Has An Original Sworn Statement About Jesus Been Found?

One of the biggest claims leveled by skeptics against the accuracy of the New Testament is that it represents copies of copies made over a long period of time. Certainly, no one believes that we have the original handwritten copies of the New Testament documents, and often the battle is over whether the copies we have accurately reflect the original writings or if the New Testament documents contain significant changes written in by the early church.

Now, however, David Walker, president of Right Hand Ministries, believes that he has found a document that is an original sworn testimony to Jesus. In an article published in the Herald Tribune entitled Lost, and found, in Bible translation by Cynthia Kane, it is reported that a document has been recovered from a Judge's legal chambers from the first century A.D. which may be very important in Biblical studies -- at least according to Walker.

His theories are based on Greek translations he completed of a photocopied document believed to be an ancient Latin page that was recovered from a Roman judge's chambers in the first century A.D.

Walker believes the text was penned in the decade after Jesus Christ's crucifixion, purposefully written in legal terms and not in the common Greek vernacular.

"The Latin was a transcript of the sworn testimony...circa 44 A.D.," Walker says. He believes Luke's author conducted legal interviews, sworn depositions, with people who were witnesses to the Crucifixion and to other events, including Jesus' mother and soldiers.

The article continues:

Walker, president of Right Hand Ministries in Englewood and a retired teacher and General Motors draw die specialist, believes the author of the photocopied words is the same person who wrote the Gospel of Luke.

Walker's findings, should experts lend credence to them, suggest Luke was written earlier than some of the other gospels.

The findings also could mean Luke bears sworn accounts from people who witnessed Christ's death, not simply one man's narrative of what he believed happened.

To add to the interest, Walker believes that modern translations of Luke make a mistake in believing that the Gospel was written in Koiné Greek, the then-common language. He asserts that the language used in the Gospel is actually a more formal variation of Greek written for legal matters.

He then grew convinced it was a basis for part of the Gospel of Luke. He also made a discovery he calls pivotal: That gospel should have been translated using legal Greek, not common Greek as is contained in the Bible.

Such a change, based on the nuances between common Greek (the widely accepted translation for the gospel) and legal Greek, lead to a similar but more evidential version of the gospel.

Furthermore, contends Walker, the full text of Luke is a common-Greek translation based on 36 transcripts that should have been translated using legal Greek.

This would alter the whole gospel, creating startling twists. Consider such meaning changes as, during Jesus' temptation, the devil saying, "since thou be the son of God, command this stone," rather than "if thou be the Son of God, command this stone" (as is recorded in the King James Version).

If the Latin document he has translated is a formal legal document about the life of Jesus Christ from around 44 A.D., it certainly adds credence to the theory, promoted by some, that Luke's Gospel was written as a legal brief. Some have speculated that Theophilus was Luke's defense attorney in Rome, and thus it would be natural for Luke to use information previously garnered in the form of legal testimony to send to Theophilus as a basis for presenting Paul's defense.

The one problem with all this: Walker has declined to let anyone see his documents. According to the article:

Since his copied parchment is Latin, it is evidence the testimony on which Luke is based was legal in nature, he says.

Yet he has not provided Southeastern Baptist's Black with a copy.

"They're packed away," he says of the page and his research work, as his house has been for sale for months and he and his wife are prepared to move.

Walker has tried to get the first 15 "deposition" translations, from the legal Greek, published: "I've submitted this to all kinds of publishers...I'm still waiting on an answer" from one, he says. And he has ideas of a movie script. But for whatever reason, he's holding the document close to his chest.

So why should anyone put stock in his theories?

Walker fires back, "Because they can go to the text of Luke and translate using the legal and get exactly what I got." And, "It changes the dating of the New Testament. One of the first persons he interviews is Mary," Jesus' mother. "We can honestly say," based on his theory, that "Luke's the first (gospel) written."

He has them packed away? Oh, please. Mr. Walker, if you are reading this, please please unpack the papers and let experts review them. This type of information should not be hidden away or made subject to guesswork. Even if we read the Gospel of Luke and agree that it is a legal document (as I have been inclined towards believing for some time) it does not provide any proof whatsoever of the existence or the translation of the document that you claim was part of the legal documents found in the First Century judge's chamber. If what you have found is what you claim, you should share it with the world. Without the backup, the entire story can be dismissed by every single Internet atheist, and I personally wouldn't blame them.


I just don't understand why he's bothering to translate the text into Greek in order to publish it. Isn't English or even the original Latin good enough?
BK said…

I don't know. I expect that he wants to do it to tie into his theory that the entire Gospel of Luke is written in this "legal" Greek. Unless he turns over what he has it will be difficult for anyone to take this too seriously.
Jason Pratt said…
Mm-hm, smells kind of fishy at this point. Not good Christian fishy either. {s}

Playing... um... well, devil's advocate doesn't seem quite right, but... let's say giving a speculative-correct answer to the question, perhaps the Latin document indicates that it _is_ a translation from a Greek legal deposition. In that case (which could easily be true), it would be proper to try to render it back into legal-Greek, especially for scholarly analysis/publication. Similarly, we know that various Syrian Gospel copies were translated from Greek into Syrian; so when doing reconstructive analysis for textual crit, they have to be translated back into the kind of Greek the original texts would have been written in. Then apples can be compared to apples (or at least to applesauce {g}), and better decisions made about what kind of textual witness the Syrian texts do provide.

(The temptation there is to try to _make_ the translation match up Greekly to some known exemplar or exemplar set. Although I suppose there could also be a temptation to translate them _too_ differently for sake of novelty, but still with known exemplars in mind to be intentionally deviant _from_. Ideally each Syrian text would be rendered back into koine independently based on known parallel/translation rules, and only _then_ exposed to critical comparison with actual Greek versions of the same texts.)

I can understand him wanting to be protective of such a potentially valuable find (assuming for purposes of argument it's legit), and not only in the monetarily valuable sense. But then, he really shouldn't be giving out press releases either at this point if he isn't ready to actually share it with the world. That smacks of mere marketing setup, of the sort that forgers like Morton Smith are wont to do. (Smith was the infamous Secret Mark-er whose story this parallels a bit. With his death, some docs were found that point with better clarity toward his intentions to perpetrate a scam on the world of NT criticism, against both liberal and conservative critics.)

Jason Pratt said…
Another bit of mere 'marketing' whiff, though of ambivalent weight: "if" to "since" is a 'startling twist'?? Uh... no. A subtle distinction maybe; and maybe equivalent anyway, since (in English and other languages too perhaps) 'since' can be used rhetorically as a questioning 'if'. "Okay, _since_ {tongue-in-cheek} you're the son of God, then..."

I have some difficulty trying to figure out exactly who the temptation scene is supposed to be a legal deposition from, too.

On the other hand, this may not be 'potential forgery' marketing prep so much as 'desperate to make this seem more immediately important to casual lay audiences but constrained by the actual data' kind of prep.

Anonymous said…
It sounds pretty similar to Morton Smith "losing" his copy of the Secret Gospel of Mark, a story I've always extremely fishy. I hope I'm wrong, but...
Jason Pratt said…
Meanwhile, problematic parallels with the Morton Smith fiasco: where is this original supposed to be anyway? Walker has a photocopy of a purported original. Granted, there are literally thousands upon thousands of recovered manuscripts sitting around in various scholarly basements that haven't been catalogued or even translated yet. But where was this one? (Some monestary where monks won't let you see the original perhaps???)

Without an original, and after the stink raised by Smith's perpetration, few actual scholars or institutions are going to take him seriously. If the original is being held _by_ an institution, then _they_ ought to be taking him seriously--though I suppose it's technically possible (even plausible) that they might not. But still, we're missing important de-de-bunking information here.

So far all we know (or've been told) is 'his professor discarded it in college, having decided to work on other ancient parchment scraps in Greek for the professor's doctoral thesis.'

So, does this mean Taylor University in Indiana has the parchment? What is this supposed to mean, exactly??

I was going to say that David Alan Black (aka "Southeastern Baptist's Black" referenced in the quote Bill provided) commenting favorably on it was worth something (I have one of his Greek textbooks), but his comment itself is kind of peculiar. First, he somewhat inconsistently states that a reporter should write it up not for sake of sensationalism but because the public is interested in this kind of stuff. (Um... {waving broadcast communiation graduate hand!} that's what we call sensationalism in the biz, Prof. {g}) Second, and more importantly, he implicitly testifies that the original _CAN'T_ be tracked down! (Black suggests that a reporter write if up "even if the original parchment page cannot be tracked down".)

Furthermore, how does Prof. Black know that Theophilus wrote in Latin? Or was even from the time of 44AD? (For all we know Theo was a 25-year-old Greco-Syrian god-fearer in 64 AD or 74 AD, who maybe knew some Latin for trade purposes but never bothered to learn to write it. But maybe writing in Latin was routinely taught everywhere in gymnasia. {shrug?} Still doesn't tag Theo as being the right age to be transcribing legal briefs into Latin for any official reason in 44AD.)

More weirdities: Walker's Latin page, if translated into common Greek (not legal Greek??--well maybe the difference is not so much in the form as in how it ought to be translated _from_ Greek into English), is an exact match for some of a set of 36 Greek documents he bought in the 1960s back when Walker studied Greek translation under an esteemed professor at Taylor.

Those 36 Greek documents just happen to match up with the set-of-36-depositions he says he thinks Luke was working from to write the Gospel. That's pretty striking as a coincidence!--that he (as a mere graduate student) could buy a set of pre60sAD legal depositions comprising the basic text of GosLuke when most scholars would gladly have their teeth removed without anaesthesia to get their hands on such a thing, including (one might suppose) the professor he was working with _who threw aside a Latin translation of a Greek deposition mentioning Jesus!!_ (which also coincidentally mind you just happens to match one of these 36 docs) in order to do... what? _write a doctoral thesis on Greek things instead!!_

And yet the original Latin text can't be tracked down now.

This is what we call 'suspicious'.

Let the oddities commence further--though perhaps this is only sloppy reportage. Supposedly this Latin page, rendered into Greek, matches up with basic info in the early part of GosLuke. So, where is this testimony supposedly coming from? "Members of the Roman Legion in Jerusalem." And these count as eyewitnesses to the temptation narrative, how?? (Well, Mary is mentioned earlier in the article along with the soldiers. Why a judge in Rome would send someone to get the sworn testimony of Roman soldiers, write it in Greek, and then translate the Greek into Latin, is sort of mind-boggling in itself; but why this person would bother interviewing Mary for the same judge, is a whole other question.)

Setting aside those issues, Walker would have us believe that the text as it currently stands should be translated by legal-Greek conventions instead of street-Greek conventions--okay, not really much of a stretch. But in order for him to somehow synch this up with his Roman soldier testimony theory, he has to ignore or else creatively retranslate (creative retranslation not supplied for the article, btw) exactly who those witnesses are that Luke is talking about in the prologue: eyewitnesses and servants _of the Logos_. So, this Roman Legion were eyewitnesses and servants of Jesus??

It does, admittedly, make for an attractive connection, in a way (unstated in the article) between GosMatt's Guard Adventures (which if true could have only come from guard testimony--assuming Roman guards are intended in the text, which is somewhat debateable) and an old tradition that Mark transcribed Peter's teaching into a handbook for some legionnaires in Rome. But so far Walker's story (insofar as the article gives it, which may be spotty and/or inaccurate itself) is not adding up very well.

Taylor University calls Walker's translation of GosLuke (not the 36 documents, not the single Latin translation of one of the 36), "a pretty nice translation." Which it very well might be--there's something to be said in favor of trying a legal-language translation, all things considered. It's the _other_ kinda goofy things connected with the story that are (currently) making my common-sense tingle.

Jason Pratt said…
Opps: should be communication, not communiation. {g}
Bjørn Are said…
Has all the flavours of a fake, sorry to say. Why someone chooses to publish something like this, without solid evidence is quite beyond me.

After Smith's forgery (or hoax), noone will take this seriously. It is red meat for any and all new atheists. And any old.
BK said…
Let me make myself clear: I am merely giving Mr. Walker the benefit of the doubt. He claims to have these documents, and having made such a claim I am hoping that he can actually back it up. Am I skeptical that he will? You bet I am. But I am not going to close the door without encouraging him to act and bring these documents forward.
Anonymous said…
What the web version of the article does not show, which the actual newspaper (hardcopy) does show, is a photo of Mr. Walker holding an opened concordance, the subscript of the photo saying, “David Walker holds one of his main research tools, a concordance of New Testament Greek. He contends that the legal idiom of Greek, not common Greek, is the proper translation of Luke’s gospel.” Before I saw this, I couldn’t figure out what he meant by “legal Greek” and “common Greek.” I had never heard of such a thing. Then, once I saw this, I realized what he must be doing. He must have some old concordance whose Greek dictionary categorizes its various definitions/renderings of each Greek word into “legal” and “common” categories. I think that what he is doing is much less sophisticated than what everyone is presuming. I think that he’s looking up in the Greek dictionary of this old concordance each Greek word in the Greek text of Luke’s Gospel and consistently/automatically/arbitrarily, without any regard for context, selecting whatever definition/rendering is listed for that Greek word under the “legal” category in its definition in the Greek dictionary. That’s how I think he’s “translating” the Greek text into what he calls “legal Greek.” If I’m right about this, then what he’s doing is tantamount to writing something in the Word program, and then using the thesaurus in the tools section to replace each original word with a different word from the thesaurus list, the result of which may bear little resemblance to what was originally written. Have you ever seen the Peter Sellers movie “Being There?” In this movie, Sellers plays a simple minded older man who needs care because his thinking process isn’t sophisticated enough the cope with the world. He goes out of his house into the world and encounters sophisticated people who, not realizing his mental handicap, just assume that every simple thing he says must be a metaphor filled with profound meaning, and they perceive him as a highly intelligent man, when in fact the opposite is true. I’m wondering whether there may be a parallel here. It’s possible that Mr. Walker isn’t nearly as informed as we presume he must be.
Jason Pratt said…
That may very well be the case. Though we're rather beyond him being merely naive, when it comes to the story about the 36 Greek texts (plus the original Latin translation of one of them, apparently).

I mean really, producing the Latin text would be fine and all, but what about the 36 original Greek documents??

Still, even doing something like translating according to 'legal Greek' meanings is an interesting experiment. Obviously, if the concordance has 'legal idiom' meanings, then someone somewhere found that in legal docs. It might even be proper to do the translation _without_ regard for immediate context, as an abductive test of a hypothesis. If nonsense is the result, then the experiment is a failure. If a clear and coherent pattern emerges, _even though_ it was done without trying to synch it to immediate context, then that would be a significant result.

I think it's this that has people taking him even half seriously. The real handicap at the moment is the story about the 36 Greek originals he happened to buy while a student, from a professor who couldn't be bothered to do research on a 1st-c Latin text because he was busy doing Greek work instead. (So, where are those texts? Packed away in moving cartons somewhere?--along with gold discs and the ark of the covenant? Sounds like there's a movie script in there all right...)

Anonymous said…


The real handicap at the moment is the story about the 36 Greek originals he happened to buy while a student ...


Ms. Kane, the author of the article, writes, “Furthermore, contends Walker, the full text of Luke is a common-Greek translation based on 36 transcripts that should have been translated using legal Greek.”

I don’t think that this refers to what Mr. Walker himself has, but to the source material on which the Gospel of Luke was originally based: 36 Greek manuscripts.


Still, even doing something like translating according to 'legal Greek' meanings is an interesting experiment. ... If nonsense is the result, then the experiment is a failure.


I think that it is in fact a failure.

In the next paragraph (after the one about the 36 “transcripts”), Ms. Kane writes, “This would alter the whole gospel, creating startling twists. Consider such meaning changes as, during Jesus’ temptation, the devil saying ‘SINCE thou be the Son of God, command this stone,’ rather than, ‘IF thou be the Son of God, command this stone’ (as is recorded in the King James Version).”

The fact remains that the word in Luke 4:3 (the verse to which Ms. Kane refers) is “ei” (if), not “epei” (since).

In Luke 1:34 and 7:1, the word “epei” (since) appears in the Greek text, and the meaning “since” is clearly appropriate in these two verses.

But if one arbitrarily renders “ei” (if) to mean “since,” which apparently is what Mr. Walker is endorsing, then the resulting meaning is often the opposite of what is obviously meant, as in Luke 4:26, 7:39, 9:23 and 11:18, for example.

If Luke 4:3 is an example of Mr. Walker’s “legal Greek” experiment, which it appears to be, then the experiment is in fact a failure.

Jason Pratt said…

{{I don’t think that this refers to what Mr. Walker himself has, but to the source material on which the Gospel of Luke was originally based: 36 Greek manuscripts.}}

Up to that point, I would agree. But later in the same article, Ms. Kane reports, “Walker's [Latin] page, if translated in the common Greek, is an exact match for some of a set of 36 Greek documents he bought in the 1960s. That's when Walker studied Greek translation under an esteemed professor at Taylor University.”

Maybe it’s purely coincidental that this Latin page, translated back into Greek, happens to match some of a set of 36 Greek documents, the content of which is thus only _partially_ identical (yet the number is _entirely_ identical) to the number of Greek depositions he thinks underwrite GosLuke. But that would seem to be multiplying coincidences _further_ than the implication that these are the 36 depositions (even if maybe later ancient copies of them, though elsewhere his theory is that they got translated into Latin after being taken as depositions. The thrust is therefore generally toward these being the originals, since there wouldn’t be much point in subsequent copies of these being made and handed down, one way or another.)

Or maybe Ms. Kane badly misreported the situation. {shrug}

{{If Luke 4:3 is an example of Mr. Walker’s “legal Greek” experiment, which it appears to be, then the experiment is in fact a failure. }}

Unless there are related ‘legal’ contexts where ei means ‘since’ when given in the presence of some other grammatic factor (missing in the nonsensical ‘since’ translations.)

I’m just kind of spitballing there. {g} I can imagine the situation to be thus, but I have no idea whether that’s being claimed much less whether it would be endorsed by any student of 1stC Greek formal legal texts (much much less _what_ kind of grammatic key would allow a change of meaning to ‘since’.)

In any case, I already noted that “SINCE thou be the Son of God” is hardly a ‘startling twist’ to _that_ translation. Whereas, it would have to be admitted that rendering ‘if’ to mean ‘since’ nonsensically elsewhere would indeed be a startling twist of translation--but not something that would sell very well as an example (nonsense usually being recognized as nonsense, not just ‘startling’. {gg!})

Anonymous said…
Meanwhile, problematic parallels with the Morton Smith fiasco: where is this original supposed to be anyway? Walker has a photocopy of a purported original.
WELL...Walker believes his prof, Dr. Dale E. Heath, a Septuagint learned, got the doc from Case Western Reserve University archives, though archivists there said with so little info they could not find a match to said doc. One archivist, Jill Tatem, indicated a possibility that the page was in a collection of faculty personal papers -- someone who acquired the document during his or her research. To answer your question.

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