There was much ado this week about “a landmark discovery in the documentation of early Christianity: a trove of 70 lead codices that appear to date from the 1st century CE, which may include key clues to the last days of Jesus’ life.” Mormons around the blogosphere showed immediate interest over the plates, suggesting it pointed to the legitimacy of not only metal plates, but also the theme of sealed secrecy in early Christianity.
More fuel is now added to the fire, as BYU professor Donald Ucha (Hebrew Bible Studies in the College of Humanities, known for his work on the Dead Sea Scrolls) has announced a significant textual discovery from the Jordanian plates. It is significant because it concerns a passage under dispute, John 7:53–8:11, the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. While discussed by early church fathers as a legitimate and beautiful Jesus-story, the passage is not found in any of the earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of John. While the passage is still included in modern translations, it is usually accompanied by a footnote describing the significant lack of textual support.
One of the Jordanian plates reveals an early reading of the story, one which Mormons presumably will use as evidence that early Christian theology was akin to Mormon theology, and hence evidence of the “Great Apostasy.” Dr. Ucha translates the script on the relevant plate as follows:
“When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw no one but the woman, he said to her, Woman, where are your accusers? Has no man condemned you? Go, and sin no more, and don’t take the sacrament for a year, and read the Miracle of Forgiveness, and if you are still around in a year we will decide whether or not God has forgiven you.”