FAMOUS HOAXES OF RELIGION
The truths of religion as a whole, including well-attested supernatural events, are accepted by the majority of mankind. God has throughout history communicated with humanity. But on several occasions when God has not spoken, there have arisen certain overly zealous devotees who have attempted to further the cause of their particular sect by pious fraud. Utilizing the Marxist maxim that a desired outcome justifies any means at attaining it, they have cleverly propagated forgeries of far-reaching consequences.
Now, it is worthy of consideration here that just as the Piltdown hoax did not disprove the scientific truth of human evolution, so these hoaxes in the realm of religion have not destroyed the foundation of truth underlying the faith of mankind. Should falsehood go unchallenged, however, the credibility of religion would be compromised, and so it is necessary to expose fraud and deceit in high places whenever it occurs.
Accordingly, some of the most noteworthy of proven deceptions are presented here.
GRANDSON OF MOSES NOT AN IDOLATER:
In Judges 18:30, it is stated that the priest officiating before the idol in the city of Dan was a grandson of Moses named Jonathan. Pious scribes, abhorring the idea that a descendant of their greatest prophet should have resorted to idolatry, inserted a suspended or supralinear “n” in the name of Moses (Heb. MSH), thereby making it read “Manasseh” (Heb. MNSH). The King James Version of the Bible retains the name Manasseh in this verse, but the Revised Standard Version rectifies this ancient forgery.
DEUTERONOMY, A BOOK OF MOSES:
This book, the title of which means “Second Law,” is a retelling of the ministry of Moses by a Judean priest about 622 B.C., at which time the book was “discovered” hidden in the Temple (2 Kings 22:8). Deuteronomy is commonly identified as a “Book of Moses,” but the final chapter of the book describes the death of Moses, thus excluding him from authorship.
JONAH’S CONVERSION OF NINEVEH:
A post-exilic Jewish author used the name of an obscure prophet from the Hebrew annals (2 Kings 14:25) to postulate a supposed religious conversion of the capital city of his nation’s enemies. There is no historical foundation for this claim. The Assyrians remained implacable enemies of the Jews and of their God and brought about the fall of Israel and the deportation of its people. All of the names of the Assyrian kings were based upon the names of pagan deities, whereas custom would have dictated taking a new theophorous “Yahweh” name for the royal proselyte and his son. The unrealistic dimensions of the city (Jonah 3:3) indicate that the author never visited it.
THE BOOK OF DANIEL:
This book, written during the Maccabean insurrection, was highly disputed and not universally accepted when the Old Testament canon was being settled. The author gathered legends based on the life of a famous wizard (Ezek. 14:14, 28:3, Jubilees 4:20) and placed his hero in a foreign court about which he was quite ignorant. He utilized unhistorical personages like “Darius the Mede” (5:31, 9:1) and borrowed Zoroastrian angelology (10:13,20). The book is dated by its use of Aramaic language, which came into general acceptance some years after the return from the Captivity. The book’s legendary nature is further exhibited by the apocryphal tales that were appended to it in the Greek version: “Bel and the Dragon,” “Susanna and the Elders,” and the “Song of the Three Youths in the Fiery Furnace.” Daniel’s reputation as a legendary wise man is reflected in his name, which means “Judge of God.”
Many apocryphal writings are accepted as authentic, although not sufficiently inspired to be included in the Bible canon. The three criteria used in forming the New Testament canon were authorship, antiquity, and popularity. Those writings known to be of spurious authorship are grouped under the special category of “pseudepigrapha.” These are too numerous to list herein, but some of the major documents are: Additions to Esther, Prayer of Manasses, Jubilees, Enoch, Psalms of Solomon, Gospel of Thomas, various Infancy Gospels (describing the miraculous boyhood of Jesus and exalting his ever-virgin Mother), Gospel of Nicodemus (describing Jesus’ descent into hell), Acts of Peter (containing the Quo Va-
dis story and Peter’s crucifixion head down), Apocalypse of Peter (including a tour of hell), and various spurious letters between prominent historical persons (Christ to King Abgarus, Pilate to Tiberius, Herod to Pilate, Paul to Seneca), and Acts of Pilate (relating the legend of Veronica’s veil and the dishonor and death of Pontius Pilate). The questionable writings listed here form the main basis of that holy lore and legend defined as “tradition,” in which the Roman Catholic Church places great authority.
THE ZOSTRIANOS TRACTATE:
A pre-Christian Gnostic wrote of his visionary tour of heaven in the name of Zoroaster (“Zostrianos”), the Persian prophet. The fantastic hierarchy of supernatural beings that were spawned by this mystical hoaxter formed the basic theology of Christian Gnosticism, a powerful heresy that divided the early Church for centuries.
Several writings are attributed to the man called Dionysius who was converted by Paul’s preaching on Mars’ Hill (Acts 17:34). Actually written about 500 A.D., these theological discourses exerted enormous influence over medieval thought and led to many legends about the original Dionysius. “Pseudo-Dionysius” wrote concerning the celestial hierarchy, the ecclesiastical hierarchy, divine names, and mystic theology. He taught that beneath the Triune God there was a triple triad of angels: Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones; Dominations, Virtues, and Powers; Principalities, Archangels, and Angels.
The entire book was supposedly dictated word for word to Muhammad by the angel Gabriel in the year 610 A.D. It is a hodgepodge of Arab legends, bloodthirsty polemics, and a twisted plagiarism of Jewish, Zoroastrian, and Christian writings. Its Christian sources are obscure Gnostic documents that were rejected by orthodox authorities. For example, the Quran takes the docetic view of the Crucifixion, i.e., that the person who died on the Cross was not really Jesus, but His “phantom.” Among its gross historical errors is the false supposition that Jesus’ mother was Miriam, the sister of Moses. The subjugation of women through rigid dress codes, polygamy, and easy divorce are part of the Quran’s overall chauvinistic character.
THE DONATION OF CONSTANTINE:
This 3000-word document was a forgery in the name of the first Christian emperor, granting spiritual supremacy to the Roman Pope over the entire Roman Empire, as well as temporal dominion over Italy and all the western provinces. It was “discovered” by the Roman Church in the ninth century when there was trouble with the Greek Orthodox faction. The Donation was continuously cited by power-hungry medieval Popes and remained in force until exposed as a hoax in the eighteenth century. Voltaire called it “that boldest and most magnificent forgery.”
THE FALSE DECRETALS:
The False Decretals are a collection of spurious letters attributed to the early Popes, as well as Council decrees (decretals) mixed in with a few authentic papal letters. The compilation was made by a Spanish priest, who has been designated “Pseudo-Isidore,” since he wrote in the name of Isidore, archbishop of Seville. The Decretals include seventy forged letters of Popes prior to the Nicene Council, various decretals of Councils - some authentic, the Donation of Constantine (q.v.), thirty more spurious letters, some authentic letters, and thirty-five more false letters ending with the time of Pope Gregory the Great (d. 604). The purpose of the forgery was to protect the property as well as the persons of bishops against dispossession and dismissal from office. Another aim was papal supremacy.
THE POPE JOAN COVERUP:
A girl named Joan was born in 814 A.D. to an English father living in Germany. Having a desire for learning, she disguised herself as a man and entered the monastery of Fulda, about fifty miles north of Frankfurt, where she was known as the monk John Anglicus. When Pope Leo IV died in 853, Joan, as “John (or Giovanni) Anglicus,” was elected as Pope John VIII. She reigned only until the year 855, at which time she died giving birth to a stillborn child. Soon after her death, the official chronicle of the Popes, Liber Pontificalis, was written, and it omitted any mention of her name or reign. And when in the year 872, the next Pope with the name of John was elected, he was recorded in history as John VIII. Thus it was not until the year 1276 that another Pope John recognized her existence by changing his title from John XX to John XXI. This is why, in the official
records of the Church, there is no “Pope John XX.” When the Reformation came along, these embarrassing circumstances were exploited by the reformers, who made derisive taunts about “the Popess Joan.”
The Catholic myth that when the priest elevates the wafer and the chalice, the elements of the mass become the flesh and blood of Christ, is still earnestly believed by millions of gullible people. This is a hoax that is perpetuated daily all over the world. The liturgical formula that magically transforms bread into flesh is “Hoc est corpus meum” (“This is my body”), and it is aped by common magicians who recite “Hocus pocus.”
Sealed within the altar of every Roman Catholic church is a bone, a skull, or a garment said to have belonged to some martyr or saint. These relics are venerated for their supposed sanctity and imagined potency in healing. Since the time of Constantine, when relic worship became the norm, dishonest relic merchants started their traffic in articles of dubious authenticity. Some of these items were likely genuine, but many have been exposed as forgeries. Among these latter may be counted: the Manger of Bethlehem, the swaddling clothes of Jesus, vials of Mary’s milk, vials of Jesus’ blood or tears, the skulls of the three wise men, feathers from the wings of Gabriel, the sword that decapitated John the Baptist, the towel used to wash the disciples’ feet, pieces of the true Cross, and even Mary’s night vessel! Among these notable forgeries were the bones of St. Rosalia at Palermo, which proved to be those of a goat. The highly venerated skeletons of eleven thousand virgins in the shrine of St. Ursula at Cologne remained popular even after they were shown to be masculine. The Holy Prepuce of the baby Jesus was in the disputed possession of three churches at the same time. The body of Mary’s mother, St. Anne, was kept at two French cities, Apte and Lyons, and her head was at Trier, Turin, and Turinge.
Ancient superstition surfaces several places in the Bible, wherever it teaches the reality of magic, sorcery, witchcraft, and necromancy. The commandment, “You shall not suffer a witch to live” (Ex. 22:18), has been the cause of untold misery and persecution. One Catholic writer boasted
that from the first execution of a witch in 1404, more than thirty thousand witches were burned over the next one hundred fifty years. In the American colonies, the Puritans of Salem executed nineteen persons on trumped-up charges.
HIRAM ABIF, THE MASONIC SAVIOR:
The central allegory of Freemasonry is based on the legendary death and resurrection of the Phœnician architect of Solomon’s Temple (1 Ki. 7:13-14, 2 Chron. 2:13-14). There is no biblical support for this myth. The assassination of Hiram Abif by three apprentices named Jubela, Jubelo, and Jubelum (!) and his subsequent return to life are purely an invention of this quasi-religious brotherhood. The raising of the Masonic initiate out of a coffin is done in imitation of this legend. It is reminiscent of the rites of the ancient Greek mystery religions, which offered immortality to the initiate through such a ritual. The Masonic affirmation, “I also believe in the resurrection of Hiram,” proves the Master-Builder to be a substitute Savior. This is made explicit by the declaration: “In a word, the Master-Builder arises as Christ” (Ref. A New Encyclopædia Of Freemasonry by A. E. Waite).
Myths and legends abound concerning the fate of the so-called Ten Lost Tribes. Especially in England and America a peculiar conceit has led several eccentric theologians to claim that Anglo Saxons are, in fact, these lost Israelites. This theology fits in neatly with a white racism that claims for its adherents the status of being the Chosen Race of God. Such thinking is at the heart of Joseph Smith’s Mormon Church and Herbert Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God.
THE BOOK OF MORMON:
Although Mark Twain called him an “ignorant savage,” Joseph Smith was smart enough to pull off one of the biggest deceptions in American history. He plagiarized a work of fiction called Manuscript Found by Solomon Spaulding, a Congregational minister, and threw in large sections of the King James Bible (errors and all) to produce a work that he claimed to have received from the hand of an angel. Dictating from behind a curtain and using fake artifacts with magic spectacles to decipher them, semi-illiterate Smith spun off one of the unlikeliest fairy tales imaginable.
This book, and other Mormon “scriptures,” said that American Indians were descended from immigrant Jews, that Adam was really Jehovah-God who visited earth with one of his goddess-wives, Eve, that Jesus was born after Adam-Jehovah added the Virgin Mary to his harem, that Jesus was a polygamist, and that Indians and Negroes are dark-skinned because of their sin. The early Mormons, being Masons, stole masonic ritual to use as the basis of their secret rites and then forbade further membership in Masonry. Undoubtedly one of the biggest con operations still in existence is headquartered in Salt Lake City.
It has been a favorite practice of religious hoaxters over the centuries to forecast the end of the world. All such date-setting was repudiated by Jesus, who voiced what should have been the final word on the matter: “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matt. 24:36). Despite this cautionary word, blind guides still put forth their calculations, and they have not been lacking in followers. Several groups have made it a practice to proclaim new dates when the old dates have passed without the expected cataclysm. The old dates are usually explained away as invisible or celestial events that are leading up to the still-awaited Judgment Day. Some of the more significant dates and their originators are as follows: 160 A.D. (Montanus), 198 (Montanus), 1000 (Augustine and many others), 1260 (Joachim of Fiore), 1420 (Taborite movement), 1533 (Zwickau Anabaptists), 1648 (Fifth Monarchy movement), 1666 (Nostradamus), 1682 (Increase Mather), 1688 (Hanserd Knollys), 1700 (John Archer), 1740 (Johann Albrecht Bengel), 1757 (Emanuel Swedenborg), 1827 (John Darby), 1829 (Alexander Campbell), 1830s (Latter Day Saints), 1843 (William Miller), 1844 (William Miller and Ellen White), 1860s (American Civil War speculators), 1881 (Mother Shipton), 1914 (Assemblies of God and Jehovah’s Witnesses), 1918 (Jehovah’s Witnesses), 1946 (Jehovah’s Witnesses), 1970 (True Light Church of Christ), 1972 (Garner Ted Armstrong), 1975 (Jehovah’s Witnesses), 1984 (Jehovah’s Witnesses), 1988 (Hal Lindsey), 1994 (Harold Camping), 1995 (Jehovah’s Witnesses), 2000 (Irvin Baxter), 2002 (Hart Armstrong), 2007 (Pat Robertson), 2080 (Jeanne Dixon).
PRAYER AT THE CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION:
The following account of the proceedings of the American Constitutional Convention of 1787 has been widely circulated. According to this story, the convention was hopelessly divided and at an impasse, facing dissolution over disputes about the method of representation in the Senate. At the height of the crisis, Benjamin Franklin stood and called the convention to prayer. Members of the convention, deeply moved and convicted by Franklin’s appeal, approved his motion, and subsequent meetings began with prayer. This action broke the impasse and brought harmony among the delegates. Subsequently they drafted a Constitution based upon the doctrines of the Christian religion and established the United States as a Christian nation. The story is false. What actually happened is that Franklin did make a motion for prayer on June 28, 1787, but it was not passed. Edmund Randolph proposed an alternate motion that a special service be held on July 4 and prayers be offered then. The convention delegates, however, except for three of four persons, thought prayers were unnecessary, and the meeting adjourned without any vote on the matter. One delegate stated his opinion on the issue: “Reason tells us that we are but men, and we are not to expect any particular interference from heaven in our favor.” No prayers were ever offered in the convention. Neither the preamble nor the body of the Constitution that resulted from the convention make any appeal to religious authority, nor are there religious motives underlying the document.
PROTOCOLS OF THE LEARNED ELDERS OF ZION:
This is an anti-semitic pamphlet “exposing” an international plot of Jewish world domination. It has been utilized widely by Hitler’s Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. It is interesting to note that in the original form of the Protocols, which was written by Eugene Sue in Paris in the 1840s, it was the Jesuits, not the Jews, who were the evil plotters.
DISCOVERY OF NOAH’S ARK:
In 1955 a French explorer, Fernand Navarra, retrieved a piece of wood from Mount Ararat that he claimed was taken from the ice-encrusted vessel of the Great Flood. Independent tests at several laboratories have set the age of the wood at about 800 A.D. Other expeditions have proved equally fruitless. Archæologist James B. Pritchard has stated, “It’s as sensible to look for Noah’s Ark as it is for Jack’s beanstalk.” Evidence for a universal flood in historical time is nonexistent.
THE MISSING DAY:
In 1970 a fabulous story was reported in connection with America’s space program. It seems that in mapping the movements of the heavenly bodies, computer scientists discovered a missing day in the earth’s past history. Bible interpreters seized on the event as a validation of the time when the sun stood still during an Old Testament battle (Josh. 10:13). Also thrown in was another event in which the sun went backward by ten steps (degrees of the sundial?) at the command of Isaiah (2 Kings 20:11). Attempts to authenticate this story have met with failure. Voice magazine, put out by the ultra-conservative Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship, printed the story but then in the October 1970 issue admitted that it “cannot be authenticated.”
PETITION BY MADALYN MURRAY O’HAIR:
Mrs. O’Hair, an outspoken atheist, led a campaign that resulted in the 1963 Supreme Court decision against compulsory prayers in public schools. “Bishop” O’Hair, self-appointed leader of the atheistic, tax-exempt Poor Richard’s Universal Life Church, continued to get free publicity from the rumor that she was trying to block the reading of the Bible on radio. The Federal Communications Commission received millions of letters concerning the so-called petition by O’Hair on FCC Rulemaking 2493. Rumors were circulated by means of church newsletters and fliers to the effect that O’Hair had a petition with 27,000 signatures that would stop the reading of the Gospel on the airwaves of America. Newsletters stated that she was also campaigning to remove all Christmas programs, Christmas songs, and Christmas carols from public schools. How did the rumor begin? In 1974, two broadcast producers from California filed a petition with the FCC asking the agency to stop accepting applications by religious institutions for television and FM channels which had been reserved for educational use. Their petition was routinely assigned a rulemaking number: RM 2493. The FCC in 1975 unanimously rejected the petition. The FCC said: “The Commission is not considering taking religious programming off the air, nor has a petition making such a suggestion ever been filed with the agency.”
A FILM ON THE SEX LIFE OF JESUS:
This rumor concerning a motion picture to be produced by Modern People News on the sex life of Jesus started in 1977 when the Illinois magazine polled its readers on their views about a proposed film on “the sex life of Jesus Christ,” which had been contemplated by a Danish producer. The readers responded with an overwhelming “no,” and the findings were sent to the producer with the result that the project was abandoned. But then the petitions started, and the magazine’s office as well as the attorney general’s office in Springfield, Illinois, continued to be flooded with petitions protesting the film.
PROCTER AND GAMBLE SATANISM:
In 1982 a rumor made its way through the churches to the effect that the executives of the Procter and Gamble company were worshipers of Satan. The report said that the president of P&G appeared on the Phil Donahue television talk show and admitted the company tithed to the church of Satan. The rumor mill further said that the company’s trademark of the moon and 13 stars was a sign of the Devil. The company responded by stating that no official from the company appeared on any talk show to discuss Satanism. Furthermore, the company said its trademark dated back to 1851 and that it represented the original colonies as stars with the man-in-the-moon, which was a popular fad at that time. Failing to silence the false accusations, Procter and Gamble fought back with libel suits, one of which involved a Pensacola, Florida, couple. The evidence presented in these trials clearly refuted the allegations.
HELL DISCOVERED IN AN EARTH-DRILLING PROJECT:
The April 1990 issue of The Midnight Cry, a prophecy magazine, reported that Russian geologists drilled a hole in the earth nine miles deep and accidentally reached hell. The article said that a Finnish newspaper quoted the head of the Joint European Science Drilling Project, Dr. Azzacov, as follows: “The information we are gathering is so surprising that we are sincerely afraid of what we might find down there.” According to the newspaper report, “The geologists were dumbfounded. After they had drilled several kilometers through the earth’s crust, the drill bit suddenly began to rotate wildly.” According to Dr. Azzacov, extreme heat was encountered as well as the sounds of human screams: “We tried to listen to the earth’s movements at certain intervals with super-sensitive
microphones, which were let down through the hole. What we heard turned those logically thinking scientists into trembling ruins. It was sometimes a weak but high-pitched sound which we thought to be coming from our own equipment. But after some adjustments we comprehended that indeed the sound came from the earth’s interior. We could hardly believe our own ears. We heard a human voice, screaming in pain. Even though one voice was discernible, we could hear thousands, perhaps millions, in the background, of suffering souls screaming. After this ghastly discovery, about half of the scientists quit because of fear.” The Midnight Cry story reported that the Russians canceled the project, fired the Finnish and Norwegian scientists and gave them huge bribes to keep silent. Nevertheless, when these scientists returned home they divulged these details. This story was also given in the November/December 1990 issue of Bible Review magazine, but letters of complaint were received, and so an apology was later provided with the comment: “We thought the claim that hell was discovered - with millions of people screaming nine miles below the earth’s surface - was so inherently ridiculous that our readers would get a laugh over the story, just as we did.” The retraction went on to say that the source of the story was traced to a man from Norway who fabricated the whole thing. The successful effort to trace the source of the hoax was written up in the July 16, 1990 issue of Christianity Today.
Some of these more recent hoaxes are obviously not worthy of credence and best suited for publication in the National Enquirer, but it seems that there will always be people gullible enough to believe them. As the supreme hoaxter P. T. Barnum put it, “A sucker is born every minute.”