The town of Gazingstock has rarely been in the national spotlight of media attention, which has surely been a blessing of untold worth, though it wasn’t that long ago that The Kansas City Star made brief mention of our very own Clarissa Thornmockle, who had grown a decent-sized Red Brandywine tomato that bore the uncanny likeness of Millard Fillmore, our country’s 13th president. Apparently Clarissa was poised for a guest appearance on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” when tragedy struck. Her husband, Ed had made himself a BLT sandwich for lunch and Millard Fillmore was, as The Kansas City Star later reported, “delicious.”
Last week, however, a much bigger story broke out from the town grapevine that Petey Butterworth, a simple but sweet fellow who hauls Gazingstock’s trash out to the city dump, had uncovered an ancient biblical fragment that purported to contain a new controversial teaching not found in our current canon of Scripture. The controversial text, scrawled in what Petey characterized as “some kind of hieroglyphical Israelite Sanskrit mystery language,” appeared to read, “Jesus said, My dog is in heaven.”
Well, the town and the nearby chapter of the ASPCA was abuzz. No one even questioned how Petey, who barely graduated Mrs. Bott’s sixth grade class, might also describe this strange foreign text as “somewhat readable.”
Of course, the tale behind this amazing discovery seemed suspicious from the get-go. According to Petey, he was out at the city dump shooting his .22 rifle at some of the resident vermin, when he noticed a large rat nibbling away at a piece of crumpled parchment with some strange writing on it. After a little haggling, Petey was able to negotiate with the rodent to hand over the manuscript in exchange for an old issue of Farm Journal magazine. The rat thought it a fair trade, but Petey knew he had got the best of it. Once he read the content of his newfound treasure, he knew he held in his hand an artifact which would turn the Christian world upside-down and bring him fame, fortune, and a favorable write-up in Christianity Today.
It was no surprise, therefore, when Petey Butterworth immediately contacted the League of Tyndale to see if we might be interested in purchasing said document for the tidy sum of $1,000,000. We made it very clear to him, however, that the first order of business would be a physical examination of the fragment in order to verify its authenticity. After some hesitation, he agreed to meet us in the back room of McGonigle’s General Store to let us have a sneak peek.
League secretary Eb Starling (who brought his magnifying glass), Pastor Jeremiah Bone (who knows a little Greek), and I (with my skepticism in tow) convened at said location as the official vetting committee for our humble organization. Petey, donning dark sunglasses and a trenchcoat over his dusty overalls, showed up a little after two o’clock and stood in front of the table where we were all seated. He was wearing white cotton gloves and a smirk. He wasn’t carrying anything.
“You have the document?” I inquired.
He nodded to us, looked around nervously, then proceeded to pull a red handkerchief from his bib pocket with two delicate fingers. Wrapped inside the handkerchief was the mystery document: an off-white sheet of paper folded twice into a small wrinkled square. Historical preservation was not one of Petey’s strong suits.
Well, even before Petey carefully unfolded the crumpled piece of paper for viewing, the three of us immediately recognized the gilded edging and the printed Old English type in two columns. As he flattened it out on the table, we were able to officially confirm that it was, indeed, a biblical fragment. To be more precise, it was page 213 (and 214) from an Authorized King James Version Bible.
Yes, the purported papyrus fragment was a page out of the Epistle to the Ephesians, and the so-called “mystery language” that Petey had described on the document was merely a scribbled margin note in pencil from an unknown hand, right next to Chapter 1. Even with Eb’s magnifying glass, we couldn’t tell if the handwriting really read, “Jesus said, My dog is in heaven” or something else, but Petey stood behind his interpretation. Still, it was very hard to read. In fact, the handwriting was so horrible, we knew it was our first clue to finding the owner of this missing Bible page. Obviously, he or she had to be a doctor.
After a few days of inquiry, we were able to track down the owner: our very own town physician, Samuel “Doc” Klamkin. Sometime back, during a particularly blustery day, Doc had left a men’s meeting at Gazingstock Baptist Church and had a gust of wind rifle through his old, well-used Bible and snatch a page clean out of the broken binding. The wind carried the sheet out into the air, off to parts unknown, and quickly disappeared. Doc figured it was gone for good, and was thrilled to hear that Petey had perhaps recovered it. Indeed, ownership was ultimately confirmed when the League brought in pharmacist Jim Baskens to verify the handwriting by matching it to some of Doc’s recent prescriptions. Said Jim confidently, “I’d recognize this chicken scratch anywhere. It’s why I almost sent Rex Stoddard home with prenatal vitamins for his stomach ache last spring.”
Confronted with this indisputable evidence, Petey reluctantly withdrew any claim to the page and allowed the League to return it to its rightful owner. And by the way, just to ease your mind: the margin note didn’t say anything about a dog. According to our pharmacist, it either said, “Take Mylanta for heaving, 115 ml” or more likely, “My God is in heaven… Psalm 115:3.” Well, as the kids say these days: duh.
So all’s well that ends well. This coming Sunday, the biblical fragment will be officially reunited with Doc’s Bible just before worship service, and God will be praised. Meanwhile, Petey is a little put-off by the whole ordeal and just wishes the Harvard Divinity School would quit calling him about purchasing the blasted thing.