Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Archko Volume

From the April 2010 E-Block.
A reader requested that we do a piece on an item titled The Archko Volume. I remember this book being both in my public library (and it still is), and in a local Christian bookstore. It didn’t take too long to see it was one of those “too good to be true” sort of things – like the story of how NASA allegedly proved Joshua’s “long day”.

In a nutshell, The Archko Volume (hereafter TAV) claims to provide a compilation of correspondence from people like Pilate, Caiaphas, and Gamaliel, reputedly confirming various accounts in the New Testament. That this volume is a fraud is not open to question, so what we’ll discuss here is, “Just how obvious of a fraud is it?”

The alleged story of the discovery of these documents raises red flags all by itself. The author, “Rev. W. D. Mahan,” says that one winter day in 1856 he hosted one “H. C. Whydaman” had availed himself of a library in the Vatican, with over 560,000 volumes in it, where he had found some of the material featured now in TAV. (The Vatican? How interesting that this is the same place all the conspiracy theorists find their material as well.) Whydaman offered to send him a translation of one of these works, and thereafter, Mahan says, he became interested enough to take a trip there himself in 1883 – for in his own mind, it seemed incredible that there had been no records left of Jesus by his enemies and by the courts. 

Curious indeed: The same charge is also made by Skeptics who object that there is no record of Jesus’ trial in the court records of Pilate. Apparently it no more occurred to Mahan than it did to them that we don’t have the court records of ANY provincial governor of Rome, on any subject matter. Nor do we have anything written by Caiaphas or Gamaliel, or any of the other persons Mahan supposes ought to have written about Jesus. In essence this is Remsberg’s objection refurbished for a new purpose. 

But as to the details of the letters themselves – there’s more than a few red flags within as well, though not as many as might be supposed, if only because Mahan stuck as closely to simply reporting what was in the Bible as he could, thereby avoiding many problems of anachronism. He also avoided such problems by offering a number of non-disprovable personal stories, so short on detail that there would be little chance for anachronism to creep in.

Even then, however, he didn’t escape all such problems. The most glaring by far – which by itself kills any chance of TAV containing authentic material – has characters referencing Biblical texts by chapter/verse designations that would not exist for the Old Testament until 1448 AD. Mahan tried to hide this by using slightly different terms (e.g., “section” rather than “chapter”) but that cat simply won’t stay in the bag so easily.

Other than this, we have the spectre of Biblical characters acting a great deal like 19th century American people and not like first century members of an agonistic society – e.g., we can hardly imagine a distinguished teacher like Gamaliel, in such a society, gently teasing Mary (Martha’s sister) about being in love with Jesus [93], the fantasies of Nikos Kazantakis notwithstanding. We also have the somewhat unbelievable picture of men like Pilate describing Jesus in highly flattering, adoring terms – which is so contrary to what we know of the historical Pilate that it too gives away TAV as a forgery all by itself. I imagine we could readily find more such problems, but we don’t really need to go any further. The problems listed here by themselves are enough.

In close, it may be wondered whether items like TAV are worth the bother. Sadly, they are. About 20 years ago, when I saw it in the Christian bookstore, I advised the manager of the store that the book was a fraud. He immediately removed the book from the shelves, since he knew I was a trustworthy source. But that it could have been found at all in the first place tells us that we still have work to do when it comes to getting the church to board the Discernment Express. And we also continue to find that gullible people accept this work as authentic (see here for a particularly sad example; in contrast see here for a report on more problems).

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