Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Sungenis and the CASB 2 (Apocalypse of St. John): More Source-Reference Problems

The purpose of this short entry is quite simple. Several people in the past few months have made comments about Robert Sungenis in light of his Jewish Controversies, expressing sentiments along these lines: "Sungenis may have some problems in the Jewish area, but his biblical work is still quite good and very sound."

It has been the contention of RSATJ for quite some time, however, that this is simply not true. Sungenis has demonstrated the same pattern of sloppy scholarship in his non-Jewish writings as he has in his Jewish writings. The pattern is consistent: as long as Sungenis feels he is right on some issue, he absolves himself of adhering to scholarly standards. This was documented several times in Sungenis and the Jews: Just what the Doctor Ordered?, where Sungenis was shown to have taken several short-cuts in his references in Galileo Was Wrong, and in at least one case, to have used a "rumored" quote attributed to Carl Sagan (fn. 242 on p. 107 says, "The quote is attributed to Sagan, but is invariably included among other quotes from Carl Sagan.").

Apparently, the pattern is not going to be broken in Sungenis's newly-released Catholic Apologetics Study Bible, Volume 2: The Apocalypse of St. John.

In the study bible, Sungenis says on pages 14-15 that "The traditional view is that the Apocalypse was written between the years 95 AD and 97 AD, during the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian." It should be noted that just a few years ago, in CASB 1, Sungenis had said of this position, "It is admitted by proponents of this view, however, that Irenaeus' language is ambiguous and that he is the lone witness for the assertion, thus leaving doubt as to its significance." (CASB 1, p. 351)

St. Irenaeus's ambiguous language and doubtful significance take a back seat in CASB 2, where the saint's testimony to the dating of the Apocalypse is now propped up as solid evidence: "One of the major patristic witnesses to this late dating is Irenaeus who, in his monumental work, 'Against Heresies', states that the Apocalypse was written 'toward the end of Domitian's reign'."

The question of whether St. Irenaeus was even talking about the writing of the Apocalypse in this passage is disputed, and the counter-evidence has been laid out in more detail here: Dating the Apocalypse of St. John: Was it Written Before or After Jerusalem Fell?

The point here, however, is that Sungenis went from saying that advocates of the late-date theory had one "lone witness", whose ambiguous testimony leaves "doubt as to its significance", to insisting that the late-date theory is the "traditional view", propped up by the "major patristic witness" of St. Irenaeus.

Sungenis's change of position was highlighted in a post at the Catholic Answers forum, and Sungenis issued a public response. He writes:

Now, the Matthew CASB 1 was written in 2003. Since that time, I have found more witnesses to the 95 AD writing of the Apocalypse than Irenaeus. (Sungenis, Jacob Michael: Incompetence and Immaturity, p. 5)

Indeed, Sungenis made it appear as though he had found "more witnesses" to the late-date view. He mentions them in the CASB 2, in fact. He mentions them again in his most recent defense of the issue:

Incidentally, the additional witnesses to a 95 AD date that Mr. Michael failed to mention are: Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Cyprian, Athanasius, Ambrose, Jerome and Augustine. Footnotes to the sources are provided in the text of the CASB 2. Not too shabby, are they? (Sungenis, Jacob Michael: Incompetence and Immaturity, p. 5)

Here is where we arrive at the reason for this entry: Sungenis says that "Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Cyprian, Athanasius, Ambrose, Jerome and Augustine" all testify to the late-date theory, and more importantly, that "Footnotes to the sources are provided in the text of the CASB 2."

But this assertion was recently brought to the attention of Mark Wyatt, who has been one of the biggest public promoters of CASB 2, and a specific challenge was put to Mr. Wyatt, again at the Catholic Answers forum:

An "excellent" work such as this surely ought to have the patristic sources supplied in the footnotes, and Sungenis claims here that they are provided "in the text of the CASB 2."

So here's the million-dollar question, Mark: what are those patristic sources, referenced in the footnote(s) on pp. 14-15, which show that Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, etc., held to an AD 95-97 date of composition for the Apocalypse? You have the book, so it shouldn't take you long to find them ... (Jacob Michael, CA forum post, 7/6/2007)

Mr. Wyatt, who has shown himself capable of responding to dozens of posts at Catholic Answers within very short time frames, was curiously silent about this challenge. Several days have now passed with no answer.

Perhaps the reason for the silence is simply this: there are no patristic sources given in the text of the CASB 2 for this issue, contrary to Sungenis's explicit claim otherwise.

Rather, the source Sungenis gives in his footnotes is not to any patristic witness, but to Fr. Haydock's extensive commentary in the Haydock Bible. Upon further examination of the "Haydock source", however, it turns out that not even Fr. Haydock gives patristic sources on the issue of the dating of the Apocalypse. In fact, Fr. Haydock doesn't claim any patristic witnesses for the date of the Apocalypse at all.

A quick review of what Fr. Haydock actually says on the page number referenced by Sungenis in the CASB 2 reveals immediately what happened: Sungenis wasn't reading carefully, and thus misrepresented Fr. Haydock's claims. Fr. Haydock writes:

Though some in the first ages doubted whether this book [the Apocalypse] was canonical, and who was the author of it, (see Euseb. 1. 7. Histor. c. xxv.) yet it is certain much the greater part of the ancient fathers acknowledged both that it was a part of the canon, and that it was written by S. John, the apostle and evangelist. See Tillemont in his ninth note upon S. John, where he cites S. Justin, S. Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertull. S. Cyp. S. Athan. Eusebius, S. Amb. S. Jerom [sic], S. Aug. &c. (Rev. Fr. Geo. Leo Haydock, The New Testament of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ with a Comprehensive Catholic Commentary [Monrovia, CA: Catholic Treasures, 1991], p. 1627; italics in original)

Note well: Fr. Haydock is talking, not about the dating of the Apocalypse, but its acceptance within the canon of Scripture, and its Johannine authorship. These are the two issues for which he claims the patristic witnesses of St. Justin, St. Irenaeus, St. Athanasius, St. Ambrose, and the other Fathers whom Sungenis has pressed into service as witnesses of the late-date theory (notice that Sungenis's roll-call is even in the same order as Fr. Haydock's, except for the exclusion of Eusebius, and the insertion of St. Irenaeus).

Here is where the confusion enters. Fr. Haydock goes on, after claiming these Fathers as witnesses to the canonicity of the Apocalypse and to its Johannine authorship, to give his own opinion as to the date of the Apocalypse:

It was written in Greek to the churches in Asia, under Domitian, about the year 96 or 97, long after the destruction of Jerusalem, when S. John was banished to the island of Patmos, in the Aegean Sea. (ibid., p. 1627)

It is clear what happened here. Sungenis took Fr. Haydock's own personal opinion on the date of the Apocalypse and confused it with the patristic evidence concerning the book's canonical status and Johannine authorship. He then claimed in the CASB 2, erroneously, that all of these Fathers testify to a late date for the Apocalypse. He then further trotted out these same names in his most recent response, but now with the additionally dishonest remark that "Footnotes to the sources are provided in the text of the CASB 2. Not too shabby, are they?"

Yes, those patristic witnesses are indeed "not too shabby", and they would be even more impressive if they were actually lending their testimony to the subject at hand: the date of the Apocalypse. What really would have been "not too shabby" is if Sungenis had actually included the patristic sources in the CASB 2 footnotes, as he explicitly claimed to have done. He did not, and now we can understand why: he was using Fr. Haydock as his primary source, and Fr. Haydock himself does not give primary source references, but rather points back to "Tillemont in his ninth note upon S. John."

In other words, Fr. Haydock is citing a secondary source, and Sungenis is therefore citing a tertiary source, but publicly claiming to have actually put the primary patristic sources in the CASB 2. On top of all of that, he is claiming these Fathers as witnesses on an issue for which not even Fr. Haydock claimed them.

Little wonder why Mr. Wyatt went silent. The "excellent work" in the CASB 2 that he has been tirelessly promoting on Sungenis's behalf turns out to be downright misleading and inaccurate.

Let me just anticipate the objection up front: Sungenis and his associates will undoubtedly complain that I'm "nitpicking" and trying to discredit an entire book based on "one example." But keep the sequence of events in mind: it was Sungenis who brought up this question of the patristic witnesses, and he was the one who used it as alleged evidence that his critics need to do their homework before challenging him. As usual, following up on Sungenis's dogmatic assertions has only unearthed new problems. Sungenis put this evidence forward for examination; it has been duly examined, and found wanting.

As far as the ramifications of this discovery go, it is not a question of discrediting an entire book based on one glaring mistake. It is a question of establishing a pattern in Sungenis's work; one example by itself would not be significant, but the cumulative effect of multiple examples in several places across many years is a different story - a garbled Truesdale quote here, a bogus Schoeman quote there, a ruined Haydock citation masquerading as patristic evidence here, a falsified Einstein quote there, an unverified Sagan quote here, a bogus saying of John Paul II there. The question can legitimately be asked: how can anything Sungenis cites be trusted at face value, without double-checking it yourself? And at that point, if you're already having to validate his sources, then of what value is his work? You might as well do the research yourself, since he can't be trusted to accurately report what his sources say.

Unfortunately, the end result of testing this latest Sungenis claim is decidedly negative: rather than being an example of how Sungenis is "solid" on biblical issues unrelated to the Jews, the CASB 2 turns out to be another example of how Sungenis has a bad habit of bypassing scholarly standards - even in his biblical work - when he thinks he is right on any given issue.