Category Archives: Archeology

Rylands Fragment of John

The Papyrus Rylands Greek 475  also known as p52. is a fragment of the Gospel of John that dates from around AD 135. Fascinating.  It is an important fragment.  p52 is the earliest known New Testament manuscript. It measures 3.5″ x 2.5″, and contains lines from the Gospel of John 18:31-33 on the front and John 18:37-38 on the back. You might ask why this is important.

We have no original documents.  The original gospel that John wrote is not extant (that means we don’t have it, it is apparently lost).  The Rylands fragment is one of the earliest copies of the NT that we have and even though it only contains a small portion of the full gospel it tells us at least one important thing:  the Gospel of John was written in the first century.  This fragment is a papyrus fragment that was discovered in Egypt.  We believe that John wrote the gospel from Ephesus.  In order for the gospel to make its way as far as Egypt you have to allow for several decades of copying and circulation.

It is believed by most (I actually lean toward an earlier date) that the gospel was written by the apostle John in the late first century.  Irenaeus is an important reason we think that the apostle was the writer (liberal scholarship wants to say that the gospel was written by someone other than the apostle John).  Ireneaus was mentored by a man named Polycarp who was personally with John as his disciple.  He is only one step removed from the apostle.  Here is what Ireneus says:

“John himself, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned back on Jesus’ chest – he, too, published the Gospel while he was staying at Ephesus in Asia”  (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.1)

“I can remember the events of that time…so that I am able to describe the very place where the blessed Polycarp sat…and the accounts he gave of his conversation with John and with others who had seen the Lord” (Irenaeus as quoted by Eusebius, Church History 5.20.5-6) both quotes cited by Robert H. Gundry in A Survey of the New Testament p. 256.

That last quote actually sent shivers up my spine, imagine sitting with people so directly connected with the eyewitnesses of Jesus!   Tomorrow we begin our study of the Gospel – don’t miss this great book!

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How Should We Think About the New Jesus Burial Place?

Read Ben Witherington on the Jesus Burial Place; the New Testament Gateway; and Darrel Bock in two posts: No Need to Yell and Hollywood Hype.

There are a lot of good responses to this breaking story, see Ben Witherington and James White for some good posts and information. I want to take a different tack in this post, addressing how we respond in general to stories like this and more specifically how we should “think” about these issues.

This particular claim is not a strong one. But let’s postulate. What if the claim were stronger, and was harder to disprove? How should we handle apparently credible information that if true would be damaging to our faith?

First, our priority is truth. Knowing what is true is knowing what God wants us to know. When it comes to contrary information, our first response should be a measured one. I like what Aristotle said:

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

I would say that 95% of Christianity was unaware of the existence of this particular cave even though it was discovered all the way back in 1980. It is probably the same amount of Christians who responded before ever gathering information. As far as they know, these could be the bones of Christ. The knee jerk initial response of the believer is “tell me how to respond to this blasphemy”, when a much better response would be “what are the facts so that we can examine the evidence.”

There are many possible explanations for any given set of phenomena. Starting with your conclusion is what we call bias. Recognizing our bias is important.

In this instance, the Christian starts out with a bias. We believe in the resurrection. We have staked our faith on it, and many of us have made large sacrifices in life as a result. We have a bias toward information that confirms our belief in the resurrection.

The critic also starts out with a bias, and his bias tends to influence him to look for information that affirms his bias or his motivation. Let’s take James Cameron for instance. He is behind the film coming out on the Jesus tomb. He could be an unbeliever bent on disproving the claims of Christianity. He is a documentary film maker and an explorer who enjoys discovery. Discovering the bones of Jesus is quite a bit different than discovering the bones of an everyday Jew who happened to share the name “Jesus.” His motive might be recognition.

None of the above proves or disproves the claim. James Cameron could have sordid motives and could still be right. The Christian could have pure motives and yet be wrong. Our quest is for truth, and the source or the motives behind the particular information is close to irrelevant. The truth seeker attempts to weed this out in search of information. But all information is then subject to interpretation. The honest truth seeker acknowledges his own presuppositions, assumptions, desires, beliefs and biases.

Let’s change some details to create a hypothetical situation. Let’s say instead of a tomb and bones purported to be the bones of Jesus, we found some other artifact with the names Jesus, son of Joseph; Mary, etc. The responses may be reversed. Christians would respond with glee, unbelievers with skepticism. This again would tell us more about the bias of the response than the truth of the claim.

All of these sorts of claims need healthy, rigorous examination. The Christian faith is not threatened by examination, even by some healthy doubt. Rather, time and again these kinds of events strengthen rather than weaken the truth claims of Christianity.

If Jesus’ bones are out there, we certainly want to know. The problem is that it would be close to impossible to prove that claim beyond a shadow of a doubt. Asking hard questions, holding evidence in abeyance before drawing a conclusion is ok for Christians. We don’t have to have an answer for every challenge, we examine or contemplate claims before we dismiss them, or paint them with our preconceived Christian brush. We have been wrong before. We have changed parts of our paradigm based on evidence. We once supported a geocentric view of the universe, remember?

We don’t know everything. We don’t know everything about God, the universe, even the earth and sea. So why are we so quick to reject contrary claims? It boils down to insecurity.

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Jesus Coffin Found??!??

Now there is a headline. American film maker James Cameron has partnered with Simcha Jacobovici to make a film in which they claim a cave in Jerusalem was discovered in 1980 will prove to be the burial place of Jesus, Mary, Mary Magdalene and others.

Here is the link to the story. Here is a link to Time Magazine and this topicThis link from Vision TV advertises the film’s release/broadcast on March 6.

This story should be looked at circumspectly, remember the James burial box that was subsequently seen as a hoax. For a discussion of this development see this post on Alpha and Omega Ministries blog (James White).

ht:James White

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