Was the NT Bible critiqued 325 CE upon widespread publication?

May 2011
2,927
Rural Australia
#1
One would expect there to have been many literary critiques of the Greek NT Bible when it was used as a political instrument and widely published during the sole rule of Constantine 325-337 CE.

How did the literate pagan Greeks in Alexandria respond? Did they respond at all? Are there any ancient historical sources that may indicate what the pagans actually thought about the New Testament Bible codex when it was delivered to them in this epoch?

Thanks for any references.

Compliments of the Season.
 

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,095
#2
After CE 325 it may not have been a wise career move to critique the sacred text of a religion favored by the emperor.

But the pagan critic Celsus in the previous century was a severe critic of Chrisitanity, and he seems to have read the canonical gospels. Much his criticisms would apply to the gospels themselves, since what the gospels said were the same thing as what the Christians said.
 
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May 2011
2,927
Rural Australia
#3
After CE 325 it may not have been a wise career move to critique the sacred text of a religion favored by the emperor.

HA HA HA. On this point we are in complete agreement.


Nevertheless my question stands. Here is one way of starting to look at the available options to the answer ...


1) It was not critiqued by the Nicene age academics for obvious reasons.

2) It was critiqued by the Nicene age academics but the critiques have been censored, or otherwise not preserved.

3) ?


But the pagan critic Celsus in the previous century was a severe critic of Chrisitanity, and he seems to have read the canonical gospels. Much his criticisms would apply to the gospels themselves, since what the gospels said were the same thing as what the Christians said.

I have a problem with accepting the critiques of both Celsus and Porphyry at face value because I have many reservations about the integrity of the Nicene Church organisation which has preserved them.

But this needn't deter an examination of the critiques after 325 CE when the NT Bible became a political instrument of the Roman - soon to become Christian - State.
 
Dec 2016
176
SAN
#4
Among preserved, much less just literate, examinations of the question, history of gnosticism is may be your best bet. They were mixing it up in this time period...and not always in step with church. See studies of the gnostic gospels, esp content from Nag Hammadi Library, which is their chief archive.
 
May 2011
2,927
Rural Australia
#5
Among preserved, much less just literate, examinations of the question, history of gnosticism is may be your best bet. They were mixing it up in this time period...and not always in step with church. See studies of the gnostic gospels, esp content from Nag Hammadi Library, which is their chief archive.
Thanks for these recommendations.

I have actually spent considerable time following up this best bet scenario

Firstly let me say that I certainly consider that it is very likely that the gnostic gospels and acts and the material from the NHL do represent various forms of critiques of the NT Bible. Material from the Greek LXX was critiqued along with material from the Greek NT when Constantine started to officially circulate the NT Bible. Especially I would think, at Alexandria.


The almost insurmountable problem that I have encountered with the investigation into the history of Gnosticism is that the general chronological framework of this history has been adduced based upon the secondary evidence of the so-called "Church Fathers" such as Tertullian, Irenaeus, Origen, and the church historian "Eusebius".

When I look at the primary evidence in this investigation - the "critiques" themselves such as the texts in the NHL - I find them to be physically dated to the mid 4th century. A very small number of exceptions to this rule can be noted, however these relate to palaeographical dating of Greek fragments (of Gnostic material) for which a 4th century upper bound - it may be argued - may not be out of the question.

So the chronological backbone of the primary evidence starts after 325 CE whereas the chronological backbone of the secondary evidence (literary testimonies preserved by Pre-Nicene church fathers) commences in the 2nd century (some brave academics conjecture 1st century e.g. gThomas).

The mainstream paradigm (hypothesis) follows the secondary evidence. (Some primary material is attested from the 2nd century)

I think that a much better alternative hypothesis would be to follow the primary evidence. (Arguably 100% of the material is > 325 CE)

i.e. almost the entire collection of NT and OT Apocrypha, including the Gnostic gospels and acts and the Nag Hammadi material represent post 325 CE literary critiques of the NT Bible.

The history of the conflict between the imperial orthodoxy who preserved the canonical material and the literary resistance - the Greek Critiques - , whoever attempted to preserved the non canonical material (in greek and then Coptic, Syriac, etc), was written by the victors after the struggle had been decidedly settled at least by the reforms of Theodosius.


How to proceed?
 
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Dec 2011
586
Perth
#6
Gday Kookaburra Jack and all :)

When I look at the primary evidence in this investigation - the "critiques" themselves such as the texts in the NHL - I find them to be physically dated to the mid 4th century.
Sure, the Nag Hammadi MSS were probably all physically written 4th C.

So the chronological backbone of the primary evidence starts after 325 CE ...
Firstly,
can I just remind everyone that the Council of Niceae in 325 had NO discussions related to the bible. The minutes of the meeting (called 'canons' as well) still exist and can be read here :
Canons of the Council of Nicea
None discuss the books of the NT. Oddly, the very first one is about castration.

Secondly,
Constantine published fifty bibles some years after Nicea. This showed his support for Christianity, but the books were NOT new to anyone. His bibles do not seem to have quite agreed with our modern canon anyway.

Thirdly,
the dates of MSS are not the same as dates of composition - e.g. the NHL had a section from Plato's Republic, from about eight centuries earlier.

Finally,
there are several critiques of the NT before 4th century -

Justin Martyr vs 'Trypho' c.140 is evidence of such a critique.

Marcion c.150 had his own Gospel and bible.

Docetics like 2nd century Basilides and Bardesanes criticised the Gospel stories by claiming Jesus was a phantasm.

Celsus, in late 2nd century, attacked the Gospels as fiction based on myths :
"Clearly the christians have used...myths... in fabricating the story of Jesus' birth...It is clear to me that the writings of the christians are a lie and that your fables are not well-enough constructed to conceal this monstrous fiction"
Porphyry, in late 3rd century, claimed the Gospels were invented :
"... the evangelists were inventors – not historians
(Arguably 100% of the material is > 325 CE)
i.e. almost the entire collection of NT and OT Apocrypha, including the Gnostic gospels and acts and the Nag Hammadi material represent post 325 CE literary critiques of the NT Bible.
Pardon ?
There are very many NT apocrypha before 325.
Hundreds probably.


Kapyong
 
May 2011
2,927
Rural Australia
#7
Gday Kookaburra Jack and all :)



Sure, the Nag Hammadi MSS were probably all physically written 4th C.

///

the dates of MSS are not the same as dates of composition - e.g. the NHL had a section from Plato's Republic, from about eight centuries earlier.
The version found in the NHL is not a straightforward copy and contains some novel elements when compared to the Greek original.



Finally,
there are several critiques of the NT before 4th century -
Thanks. However I seek critiques of the NT at that time in human history when it was first widely and lavishly published in a political sense. I am interested to determine whether there was any political resistance, especially the appearance of literary critiques, in the rule of Constantine.


Pardon ?
There are very many NT apocrypha before 325.
Hundreds probably.

They are all hypothetical. (See the quote below). The physical evidence itself arguably dates only from the 4th century. Their hypothetical existence relies upon the secondary evidence of literary attestations in the so-called "Church Fathers".

The following is from Gmirkin's book, and I quote it to highlight precisely what I mean by the statement that the pre-325 CE NT apocrypha are all hypothetical.


There is a sharp methodological distinction between classical source criticism
and traditional biblical source criticism. The latter used a variety of techniques
to isolate hypothetical sources within biblical texts. The identification of sources
J, E, D and P preliminary to the dating arguments of the Documentary Hypothesis is a
prime example of biblical source criticism. Such source documents must remain
perpetually hypothetical, since they no longer exist as independent entities.
This type of source criticism is rarely encountered in classical scholarship

In an analogous manner, if we treat the Gnostic Gospels and Acts (etc) as critiques of the NT Bible, and ask the question what are our earliest source documents (ie: primary evidence) the answer is the 4th century.

Largely on the basis of the secondary evidence (church fathers) is the hypothesis that there were earlier (pre-325 CE) manuscripts believed to be true.
 

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