1. The Dead Sea Scrolls. The Jewish documents are the library of a sectarian group that deliberately separated itself from the priestly authorities of Jerusalem's Temple to live a communal existence in proper ritual purity and correct calendrical observance on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. After the first discovery in 1947, the community's home was excavated at Khirbet Qumran and the library gathered from eleven caves in the cliffs behind it. Some texts were relatively complete, some were severely damaged, but hundreds were tattered into fragments numbering in the tens of thousands. The library's contents, ranging in date from around 200 B.C.E. to 70 C.E., show very fully the theory and practice of the Essenes, a sect known from several ancient writers, and they provide precious data on a specific lifestyle within the first-century Jewish homeland that is valuable as foreground for Judaism and background for Christianity.

2. The Nag Hammadi Codices. These Christian documents, forty-five texts in thirteen papyrus books, or codices, were discovered in 1945 near modern Nag Hammadi and ancient Chenoboskion, about 370 miles south of Cairo. They are fourth-century transcriptions in Coptic (Egyptian written with an expanded Greek alphabet), but they contain works whose Greek originals go back to the preceding centuries. The library's diverse genres and theologies show an emphasis on Gnosticism (belief in salvation from human enslavement in the world of matter, as opposed to the world of spirit, by secret knowledge, or gnosis) and maybe even more so on asceticism, but they do not represent the precise ideology of any know Christian sect. They may have been gathered together in agreement or disagreement with their contents and thereafter buried in their sealed jar for protection, as precious, or oblivion, as heretical. They are extremely important as an indication or pre-Christian Gnosticism and of the diversity within early Christianity itself.

3. Mark, Matthew, and Luke. Once it became obvious to scholarship that Matthew, Mark, and Luke were so similar in sequence and content that some sort of genetic connections had to be presumed (a first discovery), the next step was to find the most credible trajectory for that relationship (a second discovery). In 1789-90 Johann Jakob Griesbach suggested that Matthew came first, Mark copied from Matthew, and Luke copied from them both. But in 1835 Karl Lachmann proposed a different genesis: Mark cam first, and both Mathew and Luke copied from it independently of each other. The latter alternative is today the dominant explanation, and it is primarily the layering of Mark within Matthew and Luke that justifies our use of "excavation" for exegesis as well as archeology. But where else will such textual excavation be required in gospel research?

4. Q Gospel. Based on those two interdependent discoveries, a third was almost immediately added. With Mark before us, it was easy to see which sections Matthew and Luke used. But there were too many other sections in Matthew and Luke not in Mark, but present with sufficiently similar sequence and content that another major source had to be postulated (a third discovery). In 1838, Christian Hermann Weisse developed some earlier ideas of Friedrich Schleiermacher and suggested such a second source. In 1863, Julius Holtzmann gave that source a first name. He called it "L" for Logia, the Greek word for "sayings" (of Jesus). In 1890, finally Johannes Weiss gave it the name that stuck. He called it "another common source" in Matthew and Luke (apart from Mark) and, because he was writing in German, in which "source" is Quelle, the abbreviation Q became universally accepted.

5. The Synoptic Gospels and John. The consensus of scholarship about source conclusions declines steeply as one moves from Mark through the Q Gospel and into John. Is John dependent on or independent if the three synoptic gospels? One expert claims, maximally, that there is now "a growing consensus" for dependence, but another concludes, minimally, that in the early decades of this century the safer position was dependence; then, between 1955 and 1980, the safer position was independence, until now neither position can be safely "taken for granted." In other words, at least this: you cannot now invoke consensus on the debate, but must at least summarize the reasons for your own position. But, clearly, in terms of the excavation metaphor, it is crucially important to discover for oneself whether John is or is not dependent on the synoptic gospels. Think, for example, of the passion story: are all versions dependent on Mark alone or do we have two independent sources in Mark and John?

6. The Gospel of Thomas. Among the Nag Hammadi texts was a complete Coptic gospel whose Greek original had been discovered but not recognized in fragments of three different copies found around the turn of the last century at modern Bahnasa (ancient Oxyrhynchus), about 120 miles south of Cairo. The Gospel of Thomas contains only aphorisms, parables, or short dialogues of Jesus and almost no narratives at all, especially no birth stories, miracle stories, or passion and resurrection stories. It has a distinctive theology denying any validity to a hope for the apocalyptic future, but demanding instead a return to the Edenic past through celibate asceticism. Once again, the textual-excavation question is whether it is dependent on or independent of the canonical gospels. There is probably a consensus for independence among Thomas experts in this country, but much less so in Europe or among the New Testament gospel scholars.