Jef Demolder on Edwin Johnson

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JUN 14 2019
The history criticism of Edwin Johnson
by Jef Demolder

Works of Edwin Johnson (1842-1901) related to history criticism:
- Antiqua Mater: A Study of Christian Origins, published anonymously, London, 1887
- The Rise of Christendom, London, 1890
- The Pauline Epistles: Re-studied and Explained, London, 1894
- The Quest of Mr. East, published under the pseudonym of John Soane, London, 1900
- The Rise of English Culture, published posthumously by Edward A. Petherick with and introduction on the life and the works of Edwin Johnson, London, 1904
- The Prolegomena of Jean Hardouin, translated from Latin by Edwin Johnson, published posthumously by Edward A. Petherick, Sydney, 1909
- Forster Fitzgerald ARBUTHNOT, The mysteries of chronology, with proposal for a new English era to be called the Victorian, London, 1900, is largely based on the dialogue with and the documentation put at hand by Edwin Johnson

Edwin Johnson was born at Upton near Andover in Hamsphire on 9 November 1842. He was the second son of Alfred Johnson, a Congregational minister. His home influences were of a Puritan cast. In 1859 he entered New College, St. John's Wood, to be trained for the ministry. He won three scholarships and took his degree M.A. in Classics at the London University. His first pastoral charge, taken up in 1865, was at Forest Hill near London. In 1870 he acccepted a ministry in Boston, Lincolnshire, where he settled until 1879. It was at Boston that Johnson began his explorations on the origin of Christianity. He realised the editing, introduction and annotation of the Utopia, Apophtegmes and Colloquies of Erasmus for editions in 1877-1878. This very rigorous work was admired, and in 1879 Edwin Johnson was appointed Professor of Classical Literature at the London University. Subjects taken up in his research and courses were Greek mythology and philosophy, and Greek ecclesiastical history. His contemporaries agreed that he was an outstanding intellectual, easily distancing others in what he undertook. He was respected and loved for his tenacity in the search for truth, courtesy, refinement and humour. Johnson established contacts with the Dutch school of radical criticism, and read the Germans who started to apply historical criticism to biblical literature, and so he decided to examinate the origin of Christianity for himself. The result of his first inquiries appeared in "Antiqua Mater", published anonymously towards the end of 1887, and a Latin essay which he wrote for a Dutch Theological Society (and which I could not find).

[So it was a university professor, trained in the Classics and in old school of text criticism, who by a different level of intelligence and a sustained quest for the truth, came to history criticism. First, this is encouraging. Not all academicians become the prisoners of standard history. Second, it seems to me that good old text criticism is simply necessary to develop higher criticism and to establish irrefutable proofs of the falsity of history. With vague conspiration theories we get nowhere.]

In "Antiqua Mater" Johnson studied the second century sources on Christianity, be it the pagan sources like Tacitus (the so called external sources) or Christian sources like Justin Martyr and the heretics. He found that the Roman writers did not know anything about Christianity and the Church, and that the Christian writers knew nothing of the New Testament. His conclusion was that the Church supplanted or succeeded to some gnostic sects of Oientals in Rome, that by the Churchmen this sectarians were converted into heretics from her system, and that the New Testament was the result of the establishment of Christianity, probably in the time of the Antonine emperors.

[Thanks to the German and Dutch friends of Johnson in the 19th century, the question of the historical Jesus is the only traditional domain of research with a serious questioning of standard history. The question of the historical Jesus is a very nice counterexample to the pretended certainty of standard history. So there is some evidence to start a journey in higher criticism from this counterexample. Johson started from here, many others did, I did. The question of the historical Jesus could have been solved in about 1900, with works like "Antiqua Mater", concluding that the Jesus figure is a myth. But the obsession for historicism and a material Jesus made the counterexample a failed and vain counterexample.]

"The Rise of Christendom" appeared in October 1890. It was a revolutionary work, going much further than "Antiqua Mater". Johnson is perhaps the first to see that the Middle Ages are a non existant period and that the Greco-Roman civilization ended shortly before modern times. Judaism and Christianity originated as variants of a common root which is most visible in Islam. Johnson places the origin of the Hebrew language and writings in Cordoba in Spain. The Hebrews were a sect among the Arabs in Spain, of recent and local origin. Christianity was developed as a rival for Islam in the time of the Turkish conquests and the Crusades, in the 13th century. The Christian writings were created by the Benedictine monks. Islam and Judaism were persecuted when the Christian system was being established, and the biblical writings in Hebrew have their origin in this time of persecution. Concerning Flavius Josephus, the narrative of the "Wars of the Jews" is a piece of fiction which carries on every page its refutation as history. Saint Augustine, the other church fathers, the church councils of Antiquity and Middle Ages, are inventions. There are no authentic papal records and coins before 1200.

[Feeling very alone with my discovery that the "War of the Jews" of Flavius Josephus was fiction from the beginning to the end, I was very delighted to read that Edwin Johnson simply thought like me. I would not say that Christianity stems directly from Islam, but that Christianity is a reform of the religion of John the Baptist, the western variant of the religion of the Great Prophet, with Islam being the eastern variant. Concerning chronology, the overlap suggested by Johnson of the end of the Middle Ages (with the Crusades for instance) and the end of Greco-Roman Antiquity remains an interesting and inspiring point of view.]

The reactions on "The Rise of Christendom" were very disappointing for Edwin Johnson. Press reviews were very hesitating or absent. Only some close friends of Johnson did really follow his reasoning. Edwin Johnson had spent years of his life teaching orthodox Christianity, it was painful for him to have to record this kind of discoveries, and the result was more isolation. Johnson thought that perhaps he assumed to much from his readers and critics. Following the suggestion of a friend, he wrote the work of fiction "The Quest of Mr. East", published in 1900 using the pseudonym of John Soane, and in which some of the results of his researches were exposed using the frame of a story. This work has been very well received, but of course did not change the position of established historical science.

In 1894 Johnson published "The Pauline Epistles", in the line of the typical research by the Dutch school of radical criticism. In the conclusion he says the following. "I have found nothing but clear and irresistible evidence of the schemes and devices of a secret literary society.We have not followed cunningly devised fables", Paul is made to say, and yet the whole system is one of cunningly devised fables. One trained like myself to believe in and defend this writings ... cannot reflect upon these things without pain. My conscience as a critic compels me to condemn an institution which is ... deformed by complicity with so much of falsehood and fraud". In fact, Johnson came to the conclusion that for some time, "Paul" was not more than the hymnical extracts that can be found in the Roman breviary. The elaborated Pauline epistles bear the traces of the discussions between protestant and catholic fractions in the 16th century. The Scriptures and the Catholic church grew together.

[In my opinion, the Scriptures were first accepted by the protestant churches. And the Christian reform of the Roman catholic church followed afterwards. In the authentical documents of the Council of Trent, 1545-1563, it appears that the Scriptures at that moment were a new phenomen for the catholic church.]

Edwin Johnson died on 3 October 1901 at the comparatively early age of 59. "The Rise of English Culture", was published in 1904 by Edward Petherick. The largest part of this work is on the "Benedictine system" in the creation of ancient history and literature. Ancient chronology was established in the "Era of Publication", from 1480 on, and is Benedictine Chronology. All history of the time before 1480 has been created by the Benedictine monks. In England, a culture of literature and knowledge only appears, still hesitating, in the 16th century. "Public impressions and vague conjectures form what sixteenth-century writers tell us, may be dignified with the name of knowledge".

[Apparently continued research in history criticism leads to the acceptance of increasingly later dates for the beginning of true history. I find that very disturbing. The origin of history does not fit in the usual concept of timeline and chronology. The real history of history is beyond history.]
[I have not found a photo of Edwin Johnson]

Posted 14th June 2019 by Jef Demolder

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