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An account of the real and ancient Angel Scroll inspired The Painter's Gift...

A Sunday Times (London) article has increased the speculation and mystery surrounding the so-called "Angel Scroll." The Angel Scroll is said to belong to the famous Dead Sea Scrolls family. The most recent tidbit thrown to the media reveals that the scroll names Jesus as sect member.

Since their discovery almost half a century ago, the Dead Sea scrolls have fascinated biblical scholars. The mystery surrounding them has deepened, however, with claims that a hitherto unknown scroll, which threatens to challenge the originality of Christian theology, was spirited out of the Holy Land and ended up in the hands of Benedictine monks, who tried to suppress its contents. According to a bizarre tale that has unfolded over the past few weeks in Israel, the so-called Angel scroll was found by a Bedouin tribesman in Jordan in the late 1960s on the eastern shore opposite the Qumran caves, where the Dead Sea scrolls made famous by the late Professor Yigael Yadin were discovered in ancient pottery jars several years earlier. The Bedouin is then said to have sold it to an antiquities dealer in the Jordanian capital, Amman.

As news of the find circulated, scholars began frantic talks to buy the scroll through an intermediary, an international arms dealer identified only as Ziyad H. It was then that a German Benedictine monk - named as Matheus Gunther, which is believed to be a pseudonym - became involved. Armed with huge sums of Benedictine money, he allegedly negotiated for a year and was finally allowed a 3mm fragment of the scroll. Finally, in 1981, the deal was completed and the scroll, bearing 1,000 lines of mixed text, was smuggled out of Jordan to a Benedictine monastery somewhere near the German-Austrian border, to be studied by a team of monks who had taken a vow of silence.

Gunther died in 1996, but is said to have bequeathed his notes and a copy of the text to an Israeli friend known as Steve Daniels. For the past three years, Daniels has been allegedly preparing it for publication, together with two other Israelis who knew the monk. According to the two Israelis - one of whom spoke to The Sunday Times on condition of anonymity - the text contradicts the official origins of Christianity and is so explosive that church authorities decided to suppress it. Gunther could not bear to see it left mouldering in the vaults, they claimed, and he decided that his vow of silence should be broken after his death.

"I saw in this scroll the crowning achievement of my scholarly work and of my religious mission," the monk wrote in his notes, some of which were shown to the Jerusalem Report, a leading Israeli news magazine. "I promised that I would not carry to my grave the secrets of this remarkable scroll." The text, said to have been carbon-dated to the 1st century, supposedly describes a religious vision experienced at Ein Elgatain, a desert encampment on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea, by Yeshua ben Padiah, who was taken by an angel, Panameia, through the gates of a palace and into the heavens. Yeshua is Hebrew for Jesus.

It is said to mirror the teachings of Jesus to such an extent that it calls their originality into question. Many of the ideas described in the scroll imply that Jesus was heavily influenced by, or even a member of, the Essenes sect widely credited with writing the Dead Sea Scrolls. Scholars who have studied excerpts from a computerised transcript are divided over the text's authenticity, however, to give a definitive answer, they say they must first see the original - or at least a photograph.

"If it is the real thing, we'll be talking about something phenomenally important to understanding the background of Christianity and Jewish mysticism," said Professor Stephen Pfann of the University of the Holy Land, an expert on the scrolls. "I haven't yet seen anything that discredits it in such a way that I would put it outside the realms of possibility." Pfann, who has translated some of the text into English, said that Yeshua's vision contained many concepts similar to the other Dead Sea scrolls. It is dated some 100 years later, however, indicating it was written during, or shortly after, Jesus's lifetime.  Read more...