Episode 85: River

A primer on Biblical canon formation, retrospective on what we’ve covered so far, and introduction to the upcoming season.

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A Retrospective on Early Christianity en route to Late Antiquity

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Hello, and welcome to Literature and History. Episode 85: River. In this program, we’ll wrap up our fifth season on the New Testament and early Christian world, and look toward our next season on Late Antiquity. Our goals in this show will be to talk a bit about how and when the canonization of the Hebrew Bible and Roman Catholic Bible happened, to introduce the coming twenty episode season on Late Antiquity, and then to make some closing remarks about early Christianity as we’ve come to know it over the past couple dozen hours of the Literature and History podcast.

We’ve spent a lot of time with the Bible. From learning about the Merneptah Stele of 1207 BCE all the way down to Manichaeism, we’ve waded pretty deeply into the scriptures of Judaism, early Christianity, and the history behind them. This podcast has been front loaded with a lot of religious history, with over 25 hours on the main series devoted to the Bible, and including other historical and apocryphal materials related to the Bible in bonus sequences, about 70 hours of educational audio pertinent to ancient theology. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that in this project – the podcast, I mean – I’m trying to write an interdisciplinary history of literature that disregards traditional departmental divisions like Assyriology, Classics, Philosophy, Divinity School, Medieval Studies, and so on. The theological developments of the Ancient Mediterranean and Ancient Near East were so formative to every subsequent phase of literary history that I thought we ought to take our time learning about them at the outset of our long story, in a way that put them in their broader cultural and historical contexts. The second reason why our podcast has been so frontloaded with theology is quite simply that by the third century CE, where we left off last time with Manichaeism, a lot of what was going to happen in theological history had already happened. Salvific monotheism, in a couple of different forms, had been created, and the Qur’an would add another a few centuries later. Religious ideologies centered on the individual, rather than the community, had won out over the ritual and pageantry of Bronze and Iron Age public sacrifices and ceremonies. The main dualisms – horizontal and vertical, had been crafted, with particularly the idea of earthly existence as a prelude to something more permanent having become intensely popular by the third century. Creationism and apocalypticism, by this time, had become widely embraced. And in Judaism and Christianity, biblical canons were well on their way to being solidified, and it is to that subject that I now want to turn for a little while.

The various Christian bibles are long books. What biblical scholars often cite as the oldest portion of them – the Song of Deborah in the Book of Judges, may date back to the 800s BCE.1 At the other end of the spectrum, the epistle of Second Peter, fluent in many of the other New Testament epistles, is thought to have been written after 100 CE. Spanning 900 years in its composition, then, the Christian Bible contains the doctrines of two different religions. The first is a late Iron Age ideology centered on a single Ancient Near Eastern population, largely designed to legislate their civic and private lives, commercial activities, and community rituals, chronicling about three centuries of the region’s local history, and presuming that the Temples of Jerusalem, First or Second, would continue to be the sacred and administrative center of the religion. The second ideology in the Bible is a later pan-Mediterranean religion, ecumenical in its outlook and more eclectic in its theological ingredients, that possessed, like other salvific religions that had led up to it, broad potential for individual appeal and mass circulation. The three most influential Bibles, these being the Hebrew Tanakh, the Roman Catholic Bible, and the Protestant Bible, were all formed by selecting a canon of sacred scriptures out of a larger mass of religious writings. What follows over the next few minutes is an abridged story of how this happened. [music]

The Emergence of the Bound Codex

There are two components to the story of how biblical canons formed during Late Antiquity. The first has to do with technology. And the second has to do with ideology and doctrine. Let’s start with the technological part of the story, as this is relatively simple to explain. The emergence of biblical canons coincides with the gradual triumph of books over scrolls in antiquity. Although we’ve talked plenty about books in this podcast, we haven’t talked about when bound codices of parchment started replacing wound scrolls, unrolled from left to right, as a primary means of storing and preserving information. Let’s hear a standard source on when and how this happened – this is a quote from Reynolds and Wilson’s Scribes and Scholars, published by Oxford University Press in 1991.
Down to the second century A.D. the standard vehicle for all literary texts had been the papyrus roll, but from the earliest times an alternative medium had existed in the writing tablet, which consisted of a number of wax-coated boards fastened together with a thong or clasp. These were used throughout antiquity for letters, school-exercises, rough notes, and other casual purposes. The Romans extended their scope by using them for legal documents and took the important step of replacing the wooden tablets with parchment leaves. These parchment notebooks (membranae) were in use by the end of the Republic, but it took a long time for them to achieve the status of books.2

Apocryphon of John

The opening of the Secret Book of John in the Nag Hammadi library, and an example of a folio from an ancient codex.

Codices, or bound collections of treated animal skins, were freightliners for carrying the written word, whereas scrolls that had come along before them were sailboats and skiffs. Archaeology, together with textual references, conclusively show parchment codices replacing papyrus scrolls over the first few centuries CE, to the extent that by the 500s, bundled codices had won out over their shorter and flimsier predecessors. Just for clarification, by the way, parchment, not to be confused with parchment paper, is thin, treated leather, scraped and stretched so that it presents a consistent writing surface.

The existence of parchment codices is attested in some lines written by the Roman poet Martial at some point in the 80s CE. Martial wrote, “Ilias et Priami regnis inimicus Ulixes / Multiplici pariter condita pelle latent,” in English, “The Iliad and the tale of Ulysses, foe to Priam’s realm, both lie stored in many-folded skins,” the many-folded skins in question referring to newfangled ways of storing the expansive works of Homer in parchment.3 Elsewhere, Martial praised parchment’s ability to be rubbed out and covered anew with fresh words (VII), and the codex’s ability to get a lot of writing compacted into just one place (CXC, CLXXXVI). Martial even, at one point, advertised his own works as available in the new medium, telling his reader, “You, who wish my poems should be everywhere with you. . .buy these which the parchment confines in small pages. . .this [work] of me one hand can grasp.”4 These lines were written around the time the author of Luke and Acts was setting down his section of the New Testament for posterity, and the lines suggest that even by the 80s CE, Greek and Latin literature, old and new, was beginning to circulate in compact leather bundles, rather than in cases of scrolls.

As a piece of technology, the codex, or basically, the bound book, emerges onto the historical scene around the time Parthian Zoroastrianism and early Catholicism were working to standardize doctrines and institutions beneath widespread clergies. In a parallel development, following the first Jewish-Roman War of 66-73 CE, and then the Bar Kokhba revolt of 132-136, Jewish communities had an intensified need to preserve and share sacred writings, as Rabbinic Judaism, centered in synagogues, also required standard texts in portable editions that could be cross-referenced with one another. It would be overzealous to say that these religions required the technology of the codex in order to grow and flourish, or that the bound codex catalyzed the rise of several different professional clergies, but for common sense reasons, the compact nature of the bound parchment handbook made it an important part of religious history from the first century CE onward. Christian theologians, including the authors of the Gospels, were no strangers to quoting and making allusions to earlier Hebrew Scriptures, which themselves made references to even earlier Hebrew Scriptures, and so the history the bound codex is likely woven together with the emergence of biblical canons. [music]

Canon Formation: The Bigger Picture

Now that we’ve talked a bit about the bound codex and the way that it encouraged and facilitated canon formation in and after the first century, let’s spend a moment considering what a canon is, and how canons arose in the ancient world. Any introduction to this subject will explain to you that the Greek word kānon refers to a measuring rod – a ruler, or standard by which things can be judged. Greeks, as early as the fifth century BCE, were using the word kānon to refer to established guidelines for the writing of poetry, or how sculptures ought to be carved, and how shapes in geometry should be calibrated.5 Long before Christianity existed, then, in the Greek world, “canon” meant a set of established and understood standards that governed artistic, intellectual, and manual work.

The notion of abstract universal standards emerges in Greek language writings with Pythagorean references to musical harmony. Plato’s philosophical predecessors noticed that subdivided strings produced equivalent harmonic relationships – that this string, [sound] held down at the halfway point and plucked [sound], produced the same harmonic relationship as this other string [sound], held down at the halfway point and plucked [sound] – and that octaves, fifths, fourths, and other musical relationships seemed universally reproducible [sound, sound, sound, sound]. This was intoxicating stuff to Plato, who not only went on to theorize about a universal world of forms, but also, in the Republic, laid out a state-censored program of music and literature to best create a citizenry who would loyally serve a privileged intelligentsia.

Codex Sinaiticus Matthew 6,32-7,27

A page from the Codex Sinaiticus, a mid-third-century Bible discovered in 1884, and a text which is thought to have once contained both testaments. Notably, the Codex Sinaiticus also contained the Epistle of Barnabas and sections of The Shepherd of Hermas.

Plato’s ideas on canon formation help introduce one of the traditional approaches to canon formation – that canon formation is essentially a restrictive activity, controlled by a cadre of powered elites. To quote scholar Philip Davies, “All canonizing is elitist in conception and authoritarian in implementation. Canonizing may commence by trying (not even explicitly) to create a culture; but it typically ends by dictating a culture through the medium of a fixed list of what is and what is not canonical. It is thus an entirely open question whether or not fixed, closed, and authoritative canons are a good thing at all.”6 Canon formation is not a subject that’s just restricted to religious scriptures – being a product of several different English departments, I can tell you that our canons, and the authors whom we teach in undergraduate classes, have evolved and changed over the past century, in no small part because the demographics of English departments have changed, along with our interests. But to return to the subject of Biblical canons, though, in religious studies, one approach to canon formation is to look at it as a rather negative and exclusive process, designed to garner and stabilize power for a core group, and to assume, as scholar Philip Jenkins puts it, that “The medieval church was built on the ashes of burnt books.”7 According to this approach to canon formation, the Bible came together not due to the consensuses of worship communities, nor, possibly, even the intrinsic theological qualities of canonized writings, but instead due to a powerful inner core of literate people trying to stamp their sectarian outlook on the broader populace by legislating what was permissible to read, and what got burned and forgotten.

All of that sounds kind of grim – a very familiar academic and secularist argument cynically positing that religion is a vehicle for social control. If you look for Catholic decrees from Late Antiquity that sound stridently exclusionary, you can find them. The Gelasian Decree, issued some time in the early sixth century, identified several dozen authors and hundreds of works as forbidden to be read, condemning these banned authors as “disciples of heresy and of the heretics and schismatics. . .we acknowledge [are] to be not merely rejected but eliminated from the whole Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church and. . .to be damned in the inextricable shackles of anathema forever.”8 The idea of an in-group of legitimate Christians and illegitimate heretics dates back to the New Testament epistles, and of course by the sixth century, any formal Catholic decree seeking to delegitimize books as heretical was likely to make use of this dichotomy.

There are, however, many problems with a solely top-down understanding of what canon formation was, and before we get into an overview of how the Hebrew Bible and Roman Catholic Bible came together, I want to talk about some of these problems. The first is very simple. The vast documentary record of early Christian theologians that we now possess – theologians weighing in on canon formation over the 200s, 300s, and 400s – shows deeply religious thinkers whose statements about canon are related to genuine matters of doctrine, and not how to corral believers into church and fleece them. The second problem with the top-down view of canon formation is equally simple. This is that if, indeed, some hidden boardroom of theologians, whether in a secret chamber of the Second Temple or the basement of the Old St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, had wanted to engineer a book in which there was an absolutely clear and unified creed in order to best manipulate a laity into subservience, they probably wouldn’t have selected such an enormous and varied anthology of documents in order to accomplish this purpose. When early theologians like Marcion, around 150 CE, did propose a slimmed down collection of scriptures that corroborated his sectarian version of where the religion ought to go, proto-orthodox writers like Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian all denounced him. The proto-orthodox canon was catholic in the adjectival sense of the word – it was inclusive and all encompassing, and it retained the old books, too – even ones that didn’t mesh very well with the ecumenical messages of Jesus and Saint Paul.

So if we assume that Biblical canon formation is largely an effort toward social control, then, we significantly discount the fact that the Christian theologians who weighed in on the subject wanted a collection of sacred scriptures that embraced the long history that they perceived leading up to them, and that they themselves sincerely believed was true and correct. But there is another problem, still, with the idea of an inner group of elites fashioning canon, and this third problem is slightly more complicated.

There are canons within the Biblical canon. Psalms, for instance, is a collection that has already been sorted and collated, as is Proverbs. So, too, are Isaiah and Jeremiah – the right and left arms of the Prophetic Books being themselves anthologies of writings that have already been curated and arranged. So, too, is the Pentateuch, according to the Documentary Hypothesis, a bundle of texts resulting from four different ideologies – a Yahwist, an Elohist, a Priestly writer, and the Deuteronomist. The Hebrew Bible, as scholarship now often understands it today, is already an anthology of anthologies, which began in tendrils of tribal oral tradition and grew into something much larger. As scholar Michael Fishbane puts it,
over time these deposits of tradition were adapted to new situations and combined in new ways. . .Materials were thus detribalized and nationalized; depolytheized and monotheized; reorganized and reconceptualized. The integration and reworking of many types of tradition at many different times and places thus had the result of incorporating non-Israelite and local Israelite materials into a national corpus whose telling and retelling was a new basis for cultural memory. Accordingly, the movement [was] from the small oral traditions (native and foreign) to the final written state of Scripture.9

What that quote invites us to think about is that canonization isn’t just a careful selection of finished texts in a sterile environment. Canonization is a process that influences the editing of existing writings and the generation of new writings, as well. And speaking of writing, let’s talk about canonization and writing for a moment – by that I simply mean the application of ink to parchment or papyrus or potsherds or whatever.

A century or two ago, we knew far less about writing in the ancient world than we do now. One of the things we’ve come to understand – from archaeological sites in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia – is how scribes learned how to write. One of the ways that they learned to write, which is very clear from several dig sites of archaeological schools, was by means of copying. Copying the Humbaba episode of the Epic of Gilgamesh, for instance, was a way that more advanced scribes practiced cuneiform logographs in the Mesopotamian city of Nippur. As scholar Philip Davies puts it, “Although the majority of the recovered libraries date from the first millennium, many of them contain copies of much older compositions. What is more, in many cases (but not all) the various copies exhibit virtually the same textual form, suggesting that some texts, at some time, and perhaps in some places, were standardized.”10 For certain easily apparent reasons, then, standard editions of texts were logical partners to standard writing systems, both making the other possible. As time passed, older texts – ones that had been copied by many generations of scribes, must have taken on an added gravity, as so many human hours had gone into preserving them and bringing them down through time.

It’s commonplace to discuss the emergence of biblical canons alongside the rise of bound books, as we did a moment ago. And it’s equally pragmatic to consider what Biblical canonization was before getting into the specific history of how it happened – namely that it happened very slowly, and much more often out of genuinely theological conviction and respect for the antiquity of the writings themselves than a cynical and irreligious desire to control believers. But before we go any further, we should also consider the special nature of Biblical texts – texts which were not just highly respected works of history or socially esteemed ethical handbooks, but instead, texts that in places claim to be divinely inspired.

Hesiod Listening to the Inspiration of the Muse (detail) by Edmond Aman-Jean

A detail from Edmond Aman-Jean’s Hesiod Listening to the Inspiration of the Muse (c. 1890). Inspiration of song and words by muses is a common motif in Ancient Greek literature, from the archaic period onward.

Ancient Greece had a metaphor for artistic and intellectual inspiration – what it was, and how it worked. In Hesiod’s Theogony, written very roughly around 700 BCE, the ancient Greek writer describes how Zeus “made love to Mnemosyne with beautiful hair, / From whom nine Muses with golden diadems were born, / And their delight is in festivals and the pleasures of song.”11 In ancient Greek and Roman ideology, the muses were a way of explaining the nature of artistic and intellectual inspiration, and even just inspired speech that meets the exigency of given moments, as in Homer’s ἔπεα πτερόεντα, or “winged words,” a phrase used over a hundred times in the Iliad and Odyssey. I think most of us have, at some point or another, read something, or seen a performance, or learned about something, and seen another person do something that we perceive is so extraordinary that they seem to have been temporarily imbued with superhuman power. I can’t imagine this was an idea invented by Greeks or Romans – if a caveman, or cavewoman could run at abnormal speeds, surely his or her cave-friends attributed such astonishing abilities to the cave-gods.

In the centuries of archaic Greece, when bards with lyres wowed audiences with their performances, the muses were, as we see in Hesiod, understood as beings who inspired songs. But as phonetic alphabets exploded across the Mediterranean and Ancient Near East, beginning an increase of reading and writing not possible with more complex logographic systems like cuneiform and hieroglyphs, the notion of inspired writing appeared to compliment the older notions of inspired songs and performances. And the notion of inspired writing is the backbone of the Abrahamic religions, without which a Moses, or a Muhammad might receive all sorts of messages from on high, but not be able to pass these messages down in an unaltered fashion.

Toward the end of the seventh century BCE, someone wrote the story of Moses’ farewell speech on the banks of the Jordan River in the Book of Deuteronomy. In this speech, Moses tells his listeners to “give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you. . .You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take anything away from it” (Deut 4:1-2). God, Moses warns, will kill anyone who modifies his revelation, and his mandate is repeated almost verbatim later in Deuteronomy. And thousands of pages later, in the Christian Bible’s closing paragraph, John of Patmos warns that anyone who adds to the Book of Revelation will suffer disease and death, and anyone who removes anything from the Book of Revelation will be removed from salvation.

The idea of a canon of inspired writings, then, generated during the late Iron Age proliferation of phonetic alphabets, helped inspire a much more rigid standardization in Ancient Jewish ideology than might have existed in the earlier centuries of oral history. If bound codices were the great technological partner to religion’s evolution from the first century onward, then phonetic alphabets, seven hundred years before, had abetted an earlier evolution – one which made Judaism’s sacred history and doctrines a group enterprise, shared by a literate clergy who could learn from, discuss, and contribute to a shared body of writings over centuries. So, now that we’ve taken a moment upfront to consider some of the ancient history and the implications of canons themselves, let’s begin our story of canonization proper with the Hebrew Bible, and how and when its current canon of 24 books came together. [music]

The Formation of the Hebrew Bible

Today’s Hebrew Bibles have three sections – the Torah, or five book law of Moses, then the Nevi’im, which includes both historical and prophetic books, followed by the Ketuvim, or writings, which includes poetic and wisdom books, along with later historical works like Ruth, Esther, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles. While the Hebrew Bible presents these 24 books in a different order than Christian bibles, and considers the twelve Minor Prophets as a single book, all 24 books of the Hebrew Bible are included in the Roman Catholic and Protestant canons.

It’s likely that these 24 books had been formally established as a canon by the end of the first century CE. On that subject – in other words whether the Hebrew Bible existed in its present form by year 100 – we have two solid sources of evidence. The first is from the Jewish-Roman historian Josephus. Josephus, after writing two major works on Jewish history, wrote a defense of Judaism called Against Apion, probably in the second half of the 90s CE. This, in what may be its most famous passage, clarifies that Judaism is anchored on a small core of sacred scriptures. And a point of clarification before I quote this passage. Josephus is going to mention a person called Artaxerxes at one point. Artaxerxes was an Achaemenid Persian king who ruled from about 465-424 BCE, so when Josephus mentions his name, Josephus is basically referencing the mid-400s BCE. So let’s hear Josephus, again in the second half of the 90s CE, explaining what we now call the Hebrew Bible to a skeptic Greek intellectual. Josephus writes,
[W]e have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another, [as the Greeks have,] but only twenty-two books, which contain the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine; and of them five belong to Moses, which contain his laws and the traditions of the origin of mankind till his death. . .[T]he prophets, who were after Moses, wrote down what was done in their times in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God, and precepts for the conduct of human life. It is true, our history [has] been written since Artaxerxes very particularly, but [has] not been esteemed. . .by our forefathers, because there [has] not been an exact succession of prophets since that time; and how firmly we have given credit to these books of our own nation is evident by what we do; for during so many ages as have already passed, no one has been so bold as either to add any thing to them, to take any thing from them, or to make any change in them; but it [has] become natural to all Jews immediately, and from their very birth, to esteem these books to contain Divine doctrines, and to persist in them.12

That’s a pretty unambiguous description of a sacred canon of scriptures. I want to note two things about that passage, though. The first is that the numbers are a little off – Josephus mentions 22 books, whereas today’s Hebrew Bibles have 24. There are various explanations for this numbering inconsistency – Josephus might have considered certain pairs of historical books to be continuous narratives, and perhaps one or two later books hadn’t quite been canonized yet. But the takeaway from this famous passage of the historian Josephus is that by the 90s CE, the Hebrew Bible was starting to look pretty similar, overall, to the ones resident in today’s synagogues.

Another Jewish source from the late first century CE also suggests a closed and finalized canon of Hebrew Scriptures existed by this time. The apocryphal book of 2 Esdras was written after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. In this apocryphal book, the prophet Ezra has a vision of ninety-four books being written by five inspired writers in ages past – writers using the Hebrew alphabet even though they didn’t know it and perhaps it didn’t exist yet. Following Ezra’s vision, God tells Ezra, “Make public the twenty-four books that you wrote first, and let the worthy and the unworthy read them; but keep the seventy that were written last, in order to give them to the wise among your people.”13 It’s a fascinating little passage in that apocryphal book of 2 Esdras. First of all, it clearly describes a sacred canon of 24 books intended for mass circulation. But it also describes an additional seventy works reserved for scholars and intended to be off limits to the general public. And just as importantly, God tells Ezra, “keep the seventy that were written last” – in other words downgrade the latter-day Hebrew writings as apocryphal.

One of the things we learn when we study canon formation is that the inclusion of older texts, rather than younger texts, was one of the main impulses that dictated canon formation. In both Judaism and Christianity, older books – ones closer to the historical events narrated therein – were much more likely to be included. In a way, this is common sense. Theologians both Jewish and Christian were leery about newfangled creeds sneaking into their time tested ideologies. The rabbis and Christian church fathers of the first few centuries CE thus had to be judicious and smart about pseudepigraphal works that pretended to be of great antiquity, but were not, such as the Book of Daniel, which made it into all major canons, and the Book of 1 Enoch, which did not. Theologians were often quite astute at this sort of thing. Saint Augustine, considering the three books of Enoch in his book The City of God, writes that the “canon of [Hebrew] Scripture. . .was preserved in the temple of the Hebrew people by the diligence of successive priests. [And the Enochian books] are properly judged by prudent men to be not genuine; just as many writings produced by heretics under the names both of other prophets, and more recently, under the apostles.”14 While Augustine doesn’t disparage the notion that the apocryphal scriptures of latter-day authors contain wisdom and are worth taking a look at, he also, looking at the overgrown garden of the Enochian writings, is clear about one thing. Those were not written by the great grandfather of Noah, Augustine tells us, and a good churchman ought to be able to differentiate the legitimate writings of a prophetic or apostolic age from the scribblings of newfangled seers.

Dead Sea Scrolls Before Unraveled

An unwound Dead Sea Scroll as discovered in the Qumran Caves. The Old Testament materials in these manuscripts exhibit some variations from the Masoretic text.

To return to the Hebrew Bible, while Josephus and 2 Esdras suggest that the current canon of Hebrew Scriptures was quite close to being finalized by the year 100 CE, there are a few things to consider before we move on. In spite of the evidence we just discussed, there is no great scholarly consensus on exactly when the Hebrew Bible was formalized. Some believe the canonization of the Hebrew Bible took place during the Hasmonean Dynasty in Jerusalem, or roughly 140-40 BCE. Others believe that canonization took place later, after the first century. The Dead Sea Scrolls, set down roughly between 300 BCE and 100 CE, offer us primary manuscripts of writings in the Hebrew Bible a thousand years older than the standard Hebrew Masoretic text of the tenth century CE, and the Dead Sea Scrolls contain some differences from today’s Hebrew Bibles. The differences are not particularly staggering – we don’t see, for instance, Moses transforming into an eagle, or King David busking on the streets of Babylon, or anything of that nature. But, just to give some examples, a bundle of Psalms in the Dead Sea Scrolls contains 41 canonical psalms, either in their entirety or in fragments, but these 41 canonical psalms are out of canonical order and they’re also interspersed with eight other psalms not ever canonized. Additionally, some Dead Sea Scrolls copies of canonical texts, like the Books of Exodus and Samuel, do exhibit some pretty major differences in language and occasionally content from their canonical versions today, showing ties not just to the Masoretic text central to Rabbinic Judaism, but also the Greek Septuagint and the Samaritan Pentateuch still used in Samaritan populations in and around Israel today.

That’s a complicated little knot of information to process in podcast form, so let me restate it in simpler terms. The historian Josephus and apocryphal book of 2 Esdras both suggest that by about 100, a Jewish canon of about 24 books existed, just as one still exists today. However, the Dead Sea Scrolls, once read and carefully studied, taught us that those 24 books weren’t fully standardized, and that the writing in them was being sourced from some slightly different manuscript traditions – one Hebrew, one Greek, and one in the Samaritan alphabet. The takeaway of all this is as follows. The historian Josephus, some time between 94 and 100, wrote that Hebrew sacred literature encompassed “only twenty-two books, which contain the records of all the past times.” The list of these books may have been formally established some time earlier, and there may have been a rock solid set of master texts somewhere that we don’t know about. But the very limited historical evidence that we do have invites us to conclude that during a period long before the printing press, strive as scribes might for standardization, writing was still a precious and rare thing, language and usage were evolving, and copyists only had limited resources to go on, and so naturally individual books themselves within the canon of the Hebrew Bible still had some variations from one another. [music]

The Canonization of the New Testament

There’s plenty more to say about the canonization of the Hebrew Bible, but let’s move on to the New Testament and Roman Catholic Bible, and begin with the New Testament. The question we need to answer is: When can we be fairly certain that the 27 books of today’s New Testaments were understood as a closed canon? If we’re looking for certainty, the short answer is 367 CE. One of the great theologians of the fourth century was Athanasius of Alexandria – our podcast will have a full episode on a biography that he wrote, the Life of Saint Antony. Athanasius was the Bishop of Alexandria during a turbulent sequence of decades following the Council of Nicaea in 325, and one of his duties was to announce the date of Easter every year in an official letter. In the year 367, Athanasius set forth the date, and also proclaimed a list of 27 books of the New Testament, describing them as κανονιζόμενα, or canonized, in comparison to numerous other books, which were heretical. This list, explicitly identified as the New Testament, is identical to those printed in modern Christian bibles, though Athanasius lists the General Epistles before the Pauline Epistles. And a little later in the fourth century, church councils in 393 and 397 formalized this canon.

Now that sounds, at first glance, like a whole lot of time had elapsed before the Catholic Church had officialized the New Testament canon – three full centuries. Our previous programs on Gnosticism and Manichaeism, and contemporary awareness of the dozens of apocryphal New Testament books might lead us to believe that a mountain of Christian sacred writings existed during these centuries, and this is absolutely true. But within this mountain, in the minds of the Proto-Orthodox theologians traditionally called the church fathers, there was a still roped off section of books referenced far, far more than others as inspired writings, and these books, more often than not, tended to be what we now call the New Testament. The early second century writer Polycarp of Smyrna, for instance, was citing New Testament books by the bushel even though they were, at that point, fairly recent texts. A few decades later, around 150, Justin Martyr was quoting Pauline Epistles, and Acts, and other New Testament writings. In the next decade or two, the Syrian writer Tatian created a Diatessaron, meaning, “out of four,” a synthesis of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, showing that by 160 or so, these four Gospels were understood as having greater consequence than numerous other gospels also out there by that point, and around 180, the theologian Irenaeus drove home the notion that there were four Gospels – no more, and no less. A text called the Muratorian Fragment, an ancient Latin copy of what was probably a Greek original from around the time of the second century, even goes on to list most of what today is the New Testament, omitting some of the later epistles, but otherwise listing eighteen out of the present 27 books.

By the year 200, then, out of the tidal wave of new Christian writings that the movement unleashed, the evidence that we now possess suggests that many of the 27 books of the New Testament were already considered especially sacred. In a text from mid-200s, the theologian Origen also seems to map out a loose New Testament canon, in a passage I want to read to you now. Here’s the passage – the church father Origen writes,
Matthew first sounded the priestly trumpet in his Gospel; Mark also; Luke and John each played their own priestly trumpets. Even Peter cries out with trumpets in two of his epistles; also James and Jude. In addition, John also sounds the trumpet through his epistles, and Luke, as he describes the Acts of the Apostles. And now that last one [, Paul] comes. . .and in fourteen of his epistles, thundering with trumpets.15

Read quickly, all of that sounds like a bunch of celebratory statements about apostles blowing trumpets, but what we see there is a mention of every single New Testament author, with the exception of the Book of Revelation. And I read that to you, by the way, just to give you a sense of the kinds of evidence we use when we try to figure out when and how the Christian canon solidified. The evidence is never very clear cut before the 300s CE. We have, instead, a tangle of all different sorts of information, from allusions to what seem to be partial canon lists, but none of it explicitly enumerates the current list 27 books in the form of an official statement by a bishop or pope until 367 when Athanasius wrote that letter.

After the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity around 312, after the Edict of Milan of 313 granted Christians safety in the Empire, some time after the first Ecumenical Council of Nicaea of 325 established that Christ was co-eternal and consubstantial with Yahweh, and not a lesser son, the Emperor Constantine ordered some books to be made. Constantinople ordered 50 bibles to be produced for Constantinople’s churches. Historians have speculated extensively about the exact contents of these 50 bibles from the 320s or 330s, and variously theorized that some of the oldest surviving Greek manuscripts might actually be Constantine’s bibles, or copies of them. We don’t know precisely what they contained, but it’s commonplace in discussions of biblical canonization to hypothesize that the fusion of the Roman state with the early church necessitated various sorts of creedal and documentary standardization, and that the bound codex facilitated just this sort of uniformity.

Our discussion of the canonization of the Christian Bible has thus far been limited exclusively to the New Testament, but let’s very briefly discuss how the Roman Catholic Old Testament came together. The answer, in a word, is the Septuagint – that Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures undertaken initially in Alexandria in the 200s BCE, and subsequently developed afterward. The Roman Catholic bible contains ancient books from the pre-Christian period not included in Hebrew Bibles, these being Tobit, Judith, Baruch, Sirach, 1 and 2 Maccabees, the Wisdom of Solomon, and some additions to Esther and Daniel. These texts are not canonical in Judaism, though they’re widely known and many of them were likely written in Hebrew, originally. While, in terms of canonization, each of these texts has its own story, in general, the Roman Catholic Old Testament has its roots in Greek translations of Hebrew originals. If you have ever heard of the Vulgate, or Latin Bible completed by Saint Jerome in 405, the reason this document was so special was that it was a Latin translation of Hebrew originals, bypassing the intermediary Septuagint Greek texts. Saint Jerome, in other words, went straight to the source, learning Hebrew so as to make sure that as little as possible was lost in translation when he rendered the Old Testament into Latin for coming generations of Christian readers. [music]

Changing Perspectives on the Early Christian World

Before we close the Bible a final time, I want to have one last word about Gnosticism and Manichaeism, those two major early Christian movements that we took the somewhat unusual step of learning about in our season on the New Testament. In the year 2003, the American novelist Dan Brown published a book called The Da Vinci Code, one of the bestselling novels of the present century. The Da Vinci Code, a fast paced mystery novel, siphoned a few lines out of some Gnostic gospels to suggest that Jesus Christ had a wife named Mary Magdalene, who’d borne him a child. Such a suggestion was juicy enough to elicit a small degree of popular interest in the ancient Coptic manuscripts that make up the Nag Hammadi library, but this interest had been alive and well in academic circles for decades. And about a decade after Brown’s novel came out, scholar Philip Jenkins published a book called The Many Faces of Christ. Jenkins’ book, a work of popular academic scholarship published in 2015, sought to correct some of the more energetic but inaccurate assumptions being made about the Early Christian world as knowledge of Gnostic scriptures and various rejected gospels, acts, and apocalypses trickled into the mainstream world. The novelist Dan Brown, after all, had sold over 80 million copies of a novel that made use of a lost and rejected Christian scripture to speculate about Jesus Christ’s love life, and it was perhaps time for academia to engage in some professional fact checking.

Professional scholars who study the para-Christian movements of the first few centuries CE – chiefly Gnosticism and Manichaeism, have, just as we have over the past couple of episodes, been spellbound by some of the curious and bizarre directions Christianity took over the 200s, 300s, and 400s – directions we didn’t know much at all about until the late 20th century. As scholar Philip Jenkins puts it in the book I mentioned a moment ago,
Since the 1970s, the fact of the lost gospels vanishing in Late Antiquity has become a basic component of an alternative history of Christianity. From that era onward, we are told, all Christians were required to believe in the complex doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity, and the church strictly mandated which scriptures were to be regarded as authoritative. In this vision, the earliest centuries of the faith (before Constantine) were marked by sprawling diversity and creativity, and many schools of thought contested freely. But the democratic, egalitarian, and Spirit-filled Jesus movement then atrophied into the repressive, bureaucratic Catholic Church of the Middle Ages.16

There has been an attraction in some academic and some Protestant revisionist circles to try and demonstrate that this or that practice or ideology that existed in Christianity’s earliest centuries was oppressed or warped in and after the fourth century, as the Catholic church calcified is creeds and organizations. Reading about female prophets in Montanism, for instance, or intellectual history in the church father Clement of Alexandria, or Gnostic salvation through intellectual awakening, various groups have looked into the world of Early Christianity and seen mirrors of their own modern perspectives.

They should. Early Christianity is a night sky with only a few bright spots of textual evidence, and when massive new galaxies of texts rush out of the darkness, like the Nag Hammadi library, or Manichaean texts from Turpan, these documents certainly should change the way we conceive of the past. Most of what I just told you about canonization – about how the Jewish and Roman Catholic bibles came together – is based on tiny deposits of evidence scattered in texts that Catholic scribes and theologians deemed worthy of preservation. A thousand years of history were written and preserved by doctrinal victors, and it was antithetical to their ideology to admit that Christianity might have ever been anything other than what they were. That all sounds pretty negative, but, then, we’re all partisans, swept along in waves of greater cultural movements, and far more evil things have been done in history than some poor seventh-century scribe deciding to create a nice squeaky clean copy of the Gospel of Mark rather than burning the midnight oil to preserve, say, the Book of 3 Enoch for posterity.

And indeed, to return once more to Philip Jenkins’ 2015 study, the world of Late Antique Christianity was far less stringent and exclusive than we might suspect. As Jenkins states, “European [Christianity] was always part of a much wider world with many different structures and attitudes toward faith and scripture. Many Christians lacked the dubious benefits of living under a state intimately allied to church authority.”17 In his study, Philip Jenkins goes on to demonstrate that dozens of apocryphal and pseudepigraphal gospels, acts books, apocalypses, and other texts were situated on monastery and rectory bookshelves throughout Late Antiquity. And in the more Balkanized world of Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, indeed many bishoprics and branches of the church flourished beyond the bounds or any decisive imperial or monarchic control, with Christianity alive and well in the Sasanian Empire and Islamic Caliphates, along the Blue Nile in East Africa, and in the far reaches of the British Isles, too.

When we talk about rejected and lost scriptures, I think it’s very tempting to envision a Farenheit 451 scenario, with bishops standing around a fire and eliminating manuscripts in the name of a sacred canon. In some cases, this is true. In patristics, or the works of the church fathers, you will be hard pressed to hear many remarks of toleration or kindness toward Gnostics or Manichaeans – these groups were identified by one branch of Christianity as heretics, and that branch was victorious. And while indeed, there were works that were suppressed and burned, either in isolated persecutions or due to wider decrees of bishops and popes, there were many other works that we might say died of natural causes. Some books go extinct not on the pyres of angry zealots, but because they’ve sat on monastery bookshelves for too long, and no one is reading them any more. [music]

Moving on to Late Anquity

Well, there you are – our show has now completed its season on the New Testament, and it’s time to move onto Late Antiquity, that strange, glittering, dappled period when Rome came apart, and Christianity and Islam came together. Our next season – roughly twenty episodes in length – will begin with a full historical overview of the period, and you will meet some of its main characters – the early Byzantine dynasties, the Goths, the Vandals, the later Sasanians, the Franks, Merovingians, Lombards, and more. There are periods that we have covered in this program that aren’t exactly off the beaten path of the hobbyist historian. Biblical history – the history of the Levant during the seventh and sixth centuries BCE, and then the first century CE – this is not a neglected topic. Athens, during fifth century BCE and a little afterward, also gets a lot of love from armchair enthusiasts, as does Rome during the late republican and early imperial period. Late Antiquity, though, is the historical dark side of the moon in the Anglophone world – a period in which the smooth well-worn roads of Roman history suddenly fork off into numerous winding paths, and maps of Western Europe and the Mediterranean start to look less like a grand Roman cape, and more like ragtag patchwork coats.

While we’ll spend a whole lot of time with this formative and underserved period of history, and again I’ll give you a standard historical overview in the episode after this one, let’s get a couple of fundamental ideas about it in our heads now. The first has to do with the spread of Christianity through what often gets called paganism. Around the year 197 CE, the church father Tertullian, in the city of Carthage, set down some threatening words to the non-Christians of the Roman Empire. He wrote, “If we [Christians] desired, indeed, to act the part of open enemies, not merely of secret avengers, would there be any lacking in strength, whether of numbers or resources?. . .[Christians] are but of yesterday, and we have filled every place among you – cities, islands, fortresses, towns, market-places, the very camp, tribes, companies, palace, senate, forum, – we have left nothing to you but the temples of your gods.”18 Tertullian, as we’ll soon see, was overstating things a bit. Christianity had certainly spread in North Africa, but Christians, in 197 CE, were still multiple state-sanctioned persecutions and over a century away from the conversion of Constantine in 312, and the Edict of Milan of 313. And while Tertullian overstates the preponderance of Christians and the muscle of their bargaining power in the Empire during the Severan dynasty, Tertullian also assumes that a simple dichotomy existed in Late Antiquity that I think many of us still do today. This is the dichotomy between pagan, and Christian.

A mosaic showing the sixth-century poet Nonnus, who wrote both the longest Greco-Roman epic from antiquity as well as a paraphrase of the Gospel of John. Nonnus, and other authors from the Late Antique world like Ausonius, seem to have been quite comfortable in both the Christian and non-Christian worlds.

These days, in some modern historical studies you are liable to hear the word “paganisms” in order to at least give an idea that the Roman Empire was not some homogenous mass of toga-clad facsimiles all bowing to Jupiter. The Empire, as we know, in 200 CE, had vast religious diversity. But that passage from Tertullian ought to encourage us to think about something else, and this is, simply, that many people in the ancient world, and in Late Antiquity, were simply not very religious, period. Coming from some 100 hours of content on Greco-Roman literature and culture in our podcast, when we think back toward authors like Euripides, Aristophanes, Apollonius, Terence, Plautus, Cicero, Catullus, Horace, Virgil, Ovid, Propertius, and on and on, we find thousands, and thousands of pages of primary evidence that suggests an informal and unaffiliated attitude toward religion. These authors occasionally did write about religion, and some of them did have a belief in the divine. But the cultures that preserved their works enjoyed tales in which gods and goddesses are more like comic book characters than anything else, and if we try to find a governing religious ideology behind, say, Terence, or Virgil, or Homer, we find little other than a pervasive sense of the fragility of humanity and fallacy of hubris. Thus, when, in the year 197 CE, the church father Tertullian imagined Christians ascendant, and pagans cowering in their temples, Tertullian engaged in a fantasy that is not only dangerous in its prejudicial clannishness, but also, that fundamentally misrepresents what was happening at the outset of the third century.

Tertullian, like many of us do today, imagines the spread of Christianity in the Roman Empire as something overtaking something else – like a paintbucket tool in a graphic design program, dribbling the Christian color in this and that region until the whole map was one shade. This is the story that much of Christian posterity has generally sought to tell. There are some problems with it. First, as we read the work of later Latin poets like Ausonius and Rutilius Namatianus in episodes to come, we will meet authors active well into the Christianization of the Empire who are fluent in the new religion, but nonpartisan about adhering to it. These latter-day Virgils and Ovids certainly grasped the fundamentals of the new religion, and may have respected it and not even been averse to taking communion, but, like the thousand years of Greco-Roman religious history that had led up to them, they were pluralists, uninterested in the ascendancy of one particular religion over all others, and more uneasy about growing hegemony of the Roman Catholic clergy over their old aristocratic social order than they were upset about Christians sharing meals together, giving alms to the poor, and going to church down the street.19 Second, there were always different types of Christianity afoot, notwithstanding the numerous ecumenical councils that sought to forge consensus. After the first Council of Nicaea in 325, the Arian movement, which the council had sought to condemn, still flourished for centuries. Over two centuries later, after the Council of Nicaea, as the Byzantine Emperor Justinian worked to reconquer the west, manage a massive revolt in Constantinople and deal with the first known European outbreak of the Bubonic Plague, Justinian was also grappling with monothelitism, the major Christological issue of the east in the sixth century. Thus, the worship of Jesus had indeed spread widely by the 500s, but it had taken different forms, and continued to take different forms, throughout Late Antiquity. And between the white of the new Christian faith and the black of the committed pagan resistance, there were unnumbered men and women who occupied the in-between gray area, whether because geography put them out of reach, because they appreciated the old and new religions, or because as individuals, they simply didn’t possess very religious sensibilities.

In our coming episodes on Late Antique Christian history, we’ll learn some of the specifics about how the dissemination of the new religion took place, but also, how the dissemination of the new religion did not take place. The next twenty programs will jump back and forth between Christian and pagan literature, and everything in between. Following our next episode’s overview of Late Antique history, we’ll move back into Roman literary history as though we’d never left off, picking up in the 160s and 170s with the work of the satirist Lucian of Samosata, a Greco-Syrian writer who recorded some satirical observations about Christianity, lampooned nearly every philosophical school in history up to that point, and wrote what’s often called the first science fiction novel. And speaking of novels, these, too, were alive and well by the Late Antique period, and we’ll read one of them – the Aethiopica of a writer called Heliodorus, one of a number of ancient Greek novels from the first through the fourth centuries that still survive today.

From Lucian and Heliodorus we’ll move onto a historical program on Ante-Nicene Catholicism, and how the Roman Catholic Church began. Many of us have heard that the Apostle Peter was the first Pope, and we’ll look into the documentary tradition behind this, and learn about the very earliest Christian texts beyond the New Testament, and the theologians of the second century. Moving forward in our next season, we’ll delve into Christianity’s first martyr tales and saint’s lives, with the story of a Roman noblewoman named Perpetua killed in a Carthaginian amphitheater in the spring of 203 CE, and then – another North African story – the biography of Saint Antony, and with it, the origins of Christianity’s desert hermits, monasteries, and more generally, the monastic movement. Moving on to Sulpicius Severus’ Life of Saint Martin, we’ll learn about one of Christianity’s most beloved bishops, and along with him, some of the ways that church institutions had consolidated by the close of the fourth century. Following those first martyr tales and saint’s lives, we’ll return to the pagan world with the aforementioned Ausonius and Rutilius Namatianus, two Gallic Roman authors whose relative indifference to Christianity may represent the outlook of a silent mass of later Romans of similar stances. From there, we’ll read the longest and perhaps final complete Greco-Roman epic – the Dionysiaca of Nonnus, produced during the fifth century, a rococo and exuberant story about Dionysus’ journey to the east that’s the length of the Iliad and Odyssey combined, and written by someone amply comfortable in both the pagan and Christian worlds. Then, with a good grasp of both the pagan and early Christian side of Late Antiquity, we’ll move on to Saints Jerome and Augustine, a pair of especially intense and impassioned Catholic theologians whose work, more than anyone else’s since the first century, had a lasting effect on the religion’s doctrines.

It would likely be bewildering for me to preview all twenty episodes in the season to come. For now, it will suffice to say that as we move from roughly 200 through 700 CE, we’ll meet all sorts authors. These authors won’t make us masters of this understudied period of history, but they will be guideposts at definitive places and times – case studies of greater cultural trends, as well as individual men and women caught in the flood tides of some pretty stormy centuries. Late Antiquity is a challenging epoch to study – the awkward middle child between classics and the medieval period, but it’s also an era that lends itself well to the inclusive and chronological approach we’ve taken together in Literature and History so far. We now have a fairly good understanding of ancient Greek and Roman history and culture. We also now have a pretty strong grasp of the Bible, and how it came together, down to the canonization process we discussed in this very episode. For 85 episodes, those two things have been largely separate from one another, the sacred writings of Judaism and Christianity being the products of a minority population centered in either Jerusalem or Alexandria or small installations around the Aegean. Now, however, we’re going to bring the left and right arms of this podcast together, and learn what happened when Jewish and Christian ideas made it big in the Roman world and beyond, and the multi-pronged approach we’ve taken to ancient literary history thus far will pay strong dividends.

Before we close this season out for good, though, I want to leave you with one last thought. We have taken a historical and anthropological route to understanding religious history in this season and past ones. It’s not the only, nor the correct approach to theology, but I do think it yields some advantages, and as we prepare to close the back cover of the Bible, I want to talk about those advantages with you for a moment. [music]

The River

I live in a hot place, and I love the heat. In the summer, I like running in the heat of the day, when it’s north of 100 or even 105 degrees, when no one else is out, and the brightness of the sun makes the dry grass and rocks shimmer and the colors smolder – for whatever reason, those temperatures and conditions give me a sense of calm and serenity. I know all of that sounds odd – believe me – but I grew up in a hot climate, doing the kinds of rough manual labor that get assigned to rural teenage kids, and to this day that heat fells like home.

A river path where I run just about every day.

I also live by a river. And at the ends of runs on hot days, I like to sit in the river shallows for a little while. I have listened to an inordinate amount of my own podcast under such circumstances. My quality assurance process is such that I listen to a finished, mixed episode once with the script in front of me to proofread the text and double check the audio on studio monitor speakers, and then, later, I take the finished finished episode out, usually on a long run, to give it a final listen on headphones, in the midst of wind and ambient noise – the way that most podcasts get heard in the real world. I still listen to podcasts on a cheap little MP3 player, rather than on a phone – I run in some pretty tough weather sometimes, and also, I’ve just never really been a smartphone-type person. So I clip my little gizmo to my hat, I hit play, and off I go.

With my little MP3 player affixed to my cap in such a fashion, and the headphone cord coiled up underneath the hat, once a jog is over, I can actually wade all the way up to my chin in the water and keep listening, standing or sitting mostly submerged, watching the sun on the water as the river goes along. I’m an applied thinker, rather than a contemplator, usually – get some things in front of me and I like to engage with them, but leave me alone and I’ll just stare off and listen to the wind. Once in a while, though, I have what in my mind passes for an interesting rumination, and I want to share one of those with you now – here at the moment when we’ve finished the first main leg of our journey together, at the cusp between the ancient and medieval worlds.

A couple of months ago, I was reading some of the old Homeric hymns – those long poems from the seventh and sixth centuries BCE. And I underlined the following sentence: “blessed is he who has seen this. . .he who is uninitiated in the sacred rites and who has no portion, never has the same lot once dead down in the murky dark.”20 It sounded familiar. I thought maybe I’d heard it in Plato, who in the Republic, writes a fairytale in which philosophers go to heaven. Plato says, “if during his lifetime in this world a person practices philosophy with integrity. . . he’d travel from here to [the other world] and back again on the smooth roads of the heavens, rather than on rough underground trails.”21 The statement was similar to one in the canonical Book of John, “[A]nyone who hears my word and believes. . .does not come under judgment, but has passed from life to death” (John 5:24). And the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas said the same thing: “Whoever discovers the interpretation of these sayings will not taste death.”22 In all cases, from archaic Greek to Classical Greek to Koine Greek to Coptic, the message is identical, though the gods and contexts are different. If you don’t know this truth, you will suffer and amount to little. If you do know this truth, you will experience pleasure and exaltation. That single idea was the nucleus of most of the religious activity we have on record following the Bronze Age. It starts with a blood curdling challenge – a threat of annihilation, pain and meaninglessness. It ends with a promise of glorification and usually eternal life. It assumes an in-group – participants in the Eleusinian Mysteries, for instance, or privileged Greek sages, or fellow Christians, or enlightened Gnostics. And it assumes an out-group – a dreary and benighted mass of others unacquainted with some crucial truism. It is an invitation, a sales pitch, a standard chord progression, and a much coveted ejection seat from the human condition – this signature idea of antique spirituality – come over here and learn this secret, and you’ll rise up out of the dark.23

As a presenter in a podcast, without visual aids or homework assignments, it has been a challenge for me to present the story of comparative ancient Mediterranean theology over the past 85 episodes. I have again and again found parallels like the one I just described – similar sentences with identical ideas and similar syntax that snake through centuries of very different texts. When I find such parallels I am simultaneously electrified and very bored. Of course Plato and Jesus both promise salvation. Of course Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Pythagoreanism, stoicism, various records of the mystery religions, and every sect of Christianity – of course they all promise transcendence from the common rabble, and/or from mortality itself. That seems to be what most theology and prescriptive ethical philosophy that humans have written does, and how it works.

Now, I want to read something to you, and I want you to really listen carefully and think about it. It’s a paragraph – maybe forty-five seconds long, from just one text. It’s an obscure text – most of us have never heard of it, but as you listen, I want you to think about what you’ve learned during this season on the early Christian world, and see if you can figure which ancient religion it’s from. Here it is.
For a dark mist shall cover the boundless world, from east and west, south and north. And then shall a great river of flaming fire flow from heaven and consume all places, the earth and the great ocean and the gleaming sea, lakes and rivers and fountains, and merciless Hades and the vault of heaven; but the lights of heaven shall melt together in one into a desolate shape. For the stars shall all fall from heaven into the sea, and all the souls of men shall gnash their teeth as they burn in the river of brimstone and the raging fire in the blazing plain, and ashes shall cover all things. And then shall all the elements of the world be laid waste, air, earth, sea, light, heaven, days and nights, and no more shall the multitudes of birds fly in the air nor swimming creatures any more swim the sea; no ship shall sail with its cargo over the waves; no guided oxen shall plough the tilled land; there shall be no more sound of swift winds, but he shall fuse all things together into one, and purge them clean. . . the bodies of earthly men shall be moved and arise in one day, joined together in immortal fashion and breathing. . .[The angels will open the underworld] and bring forth to judgment all the sorrowful forms, the ghosts of the ancient Titans, and of the giants, and all whom the flood overtook.24

So what was that? It’s Greek, first of all – we’ve got Hades and titans, and the text’s language, which I didn’t mention, is Greek hexameters. It’s Zoroastrian – we have apocalypticism and the earth being smelted and purified, as is described in the Gathas. It’s Jewish, because there we see it talking about corporeal resurrection and a flood, not to mention the apocalypticism. It’s Christian, Gnostic and Manichaean – there are angels and some sort of horizontal dualism with heaven yawning open to burn the lower material world. Before I even tell you what it actually is, think about that – for all of our discussion of canonization earlier, and all the hard work theologians and councils did to parse out their texts from other texts, and all the perceived differences between Christians and other groups, a lot of it feels like varying slices of the same ancient Eurasian pie.

Well, the text I read is from a collection of prophecies written some time around 200 CE, again in Greek hexameter, called the Sibylline Oracles. These oracles were written by Christians or Jews fluent in Greek literature, and their intention seems to have been to demonstrate connections between the Bible and works of Greek and Latin literature. Theologians might have been working to draw up boundary markers around their sacred literature, but out there in the alleyways and farm fields of the Roman Empire and beyond, literate Zoroastrians, and Jews, and Christians, and pagans knew well enough that they had a whole lot of ideological common ground – a mesh of metaphors and images and stories that they all shared.

As I’ve worked toward a comparative theological approach to the New Testament over these past ten shows, I am aware that I have written some long and rather dense episodes. I haven’t done so out of pedantry, and indeed I’ve actually cut a lot. It’s just that I’ve come to so many points in composing and recording these programs on early Christianity at which I’ve just had to take a deep breath and say, “No, I’m not going to simplify that. I am just going to explain it as best I can the way it is printed on the page.” There have been moments at which my hands are tired from note taking and typing, and I’ve often resigned myself to just writing another paragraph when one is needed. The great classicist Mary Beard said in a 2016 interview that “The role of the academic is to make everything less simple.”25 I’ve spent a lot of years in academia, so I have a bit of that impulse myself, too, and when things are complex, I feel it’s my responsibility to share that, and not hide it.

But still, there is a deep appeal to simplicity, simplicity like sitting in a river and thinking really of nothing at all – just watching the water along the opposite shore. And one Saturday, to get back to the story I was telling before, a couple of months back, in the early evening, my brain a little wobbly from juggling Gathas and General Epistles and a wheelbarrow full of apocrypha, after an infernally hot run, I was standing in some river shallows by some cottonwoods near my house, and I popped my earbuds out of my yucky, sweaty ears. And I proclaimed, to no one in particular, “It’s all a river. The same river.” It sounded trite, insipid, and profound all at once. On one hand, I’ve reached a point in learning about cultural history at which I do often think about how arbitrary some academic departmental divisions are. Coming to understand the connectedness between ancient religion and philosophy and literature and history as a river with countless specific eddies and confluences has been an intense and occasionally very emotional experience for me over the past couple of decades. On the other hand, the statement that human culture is all the same interconnected river sounds like something you’d hear from some new age jackass two beers and a joint into a Friday evening. Anyway, there’s more to it than that, though.

My own education in literature happened at the cusp between the 20th and 21st centuries. My generation of literary scholars in the US came of age after several different movements – New Criticism, Formalism, and developments in semiotics and cultural theory via thinkers like I.A. Richards, Cleanth Brooks, Wimsatt and Beardsley, and later Barthes, Foucault and Derrida – most of us who have been through a literature program know all these names. For various reasons, over the 20th century, literary scholarship moved away from history, initially due to an emphasis on close reading and the unadulterated relationship between reader and text, and later due to a more general postmodern skepticism toward empiricism and empirical apprehension of causality. Whatever you make of those intellectual trends, they were ascendant when I began college, which meant that people like me cut our teeth in an educational environment that de-emphasized historical context, dates, and authorial biography, and instead prized minute analysis of textual features and our own theoretically informed interpretations of poetry, plays, and fiction. There’s plenty to say on this subject, but I know that so many of you out there listening are from other fields that I’ll spare you any pontificating on the history of literary criticism. The main point is that at numerous moments of my education, professors and TAs told me that my readings of texts, and my ability to relate them to my experience and the world in which I lived, were all more important than dates, historical context, and authorial biography.

That’s a common approach to teaching people literature – in other words, bringing it to them, and their worlds, rather than asking them to leave what they know behind. When ancient history comes up in the news these days, it’s often a headline promising to tell you what the Roman republic’s collapse can tell you about your country’s economy, or what the demes of Periclean Athens can tell you about your country’s political divisiveness. I don’t do that a lot in this program. I seem to have been engineered for an earlier age, as I absolutely love dates, and I adore authorial biography, and history. And without any disparagement intended toward the broad trends of literary criticism in the twentieth century – whatever floats your boat, etc. – as I’ve become older, I’ve loved literature more and more because I often find it has very little to do with me. It’s a departure, an otherness, and an autonomous system from another time, as refreshing as standing in a river on a summer day and feeling the energy of the water as it moves downstream. Literature is a core part of human culture’s DNA, an ancient water both past and present, and the more hours we spend with it, the more we move into a place slightly outside of time, where voices hundreds, and thousands of years gone by still speak. I think it teaches us to be humbler, and quieter – to understand the things that that we think are contrary to us, and to realize that they’re not so contrary after all. Let me offer an example – one appropriate to our closing minutes on the Bible.

Nietzsche1882 detail

Nietzsche in 1882.

The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, whose reception has had a bumpy road over the past century, once proclaimed that God was dead.26 The statement comes up in both his book The Gay Science and Thus Spake Zarathustra, and the first time it comes up in Nietzsche’s writings – in 1882, by the way – it is as follows: “After Buddha was dead, his shadow was still shown for centuries in a cave – a tremendous, gruesome shadow. God is dead; but given the way of men, there may still be caves for thousands of years in which his shadow will be shown. – And we – we still have to vanquish his shadow, too.”27 Since that statement was made, “God is dead” has been one of the more controversial phrases in philosophical history, nettling words to any who believe differently. And while it isn’t our business in this show to weigh in on such subjects, it is our business to read closely, and when we do this, we notice that as revolutionary as Nietzsche’s controversial proclamation was, the way in which he made it was formulaic and hackneyed. Religion as we know it is over, Nietzsche says, and those who still adhere to it are as men living in caves. It’s the same idea we heard before – the old Mediterranean story of darkness and enlightenment, men and caves from Book 8 of the Republic, transcendence from illusions into truth – the tale of philosophers breaking the wheel of reincarnation in Plato, of believers finding a blessed afterlife in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, the Gospel of John, and the Gospel of Philip. Later in the same work, Nietzsche foresees a looming future of golden and endless possibilities – philosophers who know that god is dead, Nietzsche writes, feel “as if a new dawn shown on us. . .At long last the horizon appears free to us again. . .at long last our ships may venture out again. . .all the daring the lover of knowledge is permitted again; the sea, our sea, lies open again.”28 These are important and optimistic lines in the history of secular thought, but they also sound as though they might be airlifted from a sunny vision of a biblical prophetic book. Nietzsche’s irreligiousness was a product of his age, but the way that he formulates his ideas – a dead god, benighted mortals in caves, the golden dawn of a new age – these are old and battered metaphors from the late Iron Age, and in Nietzsche’s case, the ropes of atheist prophecy are knit with the ancient fibers of religious revelation. You can swim against the river, but when you do, swimming against the river is part of the river, too.29

Over these past ten episodes, I have undertaken the somewhat taxing work of putting the New Testament and some related materials into a free audio program. In our audience, as I know from years of doing the show at this point, we have a broad spectrum of people, from outspoken secularists, to professional members of several different clergies; from people highly interested in religious history for personal reasons, to people who are really here for the literature and just passing through the religious bits. Having finished this sequence, and past sequences on the Old Testament, I wanted to share something with you guys. I have never, to this day, received a single angry, rude, or accusatory communication on any forum on the basis of this show’s extensive coverage of sacred literature, with about 2.5 million downloads at this point. I’ve had a few academic questions, and a few valuable personal responses that I’ve learned from, all given with graciousness and respect that are easy to reciprocate. I don’t know what I expected from doing a predominantly anthropological and historicist series of lectures on the Bible, and maybe I’ve just been lucky. Maybe, though, the comparative, collectivistic, interdisciplinary approach we’ve taken has made you feel the way that I feel, too – that yeah, of course, you have your opinions on these humanities subjects, you have your religion or lack thereof, just like I do. But also, it’s nice to take a break from the you, and the me, from the shrill perpetual emergency of contemporary history, and to wade into the deep, moving water of the past. We are a very different group, but still here we are, in the river, together. As we always have been, as we always will be, amen. [music]

Introducing the Rejected Scriptures Series

Alright. [sound effect] That was the sound of me finally closing the New Oxford Annotated Bible. But hang on a second – I’m not going to set it too far away, because if you’re listening to this, I have a new bonus series out. This new bonus series is called The Rejected Scriptures, and it’s on a number of books that never made it into the mainline Christian canons. If you’ve ever heard that story of Jesus having a wife, or of Saint Peter being crucified upside down, or Paul being martyred in Rome, or the Apostle Thomas traveling to India, or of hell as a place where gruesome punishments meet crimes, the apocryphal scriptures of the New Testament are where you can find the earliest historical mentions all of these things. Beyond the New Testament – beyond even the Gnostic scriptures and Manichaean texts we’ve recovered, some strange things were happening in early Christian theology – things which I want to tell you about now.

The new Rejected Scriptures series, 10+ hours of education audio that present the Christian apocrypha and pseudepigrapha, organized into five different programs.

In the dozens of texts I cover in the new bonus series The Rejected Scriptures, there are all sorts of narratives. Some are funny, some are exceedingly dark and violent, some are adorable and endearing, but within a sheaf of texts that all look fairly Jewish and Christian, there is one that, to me, stands out – a rhinoceros, or even brachiosaur, in a flock of Abrahamic sheep. This is the Book of 1 Enoch. And out of every single piece of apocryphal literature that still survives today, and I’ve read damned near all of them available in English translation at this point, 1 Enoch might be the most fascinating. Its tale of dark angels coming down to earth and birthing a race of mile high giants, and its extravagant visions of hell and heaven, produced some time during the second century BCE, might be the very textual moment where we see the branches of Zoroastrianism and Judaism coming together and grafting into ideas that would later be a part of Christianity. It has prophecies of a coming savior called the Son of Man and Anointed one that are vastly larger in quantity and more specific than anything we find in the Old Testament, and yet somehow, 1 Enoch is scarcely known beyond the world of specialists and scholars who study early Christianity. So in our first episode of The Rejected Scriptures series, we’ll read not just 1 Enoch, but also 2 and 3 Enoch, and you can learn all about the Enochian literature that I’ve mentioned from time to time in this sequence on early Christianity.

The second episode in the Rejected Scriptures series is on the Book of Jubilees. The Book of Jubilees is a revisionist retelling of the Book of Genesis, in which a Hasmonean period scribe gives his own distinct vision of what happened around the time of creation. When we read the Pauline and General epistles, and even the Gospels, we noticed that one of the main things that the first Christians had to do was to figure out the correct route to take with the Mosaic Law codes of the Pentateuch – to cast them aside, or to adhere to all of them, or something in between. The Book of Jubilees, contrary to the direction that Christianity took, takes an extremely traditionalist approach to Mosaic Law, emphasizing that yes indeed, we must be circumcised, offer temple sacrifices in the correct fashion, and absolutely – even if we really badly want to – never drink blood. A strange work from just before the dawn of Christianity, the Book of Jubilees shows one of the directions Christianity might have taken had things one a little bit differently.

The third episode of the Rejected Scriptures series is on the Apocryphal Gospels. There are dozens of these works, and a number of them survive in relatively complete form. They give us far more information about the Virgin Mary than we hear in the New Testament, along with Joseph the Carpenter and Joseph of Arimathea, the council member Nicodemus, Pontius Pilate, Jesus’ upbringing and childhood, and more. If you have ever heard that apocryphal story about Jesus having a wife, it comes from a pair of Gnostic gospels which we take a look at in this bonus program. If you have ever heard of the ancient theory of Jewish culpability in the crucifixion of Jesus – how this idea grew from a stray verse in Matthew into anti-Semitic doctrines over the course of Late Antiquity, this is another subject covered in Episode 3 of the Rejected Scriptures, a program called All the Gospels.

Episode 4 of this new bonus sequence is called The Apocryphal Acts, and it explores the sizable body of literature that Christians in and after the second century wrote about the Apostles of Christ. The apocryphal Acts literature is novelistic, sensational, and filled to the brim with sex, violence, and saints, and martyrs. The apocryphal acts books show us not only some of the earliest Christian tales of saints and martyrs, but also, form body of Greek and Latin prose fiction comparable to the secular novels of writers like Longus and Heliodorus, active around the same period. Our program on the Apocryphal Acts will cover the Acts of the Apostle John, who traveled to Ephesus, the Acts of Paul and his virginal protégée, Thecla, the Acts of Peter, who, along with Paul, ended up in Rome, and then the Acts of Thomas, who traveled all the way to India to proselytize on behalf of – in the Acts of Thomas, at least – Thomas’ twin brother, Jesus Christ.

While the Apocryphal Acts literature is relatively light fare, the fifth and final program of The Rejected Scriptures is a bit weightier. This last installment is called All the Apocalypses, and gives you an idea of the absolutely massive quantity of Christian apocalyptic literature written beyond the Book of Revelation. It is not in the Book of Revelation itself, nor anywhere in the Bible, but instead in the apocryphal apocalypse literature like the apocalypses of Peter and Paul that we get our first sustained visions of journeys to heaven and hell in Christian history – heaven and hell as we now understand them today. While Christianity’s later apocalyptic writers first recorded these two cornerstones of the religion in detail, it wasn’t long before they also began to question whether an eternity of brutal and degrading torture was really something that Jesus Christ would have signed his name to for anyone. And so in later apocalyptic works, we meet Late Antique Christian writers who are iffy about eternal damnation, the age old question of the problem of evil returning with much greater clarity and forcefulness than it does in the Book of Job.

So that again is my new five episode bonus series, The Rejected Scriptures, which covers the Books of Enoch, the Book of Jubilees, and then the Apocryphal Gospels, Acts, and Apocalypses. It’s a little over 10 hours in length, for sale for $9.99 at literatureandhistory.com, and if you’re a Patreon supporter, you get a discount on all bonus content. As always, if you can help out, either with buying some bonus content, or pledging a dollar an episode on Patreon, you’re doing valuable work in supporting the educational audio community, but also as always, if you can’t do this, that’s cool too. I will always keep the main show its own gigantic, free, self-enclosed story, and not encumber it with references to this and that bonus episode, or advertisements, etc. etc. So as we move the podcast from our fifth to sixth full season, and once again from the classical to the medieval worlds, I thought I’d give you two quick updates about it.

A Few Remarks as We Move Forward

We are now at about 1.6 million words, or 210 hours, for the show’s released episodes, and have been at it for about five years. As time has passed, I’ve actually gone back and redone parts of the show too – quiet work that’s gone on behind the scenes – sometimes complete overhauls, sometimes spot fixes inspired by listener emails, sometimes little changes to the mix. I enjoy that work, too, though due to its nature of course it doesn’t get a lot of fanfare. Anyway, the first thing is that at this juncture I have every intention of continuing this project for the foreseeable future. Writing and producing each episode continues to be a very rewarding process for me. I laugh at myself from time to time at having taken five years just to get to Anglophone literature – hell, it’s going to be more like six – but what we have covered so far has been a tough, interdepartmental journey that’s required me to switch disciplines from season to season, and I think the end product will be better for all of the complex legwork upfront. I certainly fantasize about getting to Chaucer and Spenser and Shakespeare and beyond – episodes on these authors, in contrast to some of the more challenging episodes I’ve produced lately – ought to be a little easier for me to do.

The second is just to say thanks in a little more detail. You have all been very kind and patient at junctures when there have been time lags between episode releases. When I began this project, I could not have anticipated the commonalities, and the fellow feeling that I would end up having with the average listener of this show. Literature has always been something that makes me feel a little less alone in the universe, from the time I read my first Henry James novel as a teenager and realized that other people, too, had psychologically rich interior lives and also perceived the subtle social ironies around them. But I didn’t expect that this podcast would add a whole secondary layer to that – that I would meet so many people who share my swirl of reverence and irreverence, my interdisciplinary approach to cultural history, and – to return to something we discussed earlier – my affection for understanding literature in its historical context, and not just something that drifts down out of the airy ether to be interpreted. I’ve had the joy of meeting a lot of you over the years, online and in person at conferences and stuff. In the process I’ve learned how to write and produce this program better, but I’ve also learned that a tribe of intellectually energetic misfits like myself is out there, that it’s okay to tell stories to them about talking to myself in the river, and that even more incredibly, they’re down for as much literature and history as I am.

I also wanted to give a special thanks for the financial support that I’ve received for this program. I am happy to say that whether you’ve bought some bonus content in the past, or you’re pledging a small amount per episode now, or thinking about doing so, that supporting Literature and History is not a lost cause. From its early years of being produced by sheer grit and determination and a lot of coffee, the show is finally picking up a bit of wind in its sails, largely from those grassroots $1 and $3 per episode Patreon pledges. We often see, on the internet, options for small donations just like those – they say “buy me a cup of coffee” or “offer a tip.” And I think a lot of us don’t do so, because aside from the actual financial transaction, making a contribution of that size seems immaterial. But it’s not immaterial, and it’s not just a cup of coffee. It’s the difference between doing nothing, and doing something, and by supporting creators directly, you allow us to continue producing projects that, we hope, will be useful not only to us, but maybe, even a generation or two to come.

But I don’t want to freight the end of each season with some long tear jerking plea for help. If you can pledge a dollar or three per episode, you’ll unlock a ton of fun archived content on Patreon, and you’ll help me push this baby forward for anyone who wants a gigantic chronological history of Anglophone literature on down the road some day.

Our next show, Episode 86, is entitled “An Introduction to Late Antiquity,” and is, as I mentioned, a broad historical overview of the years between about 200 and 700 CE. It’ll introduce you to the main population migrations that moved this historical epoch and brought down Rome’s western half, and give you some concise snapshots of what was going on in Constantinople, North Africa, Italy, and France after the ouster of the final western emperor in 476. Learning about Late Antiquity is long journey, but by meeting some of the key players and identifying some of the key regions upfront, we’ll take our first steps. Thanks for listening to Literature and History. For you Patreon supporters, on the theme of collectivity and shared traditions I have recorded some more of Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself.” I closed the last season with a big chunk of that same poem, and gosh darnit if I can’t think of a better or more beautiful piece of literature that epitomizes what I’m trying to do with this podcast – it’s a very special poem for me, and definitely a joy to read into a microphone for you. And also I have an original instrumental coming up if you want to hear it, and if not, check out The Rejected Scriptures bonus series, and the Vandals, Visigoths, and Huns and I will all see you next time.

Still listening? So back in February my computer went kaput – it took the shop a week to fix the SSD. No big deal – just normal computer stuff. Anyway, I had some weeknights off, and I remembered this acoustic guitar instrumental that I’d written way back, five years ago, when I was starting Literature and History. I started playing it again, and went through it for a couple of nights, and I decided to record it. In my own non-comedic and instrumental music, there are harmonic and melodic things that I tend to chase – anyone with a good ear will hear an overfondness for melodic minor, and melodic minor modes in the instrumental music to this show. Anyway, years ago a version of this song was the original theme music to Episode 1 of Literature and History – the problem was that I didn’t record it very well back then, and it’s a little too involved and intense to serve as background music. But it’s an instrumental very appropriate to play here, because the song is called “Silt,” and when I wrote it, I was picturing river silt along the Euphrates, where workers gathered the raw materials into clay for tablets on which we have the first recorded instances of human writing. So this tune is again called “Silt,” inspired by shallow river water along shorelines, and the mysterious origins of human writing – the story with which our podcast first began.

[“Silt” Song]


1.^ This is Judges 5:1-31. See The New Oxford Annotated Bible, ed. Michael Coogan et. al. Oxford University Press, 2001, p 362n. The Song of Moses (Ex 15:1-18) is another example.

2.^ Reynolds, L.D. and Wilson, N.G. Scribes and Scholars: A Guide to the Transmission of Greek and Latin Literature. Third Edition. Oxford University Press, 1991, p. 35.

3.^ Martial CLXXXIV. Printed in Delphi Complete Works of Martial. Delphi Classics, 2014. Kindle Edition, Location 5979.

4.^ Ibid, Location 13725.

5.^ Davies, Philip R. Scribes and Schools: The Canonization of the Hebrew Scriptures. Westminster John Knox Press, 1998, p. 7.

6.^ Davies (1998), p. 11.

7.^ Jenkins, Philip. The Many Faces of Christ. Basic Books, 2015, p. 5.

8.^ Unknown. December 2000. Gelasian Decree. Retrieved from http://www.tertullian.org/decretum_eng.htm.

9.^ Fishbane, Michael. Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel. Clarendon Press, 1989, pp. 6-7.

10.^ Davies (1998), p. 31.

11.^ Hesiod. Theogony (920-2). Printed Hesiod. Works and Days and Theogony. Translated by Stanley Lombardo and with an Introduction by Robert Lamberton. Hackett Classics, 1993, p. 86.

12.^ Josephus. Against Apion (1.8). Printed in Delphi Complete Works of Josephus. Delphi Classics, 2014. Kindle Edition, Location 28126.

13.^ 2 Esdras 14:45-7. Printed in the New Oxford Annotated Bible, ed. Michael Coogan, et. al. Oxford University Press, 2010, p. 1711.

14.^ Augustine. City of God (XV.23). Translated by Marcus Dods. Digireads Publishing, 2017 p. 430.

15.^ Origen. Homily 7 on Joshua. Printed in The Fathers of the Church. Translated by Barbara J. Bruce and Edited by Cynthia White. Catholic University of America Press, 2002, pp. 74-5.

16.^ Jenkins (2015), p. 5.

17.^ Ibid, p. 6.

18.^ Tertullian. Apologeticus (XXXVII). Printed in Delphi Complete Works of Tertullian. Delphi Classics, 2018. Location 4819

19.^ Rutilius has a pointedly negative attitude toward Christian monasticism in De Reditu Suo (c. 417), but nothing critical to say about the broader Christian movement.

20.^ Homeric Hymn to Demeter (280-2). Printed in Burkert, Walter. Greek Religion: Archaic and Classical. Harvard University Press, 1985, pp. 288-9.

21.^ Plato. Republic 620d. Oxford World’s Classics, 1993, p. 377.

22.^ Meyer, Marvin, ed. The Nag Hammadi Scriptures. HarperOne, 2007, p. 139.

23.^ When I went to graduate school, Plato’s cave had been transformed into new types of darkness – the inauthentic “bad faith” of Sartrian existentialism, and Marxist alienation, and the “false identity” and misleading culture industry of Adorno and Horkheimer, and the “false consciousness” of Lukács, and the misleading “state ideological apparatuses” of Althusser, and other ideas still by latter day cultural theorists – various illusory worlds where us poor suckers are duped by shadows on walls, packaged together with various ways of attaining more genuine apprehensions of reality.

24.^ Elliott, J.K. “The Sibylline Oracles.” Printed in The Apocryphal New Testament. J.K. Elliott. Oxford University Press, pp. 613-14.

25.^ Williams, Zoe. “Mary Beard: The role of the academic is to make everything less simple.” https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/23/mary-beard-the-role-of-the-academic-is-to-make-everything-less-simple. The Guardian. Accessed 02-10-21. Published 04-23-16.

26.^ First in The Gay Science (1882) and later in Thus Spake Zarathustra (1885).

27.^ Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Gay Science (108). Translated and with Commentary by Walter Kaufmann. Random House, 1974, p. 189.

28.^ Ibid (343), p. 307.

29.^ A paraphrase of lyrics Love and Rockets’ “No New Tale to Tell” (1987).