One of the many lines repeated by Bosco here from time to time is that the mitre worn by bishops is modelled on the ‘Dagon fish hats’ worn in Babylonian times. This is not original to him, it has a long an inglorious history. We are being asked, it seems, to believe that the early Christian Church, full of martyrs who preferred to accept death rather than sacrifice to pagan gods, deliberately adopted a symbol from long-defunct Babylon – and so what? The implication appears to be that in that case the Catholic Church is really a Babylonian cult?
Even for Bosco, the connection between image and fact seems a little strained: something looks a bit like something else (and if anyone has a mitre in the shape of a fish-head with scales down the back, do let us know – I have never seen one like this)but since neither Bosco nor anyone else has shown how the connection in headgear actually works, let me direct him and them towards the real source – which is much more obvious.
The earliest Christians were Jews, and it is from the Jews that the headgear, and the word to describe it comes. The word mitre comes from Mitznefet (Hebrew: מצנפת) which is, if Bosco and co. would give it a moment’s thought, fairly obviously the origin. Indeed, if you examine the picture of a Jewish high priest on the right, you will see other examples (including incense) of Christian borrowings. On the strange logic Bosco uses, this would make the Catholics Jews. Odd he has not tried that more obvious one. Or not, given the origin of the nonsense he peddles.
The story comes from a book, called The Two Babylons published in 1853 by a fiercely anti-Catholic Free Church of Scotland Minister called Alexander Hislop. It has been described more recently “as conspiracy theory propaganda” which mixed “sketchy knowledge of Middle Eastern antiquity with a vivid imagination.” It is not surprising that it appeals to those of like mind: you will usually find those who quote it believe in conspiracy theories, have a vivid imagination (for example they can tell you by looking at a picture what is in the heart of the person photographed), and their knowledge of the subject on which they are pontificating is close to zero – but they have a source on the internet.
At no point does Hislop explain how and why ‘Dagon fish hats’ went underground, only to emerge in the eleventh century, or, why when they did, the original round hat did not resemble a ‘fish hat’; nor does he explain why a Roman Emperor would have thought that a Babylonian god, whose worship had died out centuries before, would have been an appealing model for the pagans of his day who worshipped Roman gods.
As an example of the depths of Hislop’s ignorance, this is hard to beat (although almost every page brings forth similar gems):
“In the Litany of the Mass, the worshippers are taught thus to pray:God Hidden, and my Saviour, have mercy upon us.” (M’GAVIN’S Protestant) Whence can this invocation of the “God Hidden” have come, but from the ancient worship of Saturn, the “Hidden God”?
No Latin text of the Mass had any such words in it. Hislop’s source for this is the work of one William M’Gavin, another Scotsman with an anti-Papist bent who produced a series of tracts which had wide circulation in the virulently anti-Catholic atmosphere of early nineteenth century Scotland. The fact that no Mass had such words in it mattered not to the bigots who quoted M’Gavin, and Hislop accepted it as uncritically as he did anything which reflected badly on the Catholic Church.
Those who take their water from such a well should be aware of how tainted it is; that they mistake it for the water of life is not the least of scandalous aspects of the work of those who peddle such tales. Their modern dealer is Jack Chick, whose tracts are simple enough to be taken at one sitting by the simple-minded, and the credulous. He simple repeddles the bigotry of M’Gavin and Hislop. The whole thing is a circular operation.
It is probably pointless to address those who wish to believe such stuff. Those who wish to believe that no one had ever landed on the moon, that George Bush had the Twin Tower blown up, or that the CIA killed Kennedy, will do so; some of them will also believe that two nineteenth century Scotsmen with no experience of Catholicism and no knowledge of the history of the ancient Middle East are authorities worth quoting now. But when they do, they ought not to be surprised that others laugh. Myself, I am more tempted to sadness that any man who confesses Christ, and Him crucified, should so mix poison with the pure water.
Truly, we are a fallen race in need of redemption, and my prayer is that to all such, God will give the Spirit of truth and discernment. Bosco wonders why I question his claim of a personal revelation – he has his answer. Whatever Spirit told him that Hislop and Chick are true is not of God.