Testament of Jean Meslier: Corrupted Scriptures

by Luke Muehlhauser on May 28, 2010 in Reviews

meslier_testamentJean Meslier (1664-1729) served as a Catholic priest for 40 years, but after his death was discovered to have written the very first book-length philosophical essay promoting atheism.

I’m blogging my way through the book. See the index for all posts.

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Next, Meslier discusses the ‘so-called holy scriptures’:

…there is [little] certainty and credibility concerning the so-called miracles of the New Testament… There are good grounds for entirely distrusting [the testimony of the gospel authors], since it has already been agreed that they were only crude and ignorant men whom it would have been easy to influence. And finally, what certainty do we have that the four Gospels… were not corrupted or falsified, as we see happen to so many other books even today? We can hardly trust the reports they make of things that happen in our day and almost before our very eyes: if twenty people report an event, sometimes there will not be even two who will accurately say what happened. What certainty can we have, then, in the reports of things that are so old and that happened so many centuries ago, even thousands of years ago? And were not these things that are so extraordinary, incredible, or rather unbelievable reported to us only by strangers, unknown men, without character and authority? Surely, there is no certainty or even probability in what they tell us, no more than in our old novels and in the stories of fairies; and so, they do not deserve to be trusted.1

Moreover, St. Jerome (347-420) himself knew the Scriptures were corrupted already by his time, for he writes:

Everyone in the world is involved in their own work – the artisans, laborers, masons, merchants, carpenters… and the other workers do not get involved in these arts without apprenticeship – but the art of reading, explaining, or interpreting ‘Holy Scripture’ is the only art that everyone wants to meddle with. The ignorant as well as the learned, doting old men, gossipy old women, and blabbering sophists tear it apart every day and meddle in teaching it before learning it… These are vain… like pranks and jokes; to teach what you do not know and even to not know that you do not know it.2

Then, in Jerome’s Preface to the book of Joshua:

In Latin there are as many exemplars as volumes; everyone adds or removes what seems good to him, being sure that what is contradictory cannot be true. What madness to add what is false after saying what is true.

And again, from Jerome’s Preface to the book of Job:

I hope that my [enemies] learn and know that if I have worked on this volume, it is not because there was something wrong with the old version, but to clarify with my translation what was obscure and what had been omitted or even perverted and corrupted because of writers.

Moreover, Meslier writes:

And concerning the books of the Old Testament in particular, Ezra himself, a priestly scribe, admitted that he had corrected and put back together the so-called holy books of his law, which were, he said, partly lost and partly corrupted. He divided them into twenty-two books, according to the number of Hebrew letters, and composed several other books whose doctrine could not be communicated except to the learned.3

All the books of the law and prophets that could be found were burned in the time of Antiochus. The Talmud, which is considered by the Jews as a holy and sacred book… is considered by the Christians as a book stuffed with reveries, fables, impostures, and impiety. In the year 1559, twelve thousand copies of the Talmud found in a library of Cremona were burned in Rome by order of the Inquisition…

The Pharisees… accepted only the five books of Moses and rejected all the prophets. Among the Christians, Marcion and his followers rejected the books of Moses and the prophets and introduced other writings to their liking. Carpocrates and his followers did the same and rejected the entire Old Testament and maintained that Jesus Christ was only a man like other men… The Ebionites only accepted St. Matthew’s Gospel. The Marcionites published a Gospel under the name of St. Matthias to confirm their doctrine.

Likewise, the Apostolic Fathers introduced other ‘Scriptures’ to maintain their errors and used certain Acts attributed to St. Andrew and St. Thomas. The Manichaeans wrote a Gospel for themselves and rejected the writings of the prophets and the apostles… The Elesaites spouted a certain book they said came from heaven and cut up the other Gospels to their fancy…

…Heretics in the last centuries rejected many books, like the Book of Tobit, Judith, Esther, Baruch, the Canticle of the Three Children in the Furnace, the History of Susanna, the Idol of Baal, the Wisdom of Solmoon, Ecclesiastes, and First and Second Maccabees, which all were regarded as apocryphal by our recent heretics and are regarded as holy and sacred by our Roman Catholics.

To these uncertain and doubtful books we could still add several other of little worth, which were formerly attributed to other apostles, as, for example, the Acts of St. Thomas, his Circuits, his Gospel, and his Apocalypse. Likewise the Gospel of St. Bartholomew, of St. Matthias, of St. James, of St. Peter, and other apostles, as also the Acts and the Preaching of St. Peter, as also his Apocalypses. And also the Infancy Gospel and others cut from the same cloth, which were all rejected as apocrypha by the Roman Catholics, by Pope Gelasius, and by the holy fathers.4

Next, Meslier critically considers the content of these so-called holy books.

  1. Testament, page 93. []
  2. Jerome, Letter to Paulinus. []
  3. Testament, pages 98-99. Meslier quotes “2 Ezra 14″, which is 2 Esdras chapter 14. []
  4. Ibid, pages 99-100. []

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