The Deciphering of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri and their Impact on Christianity

National Geographic has an article out entitled "Papyrus Reveals New Clues to Ancient World" which details how some ancient papyri found in a dump in Egypt is being read thanks to new techonology.

Classical Greek and Roman literature is being read for the first time in 2,000 years thanks to new technology. The previously illegible texts are among a hoard of papyrus manuscripts. Scholars say the rediscovered writings will provide a fascinating new window into the ancient world.

Salvaged from an ancient garbage dump in Egypt, the collection is kept at Oxford University in England. Known as the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, the collection includes writings by great classical Greek authors such as Homer, Sophocles, and Euripides.

Using a technique called multi-spectral imaging, researchers have uncovered texts that include

• parts of a lost tragedy by Sophocles, the 5th-century B.C. Athenian playwright;

• sections of a long-vanished novel by Lucian, the second-century Greek writer; and

• an epic poem by Archilochos, which describes events that led to the Trojan War.

Christopher Pelling, regius professor of Greek at Oxford University, said the works are "central texts which scholars have been speculating about for centuries."

Researchers hope to rediscover examples of lost Christian gospels which didn't make it into the New Testament, along with other important classical writings.

I was with the author until the last paragraph. Why, exactly, are researchers "hoping to rediscover examples of lost Christian gospels"? The article suggests that there may be such gospels in the mix of papers, but it is pretty sparce in its description of exactly what these gospels may be.

Similarly, Biblical scholars can expect valuable new material to emerge as some gospels that weren't included in the New Testament didn't survive. "The texts that are in the Bible were selected out of a much larger body of work that once circulated," Obbink said. "We have samples of that material here."

It is my understanding that this is not a particularly accurate statement. Sure there were other gospels, but most of them were not produced in the first century like the four Gospels found in the New Testament, and certainly, none of these other gospels bore the near unanimous approval of the early church as authentic and authoritative like the four gospels in the New Testament.

What these papyri reveal should be interesting in terms of historical data on ancient writings, and may have some appeal to Christians to learn how other non-Christian sects such as the gnostics wrote gospels to try to lure Christians to their non-Christian viewpoints. Similar gospels like these already exist, such as the Gospel of Thomas. But I don't expect any "lost Christian gospels" in the sense of any gospels with enough credibility or authenticity to provide any new information about Jesus that will challenge in any way the view of Jesus as presented in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.


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