation, which went on to play such an important part in the development of Western thought and literature. In this substantial commentary, Fortunatianus is reliant on even earlier writings which formed the link between Greek and Latin Christianity.

This sheds new light on the way the Gospels were read and understood in the early Church, in particular the reading of the text known as “allegorical exegesis” in which elements in the stories are interpreted as symbols. So, for example, when Jesus climbs into a boat on the Sea of Galilee, Fortunatianus explains that the sea which is sometimes rough and dangerous stands for the world, while the boat corresponds to the Church in which Jesus is present and carries people to safety.

There are also moments of insight into the lives of fourth-century Italian Christians, as when the bishop uses a walnut as an image of the four Gospels or holds up a Roman coin as a symbol of the Trinity.

English translation

In the form of a single (no longer anonymous) manuscript, or even a scholarly edition of the Latin text, it will still be some time before this work becomes as widely known as the famous writings of later Christian teachers such as Ambrose, Augustine and Jerome.

Fortunatianus manuscript: now available online; by permission of Cologne Cathedral Library. Author provided

For that reason, I have worked closely with Dr Dorfbauer to prepare an English translation of his full Latin edition of the commentary, the first ever to be produced.

This will enable a much wider audience to take account of this rediscovered work. In fact, this English version may be the form in which most people will encounter Fortunatianus’ commentary – as studying languages is now a much smaller component in theological study and online translation tools are beginning to produce more satisfactory results.

But for the fullest appreciation of this work, it will still be necessary to put alternatives to one side and consult the original – which is how the commentary was rediscovered in the first place.

SEE ALSO:

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/08/22/dont-take-bible-literally-says-scholar-brought-light-earliest/

“The earliest Latin interpretation of the Gospels has been brought to light by a British academic – and it suggests that readers should not take the Bible literally.

Lost for 1,500 years, the fourth-century commentary by African-born Italian bishop Fortunatianus of Aquileia interprets the Gospels as a series of allegories instead of a literal history.

Dr Hugh Houghton, of the University of Birmingham, who translated the work, said it was an approach which modern Christians could learn from.”

 

A Bedtime Story For Gilad

Interesting story/hypothesis:

Image result for pagan tribe yemen one god

By Taxi

https://platosguns.com/2017/04/16/bedtime-story-for-gilad/ 

In a recently published article, Gilad Atzmon wondered where the concepts of ‘chosenness’ and a ‘vengeful god’ come from.  Here below, I posit a plausible answer to his poignant questions.

*   *   *   *   *   *

Imagine it’s four thousand years ago and you are the chief elder of a small pagan tribe living in what is now known as Yemen.  You have chosen to pitch your tribe’s tents near an oasis that’s also shared by, say, half a dozen small Arab pagan tribes.  Paganism, with its orgiastic sexual promiscuity, its lawless blood-sacrifices and hyper-irrational superstitions is the zeitgeist of the day – and you, as tribe leader are becoming more concerned for the safety of your tribe because the new four-horned pagan god of your nearest neighbor’s tribe is an aggressive god who instructs his worshipers to raid and kill what they can by night to appease him.  You stoically start to wonder how best you can insure your tribe’s safety: you spend all day performing pagan protection rituals and prayers; and your nights you spend sleepless in nerve-knotting anxiety: over-thinking everything and hitting one mental wall after the other in search of a solution to your security crisis.

 

Soon, you’re worn down emotionally and mentally and crippled by anguish and despair.

Soon, the fears within you multiply causing you bouts of melancholia and paranoia and loss of appetite.  You look everywhere but you can find no reprieve from your laden mental agony and exhaustion.  So profound, intense and unbearable is your solitary anguish that you begin to doubt the protective powers of the very pagan gods you yourself worship.  Doubting your gods thus day and night, you soon enough therefore decide that you are no longer a pagan: that worshiping effigies and natural phenomenon and inane objects has never produced any reliable results anyway; and has certainly not guaranteed you safety, especially when as a wandering tribe in the past, you had been repeatedly ambushed and your animals and half your women were dragged off away by brutal raiders.  Yes, you fully realize that paganism is futility itself.  You feel strange but brilliantly liberated to shed the mantle of paganism.  You look around you and you start to see pagan folks as inferior, as physically uninhibited but mentally enslaved.  You are thrilled by your internal discoveries, but this euphoria is soon shot down when you realize that you now have a much bigger problem:  what do you next worship?

You’ve killed off your old pagan gods and you need to fill the void with something… something?… yes, something… something that would be… even… better – even bigger and scarier than anyone can ever imagine!  Well, you have to think super big so you can sell why you dumped the old gods to your cynical brother and to others in the tribe.  Domestically, your tribe folk absolutely need ‘stuff’ to worship; and foreign policy wise, your neighboring tribes are always curious to know what ritual you performed, whether it worked or not, and you have to be able to convincingly accommodate this normal pagan curiosity, otherwise they would view your tribe as unconventional and shrouded in dark secrecy; they will accuse you of nefarious and antisocial activities; they will spread ugly rumors about you and your tribe; they will disown all previous trade deals with you; exclude you from important regional social events, and humiliate you by calling you a godless crackpot and a feeble tribal chief: which in turn would invite violent raids and unwanted hostility – the very thing you’re desperate to avoid.

You sit under stars alone outside your tent and wonder what kind of new gods you can kneel to, impressive gods unlike any other in the pagan world around you.  But… where, where on earth does one find such a mighty and hidden collection of gods, you ask yourself.  You find no answer to this question, hard as you try, and so you think to yourself: perhaps I can start by finding the first god and when that’s done, I can be looking for the next one and so on and so forth.  It seems like an awful lot of mental work is ahead of you and you despair at the impossible challenges you’ve entangled yourself in.  Then it hits you!  All you really need is ONE GOD!  ONE GOD!  Only one!  A god who is so imbibed with mystery and magic and might that he works from a grand and fantastic invisible realm – a god who is absolutely everywhere, yet unseen by the human eye as his face is too powerful for a human to behold without causing injury and even death to the beholder: for you, there’s no more praying to multiple silly effigies anymore (yet ironically, you still believe in paganistic magic).

You start to think that this conjured ONE GOD of yours is so very powerful, by far more powerful than any and all pagan gods in this desert and the next – more than that, your god is the very creator of everything, creator of the dead and the living, creator of even every single pagan god on earth!  Yes, these are the foundational qualities of your new god.  Yes, you will now mentally toil to tailor-make this hybrid ONE GOD of yours: adding to him, polishing here, trimming there, exaggerating where you can, even plagiarizing from other pagan gods’ cloth and promises that please worshipers – hoping also that this preoccupation with god-making that now has you completely occupied will help mentally distract you and reduce your random bouts of paranoia.  But it doesn’t.  You spend half your time fine-tuning your ONE GOD model and the other half wrestling with terrible sun-stroked mirages of blood and visions of perpetual demonic genocide.  Yet despite all this, you finish the task of creating your ONE GOD.

You tell yourself that your ONE GOD is the best idea you’ve ever had in your long life – you’re blown away by your own creative endeavors – you’re giddy with joy that you’ve finally solved your religious problem.  But… you still need to figure out a way to get this ONE GOD to provide you with security for your tribe, especially that some of your neighbors might be skeptical and worse: offended that you’re declaring their gods are nothing more than the small children of your ONE GOD, that their gods are merely created and not powerful creators themselves; that your ONE GOD can snuff them out any time he pleases: being their creator and all.  You know that this kind of religious offense will attract unrelenting brutal violence towards you and your tribe from pagan zealots – maybe your offended neighbor tribes will conspire against you and together set your tents on fire while you sleep: burning you and your tribe into a pile of charred bones and ending your rogue bloodline for once and for all: genociding you completely with no mercy and no remorse.  You shudder at the thought of a torturous death and the savage annihilation of your tribe.  You cannot bear the thought of causing and helplessly witnessing such an event.  This becomes your darkest pathological fear and very quickly you become deeply haunted and terrorized by hellish scenarios of gruesome mass murder.  Killing the pagan gods seems to have now led you to the dark night of soul itself, but you know with absolute certainty that there is no returning to the failed pagan gods.  There is nowhere else to go to except forward with the ONE GOD concept, despite its dangers and its predatory shadows that torment you.

Under a scorching sun, you walk alone burdened and still looking for the answer to your impossible security problem.  There are so few of your tribesmen and you cannot raise an army large enough to defend your new ONE GOD concept against a whole region of pagans, numbered in the hundreds of thousands.  No, no human army can help, you tell yourself, but… a supernatural bag of curses will certainly work wonders on the superstitious pagan mind.  Yes!  You know this for a fact because you are an ex pagan.  Threats of colossal and deadly retribution from your ONE GOD will stop any pagan in their tracks and make them think twice before attacking you.  Yes, this is it: your invisible ONE GOD’s wrath will be your valiant shield, your indestructible army!  And you have just the perfect sales pitch for it!

First, you will assemble the neighboring tribes and yours too.  You will tell them all that at great risk to your own life, you would like to share with them a most unusual religious experience you’ve recently had.  You will tell them a beautiful story about how a new god visited you when you were walking the desert alone; that this god is the most wondrous and kind and helpful of all gods; that this god claims sole reign over all existing pagan gods; and that those who follow him will each be given a true heaven all to themselves as reward.  You will spin and exaggerate all the positive aspects of this ONE GOD, you will wax lyrical about his beauty and his astonishing divine powers.  You will say that this new messianic god has arrived to save mankind from illness and poverty and suffering, that if men followed this ONE GOD, they too will live in eternal wealth, security and physical and spiritual fulfillment.

Immediately after you’ve disarmed your skeptical listeners through the power of poetry and promises of utopia, after you’ve buttered them up nicely with rare sweet honey, you will then proceed to tell them, with soulful tears in your eyes, that this new ONE GOD has chosen you and your bloodline to be the very first followers: divinely privileged above all others and favored till eternity.  With earnest conviction you announce to your riveted audience that the ONE GOD has promised to generously reward and bless all those who help you.  You watch your listeners’ eyes now widen with wonderment before you quickly dim the light in your speech.  You clench a fist and crease your brows in sudden anger and forewarn them that your ONE GOD has also darkly vowed to utterly smite all those who injure you!  You will firmly and bleakly caution your listeners: you will tell them your ONE GOD works in such mysterious and powerful ways that anyone resisting your message from him tonight will go to sleep and never wake again – that your ONE GOD is capable of killing whole tribes in the same second by merely thinking it.  You basically put the fear of god into the hearts of pagan men.

This threat of imminent death will play havoc with any riddled-with-superstition pagan mind – nobody now would dare threaten or question you.  But you know that you still need to do more convincing – long term persuasion is necessary.  So, to re-enforce your ONE GOD declaration and warnings, to back up your fantastical claims, you will wait a couple of days after your confessional then pick a petty public fight with your drunken, deadbeat nephew.  He will insult you in public and you will later poison his drink in secret under the cloak of moon; and when he is found all contorted and dead the following morning, you will point at his pitiful corpse and in horror cry: my God did this!  My ONE GOD did this!  You will raise your head and arms to the sky and declare thus divine proof of your vengeful god’s existence.  You will do this again several times over: you will nefariously incite then murder a couple of travelers, and also poison the doubting wife of the tribal chief whose pagan god has four horns.  And so the word about your ONE GOD and his astoundingly devastating powers will henceforth spread among other tribes, who will either subsequently follow you, or else leave you alone in peace: fearing your ONE GOD’s deadly vengeance.

And so it was that you would have created for yourself a way out of failed paganism and its religious wasteland; you would have created the most powerful god in the history of mankind and made yourself high priest; created the first mental weapon of mass destruction; and also you would have created definitive tribal security, provided by no less than, God, himself.

Next, being a nomadic trader at heart, you will seek ways to acquire gold and riches using your very own and successful ONE GOD brand name.  You will declare that all your blessings are personal gifts from the ONE GOD – that he enriches you because you were chosen by him to be his very first follower – that whoever becomes a faithful follower like you, he too will receive the title of ‘chosen’ with all its divine and extravagant advantages.  New followers from other tribes are seduced and begin to join your ONE GOD world order. You tax them for teaching them hundreds of new prayers and other religious rituals – you make yourself a fortune as high priest.

Your tribe becomes wealthy and feared – you and every single member of your tribe soon become rich elites in ancient pagan Arabia.  Your grandiose scam you would eventually share on your deathbed with your closest family members; but after you die, they will swear to secrecy and never utter a word of it to anyone.  Your fabricated ONE GOD story would thus continue and evolve and soon enough become a rooted religious system: all based on your self-appointed claims of being chosen by the ONE GOD who will mercilessly and brutally punish your enemies and protect you, and only you, the chosen, for eternity.

NZers becoming less religious: Survey

NZHerald

3:11PM Thursday Apr 02, 2009

There has been a sharp rise in the number of New Zealanders with no religious affiliation, new research shows.

For the story, go to the link to the NZ Herald at the top of the page.

– NZPA

Artwork by Brocke Lever.

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