I recently read George Jowett’s book Drama of the Lost Disciples (first published in 1961 and still cited as a reliable source by many pseudo-scholars). I had first heard of it in Adrian Gilbert’s book The Holy Kingdom, a book about the Arthurian legend and early British history (with some questionable but also some convincing scholarship—at least more so than Jowett’s scholarship). I was hoping the claims Gilbert makes about early Christianity in Britain and the British role in converting Rome would be explained in more detail in Jowett’s book, which was one of his sources, but while the details were there, I was left highly disappointed by the arguments and scholarship.
Before I say more, let me say that I love the myths of Britain and the possibilities that King Arthur, Joseph of Arimathea, and so many other historical figures were part of Britain’s history. I love these myths and legends, but they are myths and legends because we cannot prove them as history; at least, I have not seen sufficient proof that they are more than that, though I am willing to be convinced by the evidence. Nevertheless, I remain skeptical.
Jowett goes on to argue that the British Church was always separate from the Roman Catholic Church and makes broad sweeping arguments even suggesting that it never broke from Rome because it was never a part of it—this despite the fact that Henry VIII clearly defended the Pope against Martin Luther and even sought the pope’s permission for his divorce. Jowett also makes arguments about the position of the pope, in opposition to Roman Catholic tradition that Peter was the first pope, by saying there never was such a thing as a pope until the early seventh century. It is true that the title was used for many bishops prior to this and only for the bishop in Rome beginning in the seventh century, so I only bring the matter up to clarify when he uses the term pope to refer to Linus and Clement, he means Bishop of Rome. But I find it hard to believe the British Church was never under the Roman Catholic Church. Yes, I do believe there were Christians in Britain before St. Augustine being made Archbishop of Canterbury in 597 A.D. (after all St. Patrick was a Christian two centuries prior to this, and he was British), but since St. Augustine was appointed by the pope, it’s pretty clear the British Church was under Roman Catholic jurisdiction from that time on.
Jowett did do a lot of research and cites many sources, but many of them are Victorian sources that weren’t much more knowledgeable than himself I’m afraid. He also cites many medieval and classical writers and traditions handed down from early Christian times, but many of his sources are not clear, and when all else fails, he seems to suggest his information comes from other people who saw certain unnamed records in the Vatican library. Worse, I suspect he makes up sources. For example, at one point in discussing Linus as being British and the first pope in Rome, he states: “St. Peter affirms the fact. He says: ‘The First Christian Church above ground in Rome, was the Palace of the British. The First Christian Bishop, was a Briton, Linus, son of a Royal King, personally appointed by St. Paul, AD 58.’” When and where did St. Peter say this? The only writings of St. Peter I’m aware of are his epistles in the Bible. This passage is not taken from the Bible so what is its source? Since Jowett has footnotes for so many of his other sources, why here (and many other places) does he neglect to document his sources? No discerning reader could be convinced by this shoddy scholarship, yet this passage and many others have been copied all over the Internet as reliable sources. Since when did St. Peter refer to St. Paul as a saint? The disciples did not use such terms in referring to one another. And as if that weren’t enough of a red herring, what about AD 58? The early Christians did not define years by AD. This dating system was created in the sixth century and not popularized until the eighth century. St. Peter never even heard the term “AD.”
I am willing to believe Jowett is well-intentioned in most of his arguments, and not being trained as a scholar, he obviously wasn’t skilled enough to write a book. He is more of an enthusiast than authority, and that enthusiasm causes him to exaggerate at times. I can forgive his failure always to document sources properly, but his faulty thinking and broad sweeping statements become laughable too often and reveal how little he knows and that he had no reliable editor or scholar to assist him. His mistakes range from a pardonable one such as his referring to Venerable Bede as a saint. Not being Catholic, he obviously didn’t understand that Venerable is a step in the process toward canonization as a saint, but does not confirm sainthood. Perhaps his most laughable argument is that the British are descended from the Jews. (An argument that is popularized and believed apparently all over the Internet.) Among his assertions to support this statement is that the Druids like the Jews believed in the immortality of the soul (highly possible), that the Druids carried around their own form of the Ark of the Covenant (possible I suppose, but he doesn’t document how this is known), and that Jews would not marry with Gentiles, which proves that both the Britons and Saxons were Jews because they only intermarried with each other. (This is ridiculous—the Britons and Saxons fought for centuries over control of Briton—the Britons certainly didn’t say to the Saxons, “Welcome, fellow Israelites! Let us intermarry!”) Finally, Jowett argues as proof that the British (and Americans, whom Jowett, being an American, considers as British-descended—forget all the other immigrant groups that added to the great American melting pot) are the only Europeans who keep the Sabbath properly, which proves they are Jewish-descended.
I love the myths Jowett discusses when they don’t tend toward being racist and overly invested in British superiority theories. At the end of the day, I’m willing to give Jowett the benefit of the doubt about his arguments concerning Joseph of Arimathea and his companions converting Britain and bringing Christianity to Rome, but many of the other arguments are far too over the top to be believed. (Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Drama_of_the_Lost_Disciples for more of them). Even being an anglophile myself, I find his book largely unbelievable. But if his propaganda and faulty scholarship are peeled away from these pages, perhaps one or two gems or truth remain worth exploring.
I encourage readers to read the book with skeptical mind for themselves and come to their own opinions. If Jowett’s claims about the early Christian church in Britain are true, it is a fascinating story and one that deserves to be told.