“Lost” Manuscripts of J.B. Lightfoot Found!

Ben Witherington III discovers manuscripts by 19th-century New Testament scholar

Ben Witherington III

Ben Witherington III

New Testament scholar by day, text archaeologist by night? Ben Witherington III, the Amos Professor of New Testament for Doctoral Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky, has uncovered the lost manuscripts of J.B. Lightfoot. The Bishop of Durham in England, J.B. Lightfoot was the most famous New Testament scholar of the 19th century in the English-speaking world. His commentaries on Paul’s letters in the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers are especially well-known. In “Text Archaeology: The Finding of Lightfoot’s Lost Manuscripts” in the March/April 2014 issue of BAR, Ben Witherington III details his discovery of the lost manuscripts of J.B. Lightfoot.

Spanning four decades, his search was not simple. Ben Witherington III first came across some of Lightfoot’s notes in 1978 in a display case full of manuscripts in the Monk’s Dormitory of Durham Cathedral in England. Leafing through an old notebook, he found a detailed analysis of Acts 15 that dated to 1855—written by none other than J.B. Lightfoot!

Witherington concluded that there must be more manuscripts. Thus, he began his quest for the lost manuscripts of J.B. Lightfoot.

Ben Witherington III’s full article “Mary, Simeon or Anna: Who First Recognized Jesus as Messiah?” is available online for free. Want to learn more about his research? Read “Understanding Revelations in the Bible,” “God Language in the New Testament” and “The Göbekli Tepe Ruins and the Origins of Neolithic Religion,” three Bible History Daily articles discussing his scholarship.

The details of his hunt are interesting, but in this space we will just focus on its conclusion. While on sabbatical in 2013, Ben Witherington III had the chance to return to Durham Cathedral and do a full search of the J.B. Lightfoot cabinet. He discovered numerous unpublished (also unfinished) Biblical commentaries on several books of the New Testament by J.B. Lightfoot. Witherington sifted through and deciphered these no-longer-lost manuscripts—preparing them for publication. For the full story, see “Text Archaeology: The Finding of Lightfoot’s Lost Manuscripts” by Ben Witherington III in the March/April 2014 issue of BAR.

Interested in reading Lightfoot’s lost manuscripts? You won’t have to wait long. Slated for the fall of 2014, The Lightfoot Legacy will be published by InterVarsity Press in three volumes—containing pictures of 1,500 pages of Lightfoot’s original manuscripts. These volumes are sure to be an important contribution to New Testament studies.

BAS Library Members: Read the full column “Text Archaeology: The Finding of Lightfoot’s Lost Manuscripts” by Ben Witherington III in the March/April 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Sign up today.


BAS Library Members, learn more about J.B. Lightfoot. Read W.D. Davies, “My Odyssey in New Testament Interpretation” as it appeared in Bible Review, June 1989.

Posted in Archaeologists, Biblical Scholars & Works.

Tagged with , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Add Your Comments

11 Responses

Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.

  1. shirley says

    Who is J.B Lightfoot? and why should we be interested in what he says about the New Testament?

  2. Joe says

    Biblical scholarship has evolved light years from when Lightfoot lived, rendering his works as quaint archeological markers and his conclusions moot. “Vaticineum ex eventu” (prophecy after the event) effectively eviscerates his musings on whether Mary, Simeon or Anna first recognized the Messiah.

  3. PeculiarPeople says

    2 Timothy 3:7
    Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

  4. George says

    Well, P/P, I do not know in what spirit this Deutero-Pauline bit of “wisdom” was offered, so I will only comment that, since some smug ignoramus penned this forgettable remark, we have in fact learned many, many fundamental truths about the universe in which we live, no thanks to the author of 2 Timothy. And as for Mary, Simeon and Anna “recognizing” Jesus as Messiah — are these not clearly just story-telling devices, offered as “proof” in the first-century debate with those recalcitrant Jews and others who never bought that idea? Is it not doubtful whether Anna and Simeon ever even existed?

  5. BHD says

    I appreciate these O.G.’s for their labors and efforts. The Generation today don’t know ” Moses” and are quick to refute. Kinda like the Hersey Hunters, who because you don’rt fit into thier school of thought, publish and say things that are according to them “justified” but are really nothing more than character Assassination. I’m no theologian but Lightfoot’s teachings can help one to grasp the knowledge of the truth.

  6. Ernst says

    I find the “discovery” of Lightfoot’s manuscripts quite fascinating! Of course it is easy to comment about the “value” of these manuscripts with the hindsight wisdom given to us by modern archaeology and technology. But the common thread of the search for Truth by man and the Working of the Holy Spirit to align Biblical wisdom with modern technological knowledge across cultures and nations has once again become clear by the discussions stimulated above. God is Great!

  7. John says

    I am sure Dr. Robert Eisenman would be interested in Acts 15. I hope he chimes in on this redicovery.

  8. BHD says

    I am not a biblical scholar, but am a reader of Bible History Daily. A concern for those commenters above; if a scholar / writer of less than 200 years ago is passe’ and irrelevant today then what is the relevance of the New Testament writers, the writers of the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds, Luther, Calvin, Knox, and many others? Who has the authority and revelation to declare a deceased writer is without merit? In my experience, God reveals Himself and His knowledge across the centuries to those He chooses; we should at least study and review newly found writings and see if they expand our knowledge of His dealings with His creation.

  9. Sandy says

    I totally agree with you, BHD. Very good summation of what most likely many of us feel, and why we read Bible History Daily.

  10. Kai says

    Agree BHD. The trouble with a lot of these modern thinkers, scholars etc, is that they seem to think of themselves more highly than they really should. Leaving Lightfoot out, the ancients were no fools, and many were closer to the truth than smugs will ever be.

Continuing the Discussion

Some HTML is OK

or, reply to this post via trackback.

Send this to friend

Hello! You friend thought you might be interested in reading this post from http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org:
“Lost” Manuscripts of J.B. Lightfoot Found!!
Here is the link: http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/archaeology-today/archaeologists-biblical-scholars-works/lost-manuscripts-of-j-b-lightfoot-found/
Enter Your Log In Credentials

Change Password