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Jesus Creed

This post follows up on yesterday’s post about my favorite lecture that got away.

The scroll was interesting for it contained the notes of the librarian’s discussions with other experts on where to classify certain books, including such books as what appears to be the letter of James, which Theophilus classified under “Homiles of the Jews,” and it also contained a record of receiving Romans, by a certain Paul from Tarsus. It classified Romans under the category of “Judaism: Christian Sect, Letters” (Ioudaismos haresis tou Christou, epistolai). Along with Romans were some other early letters of Christians.

But what really got my attention was a long record toward the middle of the scroll. Here was the text that I was given permission to read, copy, translate, and publish. It recorded a discussion between a conference of librarians about three books they called Euaggelia tou Iesou Christou tou Nazaret, “gospels of Jesus Christ from Nazareth.” The record is contained in a small scroll, about 15 feet long and 10 inches high. It is written in an early Greek uncial script, somewhat like Sinaiticus, and the scribe’s handwriting was careful and elegantly simple.

Apparently the first 1st Century library had about five or six separate librarians, from different parts of the Roman Empire. The five librarians were named Aponarius (from Greece), Simon of Judea, Plotinus the Roman, Eleazar the Galilean, along with Theophilus. Eleazar, from what I could see, was a Christian because as the scroll unfolds he seems to take up a Christian view of the “gospels.”

Here is a summary of the notes along with my own explanations.

1.0 General Orientation of the Discussion

First, there must have been a considerable discussion on where to place the “gospels,” each of which arrived sometime in the 80s. For not only is this the longest record I was able to find in the three or four scrolls from the librarians of the second half of the first century, but I found out from the curator of the later centuries that there were no records of such a debate of this length in the other notes of the librarians. The Ancient Near East: Israelite History curator told me, however, that he had one scroll that contained a lengthy debate about the nature of Shir Ha-Shirim (The Song of Solomon). I asked him if Job had generated any such discussion, and he said there were no records of any such debate. He lifted his eyebrows when he said this and it made me wonder if someone was not investigating Job as well.

Since the notes proceeded librarian by librarian, I infer that there was a “round-table” discussion during which the head librarian, Theophilus, proceeded one by one around the table asking each to weigh in on the question of where to classify and shelve “gospels.”

2.0 The Discussion of the Librarians

I will now give you the opinions of each librarian, and I begin with the expert from Greece, Aponarius.

2.1 Aponarius: Biography

Aponarius argued that one of his colleagues (referred to as “A” in the notes), after reading one of the Gospels – and it had to be Mark because he used the word didaskein (“to teach”) in Mark 8:31 – suggested that the Gospels be shelved along with Greek tragedies. Not understanding Greek tragedies, Simon apparently asked Aponarius to explain. Aponarius states, and here there is a fulsome quotation, “Greek tragedy is essentially an affirmation of the inviolability of moral law.” Aponarius then explained that Greek tragedies are essentially religious and were re-enactments, for the benefit of some religious people, of mythico-historical events that gave rise to their beliefs. Often, he explained, the hero of such tragedies died under abnormal circumstances but his suffering benefited the people.

He then said that most of the colleagues in his Academy disagreed, claiming that the Gospels just don’t sound like tragedies. Others were suggesting Greek comedies. But that, too, was eliminated when Aponarius told them that the ending was tragic and not happy and good or comedic – which meant that they were reading a copy of Mark that ended at 16:8.

Then he said that most agreed that the Gospels should be shelved with biographies. One of the colleagues said that when he read the Gospel, and this colleague (referred to as “D”) was apparently reading Matthew, for he mentions the Magi. This person said Matthew reminded him of Xenophon’s Memorabilia and Agesilaus, Isocrates’ Evagoras, Philo’s Life of Moses, Tacitus’ Agricola, and Lucian’s Life of Demonax. Each of the colleagues, and Aponarius himself, agreed that a good case could be made for this classification. The Gospels were biographies.

They apparently registered their case with Theophilus and classed them with Greco-Roman Lives of Famous People.

Part 3 tomorrow.

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