Wizard battles and demon circles revealed in newly translated Christian texts

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Wizard battles and demon circles revealed in newly translated Christian texts

By Owen Jarus – Live Science Contributor 6 hours ago

The texts describing the wizard battle are from the Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great in Egypt. This image shows the shrine of St. Macarius in the monastery.(Image: © Danita Delimont / Alamy)

Have you ever heard the story of a wizard battle that supposedly took place when an early church was constructed? Or how about the story of a border guard who defied King Herod’s orders and spared Jesus‘ life? Scholars have now translated these and other “apocryphal” Christian texts (stories not told in the canonical bible) into English for the first time. 

More than 300 Christian apocryphal texts are known to exist, Tony Burke, a professor of early Christianity at York University in Toronto, Canada, wrote in the book he edited “New Testament Apocrypha More Noncanonical Scriptures (Volume 2)” (Eerdmans, 2020). “Apocryphal texts were integral to the spiritual lives of Christians long after the apparent closing of the canon and that the calls to avoid and even destroy such literature were not always effective” wrote Burke. 

Ancient Christians often debated which texts told the truth about Jesus and which did not. By the end of the fourth century the church had ‘canonized’ the texts which they thought were accurate and included them in the bible. 

Related: From Jesus’ time: The 10 most interesting biblical discoveries

Wizard battle

One of the newly translated texts tells of a wizard battle that took place at the ancient city of Philippi, in Greece. Shown here, the ruins of Philippi . (Image credit: Shutterstock)

One of the newly translated texts tells of a battle against ‘diabolical’ wizards who are trying to destroy an ancient church being built as a dedication to the Virgin Mary in the city of Philippi in Greece. 

The text is written in Coptic, an Egyptian language that uses the Greek alphabet, and may have originally been written around 1,500 years ago, Paul Dilley, a professor of religious studies at the University of Iowa, who translated the text, wrote in the book. The story is told in two texts that were both from the Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great in Egypt. At that time, much of the population around the Mediterranean had converted to Christianity, although some still followed polytheistic faiths. 

“There was a tendency to identify the remnants of polytheism with ‘magoi’ or ‘wizards’ who posed dangers to the Christian community, sometimes openly, sometimes clandestinely,” Dilley told Live Science. 

In the text, the Virgin Mary comes to Bishop Basil (who lived from A.D. 329-379) in a dream and tells him where to find an image of her that is “not made by human hands,” the translated text says. She also directs him to place the image in the sanctuary of her church on top of two columns, which he will find in a temple outside of Philippi. 

“These two columns have been set up since the time of the giants. Demonic images cover them. It is not possible for anyone to take them down except through the order of my beloved son [Jesus],” the Virgin Mary says in the text. 

Related: 6 Interesting facts about Jesus, the man

In this story, when Basil takes a group out to the temple he is confronted by a group of wizards who knew diabolical magic. “When they heard about these plans [to move the columns], they went with great disturbance and wretchedness and they made some great diabolic illusions.” 

Basil takes a staff that had been placed on a “sign of the saving cross” and puts the staff on the columns. “I placed it [the staff] upon the two columns, and immediately a great rumbling happened under the columns. Suddenly, they [the columns] leapt up at their bases and thus they rolled until they came to the place of the city’s stadia,” Basil says in the text. 

The wizards stop them, and the magical tug of war between the wizards and Basil’s group comes to a standstill; as night comes, Basil decides to dismiss his group and rest. 

When Basil goes to sleep, the Virgin Mary comes to him in another dream and vows that the wizards will be defeated: “Those who did this evil deed of impertinent magic, behold, they are blind, grasping,” she says. 

Later on, after Basil wakes up, water bubbles up beside the columns creating a stream that miraculously heals people. The wizards were not so fortunate, as “immediately the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them,” the text says. Basil also finds that the image has been placed on the columns by the Virgin Mary herself. 

Today the two surviving copies of the text are in the Vatican Apostolic Library and the Leipzig University Library. 

Border guard helps Jesus

Another newly translated text tells of a bandit named Dimas (also called Dymas/Dismas) who was crucified next to Jesus. The text claims that Dimas once worked as a border guard and was crucified after aiding Jesus and his family when they were fleeing to Egypt. The text says that Jesus was a baby at the time and his family was fleeing King Herod who wanted to kill Jesus. 

This apocryphal text is written in Latin and dates back to the 12th or 13th century, said Mark Bilby, a senior assistant librarian of scholarly communication and lecturer of Religious Studies at California State University, Fullerton, who translated the text. Bilby notes that during the Middle Ages there were a number of stories that claim to tell the story of the criminals crucified beside Jesus. The text was likely written in a French monastery Bilby noted. 

“I think the storyline is wholly fictitious, as a legend built on top of at least 10 discrete earlier legends” Bilby told Live Science. In the book, Bilby noted that this story and others like it may have been intended “to carry an implicit call for the young to leave family, join the Crusades, and become a friend of Jesus in and around the Holy Land.” 

The story takes place, according to the text, when Herod was trying to find and kill Jesus, and the guards had received orders to kill any infant boy they came across. To watch for Jesus, Dimas and his father guarded the border between Judea and Egypt, the story goes.Advertisement

In the text Dimas’ father goes off to do his rounds and tells Dimas to watch the border crossing carefully. Shortly afterward, Joseph and Mary arrive at the border carrying a poorly-clothed baby Jesus. Dimas approaches the family and asks about Jesus. Mary is afraid that Dimas is going to snatch Jesus away but Joseph talks to Dimas and convinces him to let them go. 

Joseph convinces Dimas that a poor family posed no threat to Herod. “It is fitting that you all watch out for the sons of the rich men of this region who are capable of begrudging his superiority at a later time. Yet, when you see people squalid in misery, it is not appropriate to reproach them with these talks,” Joseph says in the text. 

Dimas lets them cross the border and even provides the family with some food. When Dimas’ father finds out, he is furious. “What will I do now? Bound by oath, I will not be able to lie. If he [King Herod] convicts me of treason, he will kill me in place of the boys,” Dimas’ father says. 

Herod later summons Dimas, who tells him of the family that was allowed to escape. Dimas is disowned by his father and turns to banditry. 

Related: Cracking codices: 10 of the most mysterious ancient manuscripts

“Expelled from his father’s house and neighborhood, he commenced engaging in banditry, and it became a tribulation, because he was hardened with weapons and perversity…” the text says. About 30 years later Dimas is captured during the time that Pontius Pilate was prefect (governor) of Judea and is crucified beside Jesus (who is now an adult) the text says. When they are about to be crucified, Dimas confesses the sins he made as a bandit and is forgiven by Jesus. 

The only surviving copy of the text is in the library of the Grand Séminaire in Namur, Belgium.

Demon trapping

Another newly translated text, this one in Greek, tells how the Apostle Peter trapped seven demons who were masquerading as angels in the city of Azotus (also called Ashdod in what is now Israel). 

Though it dates to the 11th or 12th century, the story was likely originally written centuries earlier, perhaps around 1,600 years ago. “The narrative resonates with the context of the fourth and fifth-century speculations about sin, but its loose form and lack of regimentation seem to represent an early phase in that development” wrote Cambry Pardee, a visiting professor of religion at Pepperdine University, London, in the book. 

The author of the text “was writing a work of fiction, valorizing the adventures of the great Christian hero Peter,” Pardee told Live Science. While the events are fictional, “it is very likely, though, that many common Christians who encountered this legend, either as a writing or in spoken form, would have believed it to be a true account, a lost story from Peter’s life” Pardee said. 

Related: The Holy Land: 7 amazing archaeological finds

In the text, Peter, who is suspicious of the “angels,” marks a circle around them and states “my Lord Jesus Christ, let your glory be revealed through the Holy Spirit. Are these, as they say, angels of your divinity or spirits who hate what is good?'” (translation by Cambry Pardee)

One translated text tells of Saint Peter using a circle to trap seven demons, while in the city of Azotus (Ashdod), which is shown here. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Six of the demons admit to Peter that they are demons of deception, sexual immorality, falsehood, adultery, avarice and slander. The seventh demon challenges Peter and asks why demons are treated so badly compared to humans, saying that human sins are forgiven by Christ but demon sins are not. “You have the partiality of Christ; for which reason he chastises us, but he spares you when you repent. Therefore when he leads a prostitute and a tax collector and a denier and a blasphemer and a slanderer into his kingdom, then he ought to gather all of us with you!” Advertisement

The demon also notes that humans should stop blaming demons for their mistakes. “I, the devil, am not their troubler, but they themselves fall down. For I have become weak and am without vigor. Therefore, I no longer have a place nor an arrow, for everywhere people have become Christians. Therefore let them guard themselves and not cast blame” the demon says. Peter then lets the demons go. 

The only surviving copy of this text is in the Biblioteca Angelica library in Rome. 

Originally published on Live Science.

Facial reconstruction reveals Egyptian ‘mummy portrait’ was accurate except for one detail

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Facial reconstruction reveals Egyptian ‘mummy portrait’ was accurate except for one detail

15 Incredible Places on Earth That Are Frozen in Time

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15 Incredible Places on Earth That Are Frozen in Time

By Stephanie Pappas November 07, 2018

Where time stands still

(Image credit: Chao-Wei Juan/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0)

There are places in this world that never stop changing, like Rome — built on the ruins and debris of its previous iterations — or New York, with its ever-rising skyline.

And then there are places where time stands still. Whether frozen in time by natural disaster or simply left behind because no one cared to stay, these spots stand virtually undisturbed, encapsulating a moment of the past.


(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The ancient city of Pompeii was arrested in time in A.D. 79 by Mount Vesuvius. The volcano buried the town and any inhabitants who could not evacuate in a thick layer of volcanic ash. The bodies of the dead decomposed, leaving behind voids in the ash that archaeologists later filled with plaster and excavated, resulting in the eerie death casts that made Pompeii famous. But the volcano preserved other things too, from advanced plumbing facilities to colorful carved frescos and graffiti. Excavations have revealed the nitty-gritty details of life in A.D. 79, including at-home first aid equipment and tiny barbecues that probably cooked quick, casual meals.

Two Guns, Arizona

(Image credit: Thomas Hawk/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0)

Among the American West’s weirder ghost towns is Two Guns, an abandoned roadside attraction. According to Atlas Obscura, Two Guns was nothing but a few scattered homesteads until the early 1920s, when it became a travel stop on what would morph into the famous Route 66. An eccentric entrepreneur named Harry Miller leased the site, building a mini-zoo and fake Native American ruins. Exploiting the late 19th-century deaths of a group of Apache warriors killed during a battle with the Navajo people, Miller gave tours of the cave where they died and even sold skulls he said were from those Apache. Miller later shot the landowner who leased him the land, but was acquitted. In 1929, after a fire and a legal battle over the land ownership, Miller left. Route 66 soon left too, rerouted across the canyon. Two Guns changed hands a few times before burning down again in 1971. Today, only a few stone buildings and part of the old zoo’s mountain lion enclosure remain.

Salton Riviera, California

(Image credit: David McNew/Getty)

When the Salton Sea formed, quite by accident in 1905, people called it a miracle. Thanks to an irrigation accident, water from the Colorado River filled a formerly dry lakebed in southeastern California. The resulting lake, the Salton Sea, became a resort attraction (it’s still a state recreation area today).

Within a few decades, though, the disaster of the Salton Sea became apparent. With no outlet, the lake concentrated both salt and agricultural runoff, turning it into a stinking environmental disaster, complete with piles of dead fish along the shore. Most of the buildings near the lake have been abandoned, and local authorities have agreed to let the Salton Sea wither. As of 2018, 40 percent less water is being directed into the Salton Sea than at its inception, according to The Verge, which will gradually lower the lake level by 20 feet (6 meters). As lake turns to dust, more residents may flee, according to The Verge; the air in the Imperial Valley is among the worst in the country.

Hashima Island, Japan

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Once the site of a major coal-mining operation and home to more than 5,000 people, Japan’s Hashima Island is now heavily built up — but empty. The island is a mere 16 acres (6.3 hectares) in area and is almost entirely covered by the marks of humanity: a seawall, multi-story buildings and an abandoned shrine. The island was abandoned in 1974 after all its coal was depleted. In 2009, it opened to tourism, and, in 2015, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you can’t get there in person, you can tour the island in great detail via Google Earth.

Pripyat, Ukraine

(Image credit: Sean Gallup/Getty)

It was a bit like a modern Pompeii. On April 26, 1986, an explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant caused the release of 5 percent of the reactor’s radioactive core. According to the World Nuclear Association, 28 people perished in the following weeks because of acute radiation sickness. In the nearby town of Pripyat, 45,000 people had to leave overnight; ultimately, more than 220,000 people would have to evacuate the contaminated zone around the plant.

The buildings left behind are full of shattered glass and abandoned furniture. An abandoned Ferris wheel sits by a long-unused merry-go-round. Nature has reclaimed the catastrophe zone, with wolves, moose and wild boar roaming where humans used to bustle.  

Kolmanskop, Namiba

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The bone-dry Namib Desert is a hard place for life to survive. The town of Kolmanskop didn’t manage to.

Founded in the early 1900s after diamonds were discovered in the region, Kolmanskop was built by the Germans who controlled what is now Namibia at the time. The architecture is oddly Teutonic, with arched windows and wrought-iron railings. According to the now-ghost-town’s website, residents survived thanks to water trucked in from 75 miles (120 kilometers) away. By the 1920s, the diamond mines were drying up and new deposits were found elsewhere. The town shrank rapidly, and it was finally abandoned for good in 1956.

Sanzhi UFO Houses

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(Image credit: Chao-Wei Juan/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0)

The Sanzhi UFO Houses were a row of oddly shaped pod-like buildings put up in the late 1970s as a resort on the northern tip of Taiwan. The two-story pod-buildings were never finished, but they were painted a cheery pink and yellow, making them look as though some friendly futuristic extraterrestrial had just dashed down to the store for a cup of sugar and might be back at any minute. These odd ghost buildings wouldn’t last forever, though; they were demolished in 2010 to make way for new development.

Deception Island, Antarctica

(Image credit: Ville Miettinen/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0)

Can something qualify as a ghost town if it’s on a largely uninhabited continent? Deception Island might. This outpost in Antarctica has been a whaling station and the site of several scientific labs, but it’s also the caldera of an active volcano. In 1967 and 1969, that volcano erupted, destroying the British and Chilean scientific stations that were active at the time. According to Atlas Obscura, the island is now visited by the occasional seasonal science team and by tourists who enjoy views of the place’s deserted airplane hangar and rusting boilers and tanks.

Craco, Italy

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Located in the “instep” of Italy’s boot, the village of Craco dates to A.D. 1060 (though monks and earlier settlers lived in this rugged region prior to that time). Throughout the Middle Ages, about 1,500 people lived in Craco at any given time. It had four plazas, multiple churches, and, by the 1800s, it was big enough to be split into two districts, according to the local historical society.

But Italy is a seismically active place, and the slopes where Craco was built are steep and unstable. In the mid-1900s, earthquakes and landslides damaged the town. In 1963, the last residents left, relocated to another village nearby. Today, the abandoned town is a historical site and tourist attraction.

Oradour-sur-Glane, France

Image credit: Shutterstock

A tragic casualty of World War II, Oradour-sur-Glane was destroyed by the Waffen SS in 1944. It was a horrific atrocity. On June 10 of that year, Nazi forces entered the village and rounded up its citizenry on the pretense of doing identity checks. Instead, they separated the village’s men from its women and children and began to massacre them. They killed 642 men, women and children, then set the village on fire. Only a handful of people survived.

After the war, France decided to leave the village as it was in memory of the massacre. A Centre de la Mémoire stands at the sight to guide visitors through the abandoned buildings and execution sites. The village crypt contains artifacts like watches and clocks stopped at the time of the fires.

Bodie, California

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

California’s Gold Rush brought an influx of settlers hoping to strike it rich in gold. These settlers built boomtowns almost overnight — and abandoned them just as quickly when the gold veins tapped out.

Bodie, California, is one of those towns. Gold was discovered in the area near Mono Lake in 1875, according to the California Department of Parks and Recreation. The town of Bodie sprung up to house the miners working the vein. Since 1962, the former mine town has been a designated National Historic Site and a state park, left as it was when the last residents moved on.

Mandu, India

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Mandu, in Madhya Pradesh, India, is a preserved town that dates to at least the sixth century A.D. It’s known for its lavish architecture, including India’s biggest fort and a massive palace constructed in 1508 and named for Baz Bahadur, who ruled Mandu from 1555 to 1562. According to legend, Bahadur fell in love with a singing shepherdess named Roopmati, whom he made his queen. But a Mogul army invaded Mandu, taking the city and kidnapping Roopmati. She is said to have poisoned herself to avoid the attention of the Mogul general.

Today, visitors can see temples, tombs and multiple palaces built in Mandu over the centuries. Perhaps the most famous is the Jahaz Mahal, or Ship Palace, which is built between two artificial lakes so that it seems to float.

Angkor, Cambodia

(Image credit: Ian Walton/Getty)

Another ancient-site-turned-tourist-destination, Angkor Wat is one of the largest temples ever built. It was constructed between about A.D. 1113 and 1150 as a Hindu temple, and was later converted into a Buddhist temple. The city surrounding Angkor Wat, Angkor, may have once been home to a million people.

Angkor is no longer a metropolis, but a UNESCO World Heritage site that archaeologists and conservationists are trying to save from encroaching jungle and damage by modern tourists. More than 100,000 people still live in the shadow of the temple, many living an agrarian lifestyle like the generations that came before them.

Tyneham, England

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

In 1943, the British government asked residents of Tyneham, England, to make a major sacrifice for the war effort: leave their homes. The villagers had a month’s notice, the BBC reported, before the village and its surroundings were taken over as a tank firing range in advance of D-Day, the day in 1944 when Allied forces invaded northern France at Normandy and ultimately liberated France from Nazi occupation.

Tyneham residents, all 225 of them, were told they’d get to return to their village after the war, but the government ended up keeping the land for military training. The village has been empty since and is now in ruins. Stone and brick buildings stand quietly, their roofs and windows long-gone. Visitors are allowed in on weekends, and the old church has been reopened. It’s used for occasional concerts and special services.

Humberstone, Chile

Image credit: Shutterstock)

In the late 1800s, Chile experienced a rush not on gold, but on salt. Entrepreneurs and miners high-tailed it to the Atacama Desert, which is rich in potassium nitrate, or saltpeter. A major ingredient in agricultural fertilizers, saltpeter made up 80 percent of Chilean exports in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, according to the BBC.

One of the mining towns that sprung up in this saltpeter rush was Humberstone, founded in 1872. It was once home to more than 3,000 people, mainly saltpeter diggers and refiners and their families. But during World War I, Allied powers blocked Germany from importing saltpeter, and the Germans developed synthetic fertilizers in response. Saltpeter lost its value. Humberstone became a ghost town. The dry desert air has kept the rot away, and many of the town’s buildings stand just as they did a century ago. 

Vikings may not have been blonde, or Scandinavian

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Vikings may not have been blonde, or Scandinavian

Sinister Sparkle Gallery: 13 Mysterious & Cursed Gemstones

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Sinister Sparkle Gallery: 13 Mysterious & Cursed Gemstones


25 Cultures That Practiced Human Sacrifice

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25 Cultures That Practiced Human Sacrifice

Decapitated, kneeling skeleton found in a pit in China linked to ancient ritual sacrifice

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Decapitated, kneeling skeleton found in a pit in China linked to ancient ritual sacrifice

Flying Saucers to Mind Control: 22 Declassified Military & CIA Secrets


Flying Saucers to Mind Control: 22 Declassified Military & CIA Secrets

Operation Crossroads

The "Baker" explosion, part of Operation Crossroads, a nuclear weapon test by the United States military at Bikini Atoll, Micronesia, on 25 July 1946.

The “Baker” explosion, part of Operation Crossroads, a nuclear weapon test by the United States military at Bikini Atoll, Micronesia, on 25 July 1946. (Image credit: Public Domain)

In July 2016, the National Security Archive posted declassified documents, films and photographs that show U.S. tests of atomic bombs in the Bikini Atoll in 1946. Dubbed Operation Crossroads, the tests marked the first atomic explosions since the bombings of Japan during World War II in August 1945. [In Photos: Dive to USS Independence Wreck]

While much is publicly known about the tests, the declassified documents shed new light on how the tests affected people of Bikini Atoll, who were forced to relocate. They also offer a view of the objections raised by scientists and military officials before the bombings, as well as the rationale behind the decision to carry out the tests despite these obj

Doctor Zhivago

During the Cold War, the CIA played a role in distributing the book "Doctor Zhivago" throughout the Soviet Union.

During the Cold War, the CIA played a role in distributing the book “Doctor Zhivago” throughout the Soviet Union. (Image credit: Central Intelligence Agency)

During the Cold War, the CIA played a role in distributing the book “Doctor Zhivago” throughout the Soviet Union. The book by Russian writer Boris Pasternak was banned by the Soviets, according to a Washington Post article, because it displayed an open-minded view of the Bolshevik Revolution and its protagonist, a doctor-poet, was staunchly individualistic.

Seeing the book’s potential as a propaganda tool, the CIA worked with its allies in Dutch Intelligence to deliver about 1,000 copies of the book into Soviet hands, according to documents declassified in 2014. The books were distributed to visiting Soviets at the World’s Fair in Brussels in 1958 with help from the Vatican, according to the National Security Archive.

Bound in unmarked blue linen and wrapped in brown paper, the books made their way into the Soviet Union, where the CIA hoped they would stir up anti-communist sentiment among disgruntled citizens. The CIA also smuggled other banned books into the Soviet Union, including James Joyce’s “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” and Vladimir Nabokov’s “Pnin.”




Image Gallery: Female Egyptian Mummy Discovered

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Image Gallery: Female Egyptian Mummy Discovered

Mummy of ancient Egyptian teenager, buried in fine jewelry, discovered in Luxor

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Mummy of ancient Egyptian teenager, buried in fine jewelry, discovered in Luxor