Did Christianity find a shocking Biblical text—and keep it quiet?

The article below is another "lost gospel" article.  From time to time some document that circulated in the early church is proclaimed as a "gospel" that should be treated with the sort of reverence that is accorded to the accepted books of the New Testament.

I have looked at several of these "lost" gospels and have noted a common feature in them. They are all "mystical" in some way.  They have obscure messages that are quite unlike the unvarnished history and plain teachings of the synoptic gospels and the epistles.

It might be objected that the work of St John is an exception to that.  The allegorical nature of the introduction to his gospel is well known.  But his message there is quite straightforward.  He is saying that Christ transmits God's wisdom ("logos").  But most translations make the text more mystical than it originally was.  The original text of verse 1 was:

 ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.

Which is generally translated rather carelessly as "the word was God".  But the second mention of "theos" is quite different from the first mention of "theos", in that it is anarthrous.  A better and much less mystical translation would be "The Word was divine".  Divine wisdom was being referred to.

And in chapter 14 of his gospel, John has Jesus talking in a rather mystical way about his relationship with the Father.  But he goes on to erase any confusion by having Jesus then say plainly "My father is greater than I".  No confusion there.

Then there is the book of Revelations.  It certainly has a large allegorical element but it is presented as being a dream.  It makes no pretence to being a mysterious description of reality.  Christians often have interpretations of some passages in it but it is at all times clear that, like all dreams, it is interpretable as foreshadowing some reality rather than being a straightforward description of reality.

So I am satisfied that the debates in the early church over the amount of respect that should be given to the various available texts did end up zeroing in on quite plain teachings.  There are no forgotten or missed parts of what is canonical

The “Luke” of the New Testament wrote two books: the gospel, and Acts of the Apostles. But early on, Luke was said to have written one more.

I didn’t learn this in church, but in a 2021 paper in the Harvard Theological Review. It discusses a text called The Dispute of Jason and Papiscus About Christ, said to be authored by Luke the Evangelist.

It was lost—until 2004, when a fragment was found in Egypt.

I look around for news of this incredible find. But I find nothing in Vatican News, or Christianity Today, or anywhere—in any religious outlet, or any popular outlet at all.

Only academic notices exist—and these are mostly in a non-Christian journal, the Harvard Theological Review.

I write to the author of the paper, Harry Tolley, asking if the discovery of what he calls the ‘Sinaiticus fragment’ should be bigger news.

He agrees. He replies: “Why is the Sinaiticus fragment not in National Geographic or mentioned in many other non-scholarly media? Maybe it is because not enough people know about it. Hopefully, you can help change this situation.”

Well, here are the facts.

The find took place at Saint Catherine’s Monastery.
An Eastern Orthodox monastery in Egypt, on the Sinai Peninsula, Saint Catherine’s sits in the shadow of what is often called the ‘Mount Sinai’ of the book of Exodus — where God met Moses. God and Moses have left, but the monastery has remained since 565 A.D.

The monastery library is an archive of the Christian past.
Many key Christian texts have been found here—like the Didache, and Codex Sinaiticus, the earliest copy of the New Testament.

John M. Duffy, a professor at Harvard University, did not imagine he had found anything like that. But visiting the monastery in 2004, he was tracking down the sermons of Sophronius of Jerusalem, a saint in the Orthodox and Catholic traditions, and made a nice find. A sermon delivered in 635 A.D. hadn’t been noticed before.

Sophronius’ subject that day was a difficult one: Why do Christians worship on Sunday?

The easy answer is that Sunday is the day that Jesus was resurrected. But some deeper theological issues are at work. For his text, Sophronius reached for a book outside of the usual ‘canon’.

He assures:

“Luke certainly and clearly initiates us into this illuminating and lovely knowledge…not in the divine Gospel, nor is it in what he wrote about the Acts of the Apostles, but it is recorded in another work of his…”

Then, Sophronius quoted from it.

In early Christianity there were many references to Jason and Papiscus. It was a conversation between two Jews, one a Christian convert. They spoke about whether the Old Testament had referred to Jesus.

The Papiscus character was traditionally Jewish. ‘Jason’ is probably the Jason of Acts 17. This was a Christian man who’d been close to Paul, and may have been a follower of Jesus.

The way he explained the Bible was remarkable. Jason saw the stories, not as ‘real’, but as figurative or symbolic—as theological ‘allegories’.

This was noted in the first surviving reference to Jason and Papiscus, around 170 A.D. The anti-Christian writer Celsus said he felt the author was “more reasonable” than most Christians, but he found the effort to “allegorize” the Hebrew Bible to be laughable.

Many Christians discussed “Jason and Papiscus.”

Origen, the 3rd century scholar, had a treatment that seemed to indicate the book was broadly read and accepted.

In the 4th century, Jerome mentioned it a few times—puzzled by the Bible quotations. He notes that Jason had quoted Genesis 1:1 saying:

“In the son, God made heaven and earth.”

Jerome found it mystifying, as Genesis 1:1 seemed to clearly say:

“In the beginning, God made heaven and earth.”

But this “In the son” verse had been quoted by several early Christian writers, from Tertullian to Ireneaeus.

A ‘church father’ identified Luke as the author.

Clement of Alexandria, who lived from about 150 to 215 A.D., is also a canonized saint in the Orthodox and Catholic traditions. He seems to have discussed Jason and Papiscus in a volume of his Hypotyposes series.

All seven books of the series are “lost,” which might mean “thrown away.” The last known reference to the Hypotyposes, in the 9th century, had seemed positively horrified:

“Although in some cases what he says appears orthodox, in others he indulges in impious and legendary fables. For he is of opinion that matter is eternal and that ideas are introduced by certain fixed conditions; he also reduces the Son to something created. He talks prodigious nonsense about the transmigration of souls and the existence of a number of worlds before Adam.”

An early 6th century writer named John of Scythopolis also mentioned Jason and Papiscus, which, he adds, “Clement of Alexandria in the sixth book of his Hypotyposes states St. Luke recorded.”

But John of Scythopolis adds that he supposed the actual author to have been Ariston of Pella.



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