March 13, 1997 in Nation/World

Ancient Words May Be Those Of Christ Manuscript Could Be Lost Gospel

Bill Foreman Associated Press
 

Fragments of an ancient manuscript contain what may be lost statements of Jesus, a professor said Wednesday.

But it’s nearly impossible to establish whether the text contains the actual words of Christ, said Paul Mirecki, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

“It can’t be proved or disproved,” Mirecki said in a telephone interview. “What we do know is that all this came from early Christian communities.”

Mirecki said the writings in the 12 to 15 pages of badly damaged calfskin fragments are similar to those in the Book of John, which also contains much dialogue between Jesus and his disciples.

But the text contains sayings previously unknown, and it reflects the world view of its Gnostic authors, a Christian minority group that placed strong emphasis on the spiritual rather than the material world.

Mirecki said one passage includes this advice from Jesus to his disciples: “I have overcome, so do not let the world overcome you.” He said the Book of John also contains many passages about overcoming the world.

The manuscript was found in Egypt and stored in Berlin’s Egyptian Museum, where Mirecki says he uncovered it in 1991. The text is written in Coptic, an ancient Egyptian language that uses Greek letters.

He is translating the text with another professor and they plan to publish a book this summer.

Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review in Washington, D.C., said claims of discovered lost Gospels are common.

“There are a number of these late Apocryphal Gospels, and some of them do come from Egypt, so it wouldn’t be shocking to learn of the discovery of another one,” he said Wednesday.

Some scholars contacted by The Associated Press said they were skeptical because Mirecki has not shared the text with others in the field.

“If (Mirecki’s claims) were true, New Testament circles would be buzzing for months. Everyone would know about it,” said Eric Meyers, a Duke University professor who specializes in archaeology of early Palestine.

Mirecki said the manuscript was copied by a scribe in the fourth or fifth century; its contents were about two to three centuries old at that time.

The professor said that when he encountered the manuscript in 1991, he first thought it was merely a book of sermons that quoted the gospels. But two years later, he changed his mind.

Mirecki said the manuscript is important because it provides insight into the early origins of Christianity and the Gnostics, who died out in the fourth century. He said the writings help refute Orthodox writings, which described the early Christians as a unified, harmonious group.

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