Chasing the Amber Witch

Bestsellers like “Misquoting Jesus” by Bart Erhman and “God is Not Great” by Christopher Hitchens are presented with all the fanfare of revolutionary new scholarship.  These antichristian polemics are hawked as “revealing the hidden contradictions of the Bible” and “how religion poisons everything” yet the issues expressed are neither concealed nor venomous. While sensational titles and viral marketing may reap revenues the vast majority of their contentions are the long discredited canards of 19th century German higher criticism being recycled to a new generation.

Erhman’s brand of criticism is derivative of German writer David Friedrich Strauss (1808 – 1874) who scandalized Europe with his interpretation of the “historical Jesus”. Strauss had been trained in Hegel’s dialectic philosophy (thesis + antithesis = synthesis) not only denied the deity of Christ, he asserted that the Gospels were “myths,” a synthesis between the facts of Jesus’ life (thesis) and the disciples’ faith (antithesis). Ehrman is basically following suit in the 21st century.

Like Erhman’s best sellers Strauss’ “The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined” was a sensation. One reviewer called it “the Iscariotism of our days” and another “the most pestilential book ever vomited out of the jaws of hell.”   When Strauss was elected to a chair of theology in the University of Zürich, his selection provoked such a hullabaloo that the school retired him before he began his duties. In contrast, today Erhman chairs the department of religious studies at the University of North Carolina deep in the Bible belt.

Liberal higher criticism treats the Bible as a flawed piece of religious propaganda created for various human motives. A major presupposition of higher critics is that they can confidently determine authorship and authenticity.  For instance, the scholars of the Jesus Seminar have determined that only twenty percent of what the Gospels attribute to Jesus was actually said by him[i].  Are they really that good?

A Dusty Old Manuscript

While digging around in the church basement, Johannes Wilhelm Meinhold (1797-1851)  claimed to have discovered the long lost manuscript of a 17th century minister, Abraham Schweidler. The manuscript spins an enticing yarn.  The Reverend almost loses his only child Maria to a plot by a unrequited suitor accusing her of witchcraft. Under the threat of torture Maria, entirely innocent, confesses to being a witch. While on the way to her doom, she is rescued at the last minute by a young hero who reveals the evil plot against her. Described as “the most interesting trial for witchcraft ever known”, church leaders had apparently urged Meinhold publish the story for its instructional value.[ii]

The Amber Witch is a Gothic novel written in 1839 by Meinhold. Because the old manuscript was incomplete, Meinhold allegedly supplied details in the style of author and finished the story for dramatic purposes.  In a direct challenge to the “modern documentary critics” Meinhold wrote in the preface to the novel:

I have therefore attempted, not indeed to supply what is missing at the beginning and end, but to restore those leaves which have been torn out of the middle, imitating, as accurately as I was able, the language and manner of the old biographer, in order that the difference between the original narrative and my own interpolations might not be too evident. This I have done with much trouble, and after many ineffectual attempts; but I refrain from pointing out the particular passages which I have supplied, so as not to disturb the historical interest of the greater part of my readers. For modern criticism, which has now attained to a degree of acuteness never before equalled, such a confession would be entirely superfluous, as critics will easily distinguish the passages where Pastor Schweidler speaks from those written by Pastor Meinhold.[iii]

The Critics Love It

When it first appeared the German critics believed it to have been an authentic historical document. The work then attracted critical notice, not only for the dramatic nature of the narrative, but also for the arguments as to which parts of it were original and which ones were Meinhold’s own reconstructions of the original 17th-century style. Sound familiar?

It was a hoax! Meinhold had indeed written the whole thing. The forgery was done with great skill and detail using the language and expressions that would be common to the period it is set in.  The author’s intention had been to set a deliberate “trap for the disciples of David Strauss and his school who pronounced the scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be a collection of legends from historical research assisted by internal evidence”. Even when he admitted that it was a deliberate hoax the critics argued against him for its authenticity!  It soon became obvious that The Amber Witch was a hoax. As the popular press reported in the late 1840s:

“Meinhold did not spare them [Strauss and his disciples] when they fell into his snare and made merry with the historical knowledge and critical acumen that could not detect the contemporary romancer under the mask of two centuries ago, while they decide so positively as to the authorities of the most ancient writings in the world.”[iv]

He made a brilliant example out of Strauss and his school of criticism. This begs the question:  if these critics could not accurately detect a very recent text, why should we trust atheist scholars’ opinions over those of the disciples and early church fathers? Perhaps when Jesus refers to one Isaiah as having written the book of Isaiah and Moses as the author of the Torah, we should simply take him at His word.  Can the Jesus Seminar or Bart Ehrman really determine what Jesus did and did not say?

Not at all, they are only chasing the Amber Witch.

[i]Wilkins, Michael J., and J P Moreland. Jesus Under Fire. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995.p.12

[ii]Laurita, Paula. The Amber Witch Hoax. (accessed 04 22, 2010).

[iii] Meinhold, W. The Amber Witch: The most Interesting Trial for Witchcraft Ever Known. London: H.G. Clarke and Co., 1844.

[iv] Agnew, John Holmes, and W H Bidwell, “The Author of the Amber Witch.” Eclectic Magazine: Foreign Literature Science ad Art Vol 21, September 1850: 419.

About Cris Putnam
Logos Apologia is the ministry of Cris D. Putnam. The mission of Logos Apologia is to show that logic, science, history and faith are complementary, not contradictory and to bring that life-changing truth to everybody who wants to know.


  1. Shelley Huisman says:

    “”9 What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.

    It just goes to show that no matter what age we live in the wisdom of man will end up as folly if they do not know the Holy One! Nothing is new under the sun.

    “3 I have not learned wisdom, nor have I knowledge of the Holy One.”” Proverbs 30:3

    The pride of man unless mortified by the Holy Spirit will always destroy what is pure!

    Excellent comparison to what is happening now!

    • Cris Putnam says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful reply and I like it when you support it with scripture. Unbelievers may make some valid observations about a text but they will never really get it… “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor 2:14)

  2. Joel says:

    Ken Klein’s Angel Wars: A Biblical Response

    dear Sir ,

    Have watched your responce on youtube without no question ken klein is fool of fools of errors
    most mistake would be that he does not carefuly investigate his errors. or maybe pray that the father in heaven may reveald all things unto him in the name above all other names our lord Jesus christ by Holy spirit Our comforter.

    And having watched this video is clearly vital error and errors. that if you are researcher in bible doesn’t not mean
    what he is saying at all because bible does have no error .

    notice : his information is understandable with also amount of errors
    i would Recommend all his teaching is to be investigate .

    yet we should not judge but expose all work under the heaven for our Lord Jesus is God being in the father
    the father also the son of God by Whome all Things creat bY his weither being or cretion bowed before This savereign kin of kings.

    who ncan Never be defeated and nvere would be for eternalty our Lord all mighty in All.

    thank for your for i love saying who live for the truth in true of God his world,and theres no mistake in the bible

    Lord Jesus loves you forever in all of him

    remember sin ii this world all are in sin and creation is in sinbut creations live on forever because we are made in his image of christ Jesus our Lord never angels or no any but the Lord.

  3. Joel says:

    notice: the father also being in the son of God by all Things created by his word, being or creation bow before This one savereign king of kings. in whome is God head God manifested In body at this Life in this life for he lives and lives for ever more .

    see look carefully Even myself make mistake at times

    thanks for your reponse for i love saying those who live for the truth in true of God his word and theres no mistake in the bible

    Lord Jesus loves you forever in all of him

    remember sin is this world all are in sin and creation is in sin christians live on forever because we are made in his image of christ Jesus our Lord never angels or no any but the Lord.

  4. Joel says:

    Note:The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor 2:14)

    The word says it all “but He nanswered and said,it is written Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” matthew 4:4

    thank you once again and a good blesssed day in the Lord Jesus Name.