It should be said that before coming to the church this article was originally addressed to, I had never before heard of the Archko Library.
I’m an avid reader with a voracious appetite for theology, but it had never come to my notice. I grew up in Bible-believing, Bible-preaching fundamentalist churches, but it was never mentioned from any of the numerous pulpits I’ve been audience to. I’ve been to Bible College where I was exposed to every Bible commentary imaginable, the works of accredited histories pertaining to the Bible and the spread of Christianity, and there too it was notably absent. Not a blessed word, good or ill. Yet surely such an important historical work should deserve some mention. If its veracity had been established, it should have shared the same popularity as Josephus, Augustine and all the rest.
But not so much as a whisper of the word ‘Archko,’ until now.
I’m a Berean at heart, so my ignorance of the Archko Volume could not go unchallenged.
As I began to investigate the Archko Volume, I found that critics consider it to be an apocryphal work at best and a probable fraud at worst! My intent here is to give you the conclusions of my investigation and, yes, why I think the Archko Library is unadulterated bunk and, in the interests of maintaining our intellectual credibility, it should not be quoted from our pulpits where words carry the weight of authority. If fact is mixed with fiction, truth with error, then we would be guilty of building with untempered mortar. Untempered mortar might build a wall for a time, but at the first storm the rain washes the whitewash mortar away and the wall crumbles. It will not stand.
II. Critique of the Archko Volume
II.A. The Archko Volume as Modern Apocrypha
The Archko Volume has the general flavor and style of a certain type of apocryphal work.
By way of explanation, an apocryphal work differs from a canonical work in that it does not meet the criteria for inclusion in the canon [the accepted books of the Holy Scriptures]. The canon came together under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Jews had already collected the canon of the Old Testament and had translated it into Greek as the Septuagint 200 year before Christ’s birth. Alongside the canon of the 39 OT Books we know to be the authoritative, inspired, inerrant Word or God were included apocryphal works such as Bel and the Dragon and The Book of Enoch. These apocryphal and pseudoepigraphical works were considered important and were noted to contain much truth, so that Jude even referenced one of these works [Cp. Jude 14-15 with Enoch 1:9. By way of further note, Paul also referenced the pagan philosopher Epimenides during his discourse on Mars Hill. By doing so, Paul was not verifying the authority or veracity of Epimenides’ work as a whole, but noting for the sake of contextualization that this philosopher had made a point similar to the Christian position. Similarly, the quote from Enoch doesn’t vouch for the veracity of the whole book, merely the portion quoted in the context quoted]. Unfortunately, while important and containing truth, they were known to contain errors and, having failed the inerrancy test, were not considered authoritative or directly inspired of God. They were useful as commentaries on the OT Canon, but where they differed from the canon they were acknowledged to be in error. The New Testament was completed by God and acknowledged at the Council of Nicaea. [It should be stressed that the Holy Spirit inspired and collected the Canon; by their vote, the Nicaean Council only acknowledged what God had created.] Twenty-seven books formed the NT Canon, based on orthodox doctrine, inerrancy and apostolic authorship amongst other factors.
There were other NT Books written which were not included in the Canon. These apocryphal works fall into 3 categories:
- Orthodox Apocryphal works: Apocryphal books like the Shepherd of Hermes which were of similar character and credentials to accepted OT apocrypha, containing errors but considered important Christian works;
- Heretical Apocryphal works: Apocryphal works and pseudoepigraphs written to support heresies like Gnosticism, Docetism, Arianism, et cetera [The most famous of these is the so-called Book of Mormon]; and
- Modern Apocryphal works: Apocryphal fakes and pseudoepigraphical hoaxes written by profiteers capitalizing on periods of Catholic zeal in which the Vatican was actively seeking to collect such writings, albeit of the authentic variety, to preserve the Church’s legacy.
The latter sort, apocryphal fakes, all have one thing in common: their doctrine, language and style bear a distinctively Catholic flavor. One even might say a Catholic bias. Jesus is portrayed as the perfect monk, an ascetic who portrays the Catholic ideal of otherworldly holiness. In many cases, these works portray the infant Jesus as talking in complete sentences and doing things passed down similarly through Catholic legends and fables. Another common characteristic is an extra emphasis on the Virgin Mother and speculation about romantic interest between Mary of Bethany and Jesus or Mary Magdalene and Jesus. The conversion of Pilate is another favorite subject. There also appear frequently dialogues which anachronistically speak in theological terms that belong to later centuries.
The Archko Volume bears many of these characteristics. It certainly portrays Jesus in ascetic terms, showing Jesus’ holiness as denial and otherworldliness instead of being totally separated to God, not as a denial of life but in the living of it for Him. He scoffs at and ridicules women who show a romantic interest in him and walks off in mid-discussion with his teachers, lost in high theological thought. This is not the Jesus of the Bible, but it does embody the Catholic ideal of Jesus. The Archko Library also uses out-of-place theological terms and even common words that belong to different times and languages [though it was allegedly copied only from Latin]. Consider the following quote from the Archko report of Caiaphas:
“But when he yielded up the ghost, he proved to all that he was hypostatical (that is, a human body) and the lodi curios had come from the iclandic covenant, and his trinitas unitas was all a sham.”
It also contains a very unflattering description of Joseph [whom the Bible describes as a just man] alongside a glowing description of Mother Mary. And who allegedly pens these contrasting descriptions? Why, the great teacher Gammaliel himself! And since Archko relates a near-conversion of a pious and misunderstood Pontius Pilate; why not convert Herod as well?
II.B. The Archko Volume as Historical Document
Why else? Suppose it bore none of the Catholic biases I have mentioned. Suppose it were a true historical report. What then?
Well, it’s not the Canon. So it’s not inerrant. It might be partly true, but it’s not wholly true. The record may contain bias, even propaganda, for it does not claim to be written by orthodox Christians, but by pagan Romans and devout Jews. It will contain errors; that it to say, it will not agree with the Bible on all points. On those points we must throw it out.
For example, the Archko Volume describes the events of Jesus’ Birth and states that the shepherds saw strange lights and heard voices and that they felt afraid at first but then felt a great peace. This sounds similar to the Biblical account, but we are forced to consider upon further thought that bright lights are hardly angels. In fact, bright lights lend more credence to UFOs than angelic choirs. Too, we wonder that the Bible says that the angel specifically said, “Fear Not!” rather than that their fear simply faded away. Strikingly, there is no mention in the Archko Volume that the Babe would be lying in a manger wrapped in swaddling clothes as a sign to the shepherds that they had found the Christ Child. On the other hand, there is considerable emphasis on a priest who seems to comprehend perfectly that Jesus’ birth is a fulfillment of Messianic prophecies and who allegedly defends both the Virgin Birth and Zacharias the father of John the Baptist to the Sanhedrin. As mentioned, the Archko Volume describes Joseph as a mean-spirited man who is “as gross and glum as he looks,” while the Bible Canon records that he was a just man.
Other such contradictions abound. My point is not to nitpick, but to point out that, even if we lump it with orthodox apocrypha, there are errors in the Archko Volume. Since apocryphal works are not inerrant and therefore not authoritative, the Church has always strongly cautioned that one know their Canon well before reading them. If we don’t know the real McCoy, how will we know an error when we see one? That’s the real trick. Bank tellers don’t study counterfeit money to recognize fakes; they get so completely familiar with genuine money that when a counterfeit comes across their plate they immediately recognize that something’s amiss!
But here we have a problem: The Archko Volume has been, in some cases, quoted in Christian literature and from our pulpits without so much as a warning label. Worse still, the Archko Volume has actually been referred to as an authoritative historical record! It’s being taught right alongside the Holy Scriptures and accredited historical sources [such as The Antiquities of Josephus] as the bona fide truth. The revelation that some of our congregations have been taught a discredited fraud for truth could cause “these little ones to stumble,” or could cause them to willingly continue in error and to propagate it out of scholastic pride. It could also cause the seeker to discard any serious consideration of the faith; if he were to hear this source quoted from the pulpit and go home to investigate it, how could he put his faith in the word of folks who incorporate rubbish into their discourses on truth? A little leaven leavens the whole lump. Little foxes spoil the vine. And truth will out, sooner or later. A wall built of untempered mortar falls.
But might they not be historical records? Historical documents do not have to maintain the exacting standards of inerrancy that a book of the canon must necessarily have. They can contain minor errors. They can even contain biases and propaganda. That would make them essentially reliable and true, though not inerrant. [Only the Bible is inerrant, after all.]
Here we must make an important distinction between an accredited historical source and a questionable source. If a man told you that he had found a book which said that John F. Kennedy could fly and cure the blind, we could rightly call that man’s source into question, for a formidable array of historical sources concern this President [and there are not a few eyewitnesses still living].
A fact is only as good as its source. So, in all fairness, let’s examine the source.
II.B.1. The Origin of the Archko Volume
According to the Archko’s own introduction, it began with a pamphlet entitled A Correct Transcription of Pilate’s Court, published in 1879 by Rev. W.D. Mahan, a Cumberland Presbyterian minister of Boonville, Missouri. Rev. Mahan says that he obtained the copy of the Acta Pilati through the help of a snow-bound German scholar, Henry C. Whydaman, from Father Peter Freelinhusen, the chief guardian of the Vatican. Father Freelinhusen provided the Latin text for 35 darics. Whydaman’s brother-in-law, C.C. Vantberger of New York City, translated the volume. It was this he published as the 32-page pamphlet entitled A Correct Transcript of Pilate’s Court. Mahan includes a letter from Father Freelinhusen to Whydaman that certifies the accuracy and authenticity of the book. But the Vatican has no record of any Father Freelinhusen, especially in so prestigious a post. Nor is Whydaman a German name though it is remarkable how phonetically similar it sounds to W.D. Mahan. Nor were darics in use by the Vatican at that time, being an ancient coinage best known from the 4th century work Anabasis by Xenophon. Neither is there any record of a Vantberger in New York City’s directories from 1853 to 1863. It is believed that Rev. Mahan actually got his material from an earlier pamphlet published in Boston, 1842, under the title, Pontius Pilate’s Account of the Condemnation of Jesus Christ, and his own Mental Sufferings. This was supposedly extracted from an Old Latin manuscript recently found at Vienna. According to Dr. Edgar J. Goodspeed, who points out these and many other curiosities, contradictions and inaccuracies in Strange New Gospels, this earlier Boston tract is substantially the same as the Rev. Mahan’s document. It also appears to be the antecedent of yet another modern apocryphal work called The Confession of Pontius Pilate.
It should be noted that Reverend Mahan admits that he had to have this alleged manuscript translated from Latin, a language commonly known in that day. This suggests that Rev. Mahan might not have been very educated. Given the other irregularities already mentioned (and the ones yet to come!), it has been suggested that Mahan was the victim of fraud. Further evidence suggests the opposite: that he was the very perpetrator!
In 1884, after the success of the Pilate pamphlet, Mahan issued a new volume that contained an expanded version of this report along with eleven other such works, under the title, The Archaeological and the Historical Writings of the Sanhedrin and Talmuds of the Jews, Translated from the Ancient Parchments and Scrolls at Constantinople and the Vatican at Rome. To compile this, Rev. Mahan supposedly traveled to Rome and Constantinople to study the original sources for the life of Jesus. He was assisted by two great, but otherwise unknown scholars, Dr. Twyman of England and Dr. McIntosh of Scotland. From these alleged discoveries, the Archko Library was born. This volume has been reprinted many times under various titles, most often as The Archko Volume or Archko Library.
II.B.2. Problems with the Archko Volume
The aforementioned Dr. Edgar J. Goodspeed wrote a book in the 1930s called Strange New Gospels [the complete text of this work can be found on the Tertullian website at http://www.tertullian.org/articles/goodspeed_strange_new_gospels.htm
] and a later work called Modern Apocrypha, in which he critiqued the Archko Volume. It was possible at that time for Goodspeed to interview people who know the Rev. Mahan to determine if the Reverend had ever traveled to Europe during this time period. The Rev. Mahan was absent from his home of Boonville for less than two months in the autumn of 1883 when he claimed that he was discovering and copying manuscripts in Rome and Constantinople. In fact, he records that Mr. Quarles of the Booneville Weekly Advertiser attacked Mahan’s alleged discoveries, pointing out that Rev. Mahan was back in Booneville on November 6, 1883, yet was supposedly in Constantinople discovering these earth-shattering manuscripts on October 22, 1883. It’s not probable that Mahan could do all this traveling and research in so short a time, given the modes of travel available at the time. According to the people that Dr. Goodspeed interviewed, the Rev. Mahan traveled no further than Rome, Illinois from which he dispatched his correspondence.
There are other curious inaccuracies pointed out by Goodspeed and others:
- The ‘great scholars’ Twyman and McIntosh never published a single work and are unheard of outside of the Archko Volume.
- The supposed references to Josephus’ “Jewish Wars” — “Senect. 15, in brut. 15, quintil. 3 and 12″ — simply don’t exist.
- That Jesus is referred to over 50 times in Josephus’ Antiquities is absolutely false.
- The claims that Philo’s works were translated into Greek by a Jewish rabbi named Simon, that this Simon/Philo often refers to Jesus, and that he began writing in A.D 40 are groundless; Philo ceased to write at about this time.
- The claim that Tacitus wrote his history of Agricola in A.D. 56 is false; Tacitus was born in 55, and even if he’d been able to write Agricola’s biography at one year old, Agricola was only 19 and hadn’t done anything yet.
- General Lew Wallace, the author of Ben Hur, was the American minister to Turkey in 1883. According to Wallace, No one connected with the American legation in Constantinople had any knowledge of a visit by Mahan, nor did any American missionaries at the time, neither did Zia Bey, who was in charge of the library of the mosque of St. Sophia, know of any Mahan or of any of the manuscripts that Mahan professed to have seen there.
II.B.3. The Author of the Archko Volume
Steve Keohane of BibleProbe.com objects to a rejection of Mahan’s work on the basis of his credentials as a minister, saying:
“Authenticity remains a question because of this and the fact that the Vatican Archives are not ‘open’, and the Vatican has shown a propensity to hide things it does not consider as credible; instead of letting the public decide. One will just have to believe that Rev. Mahan, a minister and Reverend of God, did not carry off such a hoax for profit. Rev. Mahan rightfully points out: ‘Now the reader must remember that there never was anything that created so much excitement in the land of Judea as the preaching of John the Baptist and Christ’ and ‘believing that no event of such importance to the world as the death of Jesus of Nazareth could have transpired without some record being made of it by his enemies in their courts, legislations, and histories, I commenced investigating the subject.’”
On the other hand, in a reply to the Booneville Weekly Advertiser, dated November 13, 1884, Rev. Mahan wrote:
“Even in its present condition, it is paying us about twenty dollars per day… You are bound to admit that the items in the book cant do any harm even if it were faulce, but will cause many to read and reflect that otherwise would not. So the balance of good is in its favor…”
The Reverend does not seem to be immune to the lure of money.
Of all of the glaring evidences against the Archko Volume’s veracity, the most horrible is in the manuscript called “Eli’s Story of the Magi”. It appears that several pages of this story were copied verbatim from Ben Hur, a famous work of fiction which had just come out in Mahan’s day. In his defense, how could he have known how popular the novel would become? One striking detail is the use of the word anuman, which isn’t a word at all. In the Archko Volume, Eli’s story reads:
“Egypt is satisfied with her crocodiles and anuman, holding them in equal honor.”
Page 272 of Ben Hur has some lines that read:
“ Egypt was satisfied with her crocodiles and anu-
bis, the Persians were yet devoted to Ormuzd and Ahri-
man, holding them in equal honor … “
The “anuman” word arose because a line was skipped when copying this sentence.
In 1885, W.D. Mahan was summoned before the Lebanon presbytery, found guilty of plagiarism and falsehood, and suspended from his position as a Presbyterian minister for one year based on the evidence brought against him. Mahan promised to withdraw the book, but instead published it again with major revisions, including the chapter stolen from Ben Hur.
The evidence is overwhelming: The Archko Volume is the purest fraud.
Where does that leave us? With untempered mortar.
The Archko Volume is of a very questionable source and is, in all likelihood, a preposterous fake.
Were it authentic, it’s still not canonical; it would be utterly useless to study it without a firm foundation of Bible knowledge. Also, as we all well know, there is more than 100 lifetimes of good, true knowledge to study just in the Bible alone! It is one thing to say you’d like to know the rest of the story. [One day, I believe we will know it all, for the Bible says that we will know even as we're known!] But why concentrate on the rest of the story, when many in the Church only know part of the story provided to begin with?
I am by no means perfect and I don’t know everything. But I am a Berean and the Bible stands. And as the church is to stand as “the pillar and the ground of truth,” I am hard-pressed to see how we can ethically quote the Archko Library as authoratative. For my part, I am also aware that I must give a personal account before God of what I preach from the pulpit and of how I have or have not earnestly contended for the faith. I consider the matter, concerning as it does purity of doctrine, too important to ignore.
I Remain Faithfully Yours,
Rev Tony Breeden