Has a New Chapter of Acts been Found? – Acts 29 and the Sonnini Manuscript
Recently, a friend pointed me towards a news article from Bible-News which claims that a new Chapter of Acts has been found -- supposedly a long-lost final chapter (Chapter 29). The news article apparently obtained its information from a book entitled The Lost Chapter of Acts by E. Raymond Capt (2009). The article caught my attention because, of course, Acts ends abruptly in Chapter 28 with Paul in prison. This sudden ending without reporting Paul’s ultimate death at the hands of the Romans has led many scholars and other interested observers (such as myself) to conclude that Luke probably finished writing Acts while Paul was in prison and before his death. So, finding additional material which should be a part of Acts would be both challenging to the dating of the Acts of the Apostles (as well as the Gospel of Luke) and just plain fascinating to read.
For those interested, the Bible-News article, which contains the entire text of the claimed new addition to Acts, can find it on a website maintained by Jackson Snyder, here.
Obviously, simply because someone claims to have found some new Biblical text does not mean that the new text is genuine. (Can someone say, "The Jesus Wife Papyrus"?) So, immediately upon hearing about this new Bible-related find, my antenna went up and I had to ask questions: where did this addition come from and what are the reasons to think it’s genuine? The Bible-News article answers both of these questions to a certain degree. Where did it come from? According to Bible-News:
The Manuscript was found interleaved in a copy of Sonnini‟s Travels in Turkey and Greece and was purchased at the sale of the library and effects of the late Right Honorable Sir John Newport, Bart, of Ireland. Sir John‟s family arms were engraved on the cover of the book. It had been in his possession for over thirty years. With the book was a document from the Sultan of Turkey, granting to C. S. Sonnini permission to travel in all parts of the Ottoman dominions. The document was translated by C. S. Sonnini from an original Greek manuscript found in the Archives at Constantinople, and presented to him by the Sultan Abdoul Achment.
So, who was C.S. Sonnini? Well, Charles Sigisbert (C.S.) Soninni was a Frenchman who travelled in that part of the world in the early part of the 19th Century. He was a member of the French Navy as well as "a member of several scientific and literary societies." One of his books on his travels, entitled Travels in Upper and Lower Egypt copyright 1807, can be found online. More pertinently, the book that he wrote entitled Travels in Greece and Turkey: undertaken by order of Louis XVI..., Volume 2 (apparently the book referenced by the Bible-News article) is also available online.
The point is that C.S. Sonnini was a real person who really did travel to Turkey. So, we do have a connection between the person who allegedly received/read/translated the manuscript and the place that he would have found the manuscript. But putting him in the same place and time is not enough. Why should I believe that this manuscript was actually presented to him by Sultan Abdoul Achment or that the Sultan actually had a manuscript that was not itself a forgery? Again, the Bible-News gives us the following reasons (based upon the alleged notes of C.S. Sonnini) to believe that the Sonnini manuscript is actually a lost part of Acts:
Points in favor of the authenticity of the manuscripts are:(1. It is being preserved in the Archives of Constantinople.(2. It has all the appearances of being of an ancient date.(3. It was written in Greek, and in the manner of the Acts.(4. The places and people mentioned are called by their ancient Roman names.(5. Its Scriptural brevity and conception of the Divine purpose and plan.(6. Its Gospel-like character is dignified and spiritual.(7. Its prophetic expressions are in a Biblical style. (8. Its ending in the word "amen."
I did a search of the Internet and found surprisingly little commentary about this supposed fragment of the Book of Acts. There is, of course, The Lost Chapter of Acts by E. Raymond Capt, but I could not find the text of the book available on the Internet, and there is very little on the Internet that critiques this book other than the five short reviews found on Amazon. Barnes and Noble lacks any reviews of the book.
Obviously, the book did not take the Christian world by storm demanding that the Sonnini Manuscript be added to the Bible. (It is appropriate to note that an online version of the Codex Sinaticus adds the text of the Sonnini Manuscript as Acts 29, but it should also be noted that one of the people responsible for that copy of the Codex Sinaticus is Jackson Snyder – the same person who posted the Bible-News article promoting Acts 29.) Come to think of it, the Sonnini manuscript did not take off when it was first published either. Did I mention that it was first published in 1871 – almost 150 years ago? Why is it now becoming an issue? It is only with the advent of the Internet where these types of things get passed around by email that these types of things become accepted by a small segment of the population.
Still, the question remains: Why was the Sonnini manuscript rejected by most Christians as part of Act 29? There are several reasons to reject the Sonnini manuscript as truly being a continuation of the Acts of the Apostles and I will try to list the problems that argue most against the legitimacy of the Sonnini Manuscript.
Where's the Original Manuscript? Keep in mind, this manuscript, if it existed at all, was found in the possession of a Sultan in the late 1700s or early 1800s. The information about the manuscript was first published in 1871 - almost 150 years ago. Yet, I cannot find anything in my research thatshows that the manuscript has been seen by anyone else since that time. It seems to me that the best evidence of the authenticity of the so-called Acts 29 would be the original manuscript itself -- not the alleged translation of the manuscript. If we could see the manuscript, we could judge it by the age of the parchment itself, the age of the ink, the style of the Greek used, and other factors. So, where is the original document? Nowhere it seems.
Where are the references in ancient literature to a lost Chapter of Acts? If there had been more of Acts than was passed down, wouldn't we find evidence of it in the writings of the church fathers who quoted extensively from much of the New Testament? It would seem especially true since the text of the Sonnini Manuscript suggests answers to the questions of what happened to the Lost Tribes of Israel and also states the Pontius Pilate repented and was saved. Neither of these statements is made in any other book of the Bible, and one would think that these are questions that would have been asked often in the early life of the church. You would think someone somewhere in the surviving sermons and writings of these church fathers would have shown or at least hinted that more existed. But there is nothing.
Where are the external references to Paul visiting Britain and Switzerland? Except for vague references that the Gospel will be preached in all the world, and the fact that the church in England was actually well established by the Fourth Century, there is nothing that suggests that Paul ever went to England as the Sonnini Manuscript states he did. There is even less information that would suggest he travelled to Switzerland as the Sonnini Manuscript says.
Why didn’t Sonnini mention the discovery of the manuscript in his book? Put yourself in the place of C.S. Sonnini. You are travelling around Greece and Turkey and you write a book about the visit. During that visit, you were presented with what you are told is a missing chapter of one of the books of the Bible which you take the time to translate from the Greek. Wouldn't you think it worthwhile to mention the discovery in your two volume book about you travels? But, again, it isn't there. No, instead it is allegedly found interleaved in the pages of the book (similarly to the way that the Secret Gospel of Mark was allegedly found). This creates a lot of reason to doubt the authenticity of this work.
Why didn’t Sonnini mention meeting the Sultan who allegedly gave him the manuscript? A last general problem is noted in Strange New Gospels by Edgar J. Goodspeed (1931). Goodspeed notes, "That the original Greek of this chapter was given to Sonnini by the Sultan has no support from Sonnini's book of travels, according to which he did not even see the Sultan, but secured his permission to travel, through others."
Taken all in all, these problems make it difficult to believe that the Sonnini Manuscript has any real basis for being taken seriously as a lost portion of Acts. But these aren't the only problems. The text of the Sonnini Manuscript also opens it up to suspicion.
Problems with the Content
The British-Israelism Movement evidenced in the documents. In addition to the general objections, there are several things within the text itself that give reasons to doubt the authenticity. The first relates to the verses that support a belief that was in vogue with the British in the late 1800s called British-Israelism. The opening paragraphs of the supposed addition – what has been numbered Acts 29:1-3 – reads:
1. And Paul, full of the blessings of Christ, and abounding in the spirit, departed out of Rome, determining to go into Spain, for he had a long time purposed to journey thitherward, and was minded also to go from thence into Britain. 2. For he had heard in Phoenicia that certain of the children of Israel, about the time of the Assyrian captivity, had escaped by sea to the "isles afar off," as spoken by the prophet, and called by the Romans Britain. 3. And the Lord commanded the gospel to be preached far hence to the Gentiles, and to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
The problem here is that the manuscript links Britain with the lost tribes of Israel. Now, let me say that I am not here to argue for or against the existence of portions of some of the lost tribes of Israel to Europe, including Britain. The problem here is that it happens to correspond with and add credence to a movement that was in existence at the time in Britain called Britain-Israelism. British-Israelism began in England in somewhere around the turn of the 19th Century and taught that the Anglo-Saxon race were the true Israelites. According to The Origin of British Israelism:
The doctrine asserts that the Anglo-Saxon peoples are the ten tribes the true Israel. And it is Israel, not the Jews, who will be restored in the millennium. This restored Israel, the Anglo Saxon people, with Jesus Christ seated on the reestablished earthly throne of David as king, will rule the whole world. Anglo-Israelism teaches that the literal throne of David exists today in the throne of the English kings, and when Jesus Christ returns he will simply occupy the throne which the British kings now hold, and have been holding for centuries, for him until he comes, until the millennium commences. That millennium will surround the Anglo-Saxon peoples, not the Jews at all. The Anglo-Saxon peoples of the earth will be gathered together in the millennium, and with Jesus Christ on the throne now held by England's House of Hanover, they will rule the world.
Dr. Craig A. Evans, Payzant Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College of Acadia University, made this same point in a footnote of the book entitled Ancient Gospel or Modern Forgery, edited by Tony Burke, when he notes that the alleged find of the Sonnini manuscript interleaved in the pages of his book conveniently supports the British-Israeli view. (footnote 21) Nowhere else does the Bible suggest that any of the ten lost tribes of Israel escaped to Britain. Thus, this sudden statement that some of the tribes escaped captivity in Assyria is too convenient for the supporters of that movement.
The misuse of Isaiah 66:19: Note that verse 2 reports that these Israelis escaped to "’isles afar off,’ as spoken by the prophet." Which prophet? Where does it state that? It seems to me that the answer is Isaiah 66:19. The verse follows with 66:18, and together they read (in the KJV):
18. For I know their works and their thoughts: it shall come, that I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come, and see my glory. 19. And I will set a sign among them, and I will send those that escape of them unto the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, that draw the bow, to Tubal, and Javan, to the isles afar off, that have not heard my fame, neither have seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the Gentiles.
The problem with using this verse in this manner as Paul allegedly does in the Sonnini Manuscript is that the language "those who escape" does not refer to the Jews. When it says "I know their works and their thoughts," the language is referring to the people who are his enemies in contradistinction to his servants which is the House of Israel. (Isaiah 66:14) God will crush these enemies with a judgment of fire (Isaiah 66:15-17), but He will gather together those who are left among the Gentiles to spread his Gospel. According to the Pulpit commentary:
When the enemies of God have been consumed, there shall go out from the Church missionaries, who shall convert the distant Gentiles, and unite them, and the Jews who dwell among them, into a single body of worshippers, which shall inhabit the new Jerusalem on equal terms, and join continually in a common worship of Jehovah. The awful destruction of the wicked, and their eternal sufferings, shall at the same time be held in remembrance.
So, those that escape are not the Jews who escaped Assyria, but the Gentiles and Jewish remnant that escape the coming judgment. Also, these people did not escape to "isles afar off" as the Sonnini manuscript suggests, but rather escaped the judgment to go spread God’s glory to the remainder of the Gentiles. Thus, if Paul is using Isaiah 66:19, he is badly misinterpreting it.
Paul accepts the Druids as descended from Jews based on their rituals. Continuing the British-Isralism theme, verse 13 has Paul visited by Druids who are also, apparently, former Jewish people escaped to the British Isles.
13. And it came to pass that certain of the Druids came unto Paul privately, and showed by their rites and ceremonies they were descended from the Jews which escaped from bondage in the land of Egypt, and the apostle believed these things, and he gave them the kiss of peace.
"Showed by their rites and ceremonies they were descended from the Jews"? Seriously? Now, I don't claim to be any sort of expert on Druid rituals, but what little I know (which is confirmed by an article on current Druid practices entitled Step by Step through A Druid Woship Ceremony by Isaac Bonewits, makes it difficult to see where Paul could have found much, if anything, in Druid practices that suggests that Druidic rites "descended from the Jews." This is just plain ridiculous to think that Paul would have offered the hand of fellowship to Druids when he was harsh on the Jews of his day who had lost their way.
Paul’s alleged prophesy on Mount Lud in London. The Sonnini Manuscript also has Paul visit Mount Lud (which is apparently Ludgate Hill in what is now London) in verse 9. In the following verse, Paul gives a sermon on Mount Lud where he prophesies:
Behold, in the last days the God of peace shall dwell in the cities, and the inhabitants thereof shall be numbered; and in the seventh numbering of the people, their eyes shall be opened, and the glory of their inheritance shine forth before them. And nations shall come up to worship on the mount that testifieth of the patience and long suffering of a servant of the Lord.
Now, I am personally a believer in prophesy, but one always has to be careful when one is unsure about the date of a text to note whether it is predicting things that haven’t happened at the time of the preaching a little too accurately. In this case, Paul is apparently testifying that the place where he is testifying (Mount Lud) would be the place where people would come to worship. Sitting today on Mount Lud, aka Ludgate Hill, since approximately 604 A.D., is St. Paul’s Cathedral. The verse also references that "the inhabitants thereof shall be numbered." Apparently not without coincidence, the British underwent a census which began in 1861 - only 10 years prior to the release of the manuscript. These could be examples of fulfilled prophesy, but if too much else smells a little fishy, it is probably because it is "after the fact" prophesy, i.e., someone writing as if it is the past when the writing comes from a far-in-the-future present.
Paul’s visit to Switzerland and statements regarding Pontius Pilate. Another problematic verse has Paul visiting Switzerland where he comes to what is today known as Mount Pilatus. The verse says,
18. And after much preaching and toil, Paul and his fellow labourers passed into Helvetia, and came unto Mount Pontius Pilate, where he who condemned the Lord Jesus dashed himself down headlong, and so miserably perished.19. And immediately a torrent gushed out of the mountain, and washed his body broken in pieces into a lake. 20. And Paul stretched forth his hands upon the water, and prayed unto the Lord, saying, O Lord God, give a sign unto all nations that here Pontius Pilate, which condemned thine only-begotten Son, plunged down headlong into the pit. 21. And while Paul was yet speaking, behold there came a great earthquake, and the face of the waters was changed, and the form of the lake like unto the Son of Man hanging in an agony upon the cross. 22. And a voice came out of heaven saying, Even Pilate hath escaped the wrath to come, for he washed his hands before the multitude at the bloodshedding of the Lord Jesus. 23. When therefore Paul and those that were with him saw the earthquake, and heard the voice of the angel, they glorified God, and were mightily strengthened in the spirit.
According to Goodspeed, the entire story of Pontius Pilate related to these verses is a much later story. Moreover, it is a continuation of the British-Israelism theme spoken of earlier.
We have already seen, in discussing the "Confession of Pontius Pilate," that the story of his suicide on Mount Pilatus is a late legend. The researches of General Wallace and President Angell at Constantinople have shown that no such manuscripts as are here implied are known in the libraries there. On the other hand no manuscript of the Acts in Greek or any other tongue contains the chapter, and the conclusion is unavoidable that it was composed to support the British-Israel movement which circulates it. The testimony of the Druids in verse 13, and Paul's prophecy of St. Paul's Cathedral and of the seventh British census of 1861, and the rise of the British-Israel movement soon after, verse 10, show this interest unmistakably.
Taken all together, these verse create for most people insurmountable problems to believing that the Sonnini Manuscript is actually a part of the book of Acts that has been lost and now found.
There is more that could be said about this manuscript. (Goodspeed raises other issues that I do not feel are as strong as what I have raised, but the reader can look at some of the other more subtle issues in the link.) But given what I have stated above, I find it very difficult to believe that the Sonnini Manuscript is anything more than a 19th Century forgery.