Marched into the public stadium, the eighty-six-year-old bishop shook his fist at the hostile, noisy crowd and defiantly shouted, “Away with the atheists!” (Elaine Pagels, Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas, pg. 82)
Pagels is, of course, talking about the martyrdom of St. Polycarp of Smryna in about AD 155; she also is, of course, lying. The Martyrdom of Polycarp, a document written by an eyewitness to the events (at least in its original form, though it’s probably been modified since) and our only historical source for the events of the martyrdom, does not say that St. Polycarp “shook his fist at the … crowd.” It says that he gestured towards them with his hand. Here’s a few different translations, all of them by well-respected translators, of the relevant phrase from chapter 9 of the Martyrdom of Polycarp:
- Charles H. Hoole: “beckoned unto them with his hand”
- J.B. Lightfoot: “waved his hand to them”
- Kirsopp Lake: “waving his hand at them”
- Roberts-Donaldson: “waving his hand towards them”
Nope, no shaking of fists. So what’s the big deal?, you might ask, it’s not that big of a difference. It sure isn’t; a very minor, rather negligible point. But I’m posting about it. Why? I’m posting about it because it’s not the first time; it’s not even the second or the third — I’m now counting in the teens with these “minor, negligible” … lies … and I’m not even half way through the book yet. I’ve been ignoring them thus far but I thought such a glaring and easily addressed example as this would stand as a decent lead in to this:
Each of these lies might be minor and negligible by itself, but throughout the book thus far, Pagels has been stealthily using these otherwise minor, negligible lies to build up her overall point, to disparage the early Church Fathers and portray them in as negative a light as possible (her treatment of St. Irenaeus of Lyons is shocking in its inaccuracy and hostility, for instance), while portraying the Gnostics as innocent victims of Orthodox heresy-hunters and as “spiritual seekers” (no kidding; I really mean the quotation marks — she actually uses that asinine phrase in reference to the asininity of the Gnostics). Pagels is subtle in her methods, but her plot is downright disgusting, not only because I’m an Orthodox Christian and I see her leading people into atheism and horrible heresy but, perhaps even more than that, because it is so damn dishonest.
Somebody much wiser than me once told me: if you have to lie to convince someone, whatever you’re trying to convince them of probably isn’t true.