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from The Textbook Letter, March-April 2000

Examining the treatment of religion in schoolbooks

Nothing Is Sacred but the Almighty Buck

In McGraw-Hill's textbook Ancient World, the lesson titled "The Beginnings of Christianity" is a fraud. McGraw-Hill has employed distortions and lies to misrepresent the early history of Christianity and to falsify the origins, the nature, and the content of Christian scripture.

William J. Bennetta

The Christian Bible has two major parts: the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament is an adaptation of the Bible of the Hebrews. The New Testament is a series of writings, ascribed to several different authors, that deal with Jesus of Nazareth and with the adventures and the religious beliefs of some early Christian figures.

The most important units in the New Testament are the first four: the Gospel of St. Matthew, the Gospel of St. Mark, the Gospel of St. Luke and the Gospel of St. John. These units are collectively called the canonical gospels; other gospels exist, but only these four have been incorporated into the Christian canon [see note 1, below]. Each canonical gospel is a quasi-biographical assemblage of stories about Jesus, and each seems to have been produced in the time between AD 65 and AD 100.

With very few exceptions, the stories and claims that are put forth in the canonical gospels and in the other units of the New Testament lack corroboration. Some of the uncorroborated claims may have some basis in fact, but we can see that many others are religious fictions. Sometimes a gospel story contravenes historical records. Sometimes a gospel story includes an obviously flawed, fantastic attempt to make Jesus fit some prophecy in Hebrew scripture. Sometimes one of the canonical gospels makes a claim that radically contradicts a claim made in some other New Testament narrative -- and we know that at least one of the claims is an invention. (For example: The Gospel of St. Matthew says that after Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus, Judas succumbed to remorse, threw away the payment he had received for his treachery, and hanged himself [note 2]. But in the New Testament's fifth unit, The Acts of the Apostles, we read that Judas used the payment to buy a piece of land, and that he died when he fell down and his body burst open [note 3].)

And sometimes, indeed, one of the canonical gospels makes a claim that contradicts -- flatly and irreconcilably -- a statement seen in one or more of the other canonical gospels. Consider, for example, the matter of Jesus's last words. All four gospels say that Jesus was killed by crucifixion, and all four purport to quote his dying words, but only Matthew and Mark agree about what those words were. Luke and John contradict each other, and each contradicts Matthew and Mark as well. In the most famous, most influential English translation of the Christian Bible, the King James Version, the relevant passages are rendered thus:

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto
the ninth hour.
And at about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying,
Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast
thou forsaken me?
Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man
calleth for Elias.
And straightway one of them ran, and took a spunge, and filled it with
vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink.
The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him.
Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.
And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to
the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;

         Gospel of St. Matthew, chapter 27

And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole
land until the ninth hour.
And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi,
lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast
thou forsaken me?
And some of them that stood by, when they heard it, said, Behold, he
calleth Elias.
And one ran and filled a spunge full of vinegar, and put it on a reed,
and gave him to drink, saying Let alone; let us see whether Elias will
come to take him down.
And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost.
And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom.

         Gospel of St. Mark, chapter 15

And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar,
And saying, If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself.
And a superscription also was written over him in letters of Greek, and
Latin, and Hebrew, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. . . .
And [a malefactor who had been crucified beside Jesus] said unto Jesus, Lord,
remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.
And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with
me in paradise.
And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth
until the ninth hour.
And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst.
And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands
I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.

         Gospel of St. Luke, chapter 23

Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister,
Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.
When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he
loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!
Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that
disciple took her unto his own home.
After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the
scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst.
Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a sponge with
vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it into his mouth.
When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished:
and he bowed his head and gave up the ghost.

         Gospel of St. John, chapter 19

The passages from Matthew and Mark are closely similar, and they share these prominent features: Darkness prevails for some hours, vinegar is offered to Jesus just before he dies, Jesus's last words are words of awful despair, and the veil of the temple is torn. Now look at the passage from Luke: Here too we find verses that mention hours of darkness and the rending of the veil -- but the offering of vinegar takes place near the beginning, not the end, of Jesus's time on the cross, and Jesus's dying words are entirely different from the ones given in Matthew and Mark. Now read the passage from John: In John, as in Matthew and Mark, vinegar is offered to Jesus just before he dies -- but John supplies another set of dying words, quite different from those in Matthew, Mark or Luke, and John says nothing about darkness or about the veil.

The canonical gospels exhibit striking contradictions in many other cases too. For instance, all four gospels have stories in which one or more of Jesus's followers go to his tomb and discover that his corpse has vanished, but the four accounts disagree about the identities of the discoverers [note 4]. Moreover, the story in Matthew is spectacularly different from the stories in Mark, Luke and John:

  • In Mark, Luke and John, the various discoverers go to the tomb and find that the great stone which covered the tomb's door has been removed. Then they encounter supernatural figures who reveal that Jesus is alive again. In Mark, this revelation is given by a young man who is sitting in the tomb and is wearing "a long white garment." In Luke, the revelation is delivered by "two men . . . in shining garments." In John, "two angels in white" are sitting in the tomb, but Jesus's resurrection is announced not by the two angels but by an apparition of Jesus himself [note 5].

  • In Matthew, the great stone is still in place when the discoverers arrive, but a helpful angel descends from heaven (amid an earthquake!), rolls the stone away, and declares that Jesus has risen.

Such cases occur by the score. Again and again, stories in the canonical gospels show tantalizing similarities, subtle divergences, and catastrophic contradictions in content, structure and wording.

Those similarities and divergences and contradictions are, for New Testament scholars, clues that suggest answers to some important questions: How were the canonical gospels composed? In what sequence? And where did the gospel-writers obtain their stories? It is clear that each gospel contains material taken from other sources -- but what was taken from where?

New Testament historians have advanced various hypotheses to explain how the canonical gospels originated, and the hypotheses are based largely on analyses of Matthew, Mark and Luke. These three, known as the synoptic gospels, resemble each other considerably in scope, in subject matter, and in the impressions of Jesus that they project [note 6]. Most of the subject matter that appears in Mark also appears in Matthew; about half of the subject matter in Mark is found in Luke too; and the corresponding passages often agree closely in wording [note 7].

Literary and philological studies of the earliest versions of the synoptic gospels have led some experts to infer that Mark is essentially a condensation of material borrowed from Matthew and Luke. Other analysts contend that Matthew and Luke are expanded versions of Mark, embellished with stories drawn from some external source or sources. Others hold that Matthew is based on Mark, and that Luke contains material copied from both Mark and Matthew. Others assert that the synoptic gospels are three independent adaptations of material drawn from some earlier reservoir of stories about Jesus. And still others infer that Matthew and Mark are independent compositions, based chiefly on earlier, unidentified descriptions of Jesus's doings, while Luke is largely a reworking of material taken from Matthew and Mark [note 7].

Each of these hypotheses is supported by some evidence, but none of the hypotheses seems adequate, by itself, as an explanation for all the similarities and all the differences that the synoptic gospels display [note 8].

Fakery and Fantasies

While New Testament scholars analyze the facts that they have gathered during their studies, fundamentalists spurn the facts and the scholars alike. They do so because fundamentalism revolves around the doctrine of biblical inerrancy, i.e., the notion that the Christian Bible is free of errors and that all its narratives are perfect accounts of real persons and events. Fundamentalists who espouse this doctrine (as nearly all fundamentalists do) view the New Testament through lenses of willful ignorance, and fundamentalist preachers routinely use misrepresentations and falsehoods to hide the New Testament's internal contradictions and other absurdities. When two or three or all of the canonical gospels offer contradictory accounts of the same event, a preacher typically cites the one account that serves his purposes, and he ignores the rest entirely; or he uses word-tricks to imply that all the gospels agree; or he blends the gospels' contradictory stories to produce a composite -- a new story which doesn't appear in any gospel and which is simply a fake.

Schoolbook-writers employ the same tactics. I've read many high-school and middle-school books that purport to provide information about Jesus and the origins of Christianity, and I've found that what they really provide is religious indoctrination:

  • The real Jesus, the Jesus of history, is assiduously ignored.

  • The distinction between the Jesus of history and the legendary Jesus of the New Testament is concealed, and the legendary Jesus is presented as a real person.

  • New Testament stories (or composites of New Testament stories) are presented as if they were historical reports of real events.

  • New Testament scholarship is entirely excluded.

In high-school books [note 9] and middle-school books alike, the material about Jesus consists chiefly of fundamentalist fantasies.

I say "chiefly" because the accounts of Jesus in some books include other fantasies too: Schoolbook-writers occasionally invent Jesus fantasies of their own, to make their books more appealing or politically correct. They alter gospel stories at will, and sometimes they ignore the gospels entirely. In the most bizarre cases, they hop back and forth between endorsing the New Testament as history and then scorning it -- and as they do so, they remind us that, in the schoolbook industry, nothing is sacred but the almighty buck.

Among the splurges of Jesus-junk that I have found in current schoolbooks, none is more perverse than the material that appears in Ancient World, a 6th-grade book published by the McGraw-Hill School Division. In a lesson titled "The Beginnings of Christianity," McGraw-Hill provides a veritable catalogue of the deceits which schoolbook-writers utilize for promoting fundamentalism, for falsifying the early history of Christianity, and for falsifying the origins, the nature, and the content of Christian scripture. This material deserves some detailed analysis, and I think that I can do the job.

Angels, No -- Manger, Yes

"The Beginnings of Christianity" opens (on page 408 of Ancient World) with a two-paragraph "Read Aloud" exercise:

READ ALOUD

"Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good news of great joy . . . for to you is born in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you; you will find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger."

These words, taken from the writings of an important new religion, announce the birth of a child in the Roman empire. Despite his humble birth, this child grew up to change the course of history.

"These words" in the first paragraph have actually been taken from the writings of a McGraw-Hill hack -- a hack who, in this case, has doctored a passage that appears in the Gospel of St. Luke. Luke is the only canonical gospel that purports to describe Jesus's birth [note 10], and what Luke says is this:

And [Mary, the mother of Jesus] brought forth her first-born son, and
wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there
was no room for them at the inn.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping
watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord
shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings
of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is
Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in
swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

Now read McGraw-Hill's version again. McGraw-Hill evidently decided that angels were commercially undesirable, so Luke has been sanitized and "the angel of the Lord" has been eliminated: In McGraw-Hill's version, the news of Jesus's birth is delivered by nobody at all. Luke's phrase "to all people" has been deleted too, and it has been replaced by an ellipsis -- presumably because the concept of Jesus as the savior of all mankind isn't politically correct.

Luke's claim about the manger, however, has fared very well. McGraw-Hill has not merely retained it but has endorsed it as fact -- note the reference to Jesus's "humble birth" in McGraw-Hill's second paragraph. The truth, however, is that we have no historical information whatever about the circumstances of Jesus's birth. Luke's claims about a manger and "no room for them at the inn" are colorful, but they have no standing as history -- and neither does anything else in Luke's fantastical account of Jesus's origin. (I'll say more about that account when I describe McGraw-Hill's promotion of the claim that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.)

After students perform the "Read Aloud" exercise, they read a brief passage, ludicrously titled "The Big Picture," in which they learn that "a collection of books called the New Testament" tells "the story" of the birth of Christianity. These books have apparently fallen from the sky. Nowhere in "The Big Picture" is there a statement about when, how or why the books were written, nor is there any hint that anyone has ever wondered about such things.

Now a headline announces "The Life of Jesus," and the first paragraph under the headline says:

One book of the New Testament begins with a routine order. Emperor Augustus said that a census should be taken throughout the entire empire. Augustus's order meant that all the people in the empire had to return to the towns where they were born so that they could be counted. So a Jewish couple named Joseph and Mary set out for Bethlehem (BETH luh hem), a small town south of Jerusalem. Find Bethlehem on the map on this page. While there, the Bible [sic] says, Mary gave birth to a son, Jesus. [page 409]

In fact, no book of the New Testament begins with a tale that involves Augustus and a journey to Bethlehem. Such a story does exist, however. It appears in chapter 2 (not chapter 1) of Luke, and it is absurd. Here is how the story's opening verses are imparted in the King James Version:

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from
Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.
(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into
Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was
of the house and lineage of David:)
To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

The claims that are set forth in those verses are fictitious. The person who invented them wasn't familiar with Roman administrative practices, and (worse) he didn't notice that his tale contained a fatal anachronism: When Jesus was born, at some time in the closing years of the 1st century BC, Galilee hadn't yet been absorbed into the Roman empire. Even if Augustus had actually issued a decree requiring the counting or registering of all the men in his empire, the decree wouldn't have affected Galilee -- and wouldn't have compelled any Galilean to go anywhere -- because Galilee was an independent territory. Scholars have exposed and explained this anachronism, along with other fatal defects in the tale of Joseph and Mary's trip to Bethlehem [note 11], and they have explained why the link between Jesus and Bethlehem was invented: It made Jesus fit a prophecy (in the Hebrew Bible's Book of Micah) which stated that Bethlehem would produce a man destined to be "ruler in Israel."

There is more to this matter, because Luke isn't the only gospel which says that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. The same claim appears in Matthew too. Matthew doesn't have a birth-of-Jesus scene, but Matthew does offer this:

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the
king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem.

Matthew thus contravenes Luke -- for if Jesus had been born "in the days of Herod the king," then Jesus couldn't have been born when (as Luke proclaims) a Roman governor was carrying out a "taxing" or census in Judaea. The first Roman census in Judaea was conducted in AD 6, when the Romans made Judaea a province of their empire, and King Herod was long gone by then; he had died in 5 or 4 BC. In short: Matthew and Luke share a claim about where Jesus was born, but Matthew and Luke attach that claim to contradictory assertions about when Jesus was born.

McGraw-Hill has concealed all of this because McGraw-Hill is striving to promote the fancy that the New Testament is a body of historical reports rather than a body of religious claims.

The same fancy is promoted repeatedly in later parts of "The Beginnings of Christianity," and it sometimes is linked with bald miracle-mongering:

From the age of 30, the Bible [sic] says Jesus spent much of his time teaching crowds of people. Many came to hear him because he healed sick people and performed many other miracles. . . . The New Testament says that while he taught, Jesus also cured many sick people -- both Jews and non-Jews. As a result of these miracles, the number of Jesus' followers grew. [note 12]

To reinforce the deception that the New Testament is a work of history, McGraw-Hill displays a short excerpt from Luke and calls Luke a "PRIMARY SOURCE." This is fraudulent for two reasons. First: The term primary source comes from the lexicon of historiography, and it denotes an item that historians regard as an original, first-hand account of real events; to describe a body of fictional stories as a "primary source" is absurd, even if the stories are original. Second: Luke isn't a "primary" anything. It is a secondary compilation, and it says so: Its opening verses declare it to be a retelling of stories that have been "delivered" by earlier narrators.

Dumping the Gospels

The religious preaching in "The Beginnings of Christianity" continues until Jesus must meet his fate -- and then, suddenly, the New Testament ceases to be history! When the time comes for Jesus to be captured and destroyed, McGraw-Hill drops the New Testament like a hot rock, scorns all of the canonical gospels, and proffers a short version of the Jesus-gets-nabbed story that is politically correct nowadays -- the sanitized story that sometimes is called "Ain't Nobody in Here but Us Romans." I quote McGraw-Hill's version in full:

Rome Takes Action

Jesus' growing fame troubled many people. Some were afraid that he wanted to rule over a new kingdom. These beliefs added to Roman rulers' fears that a revolt was about to break out in Judea.

Around the time of the Jewish Passover festival, soldiers arrested Jesus one night in a garden. After questioning him, a Roman governor sentenced Jesus to die by crucifixion (kru suh FIK shun). The word crucifixion means "putting to death by hanging from a cross." Roman leaders often used crucifixion to punish slaves, rebels, and others thought to be enemies of the empire. [page 411]

There you have it, folks: Some nameless people felt troubled because Jesus was becoming famous, so some soldiers came from nowhere and seized him, and then a Roman decided to hang him.

But that is not what Luke (the "PRIMARY SOURCE") says. That is not what Matthew says either, or Mark or John. In all four of the canonical gospels, Jesus is brought to ruin by a conspiracy of Jewish priests and other Jewish dignitaries [note 13]. In all four gospels, Jesus is captured by agents of those conspirators (not by mysterious soldiers) [note 14]. In all four gospels, Jesus's Jewish enemies subject him to a religious trial before they deliver him into Roman hands. And in all four gospels, a Roman official condemns Jesus to crucifixion because agitated Jews have demanded this, even though the Roman official has questioned Jesus and has found him innocent of any transgression against Roman authority.

Do those gospel stories have any foundation in fact? We do not know [note 15]. But we do know this: After strenuously promoting gospel tales as history, McGraw-Hill has dumped the gospels and has contemned and contradicted all four of them at once.

Now it is time for the crucified Jesus to utter his last words and to die. McGraw-Hill commemorates his death by retrieving the New Testament and mentioning it in a short paragraph:

As he died, the New Testament reports [sic!] that Jesus said,
Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.

That paragraph is a plain lie. In Matthew and Mark, as we have seen, Jesus's last words are "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" In Luke, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." And in John, "It is finished." Apparently, however, none of those lines scored well during McGraw-Hill's market-research surveys. Evidently, McGraw-Hill's focus groups judged that Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do was cooler than any of the dying utterances that are ascribed to Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke or John -- so McGraw-Hill judged that Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do would be more useful for boosting sales of Ancient World [note 16]

After Jesus dies, McGraw-Hill continues to rehabilitate the New Testament and to rebuild the delusion that the New Testament is a record of history. On page 412 of Ancient World, we read:

According to the New Testament, three days after he was crucified Jesus rose from his tomb. He rejoined his apostles and told them about the coming kingdom of God. Afterwards, the New Testament says, Jesus rose into heaven.

That rubbish is so deceitful that the word deceitful barely suffices to describe it. Here is some of the relevant history that McGraw-Hill has concealed:

  • The early Christians had many stories in which Jesus, after his death, visited (and spoke with) people who had been his friends during the last years of his life. Such stories existed before the New Testament was assembled.

  • Some Christians took the stories literally, so they concluded that the dead Jesus had experienced a physical resurrection and had become a living man again. Other Christians, however, rejected this literalism: They asserted that the resurrection stories were metaphorical, or were products of illusions, or were fictions that reflected theological misconceptions.

  • Those conflicting views engendered a political battle that split the Christian church apart during the 2nd century. The battle was won, eventually, by the literalists. The literalists took control of the church, installed their beliefs as orthodoxies, and proceeded to canonize stories in which Jesus died, underwent physical revivification, and then appeared to certain of his followers.

  • In the earliest specimens of the Gospel of St. Mark, there are no stories in which Jesus makes post mortem appearances: The narrative ends with the discovery that Jesus's corpse is gone from his tomb. The canonical Gospel of St. Mark that we read in the New Testament is a later version, amplified to include episodes in which Jesus makes some post mortem visitations and issues certain instructions and prophecies [note 17].

  • Narratives pertaining to Jesus's resurrection appear in five units of the New Testament -- the four canonical gospels and St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. The resurrection stories in the canonical gospels are inconsistent with each other and are grossly different from the claims made in Paul's letter [note 17].

Page 412 of Ancient World also shows a 15th-century painting, with a caption that identifies the painting as a "scene of Jesus rising from his tomb." McGraw-Hill fails to mention that this painting and every other graphic image of Jesus is wholly fanciful, because no one knows what Jesus looked like.

After Jesus ascends to heaven, McGraw-Hill provides an epilogue that includes nearly a page of sanitized claptrap about St. Paul. Then, in a section titled "Reviewing Facts and Ideas," McGraw-Hill restates the lie that has pervaded most of the lesson: "The life and teachings of Jesus are recorded [sic!] in the New Testament of the Bible."

Postscript       Ancient World has been adopted for use in the public schools of California. This is shameful and indeed outrageous, but I don't find it surprising: The California State Board of Education is closely allied with the major schoolbook companies, the Board strives to promote and protect the companies' commercial interests, and the Board's textbook-adoption proceedings are deeply corrupt. I'm sure that McGraw-Hill could have secured the adoption of Ancient World in California even if the book had said that Jesus glowed in the dark and that his dying words were "Patent pending."

Notes

  1. In its broadest sense, the word gospel denotes any piece of writing that tells about Jesus of Nazareth, contains unique material, and can be dated to the 1st century. Some gospels -- such as the Gospel of Thomas or the four canonical gospels -- are substantial bodies of religious preaching and polemic. Some other gospels are tiny fragments, known only to scholars. [return to text]

  2. See Matthew 27:3-5. [return to text]

  3. See Acts 1:15-18. For an analysis of the two stories about the death of Judas, see chapter VI of Randel Helms's book Gospel Fictions, published in 1988 by Prometheus Books (Amherst, New York). Helms shows that both stories were invented to make Judas's death fulfill "oracular readings" of passages in the Hebrew Bible's Book of Jeremiah and Book of Zechariah. [return to text]

  4. In Matthew (as rendered in the King James Version), the corpse's absence is discovered by "Mary Magdalene and the other Mary." In Mark, by "Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome." In Luke, by unspecified women who had followed Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem. In John, by Mary Magdalene alone. [return to text]

  5. Here again, and in the rest of this article, the King James Version is the source of my quotations from the New Testament. [return to text]

  6. In the phrase synoptic gospels, the word synoptic means "presenting the same view"; synoptic was derived from two Greek words meaning "together" and "going to see." [return to text]

  7. See "The Search for a No-Frills Jesus," by Charlotte Allen, in The Atlantic Monthly for December 1996. [return to text]

  8. The last canonical gospel, the Gospel of St. John, differs substantially from the three synoptics in its subject matter and in its strongly supernaturalistic view of Jesus -- but even so, it resonates with the synoptics in many ways. During the opening decades of the 20th century, historians generally held that John was a radical rewrite of Mark, intended to make Jesus look as transcendent as he could be. Then, for a while, scholarly opinion moved toward the view that John, though it incorporated some borrowed material, was essentially an independent composition. Today the earlier appraisal of John is gaining favor again. [return to text]

  9. For a short analysis of the Jesus material in four high-school books, see "Fostering Fundamentalism" on page 35 of this issue. [return to text]

  10. Jesus's birth isn't mentioned at all in Mark or in John. In Matthew, it is dispatched in one verse: Jesus is born and is named, and that's that. [return to text]

  11. See, for example, Robin Lane Fox's book The Unauthorized Version, issued in 1991 by Viking Penguin (London). [return to text]

  12. The first of these passages appears on page 409 of Ancient World, the second on page 411. Notice that the two passages are essentially interchangeable, for the second is just a short rewrite of the first. The first passage mentions miracles of healing and "other miracles," but it doesn't suggest what the "other miracles" may have been; the second passage doesn't even hint at other miracles -- it merely refers to miracles in which Jesus "cured many sick people." I've seen such evasive performances before: Textbook-writers often cite New Testament tales in which Jesus conducts supernatural healings, but the writers typically shun New Testament miracle-stories that are much more famous -- e.g., the story in which Jesus turns water into wine (John 2:1-10), the story in which Jesus revivifies a man who has been dead for four days (John 11:38-44), and the several stories in which Jesus multiplies a few loaves of bread and a few fishes to make enough food for a multitude (Matthew 14:17-21, Matthew 15:33-38, Mark 6:35-44, Luke 9:12-17 and John 6:5-13.) Evidently, the schoolbook companies have determined that healings are the miracles that help to sell books. [return to text]

  13. See Matthew 26-27, Mark 14-15, Luke 22-23, and John 18-19. [return to text]

  14. In Matthew (26:47), Jesus is seized by "a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and elders of the people." In Mark (14:43), by "a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders." In Luke (22:52), by "the chief priests, and captains of the temple, and the elders." And in John (18:3), by "a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees." [return to text]

  15. In Gospel Fictions (cited in note 3, above), Randel Helms analyzes various statements that appear in the canonical accounts of Jesus's religious trial. Helms points to some fatal contradictions, and he finds that the trial scene in Mark includes claims that were contrived to resonate with statements in the Hebrew Bible's Book of Daniel and Book of Psalms. [return to text]

  16. McGraw-Hill got the Father, forgive them line from Luke. (There is no analogous item in any other gospel.) In the crucifixion scene in Luke, Jesus says Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do at the very start of his ordeal on the cross -- before the soldiers mock him, and before the "KING OF THE JEWS" superscription is put into place, and before Jesus tells the supplicant malefactor that "To day shalt thou be with me in paradise." [return to text]

  17. See Gospel Fictions, the book cited in note 3, above. [return to text]


William J. Bennetta is a professional editor, a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, the president of The Textbook League, and the editor of The Textbook Letter. He writes often about the propagation of quackery, false "science" and false "history" in schoolbooks.

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