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Jean Hardouin (1646–1729) was a 17th century French classical scholar who advanced the bizarre theory that almost every document we have from the classical world is a fake, created in the 13th or 14th century CE primarily by Benedictine monks. He also disputed the genuineness of a large part of Christian history and tradition. He believed that the fakes were a conspiracy to undermine the authority of the Roman Catholic church.
He was born in Quimper, Brittany in 1646, son of a bookseller, from whom he inherited a lifetime love of books, etc, etc. He became a Jesuit around 1660 and studied theology before becoming a librarian at the Jesuit College in Paris. His early work included studies of Themistius and of Pliny the Elder's Natural History; the latter evidenced an extraordinary work-rate and elevated him to one of the most famous scholars of the era. He also studied coins and other historical objects, and the writings of the Church Fathers.
His focus for many years was on his Concilia, a monumental history of the Councils of the Church from the Council of Nicaea onwards: this was an enormously challenging and politically complex task, where the smallest alteration could have a vast effect in the interpretation of the teachings of the church, condemning people to heresy. Hardouin proved himself highly unsuitable to this task, being particularly disputatious and unreasonably certain of his own interpretations. In particular he was strongly ultramontanist, defending the authority of the Vatican over the French church; this position was not exactly popular in Paris. In his work on the church council records, he showed a fondness for drastic editorial action, cutting out most of the older commentary and prefaces as worthless. Nonetheless, he was assiduous at uncovering variants in the records of the councils and differences between Latin and Greek accounts.
Along with other antiquaries of the time, he developed a method of historical inquiry that combined the study of literary texts with analysis of other evidence including inscriptions, coins, statues, pottery, and other cultural products. He took the point of view that if a text wasn't supported by other evidence, it was probably a fake.
He later claimed that his doubts first arose in 1690 when reading Augustine of Hippo, and he developed them over the next couple of years. He first expressed them in an essay in 1693 where he declared the existence of a critic who knew "that a certain band of fellows existed, some centuries ago, who had undertaken the task of concocting ancient history, as we now have it, there being at that time none in existence; that he knew their exact period and workshop; and that in this matter they had as aids the works of Cicero, Pliny, the Georgics of Vergil, the Satires and Epistles of Horace. These alone — the critic considers — as I fear he will find it hard to persuade anyone else to believe - to be genuine monuments out of the whole of Latin antiquity, apart from a few inscriptions and some Fasti."
Hardouin claimed that the chief architect of this deception was a Severus Archontius: this name was made up by Hardouin but his critics soon realised he was talking about Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor from 1220 to 1250. Hardouin attributed most of the forgeries to Benedictine monks and suggested that Severus and his conspirators had worked from a large collection of coins and the few genuine classical texts to concoct a whole literary tradition. They added to this a wide range of parchments and a basic knowledge of both Latin and Greek.
The reaction to this publication was not especially favorable. The rector of the Jesuit College of Paris went to the printer and seized every copy of the text; a number of his books were banned by the Church. But he had enough supporters to continue. Moving into full Da Vinci Code territory, he claimed that the forgers had hidden a series of deliberate clues in the ancient texts that revealed their true provenance. He pointed to texts such as Josephus's history of the Herods, which did not match up with the numismatic evidence: there were no coins to indicate many of the events described. He also suggested that the Bible was originally written in Latin and later translated into Greek, with the Vulgate the one true text. His wild ideas included the claim that the conspirators had made the Byzantine Empire give up their Latin scriptures, and speak Greek and adopt Greek scriptures and the phony history that Frederick's men had concocted. This was getting into the realm of serious conspiracy theory.
In Hardouin's analysis, the texts (which he believed to be fakes) suggested that ancient cultures had foreknowledge of Jesus, before they came across any Christian missionaries and in certain cases well before Jesus's birth, indicating they were really composed much later. He suggested that the name of the 3rd century BCE Egyptian priest Manetho derived from a Germanic root meaning "son of the man of strength", i.e. Jesus as named in Matthew 24:30. Over 200 years before Jesus was believed to have been born. He also suggested similarly Christian origins for the name of the pagan Saxon king Aelfric. All this shaded into antisemitism as he revealed that Frederick's conspirators had filled texts with names revealing Jesus's secret plan to return and punish the Jews who had killed him. Indeed (he argued) by planting this evidence, the conspirators were trying to show that Christianity was a fraud, prefigured by all these ancient texts — while some people have argued that the similarity of Christianity to earlier myths and religion proves that Christianity is a phony syncretic faith with elements of Mithraism, ancient Egyptian myth, and other archetypes later analysed by Joseph Campbell and others, Hardouin suggested that this evidence was actually planted to discredit Christianity.
He was critical of the standard of the Latin in the texts he considered fakes, suggesting they were all written in a similar, inelegant language, and all the Greek was done in the same non-Attic style, presumably all by the same people. While he accepted Virgil's Georgics he refused to believe that the poet also wrote the epic Aeneid, claiming it was vicious, badly structured, full of inelegant digressions, caricatured the classical gods, and contained much that was nonsensical; in addition Virgil simply didn't have the time to write it. This meant he had also to reject the existence of many classical works that referenced the Aeneid, including works by Ovid, Juvenal, Statius, Martial, Propertius, Quintilian, Tacitus, Servius, Macrobius, and many of the church fathers. He claimed Horace's ode Integer vitae, published in 23 BCE according to most scholars, was obviously a Christian allegory and therefore much later. He claimed to have found evidence of Gallicisms in texts from the Middle East, suggesting an origin in western Europe. In his criticisms of the Talmud, he claimed that what was thought to be Aramaic was nothing but Hebrew. He even dismissed as forgeries the records of the Church Councils upon which he had written so brilliantly earlier in his career; indeed he rejected all church history from Pope Linus (who died in 76 CE) to his contemporaries.
Anthony Grafton has argued that his ideas were in part following the skeptical current of philosophers like Descartes, who questioned knowledge of the past and believed we could only have knowledge drawn from our own perceptions. Hardouin also resembles Protestant questioning of Church traditions, and seems to have been influenced by figures such as David Blondel (1591-1655), the French Protestant scholar who demolished the Pope Joan myth and exposed other wrongly-attributed texts. Hardouin's ideas also had their place in the 17th century French Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns, where thinkers debated the relative importance of classical tradition and what was then modern science in the era of Galileo, Francis Bacon, Spinoza, etc. He put far too much importance on the study of coins and medals: contemporaries like Jean Mabillon were able to point to cases where even contemporary French coins failed to offer an accurate historical account.
Good and bad books
He claimed the following were genuine:
Finally, it should be noted that his forgery ideas were bullshit because we now have evidence by carbon dating of ancient Bible-related documents including for example the Dead Sea Scrolls which date to 3rd century BCE to 1st century CE. There is also a papyrus fragment of Sappho carbon dated to around 201 CE.
- Alternate historical chronology, examples of which often rely on similar sweeping conspiracy theories involving mass forgery and fabrication of ancient sources as some point in history.
- "Who Tried to Kill Nearly Everyone Else but Homer?", James M. Scott, The Classical World, Vol. 97, No. 4 (Summer, 2004), pp. 373-383 (11 pages), DOI: 10.2307/4352873
- Van Hove, A. (1910). Jean Hardouin. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved July 17, 2019 from New Advent
- "Jean Hardouin: The Antiquary as Pariah", Anthony Grafton, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 62 (1999), pp. 241-267 (27 pages), DOI: 10.2307/751388
- The radical criticism of Jean Hardouin, Jef Demolder, 27 Feb 2018
- See the Wikipedia article on Carbon dating the Dead Sea Scrolls.
- Sappho's New Poems: The Tangled Tale of Their Discovery, LiveScience, Jam 23, 2015