By Patrick Scriven
February 1, 2017
Nazareth, Israel –An ancient manuscript scholars believe to be the earliest extant version of the Christian gospel ascribed to Matthew has been found in a bedouin cave in the high desert near the city of Nazareth. The city, famously associated with Jesus and his followers in the 1st century CE, was known to be a stronghold for the earliest believers.
The manuscript in question was a codex, a document format resembling a book. Before its emergence and embrace by the nascent Christian movement, scrolls were the dominant form for recording works of any significant length.
While the authenticity of the text is still undergoing the scrutiny from various experts knowledgeable in Middle Eastern antiquities. According to Dr. Fatti Annerledes, an expert in archaeology from nearby Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, early carbon dating results indicate a composition between 60-80 CE.
The codex contains a version of Matthew remarkably consistent with later versions of gospel with one very significant exception; it has an additional page. “If we were to imagine that this is an early copy of Matthew’s gospel,” Dr. Annerledes shared, “it’s almost as if the copyist lost track of the page somehow.”
The text, which is translated below, provides an additional exchange between Jesus and his disciples following directly after Matthew 25:31-46. The pericope, popularly known as the Judgement of the Sheep and the Goats, has challenged and befuddled Christians for millennia.
The additional page, which amounts to just a few short paragraphs, does much to clarify any confusion.
The translation follows (1):
47 When Jesus had finished saying all these things, his disciples had many questions. 48 One of the twelve, Simon (also known as Peter) asked, “Master, how can we do these things without risking life and limb?”
49 And Jesus responded, “Verily I say to you, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick, visiting the prisoner, and welcoming the stranger with certainly lead to eternal life. But to do these things before you have built up the Kingdom on Earth is foolishness.”
50 Seeing relief appear on their faces, Jesus continued saying, “How can one save a person before their security is completely secured? Who can feed or clothe others while they themselves starve and become a Kingdom burden? 51 Truly I tell you, only a man who has built the highest walls may be permitted to open the door to God’s Kingdom for any stranger.”
52 The disciples on both his right and left were much relieved for they had their own concerns to worry about.(2)
1. Verse numbers are offered for reference but are not formally accepted.
2. These are alternative facts of course. Please take the extra time to verify everything you read on the internet.
Photo: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana via Wikimedia Commons.