I’ve been watching a ridiculous piece of Easter television, The Secrets of the Twelve Disciples.
It starts with how Jesus’ family really ran the early Church, but that later this was all washed away. Apparently nobody knows that James was bishop of Jerusalem. You have to “decode” the Book of Acts to figure this out! (I’ve known all along and it is plainly mentioned in Acts 15.) This was all done to remove the Jewish connections to Christianity.
St Paul has his own version of Christianity. As theologian Robert Beckford narrates, “It was his version of Christianity that triumphed. It was his later followers that created and used the stories of the 12 disciples to fit their own purpose.” Of course Paul is as much a Jew as James or any of Jesus cousins were. Beckwith doesn’t explain how this fits in.
Beckford has apparently spent way, way too much time reading Dan Brown novels. It’s the Pauline Conspiracy. Paul created Peter as the Pope, because he needed a link back to the Twelve. But it’s all based on “legendary” materials – Christian inventions. Apparently, nothing written by Christian sources can be trusted as historical. With everything, there are scholars who dispute. For Beckwith it is all about vested interests.
I never did catch what Paul’s vested interests were. They certainly aren’t clear from his writings or the things written about him in the Book of Acts. But then, according to Beckwith it has to be decoded. And the only thing certain is that it isn’t reliable. The only thing that is reliable is Beckwith’s conjecture. After all, scholars dispute.
According to Beckwith, whoever wrote the Revelation “most scholars” agree that it wasn’t the Apostle John. I take that to mean most liberal scholars who have started with the presupposition that whatever the Church has always believed must not only not be true, but must also not be what the Church has always believed. After all, it is the Church who is telling us what it has always believed, and the guiding First Principle is that the Church cannot be believed. Convoluted? Just a bit.
The further along the programme went, the more predictable it got. The men running the Church removed all the women from the story. (Huh? What about the fact that at both the Crucifixion and just after the Resurrection, it was women who were present? Nevermind.) I don’t think he said Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, but that could have been when I went to make a cup of tea.
Most of Beckwith’s accusation and theories are aimed at the Big Bad Catholic Church. Conspiracies and dubious activities abound. See what I mean about Dan Brown? Apparently no one knows about the Thomas Christians in India and this is once again because of the Catholics. (I would have suggested it is because few people in this country know anything of world Christianity, other than caricatures of American evangelicalism.) I couldn’t figure out if he believed the claims of the Mar Thoma tradition, even though the records were destroyed by Portuguese Catholics under orders of the Pope in 1599, or if he disbelieved the claims anyway.
And what re-assessment of the Twelve would be complete without rehabilitating Judas Iscariot? Judas goes from betrayer to hero. I kid you not. He was just getting bad press because of a wrongly translated Greek word and the imagery used in paintings of the Last Supper. Anything else bad about him in the Bible was added later. Conspiracy.
That’s the thing about conspiracy theories: if you go looking for one assuming it is there in the first place, it’s not going to be a surprise when you find one.