How A Fact Becomes a Fiction

Earlier today I was sent an outrageously inaccurate tweet which misrepresented the historical circumstances of the execution of an Anabaptist and the part Zwingli played in the persecution of that sect.  When asked for a source, the tweeter offered Roger Olson’s book on the history of Christian theology.  So I checked.  Here’s what Olson actually wrote about the purported 1000 people Zwingli oversaw executed:


Zwingli consented to the sentence after spending weeks urging Manz to repent.  Olson does not at all intimate that Zwingli oversaw the hunting down of the Anabaptists over the next years, however.  Yet see what has been done to Olson by the tweeter:

sighOlson doesn’t say thousands of Anabaptists were killed (and the fact is, there were less than a hundred executed throughout Switzerland during the entire sordid period when they were persecuted).  Nor did Zwingli oversee Hubmeier’s torture.  He actually helped him leave the Canton!   And even had he wanted to, he couldn’t have.  The sword belonged to the Council, not the Church. And Hubmeier perished years later, elsewhere.

I’ve requested, several times now, evidence from a primary source but none is forthcoming in support of the claim.  Because there is none.  What there is, on the other hand, is a tale repeated without foundation which in the repetition gains, among those uninformed, accuracy and truthfulness.

Nonetheless, if no primary source can be brought to the fore, the claim will remain false even if an angel from heaven claims it’s true.

History isn’t done by gossip.

9 thoughts on “How A Fact Becomes a Fiction

  1. timbulkeley 3 Jun 2014 at 1:54 pm

    As you say, this book does not say that Zwingli was responsible, but it does to me give the impression that he approved, or at least ignored this brutal progrom.


    • Jim 3 Jun 2014 at 2:04 pm

      he was complicit because he didn’t oppose it. but he did not oversee it or order it. nor was it as extensive as suggested (as I explained)


      • timbulkeley 3 Jun 2014 at 5:02 pm

        So a bit like Henry II and Thomas Becket? Or more recently Serbia and the Srebrenica genocide except on a smaller scale?


        • Jim 3 Jun 2014 at 6:05 pm

          no not actually. more like a city council which did it’s own thing whether or not the town’s chief theologian wanted them to or not.


          • timbulkeley 3 Jun 2014 at 6:13 pm

            I think you are doing something similar to John Daniel (above) only in the opposite direction. Z “consented to” one execution, the text is silent about his role in the others, though by proximity suggests at least tacit approval, but you turn silence into “whether [he] wanted them to or not” thus excusing Z.


            • Jim 3 Jun 2014 at 6:23 pm

              you would be right if you were right. fortunately we do know what part he played because we have the minutes of the city council’s meetings (the protocol) so we know exactly who did what. gotta love the record keeping swiss. so my argument isn’t from silence.


  2. timbulkeley 3 Jun 2014 at 8:47 pm

    OK, I’m a Zwingli ignoramus, but it seems to me that either he was a member of the city council, in which case his silence or the failure to record his position is “interesting” or he was not, in which case this silence is rto be expected and says nothing about his relkationship to the events?


    • Jim 3 Jun 2014 at 8:54 pm

      He wasn’t a member of the council, he was the chief clergyman of the canton. But when it came to theological matters the council listened. Unless it deemed political considerations to be preeminent


    • Jim 3 Jun 2014 at 8:55 pm

      Remember- the anabaptists were a political threat, not just weird theologians. Especially after munster


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