The earliest collection of the sayings of Jesus, written down in Hebrew by Jesus’ disciple Matthew, has been found.
These sayings, older than our gospels, now leave us with unprecedented questions: if they disagree with the gospels, which do we follow? Should we add this to the Bible?
Biblical scholars and students of history will be delighted that manuscript fragments of the until-now-speculative Q have been discovered. The papyrus pieces, clearly written in first-century Hebrew, are referred to by the Hebrew letter ק (Qoph). [The first word on the manuscript is קהל (“crowd”)].
Unprecedented inter-disciplinary cooperation between Western archaeologists, Jewish and Christian Biblical scholars, and with the assistance of both Israeli and Palestinian authorities, have led today to the announcement that we have the earliest copy of this until-now-conjectural Q.
“The Q source (…from German: Quelle, meaning “source”) is a hypothetical written collection of Jesus’s sayings (logia). Q is (part of) the “common” material found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke but not in the Gospel of Mark.”
Peer-reviewing completed, the announcement has been embargoed until 1 April, and so, as we are one of the first countries past the date line, this is going to be one of the first places that you will read it.
ק was a highly unexpected find made last year in Jaffa by student volunteers, the majority of whom were helping to excavate the twelfth-century B.C. Lion Temple area and Persian period buildings. Because there were so many volunteers, some were assigned to go over some excavations from the Roman period.
Prof. Ida Claire has been overseeing the international group of scholars. “This is certainly a once-in-a-lifetime event. Possibly once in a century,” she said. The manuscript consists solely of sayings of Jesus, and there are many similarities to The Gospel of Thomas which was only discovered last century.
Dr. Richard U. Shure has been translating the document, and he has been able to conjecture some of the missing elements. R.U. Shure has long thought that Eusebius in the fourth century is correct in recounting the second-century Papias, that Saint Matthew collected the sayings of Jesus and wrote them down in Hebrew: “περὶ δὲ τοῦ Ματθαῖου ταῦτ’ εἴρηται· Ματθαῖος μὲν οὖν Ἑβραΐδι διαλέκτῳ τὰ λόγια συνετάξατο, ἡρμήνευσεν δ’ αὐτὰ ὡς ἧν δυνατὸς ἕκαστος”. [“Matthew collected the sayings of Jesus in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted/translated them as best he could”]. “Here then,” says Dr Shure, “is the oldest copy of what Jesus actually said.”
The find will completely revolutionise New Testament scholarship. Renowned radical theologian, John Dominic Crossan, is expected to make a statement later today when the 1st of April rolls round, lifting the embargo in his timezone. But conservatives won’t have it all their own way. It will take some time for the full text and its possible translations to become available to the non-professional and online. There appear to be references to journeys to India. This may alter dialogue with Buddhism completely, not to mention Hinduism. And there may be further controversial material about marriage, much in the news now days.
Dominican theologian, Father Justin I Dea, sees two theological problems on the horizon. Aware that there are differences between ק and what Jesus says in Matthew and Luke, which teaching should Christians follow? “From the reconstructions I have seen so far,” says Fr Dea, “there are teachings which differ from our Gospels, and there are teachings that our Gospels have omitted. Do we follow what the Church has taught is inspired? Or do we follow what is probably more original?” Secondly, we have never had access to material closer to Jesus than the four Gospels. All other documents date later and are less reliable. “Putting it bluntly – should ק be added to the Bible?”
A copy of the text will be sent to the meeting of the Pan-Orthodox Council in Crete, Greece, in June 2016. Another copy is going to the meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council beginning in a couple of weeks. “A lot will rest, of course, on the Vatican’s response. Calling an ecumenical council would be extremely expensive,” says Mr Bill M. Lader, a philanthropist who has funded much of the research. “But at the end of the day, I am thrilled with the interest in this discovery. It is a memorable day on the calendar!”
If you are interested in follow-up on this story, you can read more as it develops on the official website of ק.