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?
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.
7. Common Sayings Tradition. About one-third of the material in the Q Gospel and the Gospel of Thomas is common data. There is no evidence that either gospel is dependent on the other in terms of redactional sequence or content. Further, the order of that common tradition is so completely divergent that no common written source can be plausibly postulated for it. Finally, there is no particular reason why the generally orderless Gospel of Thomas would have changed any written source's order. Yet there are, by the most conservative estimate, thirty-seven units of tradition adopted and adapted by both gospels into their own quite different theological frameworks. This is one very significant case where a mass of "oral tradition" can be seen most clearly at work.
9. The Gospel of Peter. The Gospel of Peter is a second-century gospel known, like the Gospel of Thomas, from two separate discoveries. A large Greek fragment of about sixty versus, copied into a pocketbook codex between 600 and 900, was found in 1886-87 at Akmim, about 310 miles south of Cairo. Two tiny Greek fragments of under three versus, from a scroll dated to about 200, were found among those turn-of-the-century Oxyrhynchus papyri mentioned above. The present content narrates the trial, death, burial, resurrection, and apparition (presumably) of Jesus, starts and ends in mid-sentence, and is dependent on the canonical gospels. But the major question is whether it also contains another account that is both narratively consecutive and canonically independent. If so, what is the content of that separate story?10. Codices and Abbreviations. Two very striking discoveries appear when the earliest Christian documents are studied all together. One is that, at a time when pagan and Jewish literature was almost exclusively written in scroll (or roll) format, the earliest Christian literature was almost exclusively in codex (or book) format. Compare, for example, the Dead Sea Scrolls with the Nag Hammadi Codices. That latter "inferior" format bespeaks the work of ordinary scribes, not calligraphic experts used to copying great literature, but workaday writers used to creating legal documents and composing personal letters. Another anomaly is that certain divine or sacred words, initially four ("Lord," "God," "Jesus," "Christ") and eventually fifteen, were regularly abbreviated and marked with a line across the top of the shortened forms. Those twin and consistent novelties indicate some central control over the earliest Christian texts, but was that everywhere or only in Egypt, where all our examples were found?
[The first two items are clear enough. They represent a very large Jewish library and a comparatively much smaller Christian one, and they are both undeniably preserved in contemporary museums. It is also a sobering thought that, despite all the carefully planned, financed, managed, and executed digs for architectural or textual antiquities, it was not visiting scholars but Bedouin shepherds and Egyptian peasants who discovered those two hidden libraries. For many of the other items on the list, however, the very term "discovery" presents a challenge. Not only the interpretation, but also the very existence of some of the phenomena may be debated. Not everyone will accept or believe the discoveries to be true. Still, we stress these ten items because, whether one responds positively or negatively to certain ones, they will significantly determine how one excavates the textual remains for the historical Jesus. The final item on this list, just like that on the preceding one, is significant because of accumulation and combination. One example or one category alone is not as important as the mass of data taken all together.]