“I am wary of any work that includes ‘conspiracy’ in the title. However, I was led to it by other research that I have done, and was pleasantly surprised by the content. It is very well informed, and superbly written.”
—Reverend Morton, Anglican Priest (Germany), Amazon Review of The Jerome Conspiracy
A fundamental teaching of modern Christianity is the eternal damnation of unbelievers. Most Christians assume this was always a doctrine of the faith. However the historical record proves otherwise.
There were two distinct divisions of Christianity during its formative centuries: the churches of the East and the churches of the West. A second century document entitled The Sibylline Oracles shows that the earliest churches of the East taught universal salvation – the doctrine that everyone will eventually be reconciled to God. In The Sibylline Oracles, unbelievers are eventually removed by God from the afterlife fires at the request of Christians.
For centuries Biblical scholars were convinced that the earliest churches in the West taught eternal damnation in hell. However, the fairly recent discovery of an early Greek version ofThe Apocalypse of Peter has dashed this longstanding characterization. The second century Muratorian Fragment reveals that The Apocalypse of Peter was widely read in the earliest churches of the West. And the newly found Greek version shows that it too taught universal salvation. In The Apocalypse of Peter, unbelievers are eventually removed by God from the afterlife fires at the request of Christians.
So the mainstream, majority view of the earliest churches in both the East and the West was one of temporary not eternal punishment. The writings of Saint Augustine show this continued up into the beginning of the fifth century. In 420 CE he wrote in Enchiridion that the majority of Christians believe in temporary punishment. However, a little more than one hundred years later, belief in eternal punishment had become so entrenched in Christianity that to teach otherwise was declared anathema – a heretical act worthy of punishment or death.
This leaves us with two historical puzzles to solve. First, why did the vast majority of churches teach temporary punishment in the first place? And second, what definitive event occurred during the fifth century that caused Christians en masse to suddenly embrace the doctrine of eternal damnation? In The Jerome Conspiracy parable, cryptographer Michael Wood pieces together the historical record to solve both these puzzles. And the resulting solution ends up exposing a previously unwritten fifth century conspiracy – a conspiracy that altered the course of the Christian faith for the next fifteen hundred years.