Scholars from the University of Texas at Austin have reportedly found an "original copy" of an ancient text that contains Jesus' purported secret teachings, but is deemed heretical by the Church.
Fragments of the "First Apocalypse of James" were found by Geoffrey Smith and Brent Landau while they were exploring archives in the at Oxford University.
The ancient text, which is believed to have been written somewhere in the fifth or sixth century, reportedly includes Jesus' revelation of the heavenly realms to His brother James. It also includes details about future events, including James' own death.
"Jesus tells his brother James that though they are both going to die violently, death is not something to be feared," Landau, a lecturer at the UT Austin Department of Religious Studies, explained in an email to Newseek.
"All James needs is to remember the passwords that his brother has taught him, so that he can escape from the clutches of the archons, a set of demonic beings guarding the material world," he added.
The Greek-language scripture is said to be a part of the Nag Hammadi Library, a collection of books that were found in Egypt more than 70 years ago. The texts contain the teachings of Gnosticism, a broad tradition which emphasized "secret knowledge" revealed to a select few. Smith noted that only a few examples of Gnostic texts in the Greek language still exists.
The Church has considered the text heretical as it falls outside the canon of the New Testament books. In 367 A.D., Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria, declared in a letter that "no one may add" to the 27 books of the New Testament, and "nothing may be taken away from them."
Despite its status as a heretical text, Smith said that the discovery of the manuscript is significant, "in part because it demonstrates that Christians were still reading and studying extra-canonical writings long after Christian leaders deemed them heretical."
Landau believes that the text could have been used as a teaching tool. He explained that the scribe had used "mid-dots" as a separator to break words down into individual syllables. He noted that mid-dots were not commonly used during that time, but they are frequently seen in manuscripts that were used in educational contexts.
"To say that we were excited once we realized what we'd found is an understatement. We never suspected that Greek fragments of the First Apocalypse of James survived from antiquity. But there they were, right in front of us," Smith said in a release.
Smith and Landau announced the discovery of the manuscript at the Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting in Boston. They disclosed that they are currently working on publishing their initial findings to the Greco Roman Memoirs series of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri.