Eyewitness to Jesus

Matthew d'Ancona, Author, Carsten Peter Thiede, With
Matthew d'Ancona, Author, Carsten Peter Thiede, With Doubleday Books $23.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-385-48051-2
Reviewed on: 03/04/1996
Release date: 03/01/1996
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How reliable are the Gospel accounts on which Christianity bases its knowledge of the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth? Are they eyewitness accounts written by followers of Jesus? Or are they accounts written long after his death by Christians concerned with a new doctrine? These and other questions were thrown into sharp relief when, on Christmas Eve 1994,Times of London writer D'Ancona reported that a German scholar, Carsten Peter Thiede, using the new science of papyrology, had redated to roughly 60 CE three papyrus fragments of the Gospel of Matthew, held in Oxford's Magdalen College Library since 1901. The most far-reaching implication of Thiede's work is that the Gospel of Matthew, in addition to being the earliest Gospel written, could be an eyewitness. D'Ancona and Thiede detail the forensic science used to redate the Magdalen papyri. Thiede then challenges the critical methods--historical and textual--that have been used by scholars to establish the traditional dating of the Gospels. The authors, however, don't acknowledge that papyrology is as subject to criticism as are the methods they disparage. Nor is their argument that Matthew is the earliest Gospel a new one: the thesis has been a workable alternative to the priority of Mark for over 100 years. However, the irony of their claim--that forensic science establishes the grounds for faith--is rich, and this book is certain to provoke controversy among scholars and lay readers alike. (Apr.)
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