What is the Archko Volume?

Q.  Have you read “The Archko Volume”?  Do you have any idea if it is accurate?  Where did it come from?

Yes, I have a copy in my library and I have read it.

In 1879 a Boonville, Missouri minister, the Rev. W.D.Mahan, published a pamphlet entitled A Correct Transcript of Pilate’s Court. In 1884, after the apparent successful distribution and wide spread popularity of the report, Mahan issued a new volume that contained an expanded version of this report along with eleven other such works, under the title, The Archaeological and the Historical Writings of the Sanhedrin and Talmuds of the Jews, Translated from the Ancient Parchments and Scrolls at Constantinople and the Vatican at Rome.

This volume has been reprinted many times under various titles, most often as The Archko Volume or Archko Library.

Mahan accompanied his original report with an account of how he came into possession of the work. In short, he says he obtained the copy through the help of a German scholar, Henry C. Whydaman, from Father Peter Freelinhusen, the chief guardian of the Vatican. Father Freelinhusen provided the Latin text for 35 chapters. Whydaman’s brother-in-law, C.C. Vantberger of New York, translated the volume. Mahan even includes a letter from Father Freelinhusen to Whydaman that certifies the accuracy and authenticity of the book.

Needless to say, the Vatican does not admit to having any book of this kind nor is there any record in the annals of the Vatican library of any such person as Father Peter Freelinhusen.

The Archko Volume was produced after the Rev. Mahan supposedly traveled to Rome and Constantinople to study the original sources for the life of Jesus. He was assisted by two great, but otherwise unknown scholars, Dr. Twyman of England and Dr. McIntosh of Scotland.

Now is you really want to do some serious research on this subject, you must have a copy of: Modern Apocrypha, Famous “Biblical” Hoaxes by Edgar J. Goodspeed (The Beacon Press, Boston, 1956) the Library of Congress catalog card number is 56-10075.  Goodspeed was a first rate Biblical scholar, professor emeritus of the University of Chicago. He made the first translation of the Apocrypha directly from Greek into English in The Apocrypha: An American Translation. He translated the New Testament in his The New Testament: An American Translation and has written a number of other books about the Bible or the history of Christian and Biblical literature.  In chapter Four of the book, “The Report of Pilate”, deals with the Archko Volume.

Dr. Goodspeed first wrote his book in the 1930’s. It was possible at that time for him to interview people who know the Rev. Mahan to determine if the Reverend had ever traveled to Europe during this time period. The Rev. Mahan was absent from his home of Boonville for less than two months in the autumn of 1883 when he claimed that he was discovering and copying manuscripts in Rome and Constantinople. Given the time period, it is utterly improbable that the Reverend could do all this traveling and research in so short a time. According to the people that Dr. Goodspeed interviewed, the Rev. Mahan traveled no further than Rome, Illinois from which he dispatched his correspondence.

General Lew Wallace, the author of Ben Hur, was the American minister to Turkey in 1883. According to Wallace, No one connected with the American legation in Constantinople had any knowledge of a visit by Mahan, nor did any American missionaries at the time, neither did Zia Bey, who was in charge of the library of the mosque of St. Sophia, know of any Mahan or of any of the manuscripts that Mahan professed to have seen there.

Dr. Goodspeed does a great job of documenting many of the absurdities and errors in this “Volume”. The most incredible and glaring of these is in the manuscript called “Eli’s Story of the Magi”. It appears that several pages of this story were copied verbatim from Ben Hur. One striking detail is the use of the word anuman. Eli’s story reads, “Egypt is satisfied with her crocodiles and anuman, holding them in equal honor.” Page 272 of _Ben Hur_ has some lines that read:

“Egypt was satisfied with her crocodiles and anubis, the Persians were yet devoted to Ormuzd and Ahriman, holding them in equal honor…”

The anuman word arose because a line was skipped when copying this sentence.

The Archko is Rev. Mahan’s fabrication.

The work presented in the early pamphlet, however, predates the Rev. Mahan. There was an earlier pamphlet published in Boston, 1842, under the title, Pontius Pilate’s Account of the Condemnation of Jesus Christ, and his own Mental Sufferings. This was supposedly extracted from an Old Latin manuscript recently found at Vienna. According to Dr. Goodspeed, this earlier pamphlet carries no notice of an author or publisher. This earlier Boston tract is substantially the same as the Rev. Mahan’s document. It also appears to be the antecedent of another modern apocryphal work called The Confession of Pontius Pilate.

Goodspeed says that nothing is known about where this Boston pamphlet came from, but he does analyze the contents sufficiently well to show that it is historically improbable.

What’s really interesting about this whole story is this.

There are now several versions of the “Archko Volume.”  The newest editions, the only one’s you can now find in the libraries and book stores are different from the older volumes. The more modern edition omitts “Eli’s story” and that the problems Goodspeed referenced have been “fixed.”

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