Thursday, December 06, 2007

IF ONLY IT WERE SO: Jack Sasson on the Agade list points to this curious fictional account of the archaeological discovery of a medieval library of heterodox chants and scriptures in Morocco.

Gnostic Chants of North Africa

by Prof. Ephraim Weinherz,
Coordinator of the Harvard Commission on the Wadi al-'Irfan Texts

During the first weeks after the discovery of the ruins at Wadi al-'Irfan in southern Morocco in January, 2000, it became clear that the texts found there were of far-reaching significance. To say the least, the mere juxtaposition of scriptures in Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin, and Greek was most surprising especially for a dervish monastic library in such a remote region.

The author is making a subversive point in a lateral and perhaps overly subtle way (see the disclaimer at the end), but the scenario is quite well thought out and surprising plausible. It may well be that equally startling libraries actually are buried in out of the way places, and let's hope that they're found in our time.

But meanwhile, it occurred to me while reading the essay that our corpus in the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project bears some striking resemblances to this fictional library in terms of contents, languages, and dates of texts and manuscripts. The same languages appear and more. The texts are scripture based, come in both prose and poetry, and sometimes have heterodox elements. At least one (the Balaam Text from Deir 'Alla) goes back to the actual period of the Hebrew Bible. The manuscripts are of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic origin (and pagan) with a generally similar range of dates. A pyramid even figures in one (the Surid Legend).

We may not have any newly recovered archives of lost apocryphal scriptures handy at the moment, but there's an amazing amount of work to be done on such documents that survive piecemeal in manuscripts scattered all around the world.

I've been coming down with a cold all day, so I hope these rumination still make sense to me when I'm feeling less muzzy!