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Theology: New Words of Jesus?

3 minute read
TIME

Racing against the day when the Aswan Dam will submerge a 250-mile section of the Nile Valley, University of Chicago archaeologists recently unearthed a major manuscript discovery. Dug from the ruins of a 10th century Christian monastery on the Egyptian-Sudanese border, their find is an ancient Coptic prayer book containing a hymn to the Cross recited by Jesus before the Crucifixion and a hitherto unrecorded conversation between Christ and his disciples after the Resurrection.

Sitting with his disciples on the Mount of Olives four days before the Ascension, the manuscript declares, Jesus was asked by Peter to reveal to them a mystery. Answered Christ: “O my chosen one, Peter, and you, my fellow heirs, I have not hidden anything from you ever concerning which you have asked me, nor shall I hide anything from you. Ask me anything that you wish to know, and I shall reveal it to you.” Peter then asked Jesus to explain the mystery of the Cross, and why he will carry it at the Last Judgment. “O my chosen one, Peter, and you my brethren,” answered Jesus, “you know the lies which were told against me on the Cross, and the spitting at me . . . and the great contempt which was spoken against me. This is why I will bring the Cross with me, so that I may reveal their shame and shall put their sin upon their heads.”

More vivid is Jesus’ hymn to the Cross, also supposedly spoken on the Mount of Olives. Its opening verse:

Rise up, rise up, O holy Cross, and lift me, O Cross, I shall mount upon you, O Cross They shall hang me upon you as a witness to them.

Are these the authentic words of Christ? Scholars think not, mainly because the prayer-book language is similar to that of apocryphal gospels composed by the Gnostics, the early Christian heretics who claimed that Jesus left a secret body of teaching known only to an elite. Nonetheless, while the newly found prayer book itself was inscribed during the 10th century, the sayings of Christ it contains may easily be 400 or more years older—dating from an age when Christian man’s memory of his Saviour’s words and deeds was more vivid than it is today. The prayer book is only the first of many manuscripts found in the area to be translated. Thus, there is the hope of making still other impressive discoveries about the faith of the early church.

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