Fraud in the Search for Christian Origins?

Our ability to shed light on the origins of Christianity depends almost entirely on ancient sources. These can be either documents or archaeological artifacts. Each discovery can potentially reveal new information to help us understand a people and a period of time so far removed from our own. But what happens to the public’s confidence in Biblical scholarship and research when new discoveries are publically challenged as to their authenticity or accused of being outright frauds?

Naturally, each new discovery should undergo rigorous vetting by the academy. Nevertheless, when charges of fraud are raised the public must surely wonder what is going on behind the scenes. The press loves sensationalism and gives undue exposure to inter-disciplinary disputes within the field of Biblical studies especially when the discoveries appear controversial. Sometimes these disputes seem more doctrinal than scientific. When supposedly new evidence challenges long-held beliefs by suggesting, for example, that Jesus was married, or that Jesus was gay, or that Jesus could not have been raised from the dead if his bone-box has been discovered, many scholars, including conservatives, react with hostility and the public wonders whether these finds, sometimes proven to be fraudulent, were part of a conscious effort to discredit Christian faith.

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The Didascalia Apostolorum or “Teaching of the (Twelve) Apostles”

In my last post regarding the origins of Christianity in Syria, I mentioned a number of early Christian texts believed to have been authored somewhere within the Roman imperial province. One of those is the Didascalia Apostolorum, Latin for “Teaching of the Apostles.” Most scholars believe the DA was authored in Greek in the third century of the Common Era but by the next century it came to be translated into both Latin and Syriac, the language spoken in much of Syria. Among those cities in which the DA may have originated are Aleppo (modern Halab, southeast of Antioch), Bosra (modern Busra al-Sham in southeast Syria), and Edessa (modern Sanli Urfa in western Syria). The DA shows the influence of both the Hebrew Bible and certain rabbinical texts, indicating an origination point in a location with a significant Jewish-Christian population.

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