Thursday, 5 February 2015

The Lots of Mary Manuscript

The Lots of Mary
A coptic manuscript has been in the news recently (Owen Jarus, 'Newfound 'Gospel of the Lots of Mary' Discovered in Ancient Text', Live Science  February 03, 2015). It is a small book (about 8cm square)  in the Arthur M. Sackler Museum (1984.669). The opening may be translated as: "The Gospel of the lots of Mary, the mother of the Lord Jesus Christ, she to whom Gabriel the Archangel brought the good news. He who will go forward with his whole heart will obtain what he seeks. Only do not be of two minds."
Anne Marie Luijendijk, a professor of religion at Princeton University, discovered that this newfound gospel is like no other. "When I began deciphering the manuscript and encountered the word 'gospel' in the opening line, I expected to read a narrative about the life and death of Jesus as the canonical gospels present, or a collection of sayings similar to the Gospel of Thomas (a non-canonical text)," she wrote in her book "Forbidden Oracles? The Gospel of the Lots of Mary" (Mohr Siebeck, 2014). What she found instead was a series of 37 oracles, written vaguely, and with only a few that mention Jesus. The text would have been used for divination, Luijendijk said. A person seeking an answer to a question could have sought out the owner of this book, asked a question, and gone through a process that would randomly select one of the 37 oracles to help find a solution to the person's problem.
This collection of alleged sayings (called here a Gospel in a meaning differing from the usage we are accustomed to) could be related to the discussions of the so-called Q source for the canonical Gospels  "The fact that this is not a gospel in the traditional sense gives ample reason to inquire about the reception and use of the term 'gospel' in Late Antiquity," Luijendijk wrote. Where did the manuscript come from?
The text is now owned by Harvard University's Sackler Museum. It was given to Harvard in 1984 by Beatrice Kelekian, who donated it in memory of her husband, Charles Dikran Kelekian. Charles' father, Dikran Kelekian (1868-1951), was "an influential trader of Coptic antiquaries, deemed the 'dean of antiquities' among New York art dealers," Luijendijk wrote in her book. It is not known where the Kelekians got the gospel. Luijendijk searched the Kelekian family archive but found no information about where the text came from or when it was acquired.
There has been speculation that the book had been used by a diviner at the Shrine of Saint Colluthus in Egypt where texts have been found with written questions, indicating that the site was used for various forms of divination. There really does not seem to be much connection. This is just another case of an ancient manuscript being spirited out of Egypt to surface on the US antiquities market in recent decades. If we do not know where it came from and how it got there, there is no proof that it was legally exported from Egypt. The Sackler therefore should not be showing it.

Luijendijk's book is here, this almost cries out for a popular New Age edition in translation.


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