The Christian equivalent of the Dead Sea Scrolls?

 

the most ancient Christian texts

 

Archaeologists have discovered some 70 little books with lead pages that may be the earliest Christian texts, dating from shortly after the time of Christ.  Interestingly, they seem to have been made by Jewish Christians–being written in ancient Hebrew, depicting both a Menorah and a Cross, and including a stylized map of Jerusalem, outside of which is drawn a T shaped cross and an empty tomb.

Most of the writing is in code, though, so it isn’t  decipherable, at least not yet.  From the BBC:

They could be the earliest Christian writing in existence, surviving almost 2,000 years in a Jordanian cave. They could, just possibly, change our understanding of how Jesus was crucified and resurrected, and how Christianity was born.

A group of 70 or so “books”, each with between five and 15 lead leaves bound by lead rings, was apparently discovered in a remote arid valley in northern Jordan somewhere between 2005 and 2007. . . .

The director of the Jordan’s Department of Antiquities, Ziad al-Saad, says the books might have been made by followers of Jesus in the few decades immediately following his crucifixion.

“They will really match, and perhaps be more significant than, the Dead Sea Scrolls,” says Mr Saad.

“Maybe it will lead to further interpretation and authenticity checks of the material, but the initial information is very encouraging, and it seems that we are looking at a very important and significant discovery, maybe the most important discovery in the history of archaeology.”

The texts might have been written in the decades following the crucifixion

They seem almost incredible claims – so what is the evidence?

The books, or “codices”, were apparently cast in lead, before being bound by lead rings.

Their leaves – which are mostly about the size of a credit card – contain text in Ancient Hebrew, most of which is in code.

If the relics are of early Christian origin rather than Jewish, then they are of huge significance.

One of the few people to see the collection is David Elkington, a scholar of ancient religious archaeology who is heading a British team trying to get the lead books safely into a Jordanian museum.

He says they could be “the major discovery of Christian history”, adding: “It’s a breathtaking thought that we have held these objects that might have been held by the early saints of the Church.”

He believes the most telling evidence for an early Christian origin lies in the images decorating the covers of the books and some of the pages of those which have so far been opened.

Mr Elkington says the relics feature signs that early Christians would have interpreted as indicating Jesus, shown side-by-side with others they would have regarded as representing the presence of God.

“It’s talking about the coming of the messiah,” he says.

“In the upper square [of one of the book covers] we have the seven-branch menorah, which Jews were utterly forbidden to represent because it resided in the holiest place in the Temple in the presence of God.

“So we have the coming of the messiah to approach the holy of holies, in other words to get legitimacy from God.”

Philip Davies, Emeritus Professor of Old Testament Studies at Sheffield University, says the most powerful evidence for a Christian origin lies in plates cast into a picture map of the holy city of Jerusalem.

“As soon as I saw that, I was dumbstruck. That struck me as so obviously a Christian image,” he says.

“There is a cross in the foreground, and behind it is what has to be the tomb [of Jesus], a small building with an opening, and behind that the walls of the city. There are walls depicted on other pages of these books too and they almost certainly refer to Jerusalem.”

It is the cross that is the most telling feature, in the shape of a capital T, as the crosses used by Romans for crucifixion were.

“It is a Christian crucifixion taking place outside the city walls,” says Mr Davies.

Margaret Barker, an authority on New Testament history, points to the location of the reported discovery as evidence of Christian, rather than purely Jewish, origin.

“We do know that on two occasions groups of refugees from the troubles in Jerusalem fled east, they crossed the Jordan near Jericho and then they fled east to very approximately where these books were said to have been found,” she says.

“[Another] one of the things that is most likely pointing towards a Christian provenance, is that these are not scrolls but books. The Christians were particularly associated with writing in a book form rather than scroll form, and sealed books in particular as part of the secret tradition of early Christianity.”

The Book of Revelation refers to such sealed texts.

Another potential link with the Bible is contained in one of the few fragments of text from the collection to have been translated.

It appears with the image of the menorah and reads “I shall walk uprightly”, a sentence that also appears in the Book of Revelation.

While it could be simply a sentiment common in Judaism, it could here be designed to refer to the resurrection.

via BBC News – Jordan battles to regain ‘priceless’ Christian relics.

HT: Joe Carter

Beware the Ides of March

For the Romans, the 15th (or sometimes the 13th) of every month was called the “Ides,” marking the full moon.  Today is the Ides of March.

On this day in 44 B.C., Julius Caesar was assassinated by a group of Senators led by his friend Brutus, who was trying to preserve the Roman Republic by killing the man who was turning Rome into an empire.  The action only delayed briefly the fall of the republic.  (We tend to fixate on the fall of the Roman empire, but we need to worry more about parallels with the fall of the Roman republic.)

See Ides of March – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

So this Roman centurion goes into a bar and orders a martinus.  The bartender asks, “Do you mean a martini?”  The centurion says, “Look, if I wanted a double I’d tell you!”

Let us observe the Ides of March with Latin jokes, reasons why Latin should be taught in school, parallels with the transition from republic to empire, predictions of doom, or whatever else seems appropriate.

The oldest church in the world

Lent is a good time for contemporary Christians to contemplate their solidarity with the Church as the Body of Christ, which extends around the world and back through time.

Here are the remains of the oldest church building that has been found.  It’s called the  Dura-Europas, from a town by that name, in Syria.  It has been dated from 235 A.D.

It’s a house church,in that it’s an ordinary house to which was attached a separate long hall that was used for worship.  Remains of a baptistry were found, as well as fragments of parchment that have been identified as scraps of a Communion liturgy.  Also, around the baptistry are frescoes of scenes from the Bible.  Here is Christ healing the paralytic:

Christ healing the paralytic, from Dura-Europas Church, 235 A.D.

For more of these paintings, which must be some of the very earliest examples of Christian art, go to the Wikipedia article linked below.  I love their extreme simplicity, but also the intense piety that they express.

Think of the people who made these and who worshiped here.  In 235 A.D., the books of the Bible would have been available for about a century.  Christians were being killed for their faith and would be for another hundred years.  Based on mentions of the pre-Easter fasts in texts that date even earlier, these folks probably observed Lent.

The 10 Oldest Churches in the World | Weird Pictures, Wonderful Things.

Dura-Europas church

The last dough-boy

The last American veteran of World War I died at the age of 110.  Frank Buckles enlisted in 1917, lying about his age, which was only 16.  After that war, he worked in the civilian merchant marine. When World War II broke out, he was captured by the Japanese and spent over three years in a P.O.W. camp in the Philippines.

Two others who served in World War I are still alive, a 109-year-old man from Australia and a 110-year-old woman from Great Britain.

Mr. Buckles, who lived in West Virginia, sounds like he was a really likeable guy.  Read his profile: Last U.S. World War I veteran Frank W. Buckles dies at 110.

The Czar and the President as liberators

Russia is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the emancipation of the serfs by Czar Alexander II, tying this event to what the Czar’s contemporary, President Abraham Lincoln, would do soon thereafter in emancipating America’s slaves.  From the Washington Post:

In this season of sesquicentennials, Russia is marking the liberation of 20 million serfs on March 3, 1861. That was one day before Lincoln was sworn in as the 16th president, assuming powers that he would eventually use to bring American slavery to an end. . . .

Alexander was intent on reforming the creaky Russian state, and the conservative owners of Russia’s vast land holdings passionately resisted him. Liberals couldn’t help but notice the parallels with the slave-holding plantation owners in the American South, said Andrei Yanovsky, a co-curator of the archive exhibit. In the 1850s, in fact, when censorship made it impossible to criticize conditions in Russia, newspapers and magazines devoted large amounts of space to denunciations of American slavery – and, Kurilla said, readers understood that this was a stand-in for the actual target, Russian serfdom.

His foreign minister said Alexander considered the outbreak of the Civil War to be “deplorable,” threatening the progress and prosperity that America had achieved in its 80 years of independence. The czar sent naval squadrons to New York and San Francisco as a show of support for the Union. Russia at the time was wary of British designs and feared that a Confederate victory would play into British hands. On this point he got no argument from Lincoln.

The president was under no illusions about Russian despotism – he once remarked, before going to the White House, that at least it was honest about its cruelty, compared with the hypocrisy that swirled around the American debate over slavery. For his part, Alexander seems to have been confident enough in the lasting power of the Russian royal family that he needn’t worry about befriending a republic that had cast off a king.

via Russia remembers Lincoln as it marks the freeing of the serfs.

The White Rose

Yesterday was the anniversary of the execution of three German university students, devout Christians, who spoke out against Hitler on the basis of their faith.  In this account, contemplate their words that got them guillotined:

On February 22, 1943, Sophie Scholl, her brother Hans, and Christoph Probst were executed by guillotine in Munich, Germany. Their crimes? Anonymously distributing leaflets criticizing the German government at the University of Munich. They were members of the White Rose, an underground student group that should inspire every American who loves the cause of liberty.

The White Rose was comprised of a dozen or so University of Munich students, including Probst and the Scholls. They were active when very few participated in opposition to the Nazi regime. After German defeats at Stalingrad, many Germans silently feared for the future of Germany, but scant few ever put their lives on the line through deeds. . . .

Between March 1942 and February 1943, the White Rose wrote and secretly produced anti-Nazi leaflets. They copied them on mimeograph machines and literally left them lying all around Munich. They stenciled anti-Hilter messages on the sides of buildings. The Gestapo went wild. Nobody else in Germany was doing anything of the sort.

White Rose leaflet four captures the totalitarian corruption of language as well as a view of Hitler justified by hindsight:

“Every word that proceeds from Hitler’s mouth is a lie. When he says peace, he means war. And when he names the name of the Almighty in a most blasphemous manner, he means the almighty evil one, that fallen angel, Satan. His mouth is the stinking maw of hell and his might is fundamentally reprobate. To be sure, one must wage the battle against National Socialism using rational means. But whoever still does not believe in the actual existence of demonic powers has not comprehended by far the metaphysical background of this war.” . . .

The fourth White Rose leaflet spoke of a need for a continuous watch, because we will never reach the End of History:

“Everywhere and at all times, the demons have waited in darkness for the hour in which mankind is weak; in which he voluntarily abandons the position in the world order that is based on freedom and comes from God; in which he yields to the force of the Evil One, disengaging himself from the powers of a higher order.”

The White Rose Martyrs

[The three who died, from left to right: Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl, and Christoph Probst.]

via Pajamas Media » The White Rose: An Anniversary of Three Executions.

UPDATE:  Sophie and Hans are described in the Wikipedia article as “devout Lutherans.”


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