Early Christians didn't take Gospels as gospel

24 August 2017 - 05:46 By Olivia Rudgard
Image: Gallo Images/Thinkstock

The earliest Latin interpretation of the Gospels has been brought to light by a British academic - and it suggests that readers should not take the Bible literally.

Lost for 1500 years, the fourth-century commentary by Fortunatianus of Aquileia, an African-born Italian bishop, interprets the Gospels as a series of allegories.

Dr Hugh Houghton, of the University of Birmingham, who has translated the work, said the find added weight to the idea that many early scholars did not see the Bible as a history, but a series of coded messages on key elements of Christianity.

"There's been an assumption that it's a literal record of truth - a lot of the early scholars got very worried about inconsistencies between Matthew and Luke, for example.

For people teaching the Bible in the fourth century, it's not the literal meaning which is important, it's how it's read allegorically.
Dr Hugh Houghton

"But for people teaching the Bible in the fourth century, it's not the literal meaning which is important, it's how it's read allegorically."

The approach differs from the growing trend of biblical literalism adopted by modern fundamentalist Christians, which has been the basis for beliefs such as the idea that the Earth is 6000 years old and that it was created in seven days.

The 100-page document examines the Gospel of Matthew in detail and part of the Gospels according to Luke and John. It was hidden for 1500 years within an anonymous manuscript in Cologne Cathedral Library, until it was digitised by the University of Salzburg in 2012. However, it remained untranslated until Houghton came across it after an Austrian colleague read about it in a local newspaper.

The original manuscript is thought to have been transcribed in around AD800, more than 400 years after it was written. It predates better-known writings by more famous scholars such as St Augustine, St Jerome and St Ambrose.

- The Daily Telegraph

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