Barbara Thiering: A short critique

by Dr Jonathan Sarfati

Barbara Thiering is an Australian woman who has written several books attacking orthodox Christianity. Her basic thesis is that the New Testament was written in a code which only she has discovered. Although her outlandish ideas have absolutely no support in the scholarly world. She is unique in dating the Dead Sea Scrolls to the time of Christianity, although radiocarbon and handwriting tests put them mostly in the 1st and 2nd centuries bc.

She also tries to use the fancy Hebrew word pesher in the hope that the public will be suitably impressed. But it means something quite different—an interpretation of a real, actual text, not a code word for vivid re-definitions of words as she does. There is no way the Gospels could be examples of pesher, since those who used that technique made it very clear that they were doing so, by putting the actual word into the text on which they were commenting.

Her anti-supernaturalistic bias comes through on almost every page. Although she doesn’t believe in the Resurrection of Jesus, she does believe in resurrecting dead theories. She actually advocates the old ‘swoon theory’, discredited last century by David Strauss, himself no friend of the Resurrection. She asserts that Jesus didn't die on the cross, on the grounds that he bled after the spear thrust (John 19:34) because ‘dead men don’t bleed’. A butcher friend of mine says she obviously has no experience of carcasses, which most definitely can bleed if stabbed. Note also that John’s report of ‘blood and water’ (John 19:31) flowing out is proof of death—the corpuscles and serum have separated. Thiering compounds the idiocy by claiming that the two thieves helped revive Him. After suffering crucifixion and having their legs broken, they would be in need of medical attention themselves …

The most bizarre aspect of her theories is the alleged secret code in the Gospels and Acts. This is her ‘evidence’ (if it deserves to be called that) for her weird ideas about Jesus supposed family. Apparently Acts 6:7 ‘…the word of God increased’ is code for Jesus’ family growing larger, and the same again with Acts 12:24. Somehow well-known places in Jerusalem and even heaven and earth become code-names for places in Qumran. Mary Magdalene is also Jairus’ daughter as well as Rhoda in Acts 12:13. Thiering identifies John Mark with the ‘beloved disciple’, the centurion at the foot of the cross, and Eutychus who fell out of a window (Acts 20:7–12).

A good book on Thiering is N.T. Wright, Who was Jesus? (Great Britain: SPCK, 1992). This also has chapters on Bishop Spong and AN Wilson. The book Jesus was No Wicked Priest, by Clifford Wilson and Murray Adamthwaite, usefully refutes some of her earlier books which contain basically the same nonsense.

In conclusion, although one Australian atheistic media personality referred to Thiering as the ‘Miss Marple of the Bible’, a comparison with the bumbling Inspector Clouseau would be more apt.

Published: 14 February 2006