First Century Gospels Discovered in 1906
Jul 07, 2009
When I was in Colorado Springs, I had the pleasure of meeting James Rutz, the author of Megashift, which I read a couple of years ago. He also gave me a copy of a new book, The Meaning of Life.
James asked me if I had heard of the Codex Washingtonensis. No, I had never heard of it. He proceeded to tell me that it was a large manuscript of 372 pages, with all four gospels on it. It was written in early Greek and was found buried in the sand at an old abandoned Roman garrison in Egypt. The Romans had abandoned the place about 150 A.D., so the manuscript had to be dated prior to that time.
Critics of the New Testament often trumpet the idea that there are no "originals" of the gospels, and that the oldest ones we have were copies of copies of copies. Each was supposedly embellished until they reached mythological proportions, complete with miracles, etc. That, of course, is evolutionary theory applied to the New Testament writings.
Well, those scholars' theories are about to suffer a knock-out punch. The Codex "W", as it is called, contains no new doctrinal material, but is essentially the same as the copies we have been using. There are a few alterations, but nothing like the evolutionary theorists had imagined. The Codex W includes all the miracles of Christ just as the later manuscripts had done, showing that the copies of copies were quite faithful in their reproductions.
Codex W is actually dated internally. Each of the four gospels is dated according to the Roman calendar (AUC), which began its dating system in 754 B.C. The dates, expressed in our modern dating system, are as follows:
Matthew: 68 A.D.
Mark: 73 A.D.
Luke: 75 A.D.
John: 97 A.D.
In other words, the order of New Testament books as we know them today is the order in which they were written.
Unfortunately, in 1906, when Codex W was brought to the Freer Gallery of Art (part of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C.), most scholars brushed it off without even studying it closely. They labeled it as a fifth century manuscript. Lee Woodard and James Rutz write in a paper entitled, Codex W Discovered to Be the Original First Century Gospels:
"Roughly eighty pages of the 372-page codex contain tiny explanatory notes in Aramaic Hebrew, written for the benefit of Christian Jews in Egypt and elsewhere who were less familiar with Greek, still speaking the rapidly dying, common form of Hebrew. Most of those pages have more than one note.
"By A.D. 150-165, that language was so nearly displaced by other languages that no substantial community of believers remained who would have benefited from the many notes. . . .
"Herein lays the most astonishing aspect of the history of this 'Cinderella' codex: Not one of the original researchers who studied W shortly after it was purchased from an Egyptian antiquities dealer by American industrialist Charles Freer in 1906 paid any attention to these scores of notes. Most of them wrote not a single word on the topic. It is as if they never saw them. Basically, they made a subjective judgment on W based upon handwriting style, which they opined was like Fourth or Fifth century manuscripts they had seen. Amazing, but true. This may constitute one of the more remarkable scholastic blunders of our time, as you may judge in light of all the above paragraphs, which were made by the Freer Gallery staff in July 2006.
"Now a barrage of new evidences, including infrared and ultraviolet photography, computer resolution, basic paleographic analysis, and simple textual examination has shown Codex W to be what practically no one had ever hoped to find at this very late date: original eyewitness accounts by contemporaries of Jesus Christ that predate the earliest known gospels by about two hundred years. They are signed by (or on behalf of) all four of the famous writers of the gospels, marked with their own seals, dated with the year of completion (in the Roman dating system), and even recorded with the place of their final editing and collation, which was Aun, Egypt, known in the Old Testament as On and today as Heliopolis."
In a footnote, speaking of the senior author, Lee Woodard, D. Min, we read,
"While doing research for his D.Min. Dissertation on an unrelated subject, the senior author asked Freer Gallery of Art officials to make infrared and ultraviolet-enhanced copies of a few pages of Codex Washingtonensis. He was astonished to find scores of interlinear notes and other marginalia in Aramaic Hebrew that no one had ever commented on."
Other pertinent quotes from the article by Woodard and Rutz:
"Clement of Alexandria and Origen both were writing about A.D. 200, and both cited verses peculiar to W alone.
"Clement criticized the abnormal/ungrammatical word order in W's John 2:20.
"Origen wrote that W's oddball version of Luke 19:37 reflects 'a mistake in gender [and] transfer in declension of a well known word.'
"In other words, these bumbling mistakes were what we would classify as 'typos' today. . . . So Clement and Origen could not have been criticizing anything but a very early original."
The bottom line is that Codex W had to predate both Clement and Origen in 200 A.D., because both authors quoted from it and commented on it. The Aramaic Hebrew notes on the manuscript fell into near total disuse by 150 A.D., probably due to the failed Bar Kochba revolt in 135, which scattered the remaining Jews into the Greek-speaking world, forcing them to learn Greek within a generation.
These authors are writing a book on the subject now. I am anxiously awaiting its publication. And I will have to make some revisions on my own Church History book as well, in the light of this new evidence.
Dr. Stephen Jones