Saturday, April 13, 2019

Tares Among the Wheat - A Review

            A series of movies available on Amazon Prime Video includes New Testament textual criticism among the subjects it covers – but not in a good way.  Rather than introduce viewers to valid aspects of the field, Christian Pinto and Adullam Films promote the conspiracy theory that Codex Sinaiticus was created in 1840 by Constantine Simonides, particularly in the segment of the movie Tares Among the Wheat that is introduced (about an hour and 50 minutes after the movie starts) by the heading “The Simonides Affair.”

            Those who want proof that Codex Sinaiticus is indeed an ancient document are welcome to consult four earlier posts on the subject:
Sinaiticus is Not a Forgery:  Setting the Stage – in which I provide some background about Constantine  Simonides and his career as a criminal forger, and explain why no one should believe James White’s account of how Tischendorf first encountered pages from Codex Sinaiticus.
Ten Reasons Why Sinaiticus Was Not Made by Simonides – in which I summarize 10 observations which weight in against Simonides’ claim to have written the text in Codex Sinaiticus – including the observations that different copyists (with different handwriting and different standards of spelling) produced the manuscript, and that the manuscript includes in its margin an Arabic note that alludes to an Arab invasion.
Ten More Reasons Why Sinaiticus Was Not Made by Simonides – in which I summarize 10 more reasons why Simonides’ claim should be rejected – including some details of Simonides’ earlier attempt to use a forgery to defraud the Academy of Berlin.  Constantine Tischendorf played a key role in exposing Simonides’ forgery, after which Simonides was arrested. 
What Darkened Sinaiticus? – in which an explanation is provided, with input from Jacob Peterson, of the differing tints of different sets of photographs of pages of Codex Sinaiticus. 

            Chris Pinto’s movie Tares Among the Wheat (the second in the trilogy) strangely avoids sharing the details about how Constantine Simonides tried to defraud the Academy of Berlin, and does not go into detail about his other attempts to sell forgeries to various individuals and institutions in Europe.  The movie avoids giving a detailed account of Tischendorf’s role in the events in 1856 that led to the arrest of Simonides, and thus viewers are not shown that Simonides had a strong motive to attempt to cause trouble for Tischendorf.     

            Tares Among the Wheat also does viewers a disservice via its minimal description of items in the collection of Joseph Mayer, who was an antiquities-collector in Liverpool, England.  Mayer had obtained a variety of ancient materials from Egypt, including some papyrus scrolls which were so tightly rolled up that he was reluctant to open them himself, and so he had Simonides inspect them.  Along with examining some of Mayer’s genuinely ancient materials (which included a very ancient Egyptian papyrus), and claiming to have discovered a fragment of Hegesippus’ Ecclesiastical History, Simonides spent some time studying the papyrus scrolls, and when he was done preparing them, he declared that they contained ancient New Testament texts, including
Some of the forgeries made by Simonides still exist,
at the World Museum in Liverpool, England
            (1)  Five fragments with text from the Gospel of Matthew, including one which included, after the end of chapter 28, a note stating that it had been written by the hand of Nicolaus the Deacon, at the dictation of Matthew, the apostle of Jesus Christ, in the fifteenth year after the ascension of our Lord, and distributed to the believing Jews and Greeks in Palestine,” and
            (2) two fragments of the Epistle of James, and
            (3) a fragment of the Epistle of Jude.
            Furthermore, Simonides claimed that the text in all three fragments deviated from the normal text.  For instance, he claimed that in the newly discovered text of Matthew 27:19, Pilate’s wife’s message is much longer; in the newly discovered text of Matthew 27:20, the word αυτων is present (so as to convey “their multitudes”);  in the newly discovered text of Matthew 28:6, the angel describes Jesus as the Lord of death; in James 1:2, the twelve tribes are called the twelve tribes of Israel; in verse 19 of Jude in the newly discovered text, the word “actually” (ολως) is present (so as to convey that the false teachers “do not actually have the Spirit”), and verse 22 is phrased so as to say, “On some have compassion in the fear of the Lord.” 
            If anyone involved in the production of Tares Among the Wheat thinks that Constantine Simonides was not a swindler and a con artist who wrote forged texts on the blank reverse-pages of ancient papyri, then they should be clamoring for the items described by Simonides in Mayer’s personal museum (now part of the World Museum in Liverpool) to be brought to public attention and scrutinized.  But if, instead, they think (as members of the Royal Society of Literature concluded in 1863) that Simonides was an educated huckster who tried to defraud German academics by doctoring ancient manuscripts, so as to make them appear to be palimpsests that contained yet more ancient writing, then they should realize that Simonides had a strong motive to try to impugn Tischendorf’s reputation – for it was Tischendorf who had stepped in and prevented the Academy of Berlin from purchasing such a forgery from Simonides.   
Christian J. Pinto
Not only did the producers of Tares Among the Wheat promote and encourage the conspiracy theory about Sinaiticus and Simonides, but they even tried to draw the genuineness of Codex Vaticanus into doubt.  Following an interview in which Scot McKendrick stated that the decorative book-titles in Codex Vaticanus were added by “a fifteenth-century scribe,” the narrator asks, “Is it possible that the reason Codex Vaticanus has a strange and even newer appearance is that it may not be a truly ancient manuscript?”
            It should be noted that McKendrick’s statement is contestable; the exact point at which those book-titles were spruced up is not known; it makes sense to reckon that the letter-reinforcement throughout the manuscript, and the title-enhancements, were undertaken to make the codex look more presentable just prior to being placed in the Vatican Library, but that theory is, well, theoretical.
            McKendrick may also be subject to mild criticism because of his claim that Codex Sinaiticus is “The ancestor of all the Bibles that everybody else has in the world.”  For those who use the King James Version or some other version based on the Textus Receptus, or based on the Byzantine Text, such a claim is entirely false.

            Tares Among the Wheat is three hours of anti-Jesuit propaganda, blended with KJV-Onlyist versions of selective details in the history of New Testament textual criticism.  Even if the producers of this movie possessed the purest theology on earth, the fact remains that no theology is well-served by obscuring evidence and making stuff up.  We should not serve it that way; we should not want to serve it that way.  This movie’s conspiracy theory about Codex Sinaiticus should not be taken seriously.

            Those who want to see the kind of texts that Simonides produced, and which he vigorously defended as ancient documents, should consult the following links.  (Needless to say, the handwriting of Simonides is very different from the handwriting in Codex Sinaiticus):
            Simonides’ forgery of Matthew 28:6ff. (Fragment M111690.5 at the World Museum, in Liverpool).
            Simonides’ forgery of the “Voyage of Hanno” (Fragment M11169G at the World Museum, in Liverpool).

Readers are invited to double-check the data in this post.


BallBounces said...

Thank you for taking the time to write this review.

Daniel Buck said...

Looking at "Codex Mayerianus," I'm struck by how tightfisted the scribe was, and how regular are the boundaries of he fragment. Neither of these are typical of genuine manuscripts, whose scribes were downright prodigal with their margins--a good thing too, as most of them are gone by now. But no, this fragment has hardly any margins at all, but still 100% of the right and left margins are preserved, with room to spare--one doesn't have to know paleography, or even be able to read Greek, to judge this fragement a forgery on codicological grounds alone.

Daniel Buck said...

This link is to a different Simonides forgery of Matthew. Note, first of all, the stingy margins, and then the incredible column length of about 60 letters. And that's only in one of the columns! People didn't have eyeglasses back then. I have trifocals, and I can barely make out any of the letters.