EXCERPT: G. K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man

G. K. Chesterton’s prose and quick intellect never fail to move me.  This is an excerpt from his The Everlasting Man, a book that I understand was instrumental in C. S. Lewis’ conversion.  Chesterton’s writing is so powerful it almost makes ME want to convert to Christianity—even though I already did!

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All the great groups that stood about the Cross represent in one way or another the great historical truth of the time; that the world could not save itself. Man could do no more. Rome and Jerusalem and Athens and everything else were going down like a sea turned into a slow cataract. Externally indeed the ancient world was still at its strongest; it is always at that moment that the inmost weakness begins. But in order to understand that weakness we must repeat what has been said more than once; that it was not the weakness of a thing originally weak. It was emphatically the strength of the world that was turned to weakness and the wisdom of the world that was turned to folly.

In this story of Good Friday it is the best things in the world that are at their worst. That is what really shows us the world at its worst. It was, for instance, the priests of a true monotheism and the soldiers of an international civilization. Rome, the legend, founded upon fallen Troy and triumphant over fallen Carthage, had stood for a heroism which was the nearest that any pagan ever came to chivalry. Rome had defended the household gods and the human decencies against the ogres of Africa and the hermaphrodite monstrosities of Greece. But in the lightning flash of this incident, we see great Rome, the imperial republic, going downward under her Lucretian doom. Skepticism has eaten away even the confident sanity of the conquerors of the world. He who is enthroned to say what is justice can only ask: ‘What is truth?’ So in that drama which decided the whole fate of antiquity, one of the central figures is fixed in what seems the reverse of his true role. Rome was almost another name for responsibility. Yet he stands for ever as a sort of rocking statue of the irresponsible. Man could do no more. Even the practical had become the impracticable. Standing between the pillars of his own judgement-seat, a Roman had washed his hands of the world.

There too were the priests of that pure and original truth that was behind all the mythologies like the sky behind the clouds. It was the most important truth in the world; and even that could not save the world. Perhaps there is something overpowering in pure personal theism; like seeing the sun and moon and sky come together to form one staring face. Perhaps the truth is too tremendous when not broken by some intermediaries divine or human; perhaps it is merely too pure and far away. Anyhow it could not save the world; it could not even conquer the world. There were philosophers who held it in its highest and noblest form; but they not only could not convert the world, but they never tried. You could no more fight the jungle of popular mythology with a private opinion than you could clear away a forest with a pocket-knife.

The Jewish priests had guarded it jealously in the good and the bad sense. They had kept it as a gigantic secret. As savage heroes might have kept the sun in a box, they kept the Everlasting in the tabernacle. They were proud that they alone could look upon the blinding sun of a single deity; and they did not know that they had themselves gone blind. Since that day their representatives have been like blind men in broad daylight, striking to right and left with their staffs, and cursing the darkness. But there has been that in their monumental monotheism that it has at least remained like a monument, the last thing of its kind, and in a sense motionless in the more restless world which it cannot satisfy. For it is certain that for some reason it cannot satisfy. Since that day it has never been quite enough to say that God is in his heaven and all is right with the world, since the rumor that God had left his heavens to set it right.

And as it was with these powers that were good, or at least had once been good, so it was with the element which was perhaps the best, or which Christ himself seems certainly to have felt as the best. The poor to whom he preached the good news, the common people who heard him gladly, the populace that had made so many popular heroes and demigods in the old pagan world, showed also the weaknesses that were dissolving the world. They suffered the evils often seen in the mob of the city, and especially the mob of the capital, during the decline of a society. The same thing that makes the rural population live on tradition makes the urban population live on rumor. Just as its myths at the best had been irrational, so its likes and dislikes are easily changed by baseless assertion that is arbitrary without being authoritative. Some brigand or other was artificially turned into a picturesque and popular figure and run as a kind of candidate against Christ. In all this we recognize the urban population that we know, with its newspaper scares and scoops. But there was present in this ancient population an evil more peculiar to the ancient world. We have noted it already as the neglect of the individual, even of the individual voting the condemnation and still more of the individual condemned. It was the soul of the hive; a heathen thing. The cry of this spirit also was heard in that hour, ‘It is well that one man die for the people.’ Yet this spirit in antiquity of devotion to the city and to the state had also been in itself and in its time a noble spirit. It had its poets and its martyrs; men still to be honored for ever. It was failing through its weakness in not seeing the separate soul of a man, the shrine of all mysticism; but it was only failing as everything else was failing. The mob went along with the Sadducees and the Pharisees, the philosophers and the moralists. It went along with the imperial magistrates and the sacred priests, the scribes and the soldiers, that the one universal human spirit might suffer a universal condemnation; that there might be one deep, unanimous chorus of approval and harmony when Man was rejected of men.

There were solitudes beyond where none shall follow. There were secrets in the inmost and invisible part of that drama that have no symbol in speech; or in any severance of a man from men. Nor is it easy for any words less stark and single-minded than those of the naked narrative even to hint at the horror of exaltation that lifted itself above the hill. Endless expositions have not come to the end of it, or even to the beginning. And if there be any sound that can produce a silence, we may surely be silent about the end and the extremity; when a cry was driven out of that darkness in words dreadfully distinct and dreadfully unintelligible, which man shall never understand in all the eternity they have purchased for him; and for one annihilating instant an abyss that is not for our thoughts had opened even in the unity of the absolute; and God had been forsaken of God.

They took the body down from the cross and one of the few rich men among the first Christians obtained permission to bury it in a rock tomb in his garden; the Romans setting a military guard lest there should be some riot and attempt to recover the body. There was once more a natural symbolism in these natural proceedings; it was well that the tomb should be sealed with all the secrecy of ancient eastern sepulture and guarded by the authority of the Caesars. For in that second cavern the whole of that great and glorious humanity which we call antiquity was gathered up and covered over; and in that place it was buried. It was the end of a very great thing called human history; the history that was merely human. The mythologies and the philosophies were buried there, the gods and the heroes and the sages. In the great Roman phrase, they had lived. But as they could only live, so they could only die; and they were dead.

On the third day the friends of Christ coming at daybreak to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realized the new wonder; but even they hardly realized that the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn.

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The Blasphemous Arrogance of John Calvin

If the early Protestant Reformers all have one thing in common—it is questionable that we should take the doctrine of sola scriptura as something in common, since it led each of them to go his own individual way—it is their arrogance, specifically, the arrogance that led each of them to proclaim that he and he alone, since the time of the Apostles, knew what Christianity and the true teachings of Christ and the Apostles are.  Indeed, some seem in practice to subordinate the words of the Apostles to their own ideas, and some even the teachings of Christ Himself.  Needless to say, the thoroughgoing arrogance of the Reformers stands in marked contrast to the Christian humility of the Saints.

Fr. Josiah Trenham has some words about the arrogance of John Calvin in particular.  Traditionalist liturgical Christians should feel this words keenly. I ask my Protestant readers to consider whether they are fair:

Calvin

John Calvin

Calvin read and quoted many Holy Fathers. He admired St. John Chrysostom’s biblical commentaries and once had resolved to translate them into French. He was a devotee of St. Augustine, and quoted Ss. Cyprian and Athanasius and others frequently. However, his attitude towards them was not an Orthodox one. Here are his words,

Certainly, Origen, Tertullian, Basil, Chrysostom and others like them would never have spoken as they do, if they had followed what judgment God had given them. But from desire to please the wise of the world, or at least from fear of annoying them, they mixed the earthly with the heavenly. That was a hateful thing, totally to cast man down, and repugnant to the common judgment of the flesh. These good persons seek a means more in conformity with human understanding: that is to concede I know not what to free will, and allow some natural virtue to man; but meanwhile the purity of the doctrine is profaned.

Here is Calvin in all his arrogance and theological overconfidence. His accusations against the likes of Ss. Chrysostom and Basil the Great are that they were too worldly, too submissive to worldly powers, and not willing enough to defy merely human judgments.

These charges are ironic in that they apply far more to Calvin himself and the Protestant Reformers than to the Holy Fathers he attacks. Chrysostom and Basil were ascetic monks who were other-worldly, and show Calvin as still quite fixed to the earth by comparison. Who was the one who rejected tonsure and married? And that a widow? Who was the one so irascible that he could not bear to be contradicted? Who was the one who determined eucharistic practice by the judgment of civil powers? Who was the one who received a large salary from the state? Who was the one complicit in the execution of heretics? Who was the one who died in the comfort of his own home with the approbation of the wise of Geneva, instead of in harsh exile with the opposition of the emperor? That the Holy Fathers refused to articulate Calvin’s doctrine of predestination is hardly a sign of complicity with worldly men, but rather a refusal to articulate what does not have the support of the Holy Scriptures and the consensus patrum.

On the issue of authority Calvin, as the other Reformers, posited a vacuous doctrine of sola scriptura which provided insufficient hermeneutical authority to insure even the agreement of those who claimed to believe the same things. Calvin fought with the Anabaptists, the Zwinglians, the Lutherans, and the Roman Catholics, while claiming the Scriptures were clear. And, though he read the Holy Fathers extensively, Calvin judged them all by their level of agreement with him, imputing moral depravity where none objectively existed in order to justify their universal disagreement with him. This is self-serving and contradictory theology.

Whatever the excesses of Rome, a “reformation” that subjects the truth of the Christian faith to endless schisms based on the wildly variable opinions of human beings is not a reformation at all, but a deadly poison.  Is it any wonder, given this ruinous and unscriptural principle of sola scriptura, that Protestant Christianity has steadily “reformed” Christianity further and further away from itself and finally out of existence? Once you allow the deposit of faith to be changed to please the world, changed it will be; and once changed, it will no longer be the deposit of faith entrusted by Christ to His Holy Apostles.

As St. Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3-4:

3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths and fables.

Have any words ever described our own times so well?

The Authors of the Gospels: Mark

The four Gospels of the New Testament appear under slightly different names in the most ancient manuscripts, for example, sometimes the Gospel of Mark is τὸ κατὰ Μᾶρκον εὐαγγέλιον, “The Good News According to Mark” and sometimes it is merely κατὰ Μᾶρκον, “According to Mark.” There is no case of one of the four canonical Gospels appearing without a name, as “anonymous.”

Who wrote them? Holy Tradition ascribes the Gospel of Mark to the Apostle Mark, a companion of St. Peter, and the Gospel of Luke to the Apostle Luke, a companion of St. Paul. Mark and Luke are not among the original Twelve Apostles who were the companions of Christ, but are among the Seventy Apostles that Christ sends abroad in his name:

Luke 10:

The Mission of the Seventy

10 After this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to come. 2 And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3 Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and salute no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ 6 And if a son of peace is there, your peace shall rest upon him; but if not, it shall return to you. 7 And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages; do not go from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you; 9 heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off against you; nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, it shall be more tolerable on that day for Sodom than for that town.

Likewise, Holy Tradition ascribes the authorship of the Gospel According to Matthew to the Apostle Matthew and the Gospel According to John to the Apostle John, both of whom were among the original Twelve Apostles.

No one should be surprised that the Christian Tradition maintains that the four Gospels were written by the men whose names they bear.

As many of you are also probably aware, the Apostolic authorship of the Gospels has been questioned by modern Biblical Criticism.  Is this a serious cause for concern for traditional Christians? Should we entertain serious doubts about the ascription by Holy Tradition of Apostolic authorship to the Gospels?

In a word: No.

Why not? To put the matter as briefly as possible—I do not intend to lay out the entire case here, but only to give you a sketch of the situation—modern historical-Biblical criticism is an essentially secular approach to scriptural texts that, modeling itself after the methods of natural science, builds into its entire approach a number of fundamentally secular assumptions.  That is to say, it reasons in the following pattern: “Under the ‘neutral’ assumption that these texts are not divinely inspired, then X, Y, and Z.”

An excellent illustration of this is the modern dating of the Gospels. Countless scholars and sources will report that, for example, Mark is the earliest Gospel and was written no earlier than 66-70 A.D.

Why should we think this? In this case, Wikipedia, while not reliable in itself, seems reasonably well-sourced and typical.  Let’s have a look at what it says, first concerning the Synoptic Problem:

The synoptic problem and the historicity of Mark

The gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke bear a striking resemblance to each other, so much so that their contents can easily be set side by side in parallel columns. Their close relationship is termed the synoptic problem, and has led to a number of hypotheses explaining their interdependence. The most widely accepted hypothesis is that Mark was the first gospel and was used as a source by both Matthew and Luke, together with considerable additional material. The strongest argument for this is the fact that Matthew and Luke only agree with each other in their sequence of stories and events when they also agree with Mark.[13]

The 19th century recognition of Mark as the earliest gospel led to the belief that it must therefore be the most reliable.[14] This conclusion was overturned by two works published in the early decades of the 20th century: in 1901 William Wrede argued that Mark’s sequence of episodes is in fact an artificial construct with theological motivation; and in 1919 Karl Ludwig Schmidt showed how the links between the episodes are the invention of the writer, thus undermining the gospel’s claim to be a reliable guide to the chronology of Jesus’s mission.[15] The modern consensus is that Mark’s purpose was to present a theological message rather than to write history.[14] [Italics mine]

So, the view that Mark is the earliest Gospel, while not unreasonable, is still only the most widely accepted hypothesis, e.g. something that falls a bit short of proof beyond any possible doubt or even beyond a reasonable doubt.  And the hypothesis was formulated under the not apparently regarded as false assumption that Mark is not an composition informed by theological considerations.  But what follows from that?

We are told “in 1901 William Wrede argued that Mark’s sequence of episodes is in fact an artificial construct with theological motivation“; we are also told that “The modern consensus is that Mark’s purpose was to present a theological message rather than to write a history.”  Both of these claims are sourced to footnote 14, which is Williamson, Lamar (1983). Mark. John Knox Press.  And what does Williamson have to tell us on this point? Only that Mark’s primary intention is to announce a message rather than to write a history:

Mark

It should hardly come as surprise that the writer of a Gospel has the primary intention of announcing the Christian message, rather than conforming to the norms of 19-21st century historiography.  Nor does this primary intention of the part of the writer of Mark necessarily say anything about the historical accuracy of the Gospel of Mark.  Williamson, for his part, only notes that the historical dimension of the Gospel is not a major concern of the author, not that the author is engaging is historical falsification, or that the genuinely historical portions of the Gospel are somehow necessarily unreliable.

But what about “in 1901 William Wrede argued that Mark’s sequence of episodes is in fact an artificial construct with theological motivation“, also sourced to Williamson? Well, Williamson does not in fact mention anything from 1901, and only mentions Wrede on p. 13 of his introduction, to credit him with “a brilliant and influential explanation” of Jesus’ apparent caginess in his claims to be the Messiah, an “elaborate explanation” which Williamson nonetheless rejects, and—more importantly for our purposes—has nothing whatever to do with the Wikipedia’s assertion that the author of Mark was engaged in “creating an artificial construct with theological motivation.” Neither the words “artificial” nor “construct” seem to appear anywhere in Williamson’s book.  Before we leave Williamson, let us note that he apparently holds that Mark was written c. 70 A.D.  More on that below.

Let’s go on. The “artificial construct with theological motivation” phrasing is apparently the invention from whole cloth of the Wikipedia editor(s), but it is, in itself, a highly ambiguous phrase: it seems to suggest falsehood without actually asserting it. Isn’t any writing “an artificial construct” in the sense of being a product of art, rather than nature?  What about the Wikipedia’s more robust claim that “in 1919 Karl Ludwig Schmidt showed how links between the episodes are the invention of the writer, thus undermining the gospel’s claim to be a reliable guide to the chronology of Jesus’s mission.” Here we have what seems to be a much less weaselly way of saying that the author of Mark simply made up false things, the “invention of the author.” Let’s source it.  This time we are directed to footnote 15, which is the entry on the Gospel of Mark by Marcus Joel in Eerdman’s Dictionary of the Bible.  Now since there is no such person as “Marcus Joel” and the entry in Eerdman’s is by Joel Marcus, I’m just going to assume that’s what Wikipedia meant to say—Wikipedia: proving daily that “you get what you pay for.”

Does Joel Marcus’ entry on the Gospel of Mark back up Wikipedia’s claim that “in 1919 Karl Ludwig Schmidt showed how links between the episodes are the invention of the writer, thus undermining the gospel’s claim to be a reliable guide to the chronology of Jesus’s mission“?  No, it does not.  What Marcus says, and all he says, is that Schmidt contended that this was the case, as a matter of historical fact, and that the inference that Mark is “not a reliable guide to the chronology of Jesus’ ministry” has been widely accepted:

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As to the nature of Schmidt’s case, and how exactly he purports to know that some parts of the Gospel are invented by the author, we are not told.  Note that the Wikipedia claims that Schmidt showed this, whereas the source it uses to support this only says Schmidt contended this.  Certainly it would make my life as a scholar easier of all it took to show that something is the case was to contend that it is the case!

Wikipedia certainly hasn’t made its case yet. Let’s see if we can track down Schmidt’s case, shall we?  Why not start with the Wikipedia entry on Karl Ludwig Schmidt himself, wherein it is claimed “In 1919, his book Der Rahmen der Geschichte Jesu (“The Framework of the Story of Jesus”) showed that Mark’s chronology is the invention of the evangelist.[2] Using form criticism, Schmidt showed that an editor had assembled the narrative out of individual scenes that did not originally have a chronological order.[3]”

Here’s that same “showed” language.  This time, the source is pp. 5-7 of Theissen, Gerd and Annette Merz. The historical Jesus: a comprehensive guide. Fortress Press. 1998. translated from German (1996 edition).  Do Theissen and Merz give is any evidence, for example, Schmidt’s argument?  They do not.  They do, however, seem to be the source of the “showed” language:

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Here we have not only “showed” but “demonstrated.”  I don’t want to question Schmidt’s credentials and competence, but I would actually like to see his argument before accepting it, rather than endless second-hand reports of what he supposedly showed. He apparently used something called form criticism to do it.  Let’s take a look at that, shall we?

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Would you be shocked to learn that “form criticism” is now regarded as an entirely discredited method?  Are you surprised that the results of a now wholly discredited method are still being stated as facts?  Does it surprise you that no scholars today would acknowledge the soundness of Schmidt’s method, but nonetheless will blithely continue to say that his work demonstrates or shows or proves X, Y, or Z?

If any of these things surprise you, welcome to the world of textual scholarship, where ridiculous claims based on ridiculous methods can live on literally for centuries even when the methods, theories, and ideas that led to the claims are considered thoroughly discredited, outdated, flawed, debunked, or which “must be considered suspect.”

In other words,

  1. Schmidt used a fallacious method to argue something;
  2. Despite recognition of the fallacious nature of Schmidt’s method, we are still to take the conclusions of his arguments as fact;
  3. Because reasons.

So what have we learned? Two things.

1. Despite all the smoke, noise, and assertion, we have not actually been given any good reason to think the author of the Gospel of Mark was inventing anything, and

2. A principle well enunciated by former prosecutor and legal commentator Vincent Bugliosi (the prosecutor of Charles Manson):

VincentBugliosiOneSentence

I really had planned to get into some other claims found on Wikipedia, and common in modern Biblical scholarship, for example:

The Gospel of Mark is anonymous.[6] A tradition beginning in the early 2nd century with Papias of Hierapolis (c.AD 125) ascribes it to Mark the Evangelist, a companion and interpreter of the apostle Peter, but most scholars do not accept Papias’ claim.[7] It was probably written c.AD 66–70, during Nero’s persecution of the Christians in Rome or the Jewish revolt, as suggested by internal references to war in Judea and to persecution.[8]

6. Sanders 1995, p. 63-64.
7. Burkett 2002, pp. 155–6.
8. Perkins 1998, p. 241.

Footnote 6: Wikipedia says that “the Gospel of Mark is anonymous”, according to Sanders 1995. However, footnote 6 is the only reference to Sanders on the page.  No such work appears in the Sources.  I suppose I could try to find Sanders.

Footnote 7: We are told that “most scholars do not accept Papias’ claim” about the authorship of the Gospel of Mark.  Wikipedia’s source is valid, for once.  It does indeed state that most scholars, or at least “most critical scholars” do not accept Papias’ claim:

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Of course, the source 1. doesn’t give us any evidence that the claim is true, that “most critical scholars do not accept Papias’ claim.”  But let’s just grant it; it’s probably true.  It still gives us no reason to think “most critical scholars” are correct not to accept Papias’ claim. We saw above that “critical scholars” seem to think that Schmidt had shown something very important about the Gospel of Mark, even while they admit his method was radically flawed.

One of the things that I am thankful for is that my discipline, philosophy, has proven resistant (not immune) to this very bad scholarly habit of what philosopher David Stove described as “sabotaging logical expressions,” that is, replacing claims like “such and such is the case” with claims like “most scholars think such and such is the case,” which are of course two entirely different claims and two entirely different sorts of claims.

Burkett’s short passage blithely asserts that “both the Proto-Orthodox and the Gnostics attributed their writings to  to apostles” etc., without bothering to explain such things as why there are no anonymous manuscripts; how it is possible that all the Proto-Orthodox Christians all over the world could pull off the hoax of adding an author to an anonymous manuscript at the same time over the vast Roman Empire without anyone noticing; why the Gnostics were called out as obvious liars and forgers when they did this (because the ancients had no more love for fraud than we do) but the Proto-Orthodox were able to get away with it (because the ancients were too stupid or ignorant to understand the concept of fraud).  Burkett presents no evidence that the Gospel of Mark was ever anonymous; he just assumes it, and then makes up a wildly implausible post hoc “explanation”, which he apparently didn’t think about very hard, and apparently hopes no one else thinks about very hard either.  Thought through, his claim amounts to something like this “Both authors of texts and plagiarists attribute writings to people in order to justify their claims of authorship.” He seems unaware that, while this is true, there is a distinction between the true attribution of a work to an author and a false attribution of a work; he just blandly notes that both groups do, in fact, attribute a work to an author, as if this fact all by itself made both attributions equally suspect.

Footnote 8: This one concerns the dating of the Gospel, specifically to c. 66-70 A.D.  What does our source tell us? Once again, we have a source-which-is-not-a-source:

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We are asked to believe that Mark was written c. 66-70 A.D. on the authority of Perkins. Perkins, however, is simply repeating a claim made by Donahue, whoever that is.

Do you feel like you are going mad yet?

In order to even begin to evaluate the claims that Mark is not the author of Mark and that the Gospel of Mark was written c. 66-70 A.D., I would have to track down (minimally) Sanders and Donahue. And the odds are high that one or both of them will just be repeating a claim made somewhere else by someone else, rather than presenting an argument—because that is how the game is played.  If I am lucky, they’ll provide me with their source(s) for the claim so I could continue to dig.

But for now, I’m tired, and this post has already grown far longer than I intended it to be. I only wanted to convince you all that the claims that Gospel of Mark wasn’t written by Mark, and was written 33-37 years after the death of Christ are far from being facts known with something like certainty, but are rather theories (and not in the strong scientific sense of the term either) based on a variety of suppositions and hypotheses.  Alas, I wasn’t able to do that as thoroughly as I wanted to, because I have so far been entirely unable to locate the actual arguments for these claims (not that this fact makes the claims more plausible).  Instead I have got lost in the bewildering maze of scholars citing scholars citing other scholars in a giant academic circle.  Being a scholar myself, I don’t know why I should have expected otherwise; I suppose, again, it is because my discipline, philosophy, whatever else you say about it, does not (for the most part) fear actual arguments.

However, I hope I have succeeded in convincing you, by this little descent into the scholarly rabbit hole, that you ought not to rely very heavily on the words of or even the consensus of scholars.  “The scholarly consensus” makes it sound as if all the scholars have actually examined the matter and most of them have come to the same conclusion about it; this is not the case: far more often, a “scholarly consensus” results from some scholar (e.g. Schmidt) propounding a theory, and it getting “picked up” in the literature, with the next generation of scholars (and the next, and the next, etc.) simply being taught it as established orthodoxy.

I will take up the question of the authorship and dating of the Gospels another time.  Until then: don’t believe everything you read, neither on Wikipedia nor in scholarly sources.  Many scholars would rather die than admit “I don’t know.” But you should never be ashamed of those words: as Socrates taught, they are the beginning of real wisdom.