Remembering Servetus and the “One God” Movement Among Evangelical Christians

Michael Servetus (aka Miguel Serveto) is surely one of the most remarkable men of history, though he is largely unknown in general circles. He was born in Spain in 1511 and died in 1553, at age 42, burnt at the stake as a heretic by John Calvin’s Geneva Council. He was a brilliant scientist and his field was primarily medicine, but it was his theological views that led to his universal condemnation by both Catholics and Protestants. Servetus rejected the doctrine of the Trinity, and although he maintained belief in the virgin birth, he denied that Jesus was God. He was fluent in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin, and in his primary work, De trinitatis erroribus (“On the Errors of the Trinity”), he ably argued that the Bible itself, in neither Old Testament nor New Testament, supported the subsequent Trinitarian notion of Jesus as God.

Servetus has even penetrated the Evangelical Christian world a bit after 500 years. Pro-Golfer and Evangelical writer Kermit Zarley, under the pen name of  “Servetus the Evangelical,” published a book titled The Restitution of Jesus Christ. You can visit his website at Zarley’s work is impressive, all 600 pages. It is thoroughly researched and documented, and fully in touch with the massive amount of scholarly discussion currently available on the “Christology of the New Testament.”

In fact there is a growing “biblical unitarian” or “One God” movement that is making significant inroads within a variety of evangelical Christian circles. See the following links for a few examples:

Simcha Jacobovici Weighs in on the “Gospel of Jesus Wife” Forgery Controversy

Simcha Jacobovci has just posted a opinion piece that I think is worth reading on the swirl of blogs and new stories that have celebrated the past week and a half.  A second papyrus text, called the GJ (“Gospel of John”) has been declared the definitive “smoking gun” evidence that the controversial “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” papyrus is a very recent forgery. If you have not caught up on the latest here is a “roundup” of posts and news stories by Mark Goodacre.

Sleeper AgentYou can find Simcha’s post here. I find myself mostly in agreement with the substance of Simcha’s post though I think his characterization of the “naysayers’ as “sleeper agents of Christianity” is far off the mark. What is going on here in terms of the “will to disbelieve” is something much more complex–and for that matter more interesting. Defending Christian Orthodoxy, is surely become a bit outdated and boring–though there are such “agents” out there.

I was planning to write just one blog post on the forgery issues itself and post it on Friday. Now I think I will write two. One will deal with what I think is going on with reference to what Simcha thinks is “Pauline theology,” but I think something else much more general is at work–a phenomenon ubiquitous to the academy. The other will deal with the substantive issues raised by those now “celebrating” the exposure of a double forgery, giving one another “High Fives” across the biblioblogosphereas they talk of “ugly sisters” and “smoking guns.”

On the “Ugly Sister” issue don’t miss this perceptive piece by Eva Mroczek–maybe the most important thing I have seen in print on the subject this week: “”Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” Less Durable Than Sexism Surrounding It, the totally off-base response of Jim West here, missing all her major points and basically demonstrating the case she makes, plus Deconick’s response to responses like West’s here.

Simcha Jacobovici Featured at 71st Anniversary Meeting of United Israel

The 71st Annual Meeting of United Israel will be held over the weekend of April 25-27, 2014 in Charlotte, NC at the Doubletree Suites Hotel in South Park. The program will run from 5pm on Friday, April 25th through 5pm Sunday, April 27th. Simcha Jacobovici is our featured speaker this year. He will do a screening of his influential film, “Falasha: Exile of the Black Jews,” as well as speak on the topic of “The Archaeology of the Biblical Exodus.” Our complete program, speakers, and topics are below.

Although you can register at the door we encourage you to register on-line here.

The modest registration fee of $20 per person/$30 for couple or family, can be paid when one registers or at the event. When you fill out the registration form you will be given the choice to pay now or later.

UI 71th Program 2014


The Passover Plot: An Easter Weekend Retrospective

In 1965 I well remember the publication of British biblical scholar Hugh J. Schonfield’s controversial and best-selling book, The Passover Plot. I like millions of others read it avidly and followed the controversies closely. I remember traveling on a flight just after it came out and seeing half a dozen people reading their copies of The Passover Plot. I still have my well worn original copy with its arresting book jacket pictured below. The book’s appearance was quite a phenomenon. In 2004 a 40th anniversary edition of the book was published and it is still available. I do not agree in the end with Schonfield’s central theory, that Jesus went to the cross willingly, having attempted to arrange beforehand his survival after a period of prophesied suffering, by insuring an early purported “demise” based on the administration of a drug. I do, however, highly recommend the book both for its gripping narrative of the social and political “messianic” contexts in which Jesus lived and died. Schonfield followed up in 1968 with another book, Those Incredible Christians, that I think has never been equaled and I recommend to all my students to this day. That along with Schonfield’s Authentic New Testament are treasured volumes in my personal library.

PassoverPlotThere is an fascinating interview on Youtube with Hugh Schonfield recorded in 1967 on the Long John Nebel Show in sharp dialogue with Christian apologist Walter R. Martin and others. One is able to hear Schonfield’s calm, professional, and engaging manner of presenting his case, which is in sharp contrast to Martin and other guests, who get quite exercised over the topic. You can hear it in its entirely here. It makes some good listening this Easter weekend and captures some of the religious dynamics of the 1960s that included the controversial ideas of Bishop Pike, Thomas Altizer, and Bishop John Robinson. Those were truly the days!

On a personal note, Hugh Schonfield died in 1988. I never met him but it was my privilege to carry on a lovely correspondence with him by post during my graduate school days at the University of Chicago in the early 1970s. He was one of the most gracious individuals I have ever had the pleasure of knowing and I was quite taken, and still am, with his ideas expressed in The Politics of God, one of his last works, which has now been republished. I also highly recommend Owen Power’s wonderful dissertation on Hugh Schonfield, now published as a lovely book, Hugh Schonfield: A Case Study of Complex Jewish Identities. My friend Greg Doudna traveled to the UK and interviewed Schonfield in his London flat in 1985. His notes on that extended conversation, which he has given me permission to publish here, are fascinating. Schonfield’s work is now being carried on via the Schonfield World Trust Service which seeks to promote his vision of a “Messianic Servant Nation,” an idea he developed from the inspiration of studying the historical figure of Jesus.