Friday, April 1, 2011

Additional Thoughts on "Ancient Christian Book"

A few days ago a story appeared online and in major news sources about an ancient Christian book that was found in Jordan...and that might date to the earliest days of the church.

I put a link to the article on our The Land and the Book Facebook page. While this has the potential of being a major find, I'm concerned about the level of hype being given to the story. Here are some concerns that give me pause.

First, the book was said to have been found in Jordan between 2005 and 2007. If so, why is the book in Israel, and why is the find only being reported now? Is pressure being put on the current owner to relinquish control? Are the current owners trying to increase the monetary value of the find by sensationalizing it? Are scholars trying to raise funds from donors to purchase/study the document? Is a television network trying to build interest in an upcoming "special program" on the find? Any of these are possible. And until we know who is behind the release of the current story, we need to have a healthy dose of skepticism.

Second, is the book authentic? History is full of audacious forgeries passed off as authentic by unscrupulous dealers to a gullible public. The find needs to be carefully examined to determine its authenticity before we get too excited about it?

Third, if the book is authentic, what is its historical provenance? That is, when was it produced, and by whom? Early reports suggest it was written by first-century Jews who fled the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. This is possible, but we simply won't know until competent scholars examine the writing style, vocabulary, and other minute details of the find. While some "historical clues" have been offered in the initial articles, they are very sketchy...and very tentative. We're not sure if the book is from the first or third centuries, if it was written by early Jewish believers or by some heretical sect. And the supposed references to Jesus or resurrection might be genuine...or nothing more than two unrelated groups using similar vocabulary. (The first-century Pharisees believed in the resurrection, but they did not accept the resurrection of Jesus. Different groups could use the same vocabulary!)

So keep following these articles, but use a healthy dose of skepticism until all the details are revealed. As a friend often says, time and truth walk hand in hand!

No comments:

Post a Comment