Early Dating of Gospel Texts Challenged

Richard Stanley

Well-Known Member
The following excerpt is from an article by University of Notre Dame scholar, Candida Moss, discussing a recent book by Brent Nongbri, God's Library, about the dubious provenance of what has been counted for some time a the earliest documentary fragments of the Luke and Matthew gospels.

Of course, to Postflavians this controversy about dating is not so important, because we believe the impetus to create the Christian corpus was indeed in the first century as part of the Roman and allied Hellenized Jewish elites desire to pacify and redirect militant Jewish nationalism of the day. Because this 'project' was first undertaken as part of a typical counter-intelligence operation (e.g. the Apostle Paul's various adventures and relationship to Rome) explains why there is a dearth of available early centuries texts.

The tale of this manuscript is told and dismantled in the recently released God’s Library (Yale, 2018), a tour de force from Brent Nongbri, a renowned expert on early Christian manuscripts. In writing his book, Nongbri “went back to the very beginning” and asked, in many cases for the first time, what do we know about the manuscripts that are supposed to serve as early evidence for the life of Jesus and the practices? Were they really found where we are told they are found? And are they really dated correctly?

What he found is poised to upend what we thought we knew about the history of the New Testament.

In the case of the Philo codex from Koptos that contains the fragments of Luke, it was first acquired by Jean-Vincent Scheil, a scholar of the ancient Near East, during a trip to Egypt. Scheil stated in his 1893 publication that the pages of the Gospel of Luke were loose pages found between pages 88-89 of the codex. They weren’t stuffed in the binding at all. As Nongbri says, it’s likely “they were slipped in [the Philo codex] for safekeeping.” We’ve probably all done that.

It might seem like a small thing, but the dating of the pages of the Gospel of Luke was based on the idea that they were used to construct the leather cover of the buried book of Philo. Then things then got even stranger. Looking at some of Scheil’s correspondence, Nongbri realized that Scheil did not discover the book himself. He had actually bought it in Luxor in 1891. The story of the book’s discovery came from the book dealer who sold it to him. The fragments that Roberts identified at Oxford had also been purchased in Luxor. ...