Major NT discoveries of the 20th century

Dave the Web

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For what it's worth, following is a document I found elsewhere on the web and have saved to my computer which I found most interesting. I am profoundly fascinated by historical research into the development of the New Testament. I cannot call myself a scholar but I do enjoy reading on any aspect of the development of the NT canon.

Here is the article (and I have attempted full use of the tags mentioned in the site help file. Do not blame my inexperience if they do not work.):


It is absolutely amazing to recount the significant Biblical discoveries that were made in the 20th century. The last hundred years have helped us to have a better understanding of the New Testament and early Christianity than at any other time since the first few centuries AD.

Prior to the 1900s, most NT Bible translations were taken from 4th century (or later) codices, dated 300 years or later after the time of Christ. In this last century, thousands of earlier ancient documents have been found and published, some dated within 50-150 years of the estimated dates of the original writings.

Here is an overview of some of the discoveries made in the 1900s and a brief explanation of the significance of each. Keep in mind that these findings are generally named after the person who discovered them, or the place where they were found.

1) The Oxyrynchus Papyri

In the early 1900s, B.P. Grenfell, Hunt, and Hogarth started excavating for papyri in and around Oxyrynchus Egypt. They discovered thousands of Greek texts including fragments of the Gospels, Acts, Epistles, Revelation, church fathers' writings, and early non-canonical writings. In the village dumps, they literally found basketfuls of papyri.
So far, 3875 documents have been published in the series entitled Oxyrhynchus Papyri. These earlier versions of many familiar writings have prompted hundreds of changes in our modern Bible translations.

2) The Ryland Fragment

This tiny fragment (about the size of two postage stamps), discovered in 1932, consists of a few lines from the Gospel of John. It is currently the oldest fragment of any gospel in existence. Dated circa 125-150 AD, the fragment helps confirm the date of authorship of the original Gospel of John to the first century.

3) The Egerton Gospel

The second oldest fragment of a gospel in existence was discovered in 1935. Egerton is a copy of a previously unknown gospel. It tells stories about Jesus that have approximate parallels in the Gospels of Mark and John, although some of the details are dissimilar. Egerton also tells a miracle story unknown in any of the other gospels.

4) The Beatty Papyri

In 1930-31 Chester Beatty purchased papyri containing parts of the old and New Testaments. Together there is almost a complete copy of the epistles of Paul dating to about 200 AD. The Gospels and Acts are known as p45, the Pauline epistles as p46, and Revelation as p47. Some of these manuscripts predated existing copies by almost 200 years.

5) The Nag Hammadi Library

12 books were discovered in 1945 by 2 peasant brothers near Nag Hammadi, Egypt. These books are collectively called the Nag Hammadi Library. The books were hidden in a sealed jar in a cave. They consist of writings in Coptic believed to belong to an early Gnostic Christian group. Some of these books were previously only known in earlier fragmentary form, others not at all. Many were thought to have been lost forever during the church's drive to preserve orthodoxy. This collection is now preserved in the Coptic Museum in Cairo, Egypt. The most famous book uncovered was the Gospel of Thomas.

6) The Dead Sea Scrolls

In 1947, young Bedouin shepherds in the Judean Desert entered a long-untouched cave and found jars filled with ancient scrolls. That initial discovery by the Bedouins yielded seven scrolls and began a search that lasted nearly a decade and eventually produced thousands of scroll fragments from eleven caves.

During those same years, archaeologists searching for a habitation close to the caves excavated the Qumran ruin, a complex of structures near the Dead Sea. The scrolls and the Qumran ruin dated from the third century B.C.E. to 68 C.E. Coming from the late Second Temple Period, a time when Jesus of Nazareth lived, they are older than any other surviving biblical manuscripts by almost one thousand years.

7) The Bodmer Papyri

In the early 1950's Martin Bodmer obtained 22 papyri in Egypt. They are longer in length and better quality than the Chester Beatty papyri. They contain segments of the Old and New Testaments, early Christian literature, and Homer. The most important ones for New Testament studies are p66 (John), p72 (I&2 Peter, and Jude), p74 (Acts and the General Epistles), and p75 (Luke and John). The oldest, p66 dates to about 200-250 AD.

8) The Gospel of Thomas and "Q"

Thomas was discovered in 1945 among the Nag Hammadi texts. Thomas is very important in two ways: It helped to confirm the historically accurate teachings of Jesus from a separate and independent non-canonical source. It also helped bolster the theory that an early sayings gospel was imbedded in the texts of Thomas, Matthew and Luke.

The version of Thomas discovered was a Coptic version, though parts of this Gospel had been found in earlier fragmentary form in Greek. There are 114 sayings of Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas. Its genre, a "sayings" gospel was unknown prior to its discovery.

9) "Secret" Mark

In the spring of 1958 Morton Smith of Columbia University discovered a letter allegedly written by early church father Clement of Alexandria, while Smith was cataloging ancient documents at the Mar Saba monastery in Jerusalem.
In the letter, Clement refers to an expanded version of the gospel of Mark and quotes from it. The quotations provide text from this alternate so-called "secret" version of Mark.

This finding has been controversial because the original letter disappeared at the monastery after Smith photographed it. Scholars have been unable to confirm the authenticity of the letter and have to use a photograph rather than an original copy to work from.

10) The Gospel of Peter, The Gospel of Mary, Gospel 'p1224', Gospel of James, Gospel 'p840', Dialogue of the Saviour.

These previously unknown "narrative" and "sayings" Gospels, mostly in fragmentary form, have been discovered among the papyri unearthed during this past century. As more papyri continue to be discovered, we continue to get an expanded picture of the origins of early Christianity.

If our next century holds as many exciting discoveries as this last one, we may have a very clear picture indeed!
Just thought I'd mention that I took the liberty of editing your tags - one of your italics tags was wrong, creating swathes of italicised text where I don't believe any was intended. ;)
In case it's of any interest, here's an article I saw on another site some time ago. Don;t know if it will be of intrest to you:

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Here, more than anywhere else, is clear evidence of attempts by translators to resolve conflicts by simply rewriting the script. (1)

GEN. 14:12 ("And they took Lot Abram's brother's son (i.e., Abram's nephew)...."--KJ, RS, ML, LB, JB, ASV, BBE, NEB, NAB, TEV, NWT, NAS, MT, NIV, LV) versus Gen. 14:14 ("And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive"--KJ, ASV, NWT, MT) or ("When Abram heard that his kinsman was taken captive"--RS, ML, JB, NEB, NAS, NIV) or ("And Abram hearing that his brother's son had been...."--BBE, NAB, TEV). A contradiction exists in the KJ, ASV, NWT, and MT. All others wrote the text in such a way as to escape the obvious conflict.

2 SAM. 6:23 ("Michal the daughter of Saul had no child unto the day of her death...."--KJ, RS, ML, LB, JB, ASV, BBE, NEB, NAB, TEV, NWT, NAS, NIV, MT) versus 2 Sam. 21:8 ("...and the five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul...."--KJ, ASV, NWT, MT) or ("And the five sons of Merab the daughter of Saul...."--RS, ML, JB, BBE, NEB, NAB, TEV, NAS, NIV) or ("And the five sons of Nadab the daughter of Saul...."--LV). Again, only the KJ, ASV, NWT, and MT reveal the contradiction. All others eliminated the problem created by 2 Sam. 21:8 through changing the name of Saul's daughter to Merab or Nadab.

1 CHRON. 18:4 ("And David took from him 1,000 chariots and 7,000 horsemen, and 20,000 footmen...."--all versions) versus 2 Sam. 8:4 ("And David took...700 horsemen and 20,000 footmen"--KJ, RS, ML) or ("David captured 1,700 cavalry and 20,000 infantry"--LB, JB, ASV, BBE, NEB, NAB, TEV, NWT, NAS, MT, LV) or ("David captured...7,000 charioteers and 20,000 foot soldiers...."--NIV). Only the NIV resolved this contradiction to any meaningful degree.

2 SAM. 24:9 ("...there were in Israel 800,000 valiant men that drew the sword"--All versions) versus 1 Chron. 21:5 ("All they of Israel were a 1,100,000 that drew the sword"--all versions). In this instance, nobody rewrote the script to escape the dichotomy. Apparently they think one can defend the belief that women or unvaliant men compose the 300,000 difference, a proposition that's not really viable.

A classic example is found in 2 CHRON. 9:25 ("Solomon had 4,000 stalls for horses and chariots, and 12,000 horsemen...."--KJ, RS, ML, LB, ASV, BBE, NAB, NAS, MT, LV) or ("Solomon had 4,000 stalls for his horses and chariots and 12,000 horses"--JB, NIV, NEB, TEV, NWT) versus 1 Kings 4:26 ("Solomon had 40,000 stalls of horses for his chariots, and 12,000 horsemen"--KJ, RS, ML, ASV, NWT, NAS, MT, LV) or ("Solomon had 4,000 stalls and 12,000 horses"--JB) or ("Solomon had 4,000 stalls for chariot horses and 12,000 horses"--NIV) or ("Solomon had 40,000 chariot horses in his stalls and 12,000 cavalry horses"--NEB) or ("Solomon had 4,000 stalls for his 12,000 chariot horses and 12,000 cavalry horses"--TEV) or ("Solomon had 4,000 stalls for his 12,000 chariot horses"--NAB) or ("Solomon had 4,000 boxed off spaces for horses for his carriages and 12,000 horsemen"--BBE). Close examination will show that contradictions exist within every version except the JB, NIV, BBE, and NAB.

Another exceptionally good example is 1 KINGS 7:26 (" contained 2,000 baths"--KJ, RS, JB, NIV, ASV, BBE, NEB, NWT, NAS, MT, LV) or (...its capacity was 18,000 gallons"--ML) or (" had a 12,000 gallon capacity"--LB) or ("...its capacity was 2,000 measures"--NAB) or ("...the tank held about 10,000 gallons"--TEV) versus 2 Chron. 4:5 (" received and held 3,000 baths"--KJ, RS, JB, NIV, ASV, BBE, NEB, NWT, NAS, MT) or (" held 3,000 barrels"--ML, LB) or (" had a capacity of 3,000 measures"--NAB) or ("The tank held about 15,000 gallons"--TEV). In this case, any version except the LB or ML will cause a biblicist trouble.

2 KINGS 8:26 ("...22 years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign"--KJ, ML, TEV, LB, RS, JB, ASV, BBE, NIV, NAB, NWT, NEB, NAS, MT, LV) versus 2 Chron. 22:2 ("...42 years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign"--KJ, RS, ML, ASV, NEB, MT) or ("...20 years old was Ahaziah...."--JB) or ("...22 years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign"--BBE, NIV, NAB, NWT, NAS, TEV, LB, LV). Creators of the BBE, NIV, NAB, NWT, NAS, TEV, LB, and LV versions opted for a script alteration to avoid rationalizing.

2 KINGS 24:8 ("Jehoiachin was 18 years old when he began to reign and he reigned in Jerusalem 3 months"--KJ, RS, ML, LB, JB, NIV, ASV, BBE, NEB, NAB, TEV, NWT, NAS, MT, LV) versus 2 Chron. 36:9 ("Jehoiachin was 8 years old when he began to reign, and he reigned 3 months and 10 days in Jerusalem"--KJ, RS, ML, LB, JB, ASV, BBE, NEB, NAB, NAS, MT) or ("Jehoiachin was 18 years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem 3 months and 10 days"--NIV, TEV, NWT, LV). Biblicists are trapped no matter what path they pursue. 2 KINGS 25:8 ("...and in the 5th month on the 7th day of the month...."--KJ, RS, ML, JB, NIV, ASV, NEB, NAB, TEV, NWT, NAS, MT, LV) versus Jer. 52:12 ("Now in the 5th month, in the 10th day of the month...."--KJ, RS, ML, LB, JB, NIV, ASV, BBE, NEB, NAB, TEV, NWT, NAS, MT, LV).

1 CHRON. 19:18 ("...David slew of the Syrians 7,000 men which fought in chariots and 40,000 footmen...."--KJ, RS, ML, LB, JB, NIV, ASV, BBE, NEB, NAB, TEV, NWT, NAS, MT) versus 2 Sam. 10:18 ("David slew the men of 700 chariots...and 40,000 horsemen"--KJ, RS, ML, LB, ASV, NEB, TEV, NWT, NAS, MT) or ("David killed 700 of their chariot teams and 40,000 men"--JB) or ("David killed 700 of their charioteers and 40,000 of their foot soldiers"--NIV, BBE, NAB) or ("David destroyed 1,700 chariots...and slew 4,000 horsemen"--LV).
I sincerely hope that there will be more discoveries. The future is one of learning.
I would certainly hope that there are more discoveries this century. I am not, however, hopeful. The translation issue would perhaps work better on another thread. :)
Certainly there is still a great scope for more discoveries hidden in the deserts of the Middle-East. However, it's unlikely that any such texts could have a major impact on current Christian beliefs - the Nag Hammadi library itself has been of all but scholarly interest within mainstream Christianity, and the Dead Sea Scrolls have simply fueled speculation, rather than brought any clear facts to life.

We may yet see more papyri uncovered in the desert. But likely to be Coptic in origin, they will be of little interest to the Romano-Protestant Christian base.

Even the fragments mentioned have had little effect, especially in the face of Solar Scriptura, which seems to assert the Divine Truth of the Church and its final edited versions, rather than allow for any general rewriting of information according to what has been supplied through archaeological discovery.
Even if the mainstream elements care little there are many on the fringe who do care and are always very interested in such discoveries. :)
One of the problems with acceptance is that many of the newly translated, Dead Sea Scrolls, deny the doctrine and tradition of the 'church'. The Gospel According to Thomas, The Gospel of Phillip, and most importantly, The Second Treatise of The Great Seth, absolutely refute the doctrine that Jesus died on the cross! This goes much in line with the Cathars and the Knights Templar, who stated in their studies that Jesus' death on the cross was nothing more than church propoganda! If one studies the Greek text of the Gospels in its original form, and in a medical reference, they would seem to support this doctrine that thousands died for. Unfortunately, much of what christianity celebrates is non-biblical or based on cult-myth.
Does the Gospel of Thomas really say so? I was under the impression somehow that is was a collection of sayings rather than deeds. The Gospel of Philip I have yet to read. Even still, if the Dead Sea Scrolls were of the Essenes, then why would they chronicle early Christian belief? This is not intended as criticism, merely that this is an area of study I am unfamiliar with. I have never thought of a scenario where Jesus does not die on the cross.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are far more than just Essene writings. The first few 'complete' text such as, The Rule Of The Community, are Essene, but the writings now published in number come from a variety of Jewish and early Christian writings far removed from the Essenes. The Gospel According To Thomas, is of a Coptic origin and, as you have noted, is a collection of sayings of Jesus, a Hadith, if you will. But within them are questions asked of him by the disciples. In one area, which is considered by scholars to be post-crucifixtion (Log 24, 4-6) the disciples are asking Jesus to, "Show us the place where Thou art..." It has been asserted that this is a request for a physical location where they may find him rather than a spitirual one. As for non-believers in the crucifixtion, begin with Islam and the Qu'ran. Study the life and practices of the Cathars i.e., 1400 AD, and the Knights Templar. The Second Treatise of The Great Seth, can be found in the publication, "The Nag Hammadi Library." This is a good discussion.
Interesting the notion of the Dead Sea Scrolls containing more than just Essene texts, as I also thought. In which case, it begs the question of who and why was collecting together Essene and early Christian writings together, and why leave them hidden for safe keeping (assuming they were purposefully hidden)?
The present moment is an extremely busy one for me but I will attempt to qualify my statement concerning the Essenes shortly. The Dead Sea Scrolls were indeed collected and hidden by the Essenes, but their origin is far removed from that community; i.e., an ancient text of Isaiah, a portion of Matthew, and many gnostic texts. I thank you for your patience.
If you have more to add to these topics that would be surely most welcome. I have found your comments to be very refreshing indeed.

Victor, I'd appreciate a source linking specifics on Jesus' life and ministry to ANY texts related to the Dead Sea Scrolls. I'm aware of the controversy over Templar belief and of the so-called Grail bloodline notion that Jesus survived, married the Magdalene, and moved to France, but those suppositions, while tyhey make for fasdcinating speculation, appear to be VERY poorly supported by rather shoddy pseudoscholarship--kind of like the Eric von Daaniken of Biblical history.

My understanding of the Dead Sea Scrolls is that the only sayings that might have a bearing on Christ's ministry refer to the "Teacher of Righteousness," a rather fuzzy messianic figure who may have been discussed a century before the Christian era, and who John (likely an Essene himself or associated with the Essene community) may have drawn upon when he began his ministry. ("One is coming after me whose sandals I am not worthy to loose . . .")

The subject is fascinating, and if you can cite some specific sources, I'd love to see them! Thanks!
I certainly agree with the shoddy scholarship of "Bloodline of the Grail". Awful book. The actual "historical Jesus" search at the first chapters only actually referenced 3 other works for research - one of which was the Bible, used simply for quotes, but Margeret Mead was the main source of ideas. Although some may be interesting, it really speaks volumes for Bloodline that they couldn't even reference any other works for research on that single most complex topic.

Providing exact dating for events in the European Dark ages were what finally made me put that book down. I'd alrady done a lot of reading on the Kingdom of Mercia and knew that the amount of detail provided in Bloodline wasn't in the slightest bit supported by the sources I'd been reading. Add to that the foreward by the "Duke of Albany" shows someone claiming to be a real-life secret heir to the English throne! Too much to swallow, and too much like King Kev - living God of the Witches!

As for Victors theses - I already have a number of them in the articles section, namely the following:

The Pauline Conspiracy

Faith of the Apostles


An Affair on Golgotha

He has at least one other unfinished thesis, plus he's currently updating these three mentioned above with hundreds more footnotes! ::)

I'm not actually sure on how far he delves into explaining his own perception of an historical Jesus - but I find his perception to be always interesting. His thesis "Pauline Conspiracy" is by far the best critical piece against Saul of Tarsus that I've read.

Victor is always busy, but tends to visit periodically.
is there is something wrong with the last link? When the page comes up it seems to be mostly intact, but at the top I receive the following error
Warning: main(): stream does not support seeking in /home/virtual/site95/fst/var/www/html/articles/golgotha/index.php on line 5
I forgot to mention that I also get the same error as Dave the Web.
Sorry, I should have stated ages ago that it was fixed. :)
foundationist said:
Interesting the notion of the Dead Sea Scrolls containing more than just Essene texts, as I also thought. In which case, it begs the question of who and why was collecting together Essene and early Christian writings together, and why leave them hidden for safe keeping (assuming they were purposefully hidden)?
Has anybody read "The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception"?
It asserts that many of the Scrolls were authored by the Zealots, those zealous for the Law, of the Jamesean church that had so many conflicts with Saul/Paul.


I strongly urge you to read "James, Brother of Jesus" by Richard Eisenman, a highly respected researcher of the Dead Sea scrolls. This book covers Paul just as much as James. And it has an enormous index so it makes a great reference book.:)

Also please read "Paul as Herodian" at