Baseball and the Naming of the Gospels

So I was listening to the Reasonable Doubts podcast, and in either the episode on the nativity or the one on the reasonableness of Christianity (both debates), the theist in the debate said something to the effect that, had the Gospels been forged (i.e. weren’t written by the claimed disciple Matthew, translator Mark, historian Luke, and disciple John) then the forgers would have chosen more notable author names, such as Peter or James, to enhance the reputation of the text.  He then made an analogy with baseball card forgeries, and said that if you were to make a forgery of baseball cards you’d choose someone like Babe Ruth, and not some lesser player.

I love analogies with the rebuttal built in!  If you were forging baseball cards, you most certainly wouldn’t do one of Babe Ruth, because the BS meter would peg on anyone who you showed it to.  You would want to choose one that was valuable but not too valuable.  Otherwise, it might be rejected outright.

It would follow that there is some advantage to choosing a name that has some prestige (e.g. Matthew) but not too much (e.g. Peter).

This is not to mention that the names on the documents were added many decades after they were written, the order of the Gospels was determined with the mistaken idea that Matthew was primary, and that the so-called eye-witness (Matthew) copies verbatim the text of a non eye-witness (Mark).


About brianblais

I am a professor of Science and Technology at Bryant University in Smithfield, RI, and a research professor in the Institute for Brain and Neural Systems, Brown University. My research is in computational neuroscience and statistics. I teach physics, meteorology, astonomy, theoretical neuroscience, systems dynamics, artificial intelligence and robotics. My book, "Theory of Cortical Plasticity" (World Scientific, 2004), details a theory of learning and memory in the cortex, and presents the consequences and predictions of the theory. I am an avid python enthusiast, and a Bayesian (a la E. T. Jaynes), and love music.
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2 Responses to Baseball and the Naming of the Gospels

  1. Hi, Brian. I didn’t know I was getting your posts — but I agree with you about how nice it is when a rebuttal is build-in to the argument one wishes to refute.

    Here’s the rebuttal. The Nag Hammadi Library contains, let’s see, 14 books with the name of specific apostles in the title. All of these are pretty universally recognized as phony attributions. Here’s the breakdown:

    Peter: 4.
    Paul: 2.
    James: 3.
    John: 1.
    Thomas (both): 2
    Philip: 2
    Mary (Magdalene): 1

    All of these disciples are given speaking roles in the NT, most of them very prominent and important speaking roles. Not a single one of the really obscure disciples is given a book.

    Bart Ehrman gives fives books entitled “Acts of” in Lost Scriptures. One is a novel about a woman named Thecla. The other four are about John, Paul, Thomas, and Peter, again. (Peter being highly entertaining.)

    So the theist is right. Whatever one might do forging baseball cards, that’s how they forged gospels, or invented legends, in the ancient world.

    There are much better arguments for the authenticity of the gospels, in my opinion, but that’s not nothing.

  2. brianblais says:

    Interesting. Perhaps there’s a pattern, but I wouldn’t say there were *no* uses of obscure disciples in these ancient texts. Although not in Nag Hammadi, we have

    The Acts of Andrew
    The Acts and Martyrdom of Andrew
    The Acts of Andrew and Matthew
    The Acts of Barnabas
    The Acts and Martyrdom of Matthew
    The Martyrdom of Matthew
    The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew
    The Gospel of Nicodemos (The Acts of Pilate)
    The Gospel of Bartholomew
    The Secret Gospel of Mark


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