Discovery of a New Gospel

The discovery of a previously unknown gospel has been recently receiving a lot of attention in the blogosphere and social media.

Gospel of the Lots of Mary
An image of the gospel’s 25th oracle. This oracle translates as “Go, make your vows. And what you promised, fulfill it immediately. Do not be of two minds, because God is merciful. It is he who will bring about your request for you and do away with the affliction in your heart.” Credit: Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Mrs. Beatrice Kelekian in memory of her husband, Charles Dikran Kelekian, 1984.669. Image from LiveScience.com

The purportedly 1,500 year old Coptic (Egyptian language) manuscript called the ‘Gospel of the Lots of Mary‘ contains 37 oracles that appear to have been intended to have been referred to at random in order to provide direction at a time of decision making or comfort to the user.

Be brave in everything, because your concern is over nothing. The Lord will help you with his right hand. He will send Michael, his angel, and he will help you. And you will conquer those who fight with you, and he will humble your enemies before you.

Oracle 28

Work on this manuscript was conducted by Professor AnneMarie Luijendijk  of Princeton University. Her research can be found in her recently published book Forbidden Oracles? The Gospel of the Lots of Mary, (2014) published by Mohr Siebeck. A preview/selected view edition can be found here on Google Books.

The Gospel gives us another interesting glimpse of the use of texts by (albeit, probably, marginal) Christian groups in 4th/5th centuries. As Professor Luijendijk notes the use of the title ‘Gospel’ for this work that contains very few references to Jesus is surprising and instructive.

The use of texts in this way are not unknown and it was thought that some of the Hermeneiai texts (short passages – mainly from the Gospel of John – that is followed by an ‘interpretation in Coptic) functioned in this way. In other words, they acted in a way that is similar to the use of scripture promise boxes. However, a more recent understanding of these papyri is that they may reflect a bi-lingual (Greek-Coptic) setting for these manuscripts. The Gospel of the Lots of Mary seem to be far less ambiguous in their oracular nature and would tend to suggest it was used in conjunction with the fairly wide-spread practice of sortilege – where lots are cast in order to gain an answer.

As a new ‘Gospel’ it won’t overturn our understanding of the New Testament texts, uncover any secret/lost past, or shed any new light on the canonical Christian writings – as a 5th/6th century artefact it shines a welcome and interesting light on the existence of one particular (perhaps minority) use of written texts that reflect the merger of Christian and non-Christian traditions and practices. For those wanting to read more, please click on the link below: Newfound ‘Gospel of the Lots of Mary’ Discovered in Ancient Text.

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