NEWS

Discoveries that have led to the reexamination of received ideas

The discovery of more papyri and the reexamination of old finds has been in the news in recent years and has led to some rethinking of received opinions. In April, for instance, a papyrus dated between the third and fourth century AD was identified as the Gospel of Judas. The 31-page document, written in Coptic, was discovered in Egypt in the 1970s. After an eventful trajectory that included Cairo, a hotel in Geneva, New York and Basel, the document was published this year in the American edition of National Geographic. In contrast to the established view of Judas, who is generally believed to have betrayed Christ with a kiss, this document presents him in a positive light, as the favorite pupil of Jesus. The document attributes his treachery to the fulfillment of a divine mission so that the crucifixion could be carried out. Of Greek interest are the famous Oxyrhynchus Papyri discovered in the late 19th century in central Egypt, which contain texts dating from the second to the seventh century AD. They include works by Aristophanes, Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides, extracts from the Gospels, wills, correspondence, accounts, inventories and other evidence of daily life 2,000 years ago. The papyri are in fragments and are extremely fragile, so the work of translating and collating the texts is proceeding very slowly. By last spring, some 5,000 extracts of an estimated 500,000 texts in the papyri had been translated. Some 10 percent of them are estimated to be literary texts. We also owe what is considered to be the greatest discovery concerning Ancient Greek poetry to a papyrus. Egyptian mummy Dating from the third century BC, it contains 112 works by Posedippus of Pellas. It was found in the chest cavity of an Egyptian mummy where it had been use as embalmment material. The mummy was found at Fayum. The papyrus changed hands many times before ending up at the University of Milan in 1990. Another great papyrus discovery was that of the Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in stages from 1945 to 1956 in 11 caves at Cumran. Scholars were astonished by their content, which included the only known surviving biblical texts from AD 100.

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