TIMOTHY

"That depends ... on how you interpret the words. What's come down to us is inspired, like 2 Timothy says: 'Scripture Is inspired by God.' There can be nothin' false in the Bible, not one word or comma." - Howard Hendershot, p. 156

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Book Reviews of He Can See Heaven by critics and readers have been overwhelmingly positive save a few, including that in a recent issue of Christian News. There Reverend Andrew Simchak voices the most common criticism: that the novel's depiction of the New Testament as incomplete and much modified to the point that early followers of Jesus might not recognize it, is wrong.

As the Reverend and Howard correctly note, 2 Timothy 3, 16 clearly states that every detail of Christian scripture has been directly inspired by the Holy Spirit and is therefore complete and infallible. Any objection to such circular logic (except perhaps the obvious) is futile. When scholars present historical proofs delineating the serendipitous origin and nature of the New Testament, retorts based on Timothy can be expected: for believers his conclusions are axiomatic, thus ending any debate before it begins.

Do you believe as Howard and others, that every word and punctuation mark in the Bible is infallible, placed there by God Himself, or do you think as most scholars tell: that time, circumstance, and human nature have altered portions the New Testament's original message?

CONFUSED WITH THE FACTS

"Christianity is like the other canonical religions, Miss Shea. Whether it's the Qur’an, Book of Mormon, Dianetics, Mein Kampf, or in this case, the New Testament, they're all defined by their texts. If we should find the Quelle, a fresh record of what Jesus said and did, earwitness accounts and unaltered quotations lost for nineteen centuries and more factual than the Bible? … It will shake their foundations and they'll attack. - Professor Parkinson, p.16

The professor thinks that the discovery of the lost writings of Saint Papias would "shake the churches' foundations and that they'd forcefully react. First thoughts might agree. He's correct that the canonical (accepted) texts are at the churches' core, and as happened when the Dead Sea Scrolls, Codex Siniaticus, and Nag Hamadi documents were published, such a find would generate controversy. But with what result? The discovery of Sinaiticus revealed substantive alterations in original scripture including a new ending to the gospel of Mark and the codices found at Nag Hamadi made known several omitted gospels, but like Congressman Earl Landgrebe who objected to proof of President Nixon's misdeeds by shouting "Don't confuse me with the facts," the great bureaucracies and their faithful masses ignored the revelations and marched on, unconfused.

What do you think? Would another expose of the New Testament be rationally considered or intentionally disregarded? How would you consider the discovery of valid scriptures at odds with the modern New Testament?

MEMORIES and SCRIPTURE

“Remember, Señorita Ché, every scripture we have was written after the fact. For decades the story of Jesus was only spoken. ” - Sister Maria Teresa, p. 128

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Sister states a stubborn fact. The first gospels were written decades after Jesus' crucifixion, in a foriegn language by writers who had no direct knowledge of the man from Nazareth. They relied on spoken stories and earwitness accounts of those who knew people who knew people (etc.) who saw, heard, and then told about Jesus. As Professor Ehrman has convincingly illustrated in his latest work, Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories, the gospels' authors depended entirely on human memories, and the science of memory suggests that such accounts would be greatly altered.

Of course, as many Christians answer, divine powers could have intervened to preserve the accuracy of those memories. They cite 2 Timothy 3:16-17 among others: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness..."  Science can object to such circular logic, but by definition such axiomatic proofs cannot be impeached.

How do you regard scripture? Are stories about Jesus told from memory unreliable or unimpeachable?

THE GOD GENE

"I don't think I've got the God gene, Monsignor. I don't know if I can believe. Maybe I'm a nonester. Maybe I don't need a religion, or maybe I need them all." -- Ellen Shea, p.244

 

Ellen is like many in her millenial generation, unfulfilled by the faith of her parents and in search of another path to spirituality. She's read about the hypothetical "God gene,"  one that may have given evolutionary advantage to early humans who believed, and wonders if she carries such a gene. She worries about being a "nonester," someone without faith who checks the "none" box for religion, and that no single religion can satisfy her spiritual needs.

The portion of young people who follow their inherited religion is steadily decreasing, with a growing fraction of unbelievers in each generation, many like Ellen frustrated in their search for a new path. By mid century, Americans are likely to follow their European counterparts, with less than half belonging to an organized faith.

HOW YOU LOOK AT THE WORDS

"... they teach that it’s how you look at the words that matters." - Howard Hendershot, p. 156

Howard is sure of his role as a soldier of Christ : he's a resolute fundamentalist inspired by his elders' choice and interpretation of Holy Scripture, willing to follow wherever they lead. Like al-Bagdadhi’s ISIS recruits, Pope Urban’s Crusading knights, and Alamut's assassins, Howard believes himself a tool of God such that any behavior, no matter how monstrous, can be justified in His name.

History teaches that most faiths spawn holy warriors (the Hopi and Quakers are noteworthy exceptions), almost always young men convinced by older ones that their sacred literature dictates a course of action that in any other circumstance would be barbarous. As demonstrated by the followers of ISIS, these young fighters share a common and unexpected trait: most have little knowledge of their faith's sacred writings. They depend on their leaders' warped perspective to know which verses are worthwhile and what each one means.

History knows the result of of such blind faith to be consistent and predictable: massacres and genocides based on charismatic figures' twisted interpretations of holy writing. Like Joshua's mass murder in the Old Testament's, Germans extermination of six million for being Jews, and the Turk's slaughter of Orthodox Armenians (to cite a few of hundreds), the righteous atrocities continue. Today's ritual beheadings in the name of the prophet are but the latest example. More will come.

Did you know that most militant zealots are not religious, that they're ignorant of their scripture and dependent on others to interpret the passages that inspire thier acts?

FIRST INTO HEAVEN: COULD YOU BECOME A JIHADIST?

"Bitter, Miss Shea? Oh, no. My trust is in Allah, and it was his will. The prophet tells us that those who accept hardships go first into heaven." - Malmut Adjani, p. 190

Of religion's many benefits, its most precious may be its ability to soothe life's torments, to soften one's tragedies, and to give hope that no matter how deep the pain, all will be well in the end. For true believers, solace can always be found... But what of the flip side of faith, of its darkest side, of fanatical clergy infusing their young followers with hatred and promises of a fast track to heaven if they would only follow the holy men's path through terror and violence?

We think of atrocities in the name of Islam: of Paris and the Twin Towers, of wholesale murder by Al Qaeda, ISIS, and Boko Haram, of the Armenian massacre, and of Indonesia's attempt to exterminate its Catholic minority. How could God-loving people be manipulalted by men they deem holy to commit such abominable crimes? And why only in the name of Allah? Surely we Christians, Jews, and Hindus could never do the same.

Maybe so, maybe no... But before you mount your high horse and declare all Muslims devils, look to the recent and more distant past. Look to India and south Asia where monks incite gangs of Hindus to rampage through Muslim villages clubbing women and children to death. Look to the innocents who die as "collateral damage" in Israeli invasions. Look to 1990's Bosnia, to the WWII genocide of Muslims, Roma, Jews, and Orthodox by Catholic fascists, and in the same war to the extermination of six million souls for the crime of being a Jew. Look to the French Catholics who murdered thousands of Hugenots in their beds, to the gleeful slaughter of American "savages," to the Mormon massacre, to the wanton killing of non-Christians by the Crusaders, to Joshua as he obeyed god's command to slaughter whole cities. Look back and then look forward.

What of your faith and its tolerance of other denominiations and religions? What does your pastor, rabbi, or monk tell you? Certainly they could never lead you to terror...

NEGLIGENCE AND AUDACITY

"… in the early years, as we compared each document in our collection, we came to realize that it is only the oldest records that can be trusted. You see, the newer the transcription, the more likely there are to be mistakes and alterations. Indeed, with each reproduction the differences in the manuscripts grow, through negligence by some and audacity by others. They either err in transcription or, in the process, make additions or deletions as they please. Whole passages are lost and new ones created.  - Origen of Alexandria, p.42

Origen (185-254 CE) was the greatest Christian scholar of his age. He fled from his native Alexandria to the safety of Palestine and founded a Christian school in Caesarea where he lived as an ascetic writing theological treatises, teaching the catechism, and searching for the oldest accounts of Jesus he could find.

This excerpt from He Can See Heaven (in Origen's original words) reveals his passion for preserving an accurate Christian record and his concern that the record was being degraded by sloppy scribes and mischievous clergy. He recognized that the act of reproduction often altered the original manuscript and potentially the Christian message, and that the scribes' masters deleted from, added to, and changed holy scripture to suit their needs. Origen therefore sought older documents like the Logia of Papias, eyewitness accounts of Jesus from John the Apostle and others recorded around the year 100.

Did you know that scriptures changed as they were copied, sometimes a lot, and that even the first Christian scholars considered older manuscripts more reliable?

THE DECEIT MAKES NO SENSE

" Christian scholars have known the truth for centuries, but nearly all have been afraid—afraid to reveal that the modern Bible isn’t what their churches say it is. For me, it’s the opposite. Why wouldn’t we want to know more about the real Jesus, about what he said and did? He’d still be our Lord, but there’d be more lessons and stories, and they’d be true. The deceit makes no sense, and I doubt Jesus would approve, but I shall honor my vows and remain silent.” --Sister Maria Teresa Frasco, p. 128

The good sister reveals a centuries-old secret: that from ancient to modern times, church hierarchies of all denominations have hidden and suppressed knowledge about the nature and history of Christian scripture. For varioius reasons, in myriad ways, and often in plain sight, they've concealed what's discovered by their scholars and historians about Jesus' first followers and their literature. Especially kept in the shadows are the many changes made to the original gospels, epistles, and other elements of the Christian record by scribes, translators, and editors which resulted in omissions, additions, forgeries, and fictional insertions to those first holy texts.

Dozens of Christian sects competed for worshippers during the first decades and centuries after the man from Nazareth was crucified, each with their own interpretations, theologies, and literature about Jesus' message and ministry.. What remains in modern Bibles is a small fraction of that literature: selected, picked apart, rearranged, and often distorted by men with less than honest motives and means.

The cast of characters who altered sacred scripture is long and varied. From early church historians like Eusebius to today's televangelists, Jesus has become who they say he is, his story and message a smudged copy of the original and far from where it started. Many of these counterfeiters who altered, omitted, and added to the New Testament did so with noble intentions, but they changed it nonetheless. From Saint Augustine to King James, Church canon has evolved into scripture the first Christians would not recognize.

What? The New Testament is only a small part of what the first Christians recorded? Men changed Jesus' story and message to suit themselves and for their own benefit? If that's so, why haven't our priests, ministers, and preachers told us about it?

GENERATIONS OF NONESTERS

"My faith left me and I drifted." -- Stephen Pariser, p. 240 

It's not just millenials who lose faith: as in Europe, abandonment of organized religion has been a strong and increasing trend in the United States since World War II. Pariser is in the vanguard of the baby boom generation (born 1946-1964), about one-fifth of which are "nonesters," people who check the "none" box for religion. Boomers are twice as likely to be nonbelievers compared to their parents silent generation (b. 1928-45), and even less religious are the boomer's children, generation X (b. 1965-80), one-fourth nonesters, and their millenial grandchildren (b. 1981-96), one-third without faith. Should current trends continue, more than half of the mid-century generation will be nonesters.

Are you a nonester? How about your parents? Your kids? Your grandkids? Could nonesters really become the majority? How would that affect our families, society, and nation?

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE HIEROPHANT

"Paco leafed forward to read a second passage. 'Listen to your soul and not to false prophets, for they will come as locusts in every guise and garb. Many will claim my robes, but only the hierophant will speak for me.'" -p. 97

Ancient Greeks used the term "hierophant" to describe a holy man who led believers into the presence of God by interpreting sacred wisdom. In the Italian Renaissance the Hierophant became the fifth trump card in the game of Tarot, representing a young priest-like figure who channels the power of the universe for the benefit of mankind.

In He Can See Heaven, Ellen Shea meets a modern-day hierophant, a troubled youngster with extraordinary insight and intuition that allows him to see beyond the spiritually mundane, to pierce the clerical fog, and to hear above the din of today's squabbling sects. Like the first hierophants, he interprets newfound scripture and gives Ellen what she's been seeking: a glimpse of the way to heaven.

It's too late for a new prophet to appear, isn't it?  Could a modern hierophant be living among us?

NONESTERS

"Nonesters are people who check the 'none' box for religion. They're not athiests or agnostics, necessarily… And there're a lot of them, the fastest growing segment if you believe the demographers. Most think of themselves as spiritual, but they feel like they don't fit into their parents, or anyone else's religion."  - Ellen Shea, p.149

Ellen calls them "nonesters," those who on purpose follow no formal religion. Of course, there've been spiritual nonesters since the dawn of mankind, declining their elders' beliefs as they fashion their own, but Ellen refers to her generation, the millennials, born between 1980 and 1996, also known as Generation Y or the Net Generation. Estimates of how many of her fellows reject their parents' churches, synagogues, and mosques vary, but the drift is clearly away from their inherited institutions. Reliable surveys consistently show a growing fraction of millennials to be nonesters, about one-third, more than double compared to their childhood days, and fast increasing compared to prior surveys.  

Many of us are nonesters about something, usually religion and politics. Perhaps an innate tendency in our species, part of an evolutionary mechanism for the cleaving of clans, it's an age-old phenomenon. Of course, we're also usually for or against something, and there's the rub: in the boiling human caldron, nonesters are bound to collide with forsters and againsters in unpredictable and unintended ways...

Which "none" boxes do you check?

THERE CAN BE NOTHIN' FALSE IN THE BIBLE...

"What’s come down to us is inspired, like it says in 2 Timothy: ‘Scripture is inspired by God .’ There can be nothin' false in the Bible, not one word or comma. It’s what my professors call ‘Biblical inerrancy.’ But they teach that it’s not always easy, that it’s how you look at the words that matters." -Howard Hendershot, p. 156

Howard shares the opinion of millions, that every passage in the Christian book was inspired by the creator and that those words and only those words, in the order and form presented, come directly from God. The term "Biblical inerrancy" (not to be confused with "Biblical literalism") is relatively modern and more complex than might seem. Though not embraced by all Christians, it connotes what its proponents intend, that there can be no errors in the New or Old Testaments. Stated in various forums by many denominations, the concept affirms their fixed foundations.

Such a strict perspective often puts its advocates at odds with science and history. That a seven-thousand year old earth formed in six days is one of their more difficult positions and scores more can be described, but in the minds of inerrancy advocates there is one unimpeachable argument… It's Bible!

How do you read New Testament scripture--as unchallenged truth, sacred literature, or ancient legend?

THE STORY CHANGED

 

“Remember, Señorita Ché, every scripture we have was written after the fact. For decades the story of Jesus was only spoken. ”She pointed toward the children. “It’s as if you told a nursery tale to that skinny boy there, the freckled one on the end, and asked him to whisper it to the next kid, and so on. It wouldn’t be long before the story changed, and just as in the early church, by the time it came around to the first kid, he’d barely recognize it.”
                                                                       - Sister Maria Teresa Frasco, p. 127

The good sister tells it like it is. We've all witnessed how a joke or nugget of gossip mutates as it's told. The more lips it passes, the more it varies. Such are the accounts of ancient celebrities: colorful stories about Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and many other old-worlders don't often survive the glaring light of history. The question Sister raises is whether our record of Jesus of Nazareth, passed on by word of mouth and then written decades after his crucifixion, has been similarly altered. 

Hmm... Could the stories about Jesus have changed before they were written down as scripture? How would we know?

THE SOURCE

"If someone found 'the source,' 'the Quelle'? It would tell the truth about the New Testament and revolutionize Christianity." - Monsignor Brahaney, p. 25

The original gospels and epistles were written decades after Jesus' crucifixion and are long lost. What we have are copies of copies (etc.) of that first scripture, inked hundreds of years after his death, and like other ancient documents, they've been altered in the act of copying, sometimes with selfish intent.

He Can See Heaven imagines that a specific set of the earliest scripture still exists, a collection of eyewitness accounts about Jesus, scripture older than any we have, uncorrupted by copying errors and mischievious editing. The novel is fiction but the collection was real, called The Logia by its creator, Papias of Hieropolis, an early Christian bishop who sought out and recorded the stories of John the apostle and many other first Christians. If discovered, Papias' writings would differ substantially from the modern New Testament, a text which has been repeatedly miscopied, mistranslated, and edited with varied motives. The monsignor is well aware of those alterations and believes that such a find would result in a Christian maelstrom.

What do you think? Could Papias' collection still exist? Would its discovery change Christianity? 

LOSING FAITH

"We're not in the pews now, Monsignor, but it's time I made my confession… I stopped thinking that Christ was divine when I was twelve, the day I discovered evolution. I'm Catholic because it suits my family, because I'm comfortable with the rituals and inspired by the traditions, and by people like you and my mom."  -  Ellen Shea, p.244-45

Most who've lost faith can empathize with Ellen, especially those of her generation. A recent poll says that a third of those under 30 doubt the existence of a god as compared to a tenth of those over 65. It confirms the existence of an accelerating trend in the younger cohort, that more and more young adults check the "none" box for religion, forsaking the faiths of their parents and the institutions that champion them.

Not documented in the survey were the fraction of doubters who returned to the fold or found a new way, nor was reported how many disbelievers who began without faith ended up worshipping. Father Jonathan Morris echoes the thoughts of Christian theologians like Kirkegaard and Bonhoeffer when he says that doubt and skepticism are natural and desirable for all Christians. A wealth of literature tells us that it wasn't just Thomas who doubted, and like Mother Teresa's deathbed confession, it betrays a common phenomenon. 

He can See Heaven tells the story of Ellen's search for things lost, first for a cache of ancient scripture and then for her faith. Like so many nonesters, she's on a path separate from the one she was shown, and when she stumbles on the Hierophant and his message, she wonders if his wisdom is meant for her.

          Do you sometimes doubt your beliefs or lack of them?  Are you as brave as Ellen, brave enough to wonder and search for another way?

THE QUELLE

"Quelle is German for 'source,' as in the original source of Christian scripture. It's hypothetical, postulated two hundred years ago. Until the Nag Hamadi discovery in 1945, only a few scholars believed that Quelle documents existed, much less survived." - Monsignor Brahaney, p.24-25

Early in the nineteenth century, a string of German theologians noted many factual differences when comparing the Christian gospels to one another. At the same time they marked many similarities between the gospels of Matthew and Luke, much of which seemed to come from the older gospel of Mark. They concluded that other congruent portions of Matthew and Luke came from a second, unknown set of early Christian documents. Thus, the "two-source" hypothesis was born. Those Germans called the second source "Das Quelle," labeled over the years as Quelle, Q, Q Manuscript, Q Document, Q Gospel, Sayings Gospel, and Synoptic Sayings Source. First scribed in Greek and perhaps Aramaic, it represents the earliest and therefore least altered record of Jesus' stories and sayings, only some of which made it into the New Testament. Bishop Papias of Hieropolis is thought to have collected large elements of the Quelle in an anthology he called The Logia.

He Can See Heaven is a fast yarn about a young woman's treacherous search for The Logia and thus for the Quelle, a raucous ride through Europe, North Africa, and New York City. Along the way we learn of her hidden quest, the one for a way to heaven.

Did you know about the Quelle? . . . Is it theory or stubborn fact?

FACTS ARE STUBBORN THINGS

"Of course I am, a defender of the faith, I mean, but count me out as a defender of the church. Like every scriptural scholar, I know how the Bible was made and how the church was born. Like John Adams said, 'Facts are stubborn things.'"      -Monsignor Brahaney, p. 26

The Monsignor was quoting the second president of the United States who as a young attorney successfully defended the soldiers accused of the Boston massacre with an argument ending in these words: "Facts are stubborn things, and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence."

Monsignor used the quote to illustrate something Ellen already knew, that modern churches and their scriptures are far from where they started, morphed to a degree that early Christians wouldn't recognize. No doubt much of Jesus' record has survived, but it's likely that even more has been lost or changed, as the renowned Christian scholar Origen described in the third century, "through the negligence of some and audacity of others." … Facts are stubborn things.

How do you deal with "stubborn facts"? Could the first scriptures have been altered ... corrupted?

THE LOGIA

"This is the Logia, the testament of those who were there, a record of their memories in His presence. These parchments come to us as from the font, from his mouth to your ears, uncorrupted and with no change or amendment. Let no man doubt the source!" - Papias of Hieropolis, p.38

Saint Papias was a Christian pioneer who lived around the turn of the first century, an early bishop who interacted with earwitnesses to Jesus of Nazareth possibly including the apostle John. Papias is thought to have preserved their accounts of the man-god in a written record he called The Logia, a first collection of the words and deeds of Jesus. Likely scribed in his hand on scrolls of papyrus or parchment, Papias' documents would have contained much of what the nineteenth-century German theologians called "the source," the earliest and therefore most accurate record of Jesus.

Only tiny fragments of Papias' writings are known to have survived, but the tantalizing possibility that his written accounts of Jesus might still exist allows for literary conjecture. If such a collection were found, it would represent the earliest Christian data, the least modified and hence clearest reflection of the peasant become Saviour, quite different from and superior to the record we now have (the New Testament). In the new novel He Can See Heaven, J.B. Keats depicts the tumultuous search for Papias' scrolls and the profound ramifications of its discovery.

Really? Could older and more accurate records of Jesus still exist? Was Papias for real?