Oxford, £14.99, 295pp. £13.49 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Who Chose the Gospels? Probing the Great Gospel Conspiracy, By CE Hill

CE Hill not only rejoices in the title of Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Verily, he is also the anti-Dan Brown. Whereas The Da Vinci Code author and his ilk delight in theories that evil popes and scheming prelates stamped out the many and often competing versions of Christianity circulating in the first four centuries AD, Hill has a more sober message. There was no conspiracy. Far from blaming the demon figure of the Council of Nicaea, Bishop Athanasius, for deciding that only his four chosen gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – should be the canonical ones, Hill argues that the Emperor Constantine's council was no dastardly cover-up enacted to cement the supremacy of Rome. The four we know as the main part of the New Testament today, he says, were commonly accepted as scripture far earlier.

Why does all of this matter? Well, the other gospels – including those of Mary, Philip, the Ebionites, the Hebrews, but particularly that of Judas – posit quite different versions of Jesus (as appearing to be human, but only being divine, not both, for instance) and, with their emphasis on hidden knowledge imparted to the Gnostic writers, undermine the authority of the Apostles and thus their successor "the Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church". So Brown et al are on to something. If there was a Popish plot, there would have been good reason for it. Hill makes not a conclusive but a convincing case that the four gospels accepted as the basis for Christianity were widely believed to be scriptural very early. Some supposedly divine texts, he suggests, may have been regarded as akin to bible stories for children; as conveying useful messages, but not as authoritative. Others, especially those conflicting with the canonical gospels, clearly owe much to the gospels they claim to supersede. But they did not enjoy anything like the same status throughout Christendom.

What he does not do is explain why this is of significance; just why the Church had a long and brutal history of suppressing heresies, many of which can be linked to the beliefs set out in these discarded gospels. But Hill is not just the anti-Brown because he rejects the arguments he and others have put forward. He is also an anti-Brown in terms of sensationalism. Valuable as his work is, it is lacking in the drama and consequence that should surround such a thorough undermining of excitable conspiracy theorists. They always did say that the devil had the best tunes. One can't help but wish that Hill had let us hear a few of them.

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'