Millions of fragments of ancient texts discovered in Egypt have been touted as possibly offering a “lost gospel,” with commentators saying it could provide an insight into the “mark of the beast” referred to in the book of Revelation.
Excited researchers at Oxford University are calling on the public to provide support in translating the documents.
The documents, entitled The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, were discovered last century in the Egyptian city of the same name, but mining their rich content has been a slow process, according to researchers at the iconic British university.
Researchers at the university issued a call Tuesday for “armchair archaeologists” to log onto the Ancient Lives website where numerous parts of The Oxyrhynchus Papyri have been published and to take a stab at deciphering the texts, which are written in Greek.
The texts, dated between 500 BC to 1,000 AD, were written during a time when Egypt was under Greek and Roman control, according to researchers.
“It’s with the digital advancements of our own age, that we're able to open up this window into the past, and see a common human experience in that intimate, traditional medium, handwriting,” lead developer and designer, William MacFarlane of Oxford University’s Department of Physics said in a statement on the university’s website.
The documents, which have not been read in more than a thousand years, could reveal new details about Jesus’ earthly ministry, and even details about what people of the past believed about the end times.
One discovery made so far, as noted on Oxford University’s Oxyrhynchus Online website, reveals an inquiry as to whether the number of the beast referred to in Revelation 13:18 is actually “616” or “665” as opposed to the wildly-popular “666”.
Researchers have also found a “lost gospel” that includes an account of Jesus casting out demons.
Although the Biblical canon has been set and is unalterable, extra-biblical documents have often lent support to the historicity of Scripture. The Oxyrhynchus Papyri are expected to be no different.
“Until now only experts could explore this incredible collection,” said project leader Dr Chris Lintott of Oxford University’s Department of Physics. “With so much of the collection unstudied there’s plenty for everyone. We’re excited to see what visitors to ancientlives.org can unearth.”
As the amazing collection of ancient texts attracts amateur sleuths and archeologists to the Ancient Lives website, so might their discoveries attract unbelievers to Christ.
Discoveries made so far already support historical accounts of Egypt’s domination by the Greeks and Romans. In addition, The Oxyrhynchus Papyri collection is the source of the lost poetry of Sappho, the lost comedies of Menander and the lost plays of Sophocles, according to researchers.
What else might the treasure trove of texts reveal about the ancient world in which much of the Biblical accounts take place? Only time will tell.