The Invention of Jesus is a pivotal work in the field of New Testament textual analysis. Its author Peter Cresswell has taken an in-depth look at the earliest surviving manuscripts of the gospels describing the life and death of Jesus, as well as letters, attributed to Paul and others, to the outposts of the early Church. Cresswell carefully analyses the texts to show how doctrines, such as the divinity of Jesus and the resurrection, have been progressively introduced into the narrative. By establishing what has been added, he defines what part of the character of Jesus the Christian Church has, over time, invented.
After the Romans adopted Christianity in the fourth century, the Church had an unrivalled opportunity to spread its message – and a big problem, how to make the texts to conform with what it then wanted people to believe.
In effect, it chose to fabricate its records.
Among significant alterations was the elimination of the final verses of Mark’s gospel. Cresswell argues that this, the earliest of the canonical gospels, would not in its original form have described a miraculous resurrection. Now, however, whatever was there has been cut; the gospel ends, in the earliest surviving sources, with the discovery of an empty tomb. Twelve more verses were added to make up for what is missing and appear in some of the later manuscripts.
In order to please their Roman sponsors, who were of course actually responsible for the crucifixion, Christians also put in a reference to the Jews having killed Jesus. The inclusion of this spiteful and mistaken libel, under the name of the apostle Paul, has contributed to untold mayhem down through the centuries.
Another revolutionary finding, which will not please the Vatican, is that the ancient bible that is genuinely the oldest surviving is Codex Sinaiticus, a large part of which is housed in the British Library. This is established through an innovative method analysing errors, which skip whole lines, to discover the format and identity of an orginal exemplar.
The Vatican’s own early manuscript, Codex Vaticanus is certainly closely related. But it was produced with reference both to Codex Sinaiticus and to their common exemplar. For the core of the New Testament, it is thus a copy.
Cresswell makes a convincing case that Codex Sinaiticus was generated as a master copy, both to assist in making new copies if the bible and to ensure their conformity. His analysis in this book, and in further research (see ‘Another Scribe or Another Exemplar? Examining Textual Patterns in Codex Sinaiticus Matthew and Mark’, JGRCH, 2017), shows how scribes picked and mixed from alternative exemplars to create the narrative and the doctrine that the Church required.
An important and highly relevant finding is that three sheets, previously believed to be corrections made to remedy errors, in fact represent an alternation of work between scribes, carried out in the context of fashioning an authorised text.
Cresswell breaks through the barrier of conventional textual criticism with some refreshing, new analysis and ideas. His conclusions on the role of important early Greek sources are convincing, as is his examination of changes made to the source texts for doctrinal reasons. Engaging and scholarly, this is a fine piece of work.
— Robert Eisenman, author of ‘James the Brother of Jesus’