300 fingers for Bible thumbing

2009_02_06t075729_450x338_us_cyprus_bibleHoly Shit!  They found Jesus’s Bible and the folks over at the Rapture Ready forums, at least some of them, are already convinced that this is just one more easter egg laid down by God to let us know that the end times are right around the corner.

Ok, so it’s not Jesus’s actual Bible and the whole stink is being caused by the police in Cyprus declaring that the book they found in raiding an antiquities dealer could be 2,000 years old.  The world of Biblical archeology is neat stuff except that it’s generally ruined by people needing to find proof for their belief.  The practice goes all the way back to Constantine sending his mommy off in search of the True Cross and her subsequent population of European cathedrals with relics.  Jesus must have had like 300 fingers.

We won’t know how old the vellum book is until researchers get their dirty, atheist hands on the text, but a fair number of them are already calling foul from seeing a few pictures.  The gilt type shown in the released photo is the first give away.  We all saw Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade so we realize that Jesus’s life would not have been embellished by gold and jewels.

But the big problem is that the found book is written in Syriac.  The original Reuters report, via Yahoo News, makes just enough of a linguistic admission to cover asses while leaving enough wiggle room for the report to be sensationalized by the Rapture Ready crowd.  Jesus would have/could have spoken Aramaic, Hebrew and Koine Greek.  Syriac is, in fact, a dialect of Aramaic.  Unfortunately for this story’s cut and dried hopes, Aramaic had more dialects than Jesus had fingers.  It is generally held that Jesus spoke Galilean Aramaic, which was significantly different from even Jerusalem Aramaic much less Syriac.

Only a few scholars hold to the view that Jesus spoke Syriac, and the argument for Aramaic being the original language for the written canon is mostly held on the internet rather than the hallowed halls of academia.  But never mind that, the Syriac texts we have are far later, and of a more Eastern persuasion, than the time of Jesus.  Scholars assume that the Peshitta (Syriac Old Testament translation) is the oldest work of Syriac literature, and that is generally believed to be from the second century.

All this is further confused by the fact that Syriac never stopped being used in certain places and churches.  Consequently, this find cannot be dated by the “must be earlier than X” process, and even from photographs scholars have already pointed out linguistic clues that suggest a far younger age than the Cypriot police would have us believe…possibly as late as the 19th Century.

A few have vocalized hope that this might be the fabled “Q” document.  Fat chance.  If we’re lucky the book (or portions of it) will turn out to be old enough to predate the Nestorian schism.  And if we’re really, really lucky the book will contain the whole of Tatian’s Diatesseron (the four gospels combined into one narrative) .  At present we have only a reconstruction of the Diatesseron formed from quotes and commentaries.  Tatian was declared a heretic in 423 and Theodoret “put away” every copy of the Diatesseron he could find.

Of course, few of us will ever know what the book says because Reuters/Yahoo probably won’t publicize the dry findings of scholars who don’t say silly things like, “We found a 2,000 year old Bible.”  And the Christian community will ignore or attack any findings that open a window onto the diversity of early Christian thought.  The only hope for hearing more about this is if someone finds a bit from one of Jesus’s 300 fingernails stuck between two pages.

Photo credit: Reuters

Cross posted at Scholars and Rogues

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~ by Lex on February 8, 2009.

4 Responses to “300 fingers for Bible thumbing”

  1. Looking at this story I thought what an interesting book to find… I figured it couldn’t possibly be left alone at that.

    It would be nice to just see it as a document into a window of time. I had never heard of Tatian’s Diatesseron. I think I have something to go look up now…

  2. It is an interesting book to find, especially if it isn’t a forgery or a simple Syriac Bible (which are only uncommon if we forget that several Christian churches still use them).

    Pre-canon Christian thought is fascinating. Unfortunately, most of it has been lost as the result of declarations of heresy and the associated destruction of texts. I’m working on a series that i’m roughly titling An Unauthorized Biography of Christianity that deals with canon formation, the politics that influenced it, and what got left out…particularly the Gnostic thought.

    P.S. some of these subjects are ones that i think Wikipedia actually deals with pretty well. They’re too convoluted and obscure for people with agendas to spend much time messing up.

  3. My grandmother gave me a sliver of wood encased in Lucite that she claimed came from the original cross. I accepted it with great thanks, as she truly believed, and proudly keep displayed on my mantel. Although there’s enough slivers of wood from the “original” cross to build a large barn, it’s her thoughtful behavior that mattered.

    Jeff

  4. It is, Jeff. And just because it isn’t from the true cross doesn’t mean that it isn’t powerful at this point from the energy that your grandmother put into it. Anthropologists call it mana (from the Polynesian), meaning spirit; it can be innate like the spirits of Animism or it can be transferred from humans onto an object.

    I have an object that is nothing more than a leather thong strung with wooden beads, but i carried it in my pocket all the time for years. Holding it the string now has the capability to make me feel the emotions of the past connected to it. Sure, it is just a mental trick…but it’s a powerful mental trick.

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