Monday, September 24, 2018

The Eyewitness Papyri

This is a well done documentary about two seemingly obscure ancient manuscript fragments, the so-called Jesus Papyrus (alias the Magdalen papyrus or Papyrus 64) and 7Q5. The latter forms part of the Dead Sea Scrolls, while the former was found in Egypt. Controversially, German scholar Carsten Peter Thiede claimed that the Jesus Papyrus, a manuscript witness to the Gospel of Matthew, was written before AD 70, making it possible that it's the work of an actual eyewitness to Jesus' ministry (the mainstream position is, of course, that the gospels are pseudonymous and written too late to be eyewitness testimony). Even more controversially, Thiede claimed that 7Q5 is a fragment of the Gospel of Mark! This raises all kinds of awkward questions (including for Christians), since the Qumran community producing the Dead Sea Scrolls was Essene (i.e. sectarian-Jewish and violently opposed to Rome).

In the documentary, we follow British newspaper editor Matthew d'Ancona as he travels to Egypt and Palestine, visiting various historical and modern sites of relevance to the controversy. D'Ancona has co-authored two books with Thiede. Interestingly, d'Ancona is not a Christian believer, whereas Thiede was an Anglican chaplain. (Thiede has passed away since “Eyewitness to Jesus” was made.) The documentary itself is clearly Christian, perhaps even evangelical, but the topic should be of interest to skeptics and “alternative history” buffs as well, due to the Qumran connection (the narrator mispronounces “Essenes”, btw, suggesting he never heard about them before).

All in all, a good production. Five stars!

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