The first-known original Greek copy of a heretical Christian writing describing Jesus’ secret teachings to his brother James has been discovered at Oxford University by biblical scholars at The University of Texas at Austin.
Fragments of a 1,600-year-old heretical document describe how Jesus passes on knowledge of heaven and future events, including James’ inevitable death.
The text, from the story the ‘First Apocalypse of James’, refers to James as Jesus’ brother, though ‘not materially’.
The story was deemed ‘forbidden’ because writings that added to or changed the existing New Testament in any way were not permitted.
It forms part of the Nag Hammadi library, a series of 52 religious manuscripts written sometime between the 2nd and 6th Century AD.
Spread across 13 leather-bound vellum codices found buried in Egypt, they are of a heretical tradition known as Gnosticism – an early, mysterious form of Christianity.
“This new discovery is significant in part because it demonstrates that Christians were still reading and studying extra-canonical writings long after Christian leaders deemed them heretical,” Geoffrey Smith, an assistant professor of religious studies at the University of Texas at Austin and one of the two scholars who made the discovery, told Newsweek.
Like most Gnostic records, many of the Nag Hammadi manuscripts are written in Coptic, a traditional Egyptian language.
Earlier this year, researchers discovered that one of the library’s texts stood out because it was a copy of an existing piece written in Greek.
They found several fifth- or sixth-century Greek fragments of the Gnostic story of the First Apocalypse of James, which was thought to have been preserved only in its Coptic translations until now.
The researchers, from the University of Texas at Austin, say the text was likely used as a teaching piece to help young Egyptians learn Greek centuries ago.
‘To say that we were excited once we realised what we’d found is an understatement,’ study coauthor Dr Geoffrey Smith, a scholar of Biblical Greek and Christian origins, said.
‘We never suspected that Greek fragments of the First Apocalypse of James survived from antiquity. But there they were, right in front of us.’
(Sources: Newsweek, Daily Mail)