For the first time, scholars have found a copy of the original Greek manuscript describing what Jesus secretly taught his brother James.
Biblical scholars at the University of Texas at Austin discovered the manuscript in the Nag Hammadi Library at Oxford University, where it may have been a tool teachers used to help students learn to read and write. According to ScienceDaily, to find a copy of such a manuscript in Greek—the language in which it was originally written—is incredibly rare.
The Nag Hammadi Library is a collection of 13 Coptic Gnostic books, also called codices, which were found in Egypt more than 70 years ago. Only a small handful of works from the library have been recovered in their original Greek versions.
“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 via email.
Smith and fellow religious scholar Brent Landau announced the discovery at the Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting in Boston. The heretical Christian writings describe Jesus teaching, in secret, his brother James about future events—including James’ own death. As Smith explained to ScienceDaily, writings that added to or changed the existing New Testament in any way were forbidden.
Landau, a lecturer in the UT Austin Department of Religious Studies, told ScienceDaily that the scribe separated the majority of the text using “mid-dots,” which break words down into individual syllables. This was not a common practice at the time; the exception would be in educational contexts, which is why Smith and Landau believe the text was a teaching tool.
“To say that we were excited once we realized what we’d found is an understatement,” Smith told ScienceDaily. “We never suspected that Greek fragments of the First Apocalypse of James survived from antiquity. But there they were, right in front of us.”
As reported by CNN, in 2002 archaeologists discovered a 2,000-year-old “bone box” inscribed with Aramaic words that translated to: “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” It was potentially the first physical evidence of Jesus’ existence, and sparked curiosity about who exactly this mysterious brother had been. One theory, as professor of New Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary, Ben Witherington III explained to CNN, was that Jesus and James were indeed full brothers (James was younger).
“The New Testament says nothing about Mary being a perpetual virgin, it says she virginally conceived Jesus, and it certainly implies that she went on to have more children after that, and his brothers and sisters are in fact his brothers and sisters,” Witherington told CNN.