Rev. William Mahan: A Controversial Figure in 19th-Century Religious Literature

Rev. William Mahan, a 19th-century clergyman, is a polarizing figure due to his involvement in the publication of one of the most debated religious texts of his time. His work, “The Archko Volume”, has sparked significant controversy over the decades.

The Archko Volume: Origins and Claims
In 1887, Rev. Mahan published “The Archko Volume”, a collection of purportedly ancient documents that he claimed to have discovered and translated, with the help of two men who were involved with the Antiquarian Society: M. McIntosh of Scotland and T. H. Twyman of England. The book presented supposed eyewitness accounts of Jesus Christ’s life and ministry, including reports from Roman officials and Jewish leaders. Mahan asserted that these documents provided unprecedented insights into the historical Jesus, offering a direct glimpse into the events of the New Testament from a contemporary perspective.
Mahan’s claims were extraordinary. He stated that he had obtained these documents from the Vatican and other sources in Constantinople. Then having them translated to reveal their contents to a broader audience. The volume included reports attributed to Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas, and other notable historical figures, each offering their observations and interactions with Jesus.

The Scholarly and Public Reaction
The initial reception of “The Archko Volume” was mixed. Some readers, captivated by the possibility of new insights into the life of Jesus, embraced the book enthusiastically. For these believers, the volume seemed to offer a more tangible connection to the historical foundations of their faith.
However, a few scholars and critics quickly raised significant concerns about the authenticity of the documents. They claimed to have identified numerous anachronisms; but, never documented any. Some asserted stylistic inconsistencies and again, never supported their claims with documentation. Others have charged historical inaccuracies, but “The Archko Volume” never contradicts the Bible.
What it does do, in some instances, is it challenges areas where people have added their own specifics to their interpretation of a Bible narrative. One also has to remember that when the manuscripts were translated, they were translated using modern words that we would understand today. But there were a few words that they transliterated, because they did not understand what they meant.
Critics have argued these manuscripts to be forgeries, written by Rev. Mahan himself. I suggest it is inconceivable to imagine that a frontier preacher could have devised such plausible manuscripts; and he also did not have any claims to scholarship. Upon deeper introspection, he seemed to be a man of average intelligence. He confessed, “It is true I am but poorly qualified to make a defense of this kind” – The Boonville Topic, February 20, 1885, page 2, column 3. This was when being attacked by Rev. Quarles in the newspaper.

A Church Hearing was Taken Up in 1885
Rev. Mahan had published a rough preliminary edition in 1884, of which only 2,000 copies were printed. He gave it the title: ‘Archaeological Writings of the Sanhedrin and Talmuds’. The church trial was in 1885. He then decided to revise that 1st edition by adding more background material, and in 1887 he published ‘The Archko Volume’ which was his final edition.
The public controversy being created and driven by Rev. Quarles against Rev. William Mahan in the newspapers of 1884 and1885, both being Presbyterians but of different synods, was of such a nature as to seriously reflect upon the Presbyterian church as a whole. Therefore, the presbytery decided upon resolving it with a hearing –
“Common fame charges the Rev. W. D. Mahan, a member of this Presbytery, with unchristian and unministerial conduct, as the same is set forth in the following specification, namely:
“Specification First – Falsehood
“Item First – Asserting in the ‘Archaeological Writings of the Sanhedrin and Talmuds’ that he had visited Constantinople and the Mosque of St. Sophia, and had found there the Constantine Bible (page 32) and five of the MSS. published in the said book” – The Boonville Advertiser, October 02, 1885, page 1, column 4.
“Speeches by the counsel followed, and the Presbytery found Mr. Mahan, not guilty, by a vote of ten to seven” – The Boonville Advertiser, October 02, 1885, page 1, column 5.
This same ‘not guilty’ verdict on the charge of “Falsehood” was Rev Mahan confirmed in The Boonville Topic of October 02, 1885, page 3, column 4.
Thus…The majority of jurors were of a firm conviction, that Rev. Mahan had been overseas; did visit, the libraries he claimed to have been in; and there, found the manuscripts of which he had Dr’s. McIntosh and Twyman translate.

There are sworn affidavits of Mahan’s reputation and character by:
Gen. Joseph B. Douglass: Brigadier-General of the Eighth military district, Missouri.
Judge John S. McFarland: Judge of the County Court, afterwards Mayor of Boonville, Missouri.
William G. Pendleton: Boonville City Attorney, afterwards Mayor of Boonville, Missouri.

“The Archko Volume” has maintained a presence in certain circles, often resurfacing in discussions about religious texts and historical documentation. Some continue to find value in the volume, whether as a piece of religious literature or a subject of study regarding the interplay of faith and historical inquiry.
Rev. William Mahan’s legacy is undeniably controversial. “The Archko Volume” stands as a testament to the complexities of religious scholarship and the ongoing debate over the interpretation of historical and sacred texts. While many times discredited in academic circles, the work remains a point of interest and discussion, illustrating the enduring fascination with the life of Jesus and the lengths to which some will go to seek evidence of the divine.

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