Johnson's Mixed Bag On Paganism Can Easily Confuse

(A review of 'Ancient Paganism; The Sorcery of the Fallen Angels,' by Ken Johnson. ISBN 1439297703. Published 2009.

No publisher named, so this review cannot name one. A paperback of 173 pages).






K en Johnson (apparently) is a premillenialist fundamentalist-type writer who has produced this somewhat depressing black-jacketed little paperback which a Canadian contact of mine has kindly sent to me so we can review it. The book purports to draw a linkage between the fallen angels, ancient forms of paganism (which they encouraged), and modern paganism.



I can like rather a lot within this book, especially the author's obvious utter sincerity, unfortunately, I cannot give this little volume a fully clean bill of health. One really big problem (among several) is that the writer repeatedly quotes the Book of Jasher as though it is an established and bone-fide document. It isn't. He refers to it as "recommended by the Bible" (p169), and the Bible does mention a book of such a name on a few occasions including, Joshua 10:13, 2 Samuel 1:18, with a possible (but only possible) further allusion to it in 2 Timothy 3:8. However, it is simply incorrect to say that this extra-biblical book is "recommended" by the Bible. We know that such a book was once available but that is no longer the case. Today there are indeed two or more versions of a book of this name out there, neither believed to be genuine documents and both considered at least partly fraudulent in the opinion of most scholars. Johnson loses credibility in not being more open about this, indeed, the claim is made that one can purchase an English translation of this book from Johnson's own ministry. Yet, as W.A. van Leen has written,


'When the book, in its various versions, is carefully examined it simply cannot stand the test of scrutiny and examination in the light of known history and evidence. The true Book of Jasher remains lost. Both the 1751/1829 and 1840/1887 versions remain fraudulent fiction and apocryphal speculation outside the Canon of Scripture.' (source: http://www.christianfaith.com/lookout/the-book-of-jasher).

Johnson's eagerness to slip into such wild inaccuracy on page 169 substantially weakens his arguments elsewhere in the book. Why? Because one starts to think that here is a writer with no respect for historical accuracy.


Now it is true that author Ken Johnson is not dependent on this book for most of the points which he makes but he does use it (that is, whichever somewhat dubious version of this book he is actually using) as corroborating evidence rather too often for one's comfort. Of course, we would all love to have the original and genuine Book of Jasher available to us today - although it would not amount to Holy Scripture, of course, but what we actually have is, sadly, a questionable version.

Other sources which Johnson uses are more reliable including several quotes from the 'church fathers,' Josephus, the Mishna and, of course, the Bible itself.

Johnson sets out his book in a somewhat piecemeal way over 21 sections, most of them extremely brief. He makes no attempt to gradually build his case, leading to a conclusion which is hard to refute, but since the sections are all somewhat loose and anecdotal (very unacademic one has to say), it does at least make for easy reading and is also easy to return to. The writer looks at such matters as ghosts, apparitions, spells, evolution, karma, trances, divination, magic in general and much else besides but in such a tiny book, less than 200 pages, he is never really able to firmly establish any particular point with compelling evidence from reliable sources, it's all much more on a gossipy, 'Hey, did you hear about...' level. As always - along the way - some fascinating points come up, quite a number of which the author is obviously correct on, a few others somewhat dubious.

One of the book's strongest and most compelling sections is 'Pre-Flood History,' sadly this is also where Ken Johnson is also especially reliant on his version of the Book of Jasher, but the information (or, misinformation?) given is certainly absorbing and compelling and the Josephus quotes here are excellent. Of course, even if we accept that the modern versions of Jasher are often questionable this does not mean that some sections are not at least partly accurate. So we arrive at somewhere close to speculation but possibly accurate in part. Intriguing stuff!

Interestingly, the charismatic/Pentecostal phenomenon does not escape Johnson's censure as he makes the following telling observation:

'The ancient church fathers taught that when the Holy Spirit comes upon a Christian and the gifts of the Spirit are manifested, it is done with clarity of mind. In contrast, a person praying a satanic counterfeit prayer goes into an altered state of consciousness called an "ecstasy," where they are not in control of themselves.
"A true prophet under the control of the Holy Spirit does not fall into ecstasy or madness like the pagans do," (Origen Against Celsus).' (p114).

Perfectly correct. He rightly labels the heretic Montanus as possibly the pioneer of the ecstatic gifts of the modern age:

'Eusebius describes the "ecstasy" as a false system that does away with the real spiritual gifts since it circumvents the Holy Spirit to reach another spirit.' (p 115).

An Amazing Gaffe

So the book often contains some solid teaching although, being a rather unstructured book, there is no telling where the more interesting bits may pop up. However, just occasionally the author shows his true premillenial prejudices:

'The ancient fathers, including disciples of the twelve apostles, were firmly premillenial, pretribulational, and very pro-Israel.' (p 169).

Now the above is an almost complete anachronism! Such terms were never even used until the late 19th century!! 'Premillenial' means that Christ's return is followed by a 'millenium' (that is, a thousand years of peace on earth, after which war breaks out again), 'pretribulational' presumably means that a so-called "rapture" occurs before a "great tribulation." The Apostles and church fathers never even concerned themselves with such terms which would have been foreign to them - they simply placed all their faith and trust in Christ, the Second Coming and the Resurrection. Only in just a very few places do one or two of the 'fathers' show possible support for a millenium to come, the vast majority of them do not. However the concept of a "rapture" never even arrived on the scene until the 19th century! Johnson's eagerness to slip into such wild inaccuracy here substantially weakens his arguments elsewhere in the book. Why? Because one starts to think that here is a writer with no respect for historical accuracy.


Conclusion


I really like to praise the books which we review but, to be frank, this is not a well-produced or well-argued little book and is something of a mishmash of solid argument and slipshod assumption. Unquestionably the author is often basically correct though authoritative evidence and support for his various points is largely lacking. Should it then be rejected out of hand? No, I don't believe so. One may read it with a degree of interest though the arguments are not as strong or compelling as they could have been. It's best considered on the level of an interesting conversation one might have in a pub. Intriguing? Yes, Deeply fascinating? Oh yes. Absorbing? Certainly! Case firmly established? No, definitely not, in fact, little effort is even made in that direction. Another big omission is that, though presumably a Christian, the author never preaches the Gospel in this book, so never offers hope, therefore, in view of its subject matter, it is ultimately a somewhat depressing little book.

Robin A. Brace. September 22nd, 2014.

UK APOLOGETICS