The Archko volume is on the loose again! Everyone under the table!

Curses, curses.  The Archko volume is loose again.  This evening I found a bunch of posts on various fora around the web, all referencing it to show that Jesus was white.  It seems an unnecessary effort, surely, given that we all know that God is an Englishman.

The Archko volume appeared in 1884 edited by a certain Rev. W. D. Mahan of Boonville in the USA under the title “Archaeological writings of the Sanhedrin and Talmuds of the Jews: Taken from the ancient parchments and scrolls at Constantinople and the Vatican at Rome: Being the record made by the enemies of Jesus of Nazareth in his day.”  At the foot of the title page are the revealing words “Published for the author by Perrin and Smith, Book and Job Printers…” — in short, it was self-published.  The contents are interesting:

Chapter I.—A short sketch of the several books of the Talmuds, with Historical References, 5
Chapter II.—Dr. Rubin’s Letter, as taken from the “Brunswicker,” Dr. Mclntosh’s Letter to the People of America, and Rev. W. D. Mahan’s Letter from Rome to his family, 24
Chapter III.—Eusebius’ History of the Emperors of Rome.  Constantine’s Letter in Regard to having Fifty Copies of the Scriptures Written and Bound for Preservation, – 32 Chapter IV.—Jonathan’s Report of his Interview with the Shepherds of Bethlehem; also, Letter of Melker, who was Priest of the Bethlehem Synagogue when Jesus was Born, 37
Chapter V.—Gamaliel’s Report of his Interview with Joseph  and Mary in Regard to their Child Jesus; also, of his interview with Massalian, and Mary and Martha, – – 55
Chapter VI.—Caiaphas’ Report of the Sanhedrin, giving his Reason for the Execution of Jesus of Nazareth, – – 76
Chapter VII.—Caiaphas’ Second Report in Regard to the Resurrection of Jesus, —— 100
Chapter VIII.—Eli’s Story of the Magi, – – – 113
Chapter IX.—Acta Pilati, or, Pilate’s Report of the Arrest, Trial and Crucifixion of Jesus, – 201
Chapter X.—Herod Antipater’s Defense Before the Roman  Senate Concerning his Conduct at Bethlehem, – – 231
Chapter XI.—Herod Antipas’ Defense Before the Roman Senate Concerning his Execution of John Baptist, and Other Charges, – – – – – – – 240
Chapter XII.—The Hillel Letters Regarding God’s Providences to the Jews, ——- 247

Mahan opens his book with the following words:

Believing that no event, of as much importance as the death of Jesus of Nazareth was to the world, could have transpired without some record being made of it by his enemies in their courts, legislations and histories, I commenced investigating the subject. After many years of study, and after consulting various histories and corresponding with many scholars, I secured the assistance of two learned men—Drs. Mclntosh and Twyman—and went to the Vatican at Rome, and then to the Jewish Talmuds at Constantinople, incurring a risk of my life as well as expending a good deal of money. As a result, I have compiled the following book, which will be found one of the most strange and interesting works ever read. It may appear fragmentary, but the reader will remember that it is the record of men made nearly two thousand years ago.

Mahan found himself with a best-seller on his hands, and was quickly making good money.  But his success attracted questions.  Other clergymen in Boonville wrote querying how he could possibly have made any such journey, given that he had only left Boonville for a couple of months.  Others questioned how it was that “Eli and the Story of the Magi” was at points word-for-word identical with the 1880 novel “Ben Hur”.  In the end Mahan was brought before a church court, convicted of forgery, and suspended for a year; and he passes out of the light at that point.

Some years later a “revised” version appeared.  Thoughtfully it omitted “Eli and the story of the Magi”, and gathered the various notes which Mahan had prefixed to each text to form a new introduction.  It seems to have been the work of a bookseller’s clerk, as no new material was added, and certainly booksellers of a certain kind have profited mightily from it since.  Mahan perhaps thought to emulate the sort of fiction that Rider Haggard was writing in the same period, but did so too ineptly for his own good.  The cynical bookseller merely sought cash by exploiting the credulity of rural Christians in the USA.

So the book is a fake.  It’s one of the rash of pseudo-gospels composed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  E. J. Goodspeed, who studied the New Testament Apocrypha, grew weary of students appearing with these things and wrote a book Strange New Gospels about them.  I placed it online here, and you may read about the Archko volume accordingly.   He later revised the book as Modern Apocrypha.  Per Beskow produced a further volume of the things, under the title Strange Tales about Jesus.

When I came onto the web 13 years ago, the Archko volume was being produced by unwary believers as evidence of Jesus.  I myself obtained a copy of the first edition (1884), and also of the second edition, as this was the only way to access such things.  Today we have Google books, so the curious may find the original text here, and the revised “second edition” from 1896 here.  A search in Google books will find newly printed copies for sale with cynical publishers’ blurb such as:

Ongoing debate over this classic work’s authenticity makes this book an engrossing read for those interested in judging for themselves.

Fortunately these things have largely vanished from the web, and so I have not had to spend any time on it for years.  But … it’s baaack.

Be prepared to explain, politely and inoffensively, that it’s a scam.


18 thoughts on “The Archko volume is on the loose again! Everyone under the table!

  1. In Mahan’s own words, “I meditated upon what he had told me of those records, and throught that if a transcript could be obtained it would be very interesting, even if it did not add much to the present teachings of Christianity.” He apparently was not trying to alter accepted mainstream Christian beliefs.

    Why would an unassuming Presbyterian minister from the Midwest go to so much trouble? I have no problem believing what he states in his book could be true, any more than I have no problem believing his book could be a fraud. Either way, as a Christian, what I find most disturbing is the ferocity with which others find it necessary to pronounce him a fraud and a liar? To one who believes Christ shed His blood for our sins, what Mahan published should make no difference. It’s a good read, if nothing else, and since God will set things straight with everyone in the end, leave it alone. If Mahan made it up, that’s between him and God.

    It’s fascinating that Christians are so quick to judge others when that’s one of the things the Bible condemns most.

  2. Why should we believe Goodspeed? What makes him so much more credible than Mahan? The book does nothing to change the Christian faith. It is merely giving other accounts of the life of Jesus and his contemporaries. Such a cynical world…

  3. I don’t think we need treat Goodspeed as an authority. But we can check the two editions of the book ourselves by clicking those links above. We just have to do the research.

    Whatever the motives of Mahan, this book is a deception, intended to harm Christians.

  4. An interesting note at the Wikipedia article on William Dennes Mahan suggests that someone has taken the time to research further:

    “Your committee to whom was referred the motion to grant W. D. Mahan a letter of dismission [sic] and recommendation after the term of his suspension expires, have had the subject under consideration, and in view of all the surrounding facts, and in view of the interests of the Church, we recommend the following:

    Whereas, This Pres., at its session in Slater, Sept. 29th, 1885, did suspend from the functions of the ministry, for one year, W. D. Mahan; said one year terminating on the 29th of the present month; and

    Whereas, The definite form of said suspension was more the result of sympathy for him and his family, than a desire for rigid administration of the law, and this sympathy being exercised under the hope that said W. D. Mahan would use all proper efforts to heal the wounds his course had inflicted; and,

    Whereas, It now comes to the knowledge of this Pres., that he still occupies the same position, by the sale of his publications, and by negotiations to bring out new editions, therefore;

    Resolved, That the suspension of the said W. D. Mahan, be, and the same is hereby declared indefinite, or, until he shall have complied with the law of the Church, as it applies in the case.”

    This is referenced to “Minutes of the New Lebanon Presbytery of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, September 10, 1886, 185-186.” I wonder how anyone managed to access these?

  5. Ah. Usual story: someone got it from a website which had done the research and omitted to mention the fact.

    There is a website on William Dennes Mahan here, which contains all this material, plus his obituary, and a list of his ecclesiastical appointments with references. It appears to belong to the modern Cumberland Presbyterian Church denomination.

  6. Did it ever occur to you that Mahan’s peers resented his hard work, research and success so they did their trial and voted to take his license after he pastored for 39 years. How would you like your peers to trash your reputation? What gives you the right to judge him over 100 years after the fact? God forgive you.

  7. Dear Roger, I am glad to hear that you have the first edition of Mahan’s writings that includes “Eli’s Story of the Magi”. You state that it was at points word-for-word identical with the 1880 novel “Ben-Hur”, but apparently not all was a literal transcript, as indicated by “at points”. It would be interesting to know how much of it was. I have not been able to find the 1884 edition, and since I am researching this so-called forgery I would be very grateful if you can send me a pdf of “Eli’s Story of the Magi”, to see how much of it was a literal transcript. I know, it’s 88 pages. In return I will send you by return-mail “Ponce Pilate à Vienne”. Lew Wallace, the author of Ben-Hur, received permission from the Sultan to visit the library of the Hagia Sophia, in order to inquire for the manuscripts Rev. Mahan claimed he had found there. (“An Autobiography” by Lew Wallace, pp. 942-45) There is a strange irony in the fact that at the very time when Rev. Mahan was supposed to have visited Constantinople and there to have read the “Story of the Magi” from an ancient manuscript, the author of that story was residing there as the United States minister to Turkey.

  8. Has anyone with sufficient credentials to be listened to thought of approaching the Vatican archives to ask if they hold any such records as Mahan alleged?

  9. Yes. See Goodspeed.

    No such prefect served at the Vatican library. Papal Rome didn’t use darics as currency. And the library doesn’t hold scrolls.

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