A rare original Greek copy of ‘Jesus’ secret teachings to his brother James’ has been discovered by biblical scholars.
Fragments of a 1,600-year-old heretical document describe how Jesus passes on knowledge of heaven and future events, including James’ inevitable death.
The text, from the story the ‘First Apocalypse of James’, refers to James as Jesus’ brother, though ‘not materially’.
The story was deemed ‘forbidden’ because writings that added to or changed the existing New Testament in any way were not permitted.
It forms part of the Nag Hammadi library, a series of 52 religious manuscripts written sometime between the 2nd and 6th Century AD.
Spread across 13 leather-bound vellum codices found buried in Egypt, they are of a heretical tradition known as Gnosticism – an early, mysterious form of Christianity.
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The text forms part of the Gnostic story the ‘First Apocalypse of James’.
The manuscript is famous for describing Jesus’ secret teachings to James, who he frequently refers to as ‘my brother’.
Jesus notes that James is not a real sibling, however, describing his friend as ‘not my brother materially’.
The text is technically heretical as it would have fallen outside Christian canonical boundaries set by Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria in the Third Century AD.
The original manuscript was probably a teacher’s modelling tool used to help students learn to read and write Greek, the researchers said.
They say the text’s neat, uniform handwriting, as well as its words being separated into syllables, suggest it was penned by an academic.
“This new discovery is significant in part because it demonstrates that Christians were still reading and studying extra-canonical writings long after Christian leaders deemed them heretical,” Geoffrey Smith, an assistant professor of religious studies at the University of Texas at Austin and one of the two scholars who made the discovery, told Newsweek.
Like most Gnostic records, many of the Nag Hammadi manuscripts are written in Coptic, a traditional Egyptian language.
The library was found buried in a large jar in what is now the small town of Nag Hammadi, Egypt, and is currently kept at Oxford University.