“The Betrayal” and Why We Wrote Itsam
by Kathleen O’Neal Gear & W. Michael Gear
Our search for the historical Jesus began thirty-two years ago when we were in college and both (unbeknownst to each other, since we had yet to meet) studying the New Testament in its original Greek language. In the process of our studies, we would read many gospels, and other historical documents, in their original languages, and we would be startled by the image of Jesus that emerged. It was very different from the image portrayed in the current New Testament. It was a profoundly human image, tragic and heartrending, an image that would forever haunt us.
Our continued search would take us in slightly different directions. Mike would study Latin and examine the writings of early Greek and Roman historians. Kathy would travel to Israel to study the Hebrew language and biblical archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. When not in classes, she worked on an archaeological excavation on the Sea of Galilee, and explored as many of the early Jewish and Christian sites as she could. As a college student, Kathy was twice recognized as an American Bible Society “Scholar.”
One of the most important discoveries we made in our search for the historical Jesus was that the original gospels had undergone a great deal of editing and rewriting in their long journey to become the books we know today as the New Testament. The scribes who copied the sacred books got them from earlier scribes, who got them from earlier scribes. They were literally copying copies of copies. Mistakes were bound to creep in. A later scribe couldn’t read the handwriting of the earlier scribe, so he had to interpret what he thought the letters were. Some scribes were very good, and some were very bad. Later correctors often disagreed with former scribes. In one case, a later scribe, exasperated by changes he found in the fourth century Codex Vaticanus, wrote in the margin, “Fool and knave! Leave the old reading, don’t change it!”
The result was that, by the second century, there was a considerable variety of New Testament texts. The manuscripts that are the closest to the original gospels are actually the ones that are the most variable and amateurish. By the time scholars start finding professional, standardized copies, in the fourth and fifth centuries, the gospels had become very different books. Twelve verses had been added to the ending of the Gospel of Mark, an entire chapter to John, there were two dramatically different versions of Matthew, and many individual verses and parables had been inserted. This isn’t just speculation. For example, early Church fathers Clement of Alexandria and Origen, who lived in the 200s, had no knowledge of vs. 9-20 of Mark. By the fourth century, Church historians Eusebius and Jerome wrote that they knew of the longer ending, but also said it was absent from almost all Greek manuscripts they had seen. The earliest Bible, known to archaeologists as the Codex Sinaiticus, ends at Mark 16:8. As well, Matthew 16:2, John 5:4 and 16:24 don’t exist. Luke 22:43 is marked as “spurious” by the first of nine correctors who worked on the codex between the fourth and twelfth centuries, but his words were scratched out by the third corrector. The Sinaiticus manuscript also includes two books that were sacred to early Christians, the Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistle of Barnabas, that are not in the modern New Testament.
By the time the gospels-and there were hundreds of them-reached the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325 where the New Testament would be officially determined (books thrown out, certain versions accepted), the real life of Jesus had largely been lost. And to make certain of it, Emperor Constantine ordered that the books of “heretics,” meaning Christians who held minority opinions about the gospels, be hunted out and destroyed. He also declared that anyone found copying them would be officially charged with heresy, which was a capital offense punishable by death.
Constantine wanted only one version of Jesus’ life to remain…the version that best helped him cement and rule the Roman Empire.
Piecing the actual facts of Jesus’ life back together would take us thirty years. In the process, we would examine not only the earliest gospels, but countless archaeological reports, the works of every major biblical scholar, as well as the writings of first and second century Roman, Greek, and Jewish historians. If you are searching for the facts, it is very important to ask what people who did not believe in him had to say about Jesus.
That’s why The Betrayal is footnoted. We think people have a right to know where the information comes from. We sincerely hope our readers will go to those documents and discover for themselves more about the true story of his life. We want them to know that Jesus had four brothers and two sisters, and that he was not betrayed by Jews. In fact, the Sanhedrin did everything it could to save him from the wrath of Rome. We want people to know who his real father was, and why his mother is not even named in the Gospel of John.
The Betrayal is as much about Jesus’ betrayal to the Romans as it is about the betrayal of Christians by their own Church when it served the Roman Empire. It is written in the heartfelt belief that people have a right to know who and what Jesus was. They have a right to read his original words, as best they can be determined from the earliest documents, not those put into his mouth by later politicians with a doctrinal agenda.
We firmly believe that knowledge does not destroy faith. It does not take Jesus away. In fact, we hope The Betrayal can give back the profound meaning of this life that has been stolen by centuries of revisionism.
Finally, The Betrayal will, of course, be controversial. We live in an age of fundamentalism. In the final analysis, there is little difference between a Christian church praising the bomber of an abortion clinic, and a Wahabi madrassa in Waziristan teaching children to become suicide bombers. Both believe they have absolute truth. Both preach a doctrine of hate, and justify killing “sinners” based upon selected readings of their holy texts, texts they believe are literally the words of God. Inviolate. One of our underlying goals in writing The Betrayal was to demonstrate that every ancient sacred manuscript was the product of historical forces, and subject to the whims of politics. Unfortunately, people have been using religion for political gain for a long, long time.
Questions? Please email Kathleen and Michael Gear at: email@example.com.
“A passionate book about a man who changed the history of the world. It is bound to stir argument. But anyone interested in religious experience should read it.”
-Thomas Fleming, New York Times bestselling author of Lights Along the Way: Great Stories of American Faith