A Tale of Two Tomes

Michael Paulkovich

The original Catholic Encyclopedia (which I shall hereafter refer to as CE1907) was published in fifteen volumes over the period 1907–1913. It is an impressive, respectable production. Largely, I cannot argue with its introductory claim, to be a work of “the foremost Catholic scholars in every part of the world . . . with the accuracy that satisfies the scholar” (Preface, v–vi). The list of esteemed contributors is more than just impressive. Yet one surprising thing (perhaps) is that the Encyclopedia, while hopelessly dogmatic, is so intellectually honest that its venerable volumes often (seemingly unwittingly) shoot the Christian magisterium directly in its own faithful foot, reducing Jesus stories to mere myths and conceding their plagiarisms from other belief systems with exhaustive research and unimpeachable citations.

CE1907 offers both ends of the spectrum, from mythical to historical. It admits to dozens of diabolical church-begat forgeries. It confesses many Christian-led atrocities wherein thousands, even millions, of innocent people were murdered by religious forces, including by burning at the stake. (Note that the 1907 set was updated and republished in 1967. We shall, as we must, touch upon the reworked volumes later.)1

Then there is a modern namesake, largely unrelated, edited by Robert C. Broderick and first issued in 1986 by Thomas Nelson Publishers (CE1986). It is subtitled Revised and Updated but is of kinship to CE1907 in name only, comprising one shameless volume. I acquired a barely worn paperback copy secondhand for about the price of a bag of kitty litter. Surely, eighty years after CE1907, and in less credulous times, a book appropriating such a lofty moniker would have progressed to the point of even more enlightenment and historical and scientific accuracy.

Let us explore some articles in the original multivolume work, compare it to CE1986, and see how each stands up regarding scholarship, honesty, and verity.

Sorcerers

“Jesus,” proclaims CE1986, “empowered the Apostles to drive out devils” (161); in addition, the Israelites practiced “magical arts” (366), citing Jeremiah 27:9, Micah 5:11, and Malachai 3:5. According to CE1986, “Christ has the power over the devil and evil spirits and can free souls and bodies from their domination.” Yet CE1986 refers to magic as “superstition” and says that it is “contrary to the virtue of religion and the theological virtue of hope.”

Missing from CE1986 is any article specifically on witches, wizards, or sorcerers. Yet millions were caught up in the Christian maelstrom over the centuries, accused of witchcraft or sorcery, then tortured and murdered with full papal precedent and sanction. The reason for all this, throughout the centuries, lies primarily in Exodus 22:18, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” Yet, Exodus is not the only biblical authority promoting hatred of the fictional entity called the “witch” (or wizard or sorcerer, depending upon which of the many Bible versions you might choose). You will find the same malignant beliefs promoted in Deuteronomy 18:10–12, Leviticus 20:27, 2 Chronicles 33:6, Micah 5:12, and 1 Samuel 28:3.

Paul, in Galatians 5:19–21, joins the Old Testament anti-witchcraft credo. But let’s face it, Paul was a pious Hebrew full of credulity and misogyny. Paul will also “suffer not a woman to teach.” Neither would St. Cyril, it seems—torture and death being Hypatia’s punishment for teaching science, math, and philosophy, as discussed later.

CE1907 on Witchcraft

“It is not easy to draw a clear distinction between magic and witchcraft. Both are concerned with the producing of effects beyond the natural powers of man by agencies other than the Divine,” our CE1907 admits (vol. 15, 674), “but in witchcraft, as commonly understood, there is involved the idea of a diabolical pact or at least an appeal to the intervention of the spirits of evil.” It claims that “witches or wizards . . . entered into a compact with Satan” and “paid Divine honour to the Prince of Darkness.”

CE1907 hypothesizes that magical powers of witches must really exist, simply because the Bible does not state otherwise. It is honest (and naïve) in its admission: “Supposing that the belief in witchcraft were an idle superstition, it would be strange that the suggestion should nowhere [in the Bible] be made that the evil of these practices only lay in the pretending to the possession of powers which did not really exist “(vol. 15, 674).

CE1907 confesses many witch-related atrocities performed by the church throughout history, as in volume 15 (675): “In the third century, the punishment of burning alive was enacted by the State against witches who compassed another person’s death through their enchantments.” The Council of Ancyra (314 C.), in canon XXIV “imposes five years of penance upon those who consult magicians.”

The church’s mad and genocidal oppression of the Cathars is alluded to here: “At Toulouse, the hot-bed of Catharan infection . . . we meet in 1275 the earliest example of a witch burned to death after judicial sentence of an inquisitor.” The woman was “probably half crazy,” and she confessed to “having brought forth a monster after intercourse with an evil spirit,” claims our 1907 work. It is honest again in admitting that the “possibility of such carnal intercourse between human beings and demons was unfortunately accepted by some of the great schoolmen, even, for example, by St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure.” It lays much of the blame for witch-hunts on Heinrich Kramer and Jakob Sprenger: “Probably the most disastrous episode was the publication . . . by [Kramer and Sprenger], of the book Malleus Malificarum. . . . There can be no doubt that the book, owing to its reproduction by the printing press, exercised great influence . . . professed (in part fraudulently) to have been approved by the University of Cologne, and it was sensational in the stigma it attached to witchcraft as a worse crime than heresy and in its notable animus against the female sex “(CE1907 vol. 15, 676).

Note that Kramer and Sprenger attached the papal bull Summis desiderantes affectibus to the front of their Malleus, indicating the church’s approval of witch-killing. Wrote Pope Innocent VIII therein: “many persons of both sexes . . . have abandoned themselves to devils, incubi and succubi, and by their incantations, spells, conjurations . . . [witches] have slain infants yet in the mother’s womb . . . they do not shrink from committing and perpetrating the foulest abominations and filthiest excesses to the deadly peril of their own souls, whereby they outrage the Divine Majesty and are a cause of scandal and danger to very many.”

You may be wondering: “But witch hunts ended long ago, didn’t they?” According to the humanitarian news service IRIN, in places such as Indonesia, Tanzania, the Congo, and Ghana, fundamentalist Christians still pursue and execute “witches.” They even murder child “sorcerers.” To this day in Malawi, accused witches are routinely jailed.

Like many Christians, a born-again friend told me that “Jesus came along and changed everything.” Only a very selective reading of the New Testament can adduce this assertion. I must point out that Jesus believed in a number of unlikely biblical events: Noah’s ark (Matt. 24:37 and Luke 17:27); Adam and Eve (Luke 3:38); Jonah living in a fish or whale (Matt. 12:40); and Lot’s wife turning into salt (Luke 17:31–32). Jesus even bought into the absurd notion (John 3:14) that a magical pole proffered in the Old Testament (Num 21:9) could cure snakebites merely by one gazing upon it. Was Jesus no smarter than a fifth grader?

Virgin Birth Prophecy

CE1986 insists that Mary “did not lose her virginity, either physical or spiritual” (601). It claims “rationalists and others” attack the virginity story “because of reference in the gospel to the ‘brethren’ of our Lord.” Thus, it not only claims Jesus was born of a virgin mother but that Mary never had sex with her husband even after the birth of Jesus, their firstborn. It proposes that any reference in the New Testament to Jesus’s brothers actually meant cousins; yet no evidence is given to support that claim. Mary “had no other children after the virginal birth,” we are told. One must wonder, then, who “James the Lord’s brother” might be (Gal 1:19); and, especially, what a frustrated and confused husband Joseph must have been! Moreover, Matthew 1:25 implies that after Jesus was born, Joseph and Mary did, in fact, get it on.

Fortunately, our CE1907 contains a wealth of material regarding the origins of the Virgin Birth “prophecy.” In its lengthy treatise on the sources of the Old Testament, it exposes—almost—this prediction as being based on ancient forgeries. The CE1907 must, of course, stop short to remain true to its faithful target audience. It claims, for example, that it is “probable that God should have chosen for Mary a name suitable to her high dignity” (vol. 15, 464–464A) and enumerates several supposed prophecies for the Virgin Mother of the Divine Prophet.2 It thus shows its true colors.

Yet its exposition on the cobbling of the Christian Old Testament is brutally honest. As you will see, its investigation is extraordinarily detailed but suddenly trails off at the would-be climax—a rude candor interruptus. This is where the truly objective observer must take over the wheel and navigate around just one more corner.

Modifying Mythology

Around 250 BCE, after Alexander’s conquests, thousands of Jews settled in Alexandria, the intellectual center of the Western world. Greek was the universal language; Hebrew had lapsed into a lingua mortua, a language dead even in synagogues. As our CE1907 (vol. 13, 723) avers, Alexandrian Hebrews desperately desired a Greek version of their holy laws and “histories.” Various resident Jews, fluent in both tongues, translated the Torah (itself, of course, a book of myths) into the new lingua franca. The results: unofficial scrap-versions rendered in Greek. They were rogue and ordinary—merely translations from Hebrew.

You may well ask: “merely” translations—what is wrong with that? Well, in those times and among those peoples, only the mystical could truly impress. You know: a talking donkey, a burning bush, Yahweh handing Moses a tablet. Even earthquakes, droughts, and rainbows were, to them, “signs of God.” Ordinary men translating a sacred book: that bordered on blasphemy!

Later, around 200 BCE, an anonymous Jew came to this realization and forged a letter supposedly from an Alexandrian official, Aristeas, to the Greek king of Egypt. It claimed that religious leaders had commissioned a Torah translation by seventy-two men (thus the Septuagint: “sept” from “seventy”). The letter alleged that a Greek Torah translation was proven divine, reviewed by priests, princes, and laity, all agreeing perfect conformity with the Hebrew original. All this is admitted by CE1907 (vol. 13, 722–723). This (untrue) story was related as if factual by Flavius Josephus late in the first century in his Antiquities of the Jews (Bk. XII, ch. 2).

This is a momentous pivot-point. The Septuagint, 250 years before Christ, sabotages the future Jesus concept, the immaculate maternity, and magical paternity, as it is all later discovered to be a fakery. This is Christianity’s vatic fount, its mainspring, broken long before the cult even poked its haloed head out of its mythical manger. The Septuagint version—not the Torah—was incorporated into our Bible as the Old Testament, as conceded in CE1907 (vol. 13, 722–723).

How accurate was the translation of the Hebrew Torah into Greek, presenting the world with the sacrosanct Septuagint? Harshly honest with itself to this point, CE1907 abruptly aborts its analysis. Within this narrative, it dare not continue to the next, obvious step: claiming that the Christian Old Testament, derived from the Septuagint forgery, offers a falsified prophecy, the supposed savior born of a virgin. Over the many centuries, linguists and Bible scholars have compared the original Hebrew to the Greek translation; CE1907 largely ignores the unfortunate conflicts these comparisons reveal.

The Septuagint altered the Hebrew tales in several prime convictions, forming the bogus basis for Christianity’s Virgin Mary, as well as its monotheistic (later, triune) dogmas. The original Hebrew text, in Isaiah (7:14), reads (in transliteration): Hinneh ha-almah harah ve-yeldeth ben ve-karath shem-o immanuel. This may translate as “a young woman is with child, and bears a son naming him Immanuel.” It was altered in three important ways, concocting three lies.

Lie number one: virgin. The word almah means young girl/woman who has reached puberty (if virgin, in the physical sense). “Virginity/virgin” in Hebrew is bethulah (the social condition of viriginity; under her guardianship of her ba’al). The Septuagint changed almah to the Greek παρθeνος (parthenos, virgin) and changed the definite article ha (English: the) to the indefinite a. They thus changed “the young woman” to “a virgin.” Why would they alter their holy texts in such a way? It seems the Septuagint forgers (as well as later New Testament writers) were forlorn in their need for a messiah to match up against so many previously revered sons of God, also born of virgins: Attis, Dionysus, Prometheus, Horus, Hercules, Buddha, and Krishna, for example.3 Thus they might concoct a story of the newest messiah that is more believable if the mother of their savior had procreative plumbing that was somehow “one-way.”

Lie number two: prophecy. Isaiah spoke in the present participle—not future tense—of “ha-almah” (the young woman) who is (not “would become”) with child; she later named him “Emmanuel.” In this fiasco of forgeries, we cannot ignore the fact that Jesus was not named “Emmanuel.” It seems Jesus was named “Jesus.” Christian apologists navigate through the craziest of hoops and labyrinths in attempt to square both the false prophecy and the obvious moniker mistake. (See CE1986, 187 [mendacious about “alma”]; and CE1907, vol. 15, 464C and vol. 5, 404.)

Lie number three: monotheism. It seems that ancient Hebrews had become suspect of their worship of more than one deity. Perhaps the “real” God was mad at them, they thought. The Septuagint forger(s) attempted to “fix” Hebrew polytheism. When the word elohim (plural, god) was used in their Torah, they changed it to Θεος (Theos, God; plural would be Θεοι). The original Genesis 1:1, in Hebrew, reads: Bereshith bara elohim et hashamayim ve’et ha’arets (In beginning gods created the heavens and the earth).

These pseudo-septuaginters were not 100 percent successful in washing away polytheism, however. Their revamped scripture retains traces of the Hebrew God referring to himself in the plural (all examples from KJV). Genesis 1:26: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (emphasis added) Genesis 3:5: “and ye shall be as gods.” Genesis 11:7: “let us go down, and there confound their language.” Exodus 15:11: “O Lord, among the gods.” Exodus 18:11: “the Lord is greater than all gods.” Deuteronomy 10:17: “For the Lord your God is God of gods,” et cetera. The Old Testament is thus a poly-monotheist blend.

Remnants of pagan polytheism and celestial deification are evident—even rampant—in Genesis, later interpreted by Josephus in Antiquities (Bk. 2, II:3). In a “vision” supposedly sent by God to Joseph, son of Jacob, “the sun took with him the moon,” writes Josephus, “and the rest of the stars, and came down to the earth, and bowed down [to Joseph] . . . the moon and sun were like his mother and father . . . the stars were like his brethren, since they were eleven in number, as were the stars that receive their power from the sun and moon” (see Gen 37:9). Genesis 6 relates stories of “sons of God” who copulated with mere mortal females (apparently this is where “giants” came from). And, of course, we cannot ignore the supernatural being called “Satan”—a name ubiquitous in the KJV. Just how many gods, god-sons, and god-like demiurges are there, for Christ’s sake?

Mendacities, Uninterrupted

Early Christian fathers accepted the Septuagint forgery when they were too ignorant to know better; later, clerical leaders remained unscrupulous, concealing the truth from the masses after they themselves had finally discovered it. Around 390 CE, St. Jerome translated the Torah into Latin (the Vulgate), as affirmed by our CE1907 (vol. 8, 341), promulgating the Septuagint virgin forgery. So, another pivot-point: if Jerome is instead honest, he ignores the Greek forgery, stays true to the Hebrew original, and nullifies the virgin birth (restoring the original “young woman” and present indicative phrasing); thus rendering Christianity null, mythical, and void and exposing it as the Bronze Age fiction that it was.

Jerome knew he must propagate the lies, else the cult of Christ would fall like a palace built of parchment, leaving all Christian clerics jobless and homeless. The church continued, supported, and covered up all such unethical and self-promoting behaviors for all centuries that followed. Regarding Jerome, CE1907 states merely that “it is doubtful whether he revised the entire version of the Old Testament according to the Greek of the Septuagint” (vol. 8, 341). We know, by comparing the original Hebrew Torah against the Septuagint and against Jerome’s Vulgate translation, that he retained Matthew 1:22–23, perhaps parroting the faked prophecy in the New Testament in order to shore it up with (the Septuagint version of) the Old Testament.

The Myth That Was Made into Law

In 391 CE, the Roman Emperor Theodosius I declared Christianity the only “legitimate” religion of the world, under penalty of death. The myth was rendered law. This decision by Theodosius is possibly the worst ever made in human history: what followed were centuries of torture and murder in the name of this false, faked, voted-upon “prophesied savior.” Within a year after the decree by Theodosius, the crazed Christian monks of Nitria destroyed the majestic Alexandrian Library. Why? Because philosophy and science—not the Bible—were taught there. Christianity began to flex its muscles.

As CE1907 discloses, over the centuries that followed many documents were created by Christian leaders solely to empower the church, such as the Abgar forgeries, the Apostolic Canons, the Donatio Constantini, False Decretals, and many others. Let us take a peek.

Abgar forgeries. Early in the fourth century, some shifty Christian forged letters supposedly originating in the first century, claiming to be from King Abgar and sent to “Jesus,” then from “Jesus” to Abgar, Abgar to Emperor Tiberius, and Tiberius to Abgar, attesting to the “healing powers” of Jesus. Honest about this matter, our CE1907 uses the words legendary and imaginary to describe the letters (vol. 1, 42–43).

Apostolic Canons. The CE1907 concedes that these “canons” were “a collection of ancient ecclesiastical decrees . . . concerning the government and discipline of the Church . . . in a word, they are a handy summary of the statutory legislation of the primitive Church . . . they claim to be the very legislation of the Apostles themselves, at least as promulgated by their great disciple Clement. Nevertheless . . . their claim to genuine Apostolic origin is quite false and untenable.” CE1907 further concedes that the Canons could not have been composed before the year 341 CE (vol. 3, 279–280), concluding that the “strikingly characteristic style . . . makes it evident” that it is “the work of one individual” (vol. 1, 637). CE1907 admits church authorities forged them to gain power and wealth.

Donatio Constantini. Somewhere between 750 and 850 CE, the Donatio Constantini (“Donation of Constantine”) was “a forged document [claimed to be] of Emperor Constantine the Great, by which large privileges and rich possessions were conferred on the pope and the Roman Church. . . . It is addressed by Constantine to Pope Sylvester I (314–335).” The CE1907 affirms “this document is without doubt a forgery. . . . As early as the 15th century its falsity was known and demonstrated . . . its genuineness was yet occasionally defended, and the document still further used as authentic” (vol. 5, 118–119). Christian soldiers under papal command thus seized Rome in the ninth century, and the city was not returned to Italy until the nineteenth century (vol. 8, 234). As stated in CE1907, “Not until 20 September, 1870, was Rome taken from the popes and made the actual capital of the Kingdom of Italy” (vol. 13, 169).

False Decretals. Around 850 CE, the False Decretals were created. These are papal letters that the church used to claim unlimited authority in all matters and to attain selfish goals via unfair and violent means. Our CE1907 admits their fraudulence (vol. 5, 773–780).

At this point in history, the Jesus myths became turbocharged with the aid of numerous fraudulent texts clearly forged by men in search of power and wealth. Christian leadership would indeed gain immeasurable influence, global puissance, and vast treasures almost beyond belief. I offer Vatican City as proof.

Falseness Discovered

From our CE1907 we learn that the fakery of the Donation of Constantine was first shown by Lorenzo Valla in 1440 CE and the “donation” proven a forgery. Church hierarchs nevertheless continued to use the document as if authentic for centuries (vol. 5, 119 and vol. 12, 768). Who could blame them? Their livelihoods were bettered by fraud and obscurantism, which rendered their church merely morally and ethically bankrupt, not financially so.

One must ask: Is it likely that modern Bible scholars in the Vatican are aware of CE1907 and the plethora of forgeries perpetrated by their monstrous machine in the claimed service of a fictional, reforged, and further falsified Deus?

Now, what does CE1986 have to say on all of this? The book provides a brief article on the False Decretals but is utterly mendacious regarding their purpose, claiming they were “chiefly issued as an attack on the authority of the pope” (155). As attested by any clear-thinking individual, as well as CE1907, the opposite is true. (CE1986 has no articles on the other aforementioned forgeries.)

Obscurantism

Many Christian atrocities are either omitted from or obfuscated by CE1986. Elisions, whether intentional or not, include the following.

Cathars. CE1986 states (29) that the Councils of the Church “condemned” the Cathars of France. It does not elaborate upon what condemned means. Chastised? Poked fun at? Excommunicated? CE1986 then casually mentions that Cathars “disappeared” by the fourteenth century. Ever wonder where all those Cathars went when they disappeared? If you know your history, you know that in 1209 CE Pope Innocent III ordered a genocidal attack against them. In a vile fit of calumny, the pope depicted the Cathars as witches; of being cannibals; of desecrating the cross; and of having “sexual orgies.” Was the pope on to something? Witches?4

Malefic sounds of sibilance emanated only from the Vatican, not from its contrived enemies living peacefully in France. The church murdered over a million innocent Cathars over the next thirty-five years—men, women, and children. It wiped them from the face of the planet. The Cathars did not merely “disappear” as CE1986 claims. In an early faith-based initiative, the Christian colossus exterminated them, then annexed much of the beautiful Languedoc region of France. The extravagant Palais de la Berbie (construction began in 1228) and the Catholic fortress-cathedral Sainte Cécile (began 1282) are just two examples that remain to this day.

In contrast, CE1907 (vol. 4, 543) at least mentions the “extermination of the Cathars” in its article on the Crusades, using the term Albigensian heresy (vol. 4, 543 and 550). I make perhaps a small point here, but clearly this extermination is more closely associated with “witch hunts” as well as immoral papal decrees—not “Crusades.”

In its article on the Albigenses, our CE1907 refers to them as “a Neo-Manichaean sect,” disclosing that the other name for these peoples, “Catharists,” means “pure.” CE1907 recognizes that between the 1148 CE Council of Reims and the 1163 Council of Tours, the church excommunicated the “heretics of Gascony and Provence,” declaring that all Albigenses “should be imprisoned and their property confiscated” (vol. 1, 268). That campaign, of course, is what Pope Innocent III would embark upon in 1209, first in a siege against the town of Béziers. The genocide of the Cathars, as divulged by CE1907, “spared neither age nor sex” and degenerated “into a war of conquest.”

“The death penalty was, indeed, inflicted too freely on the Albigenses, but . . . excesses were sometimes provoked,” admits CE1907. Honest at great length about the corruption and massacres, our original CE, like CE1986, sums it up simply, vaguely, and innocently, saying, “The heresy disappeared about the end of the fourteenth century.”

Stedingers. There is no article on the Stedingers in CE1986. No surprise: maniacal Christians nearly wiped them out. In the thirteenth century, the Vatican proclaimed that German Stedingers were in cahoots with Satan. “The devil appears to them in different shapes,” wrote Pope Gregory IX, “sometimes as a goose or a duck . . . the Devil presides at their Sabbaths.” Christian soldiers almost eradicated the Stedingers, who either died defending themselves or were burnt alive by Christian monks after lost battles. This atrocity—as one would expect from a papally dictated hostility of this period—involved executing everyone who could be found and didn’t repent: innocent men, women, and children. The main difference between the extermination of Cathars and extermination of Stedingers is the numbers involved. The church murdered only about thirty thousand Stedingers.

CE1907 (vol. 14, 283–284) admits to the intolerance and draconian doctrine of the church:

The Stedingers refused to pay tithes and to perform forced labour as serfs. These duties were demanded of them with considerable severity, and Archbishop Gerhard II of Bremen (1219–58) sent troops against them. His army, however, was defeated in 1229, whereupon the Stedingers destroyed churches and monasteries, and ill-treated and killed priests. A synod . . . accused them . . . of contempt for the authority of the Church and for the sacraments, as well as of superstitious practices; it also excommunicated them.

The Emperor Frederick II placed the rebels under the ban of the empire, and on 9 Oct., 1232, Gregory IX issued a Bull commanding the Bishops of Lübeck, Minden, and Ratzeburg to preach a crusade against them. An army was collected and advanced against the Stedingers.

After considerable carnage, a few Stedingers were permitted to live if they converted to Catholicism “after performing penance.”

This Vicar of Christ, Gregory IX, was just one of many superstitious popes. Among other odd practices, Gregory gave his visitors a kind of good-luck charm in the form of a magical talisman to be worn around the neck—he claimed that this apotropaic relic would neutralize all sins. To one Vatican visitor, exalted Gregory wrote: “We have sent you a small key from the most sacred body of the blessed apostle Peter to convey his blessing, containing iron from his chains, that what had bound his neck for martyrdom may loose yours from all sins. We have given also to the bearer of these presents, to be offered to you, a cross in which there is some of the wood of the Lord’s cross, and hairs of the blessed John the Baptist, from which you may ever have the succour of our Saviour through the intercession of His forerunner.”5

Library of Alexandria. On page 29 of CE1986, after its article about the Albigenses, one might expect a piece on the Alexandrian library; but there is none. CE1986 has placed an article there about the “church of Alexandria”—but nowhere does it cover the majestic library.

As you probably are aware, the original library, holding almost a million books, was a center of ancient scholarship and knowledge. It burned accidentally around 48–47 BCE. After a move to the neighboring Serapeum, Alexandrian scholars quickly began to recover their collection, copying every written scroll or book they came across to build up their new repository. The CE1907 indicates that some two hundred thousand volumes were gifted to the library by Mark Antony (as a favor to Cleopatra) in 41 BCE (vol. 1, 303).

In 391 CE, furious Christian leaders stormed the library ziggurats (the Mithraeum and the Serapeum), toppling statues, slashing artwork, and burning every library text they found—hundreds of thousands of scrolls and books. They razed the most venerable temple of learning and knowledge of their day like drunken soccer hooligans after losing (or winning) the World Cup.

Our CE1907 attests: “Much havoc was wrought among its treasures when Bishop Theophilus made his attack upon pagan worship at Alexandria . . . and whatever remained of the library must have perished after the incursion of the Arabs in 641” (vol. 9, 228); Theophilus had a Christian church erected on the destroyed Serapeum (vol. 14, 625).

Even our oft-honest and apologetic CE1907 seems to ignore the writings of Socrates Scholasticus from his Historia Ecclesiastica (Bk V, XVI), written c. 435 CE, not long after the siege. Remember to translate the word heathen into non-Christian. Such “heathens” were typically intellectuals, freethinkers, and leading philosophers:

At the solicitation of Theophilus bishop of Alexandria the emperor issued an order at this time for the demolition of the heathen temples in that city; commanding also that it should be put in execution under the direction of Theophilus. Seizing this opportunity, Theophilus exerted himself to the utmost to expose the pagan mysteries to contempt. And to begin with, he caused the Mithreum to be cleaned out. . . . Then he destroyed the Serapeum [which held the library] . . . These were therefore razed to the ground, and the images of their gods molten into pots and other convenient utensils for the use of the Alexandrian church. . . . All the images were accordingly broken to pieces, except one statue of the god before mentioned, which Theophilus preserved and set up in a public place; “Lest,” said he, “at a future time the heathens should deny that they had ever worshiped such gods.” . . . Helladius however boasted in the presence of some that he had slain in that desperate onset nine men with his own hand.

Hypatia, the beautiful and brilliant head librarian, mathematician, and philosopher, continued teaching well after her library’s destruction. In 415, Saint Cyril, pope of Alexandria, concocted vituperative lies and depicted Hypatia as a “sorceress” able to cast “magic spells.” Cyril played the proverbial witch card, the Christian ace in the hole.

Fanatical monks eventually caught up with Hypatia when she was about sixty years old. They ambushed her chariot on her trek homeward, dragged her through dusty streets, and tortured her to death by skinning her alive. Those Christian leaders then chopped up her body and burned her limbs, torso, and her very recently detached cranium, flowing with lush locks, plopping all onto their pious bonfire—all this to make sure, I suppose, that not only was she merely dead but really most sincerely dead.

Pious Plagiarism

I mentioned in the introduction to this article that CE1907 reduced Jesus stories to plagiarisms from other belief systems. It’s worth appreciating another example: its disarmingly honest article on Mithraism (vol. 10, 402–404). Our revered encyclopedia admits that ancient Mithraists (centuries before Christ) believed in, for example: the principle of heaven and hell; that “shepherds watched [Mithra’s] birth”; and that the sun becomes his double, or father, but Mithra “is one god.” It narrates a story of mankind subjected to droughts and deluges but “saved by Mithra”; Mithra “returns to heaven” when mankind is well established on earth.

Our CE1907 writes that Mithra “celebrates a last supper” with his companions and “now in heaven protects his followers” as “the struggle between good and evil continues.” It avows that followers believed “Mithra is the mediator . . . between God and man” and also, that “Christ, being God and man, is by nature the Mediator between God and man.”

About fourteen centuries before Christianity, followers of Mithra “believed in the immortality of the soul, sinners after death were dragged to hell”—and upon the end of the world, “Mithra will descend to earth” and “make all drink the beverage of immortality. He will thus have proved himself . . . never conquered.” Our CE1907 acknowledges that “a sacred meal was celebrated of bread and haoma juice for which in the West wine was substituted.” And, “Mithraism had a Eucharist”; “Mithra saved the world.”

Yet CE1907 laughs at the notion of Mithraism’s supposed “similarity to Christianity” (vol. 10, 402), insisting that it “bears no similarity to the religion of Christ” (vol. 10, 404) because it apparently excluded women, unlike Christianity. (Christian women could become members even though they had to stay silent.) Another key difference from Christianity: CE1907 admits that the polytheistic Mithraism was “tolerant of every other cult.”

Conclusion

Clearly the publishers of CE1986 would prefer that you are unaware of CE1907—as well as of actual history. Both the 1907 and the 1986 are rife with unctuous, bullheaded denial. At least CE1907 is comprehensive, often scientific, and oft-times quite honest, especially regarding crimes of its legacy church over the ages. Yet CE1907 still claims the Christ as son of God and savior. As it must.

Now, as promised, a word on the 1967 overhaul of CE1907, producing the New Catholic Encyclopedia. The editors removed almost all mention of resemblances to Christianity in the article on Mithra. There is nothing on the Alexandrian Library, but they agree that “pagan teacher” Hypatia “was killed by a Christian mob” and continue to concede the forgeries of the Donation, Abgar, and Decretals. Of the Cathars (Albigenses), the “New” CE sticks to the original claim: “nothing was heard from them after the close of the 14th century.” Most egregiously, the honest and revealing three-page CE1907 article on the Septuagint was reduced in the New CE to three sentences, being for the most part merely an etymology.

So, there we have the Catholic Encyclopedias: I have read them so you don’t have to. The back cover of my green paperback CE1986 advertises that it “contains more than 4,000 comprehensive articles clarifying Catholic beliefs.” It was a pleasure discovering, exposing, and putting those into context, as well as bouncing them against the scholarly predecessor. Oscar Wilde precisely expresses my closing thoughts: “Truth, in matters of religion, is simply the opinion that has survived.”

I believe that the day will come when the “Jesus” character will be consigned to the same pious pile of other mythical, smoldering gods, all such deities worthy of little more than quotation marks around their appellations: “Zeus,” “Mithra,” “Thor,” “Wotan.” Next, the fabled “Christ” person. Unfortunately, I doubt that this brave, freethinking new world we envision will arrive during my time.

 


Notes

  1. Sixty years after its publication, CE1907 was vastly updated and issued as the New Catholic Encyclopedia, first published in 1967 in fifteen volumes, with a second edition in 2002.
  2. CE1907 notes that the meaning of Mary is derived “from Egyptian Mery, Meryt (cherished, beloved).” It then goes on at great lengths about other possible meanings and origins of the blessed name.
  3. In its “Virgin Birth” article (vol. 15, 448–451), CE1907 professes Catholic dogma holds Christ “incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary” but later admits Isaiah does not contain a “real prophesy” of the virgin birth; that “Jesus was really the son of Joseph and Mary”; and that there are theories that the Christ/virgin claims came from pagan fables and “extraordinary births of the heroes of other nations.”
  4. This same pope, Innocent III, declared himself to be the divinely appointed ruler of the world. Innocent III claimed authority to annul the Magna Carta of 1215, calling it “contrary to moral law.” This is the same revered creed upon which American founders based th
    e Constitution, the infallible pope quashing both, from across the sea and across time.
  5. Epistles of St. Gregory the Great, Book IX, Letter 122

Further Reading

  • Costen, M.D. 1997. The Cathars and the Albigensian Crusade. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
  • Levack, Brian 1995. The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe. New York: Longman.
  • Marcus, Jacob Rader, and Marc Saperstein. 1999. The Jew in the Medieval World: A Source Book, 315–1791. Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press.
  • Russell, Jeffrey Burton. 1984. Witchcraft in the Middle Ages. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  • Smith, Homer W. 1957. Man and His Gods. New York: Grosset & Dunlap.
  • Victor, Jeffrey S. 1993. Satanic Panic: the Creation of a Contemporary Legend. Chicago: Open Court.
  • Watts, Edward Jay. 2008. City and School in Late Antique Athens and Alexandria. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Michael Paulkovich

Michael Paulkovich is a NASA engineer and freelance writer, a contributor to Free Inquiry and Humanist Perspective magazines, and an author of the series “Dogma Watch” for American Atheist.


The original Catholic Encyclopedia (which I shall hereafter refer to as CE1907) was published in fifteen volumes over the period 1907–1913. It is an impressive, respectable production. Largely, I cannot argue with its introductory claim, to be a work of “the foremost Catholic scholars in every part of the world . . . with the …

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