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Skulduggery and controversy over discovery of religious texts
by Graeme J. Davidson,
4 March 2006

Undoubtedly, the Gospel of Judas will teach us more about ancient Judaism and early Christianity. But, like most recent religious manuscript finds, the ripples it creates are unlikely to knock our faith off its foundations.

... Religious texts found in the Middle East attract the intrigue loved by Hollywood.
.... The Gospel of Judas is typical. After attempts to sell it illegally for US$3 million, two lovers went behind each other’s backs to cash in on this stolen manuscript, discovered in Egypt in the 1940s. Apart from six pages on the Internet, secrecy surrounds its contents – until National Geographic and the Swiss foundation that now owns it release a translation this Easter.
In this Gnostic gospel, which St Irenaeus said was heretical in the second century, Judas is the heroic outsider who acts for God when he betrays Jesus.
.... Another sensational find is the 2000-year old Angel Scroll. That hit the cover of The Jerusalem Report of 11 October 1999. According to the Report, an angel called Pnimea takes the author on a mystical ‘tour of the heavens’. The first line of the 1000-line scroll begins, ‘To Yeshua, son of Pediya the priest, the holy one'.
.... Yeshua is Hebrew for Jesus. Does this mean Jesus of Nazareth was the son of a priest?
.... The scroll is said to come from the East Bank of the Dead Sea and smuggled out of Jordan in 1974 to a Benedictine monastery on the German-Austrian border. There it remained a secret until information about it surfaced in Israel after the death of one of the monks.
.... Scholars haven’t seen the original Angel Scroll or photographs of it. However, Dr Stephen Pfann, an expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls, concludes from sighting a partial transcript, “We must be cautious not to make too much from the content of the text”.
.... Secrecy, Mid-East politics and black market opportunism attended the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls between 1947 and 1956. This ancient library was scattered through 11 caves at Qumran on the West Bank of the Dead Sea. Some scholars argue Greek fragments from Cave Seven are from the New Testament. As the only complete word is ‘and’, most others disagree. Nevertheless, amongst the scrolls are our oldest manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible and their discovery prompted a controversial revision of our earlier translations.
.... In Cecil B De Mille's 1956 epic The Ten Commandments, Moses parts the Red Sea. That’s like parting Cook Strait. Did it really happen like that? The ‘Red Sea’ in that episode from the Exodus is now translated ‘Sea of Reeds’, suggesting the Israelites escaped instead through the shallow lakes and marshy areas north of the Gulf of Suez.
.... Similarly, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's popular musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is based on a mistranslation of ‘long-sleeved coat’. Bosses wore long-sleeved coats, which explains why Joseph’s older brothers were angry. The kid was boss.
.... Oxford papyrus ‘is eyewitness record of the life of Christ’ was the Times headline on Christmas Eve 1994. Dr Carsten Thiede had redated P64, scraps of Matthew’s Gospel, from about 175 AD to soon after the crucifixion. But the controversy that followed left most scholars still regarding a tiny fragment from St John’s Gospel, known as P52, from an ancient rubbish tip in Egypt and dated around 125 AD, as our oldest New Testament manuscript.
.... Two early fourth century books are in contention for the title of oldest Christian Bible: Codex Sinaiticus, most of it taken by Dr von Tischendorf in 1859 from St. Catherine’s monastery beside Mt Sinai in Egypt– the monks say stolen –and Codex Vaticanus at the Vatican.
.... I contacted The British Library, where most of Sinaiticus resides. Dr Scot McKendrick, a biblical expert and head of the library’s Western manuscripts, says, “In our present state of knowledge there is no way of settling the matter one way or the other. There are, however, many good arguments for Sinaiticus being the earlier codex.”
.... The monks want Sinaiticus back, but they agreed to put their claim on hold while a project to make digital copies of the book available on the Internet brought all the pages of Sinaiticus together.
.... What about Codex Vaticanus? In the past, Vatican librarians kept it hidden and scholars worked with a facsimile. That fuelled many a conspiracy theory.
.... Anyway, which came first? Dr. Massimo Ceresa, Reference Librarian at the Vatican Library seemed surprised I asked. “Vaticanus is older than Sinaiticus”, he asserted, adding it was “re-inked around the year 1000, when the old ink had almost completely vanished”.
.... Undoubtedly, the Gospel of Judas will teach us more about ancient Judaism and early Christianity. But, like most recent religious manuscript finds, the ripples it creates are unlikely to knock our faith off its foundations.




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