My personal assessment of the following book:


by William Mahan

My wife and I served as missionaries in Austria from 1964-2002. We started churches, were involved in evangelism, co-founded an international youth organization and a Bible Institute. From 1974 - 1991, we operated a printing and publishing operation in Austria.

The print shop provided churches and mission organizations with Christian literature. I also secretly printed tons of literature that was smuggled through the Iron Curtain prior to its demise in 1989. Because I never learned the printing trade, I learned by asking questions, watching others, doing personal research and through trial and error. I also researched the history of printing and learned much about the impact of printing on society and church history in particular.

It is partly from this vantage point that I respond to the question someone asked about my opinion of "The Archko Volume" and its author, William Mahan. The reason why I was asked, however, was because Mahan included a chapter supposedly written by Rabban Gamaliel. I published a book in 2006 and have a website with the title, Rabban Gamaliel .

Allow me to give a very brief overview of the early years and growth years of the printing industry. I am convinced that developments in the graphics industry and the immense demand for books prompted Mahan to write.

Gutenberg invented the printing press in Germany in 1450, but most early religious printing was in Latin and extremely expensive. The first English book was printed in England in 1475. By 1500, printing presses in Western Europe had already produced more than twenty million volumes. In the next 100 years, output rose tenfold to an estimated 150 to 200 million copies. Printing soon became a status symbol and everyone wanted to read. Fearing it's political impact, European governments soon passed stringent laws governing the printing trade. The King James Bible was published in 1611 and in 1620, the English philosopher, Francis Bacon, wrote that three inventions had "changed the whole face and state of the world" more than anything else. The three were printing, firearms and the nautical compass.

In mid-1800 America, small presses capable of printing letterheads, brochures, business cards, and envelopes became common. These so-called "jobbing presses" could be quickly set up in a few minutes and a single operator could produce 1,000 impressions per hour. Anyone could have brochures and books printed in smaller quantities and there were book binders who made impressive book covers. Now that most people had learned to read, books were in big demand.

In 1843, Richard M. Hoe, of New York, invented a steam-powered rotary printing press that placed the type on a revolving cylinder, a design much faster than the old flatbed printing presses of Europe. Hoe's invention allowed printing millions of copies in a single day. In 1870, Hoe further developed his rotary press to print both sides of the paper from a roll in a single operation (perfecting press). Hoe's press accepted a roll of paper five miles long, which was put through the machine at the rate of 800 feet (240 m) per minute. As the sheets came out, they were passed over a knife which cut them apart, and then they were run through a folding apparatus. Completely printed and folded newspapers were delivered with news that was only a few hours old. Mass production of printed works flourished after the transition to rolled paper in continuous feed.

William Mahan was born in 1824 and grew up when America was emerging from its pioneer days and rapidly becoming a modern, powerful leader in the world. Colonists of the 18th century were taken up with eking out a living in the wild and unsettled frontier. There was little time or money for learning and books. After the Revolutionary War, however, America became very attractive and the 19th century was a period of phenomenal growth and change. America generated speculation, curiosity, excitement and wonder all over the world, but it was primarily Europeans who set their sights on the new world. Immigration from Europe caused the population of the new nation to triple in the first three decades of the 1800s. In 1849, gold was discovered in California and ten years later, the first oil well was driven in Pennsylvania, bringing the price of oil down to ten cents a barrel and putting 40,000 whalers out of work. Not long after that, came electricity, and on its heels, the telegraph. I already described advances in printing technology which led to the establishment of over 350 newspapers in America.

In the 1800s, the most important institutions in every community were churches and schools, and society was firmly rooted in the Bible. This situation existed nowhere else in the world and we must go back two centuries to discover the reasons for this unique situation.

When Columbus and other explorers returned to Europe with descriptions of the vast unsettled lands across the sea, European nations were quick to recognize the potential for expansion. Many sought to establish strong colonies here. Churches and governments were aligned politically in Europe, and the Roman Catholic Church had firmly established itself as the primary religious institution prior to 1500. It was expected that America would also become subject to Rome.

The protestant reformation, however, changed that situation. The Reformation took place during the formative years of the first American colonies. It began in 1517 when Luther posted his 95-point protest on the door of Wittenberg Church. By the time the Peace of Westphalia was signed in 1648, Europe had been dramatically changed. The Roman Church no longer had a monopoly in Europe. There were other large religious blocs such as Swedish Lutherans, Dutch and Swiss Reformed, and Anglicans who were determined to establish colonies in the new world.

One other situation factored strongly in those formative years, paving the way for the establishment of a free republic - the United States of America. Most of the early colonists died from cold, disease and conflicts with native Americans. The Colony of Virginia was established in 1607 by England and was intended to become “a great Anglican nation.” By 1616, however, over three fourths of the colonists had died due to prevailing hardships; disease, starvation, harsh weather and skirmishes with native Americans. Conditions were similar in other colonies. European governments tried to recruit more colonists, but the fate of those who went before was a great deterrent. Not many citizens wanted to take the risks upon themselves and their families.

Anabaptists, Quakers and other persecuted minorities, however, recognized a chance to be free of oppression, free to raise their children according to biblical principles and permitted to own property. Having little to lose, large numbers from these religious minorities volunteered to migrate. The rulers felt that it would not hurt to rid their countries of these radicals and agreed.

The new breed of settlers were accustomed to difficulties, suffering and hard work, and they sought to befriend the natives. Even after the Peace of Westphalia was signed on October 24, 1646, religious freedom in Europe was very limited and many more religious refugees came to America.

Many earlier settlers came for personal gain or fame, or that of their sending nation and church, but most immigrants who arrived after 1681 were religious refugees. There were Quakers from Scotch-Irish or English backgrounds, Dutch, German and Swiss Anabaptists. These settlers brought very little baggage and were thankful to God for freedom of worship and the ability to live in peace. They not only managed to tame the raw continent, but also gained the respect and trust of other colonists. And together, they determined that no religious group should receive the status of state church (Contrary to popular belief, our Constitution does not insist on the separation of church and state, but merely forbids the formation of state churches and a church state).

Much that happened in America during the second half of the 18th century can be attributed to this influx of religious minorities. The total population of the colonies climbed from one to 5.3 million. There was the revolutionary war, Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Congress was established in 1786 and three years later, George Washington was made first President of the United States.

Like many others, the young William Mahan became infatuated with learning and at some point, he decided to study for the ministry. At the time, ministers and medical doctors were the most respected citizens. And anyone who published a book was highly respected. James Fennimore Cooper, Noah Webster, Edgar Allan Poe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Walt Whitman and Samuel Clemens were achieving fame and wealth from their prolific writings. Religious and historical books were especially hot sellers.

An uneducated young man named Joseph Smith published his "Golden Bible" (it is supposed that the Book of Mormon was plagiarized from manuscripts of a man named Solomon Spaulding) in 1830 that dealt with the origin of native Americans. Fourteen years later, Smith was head of the Mormon Church with over 20,000 members and campaigning to become President of the United States! At that time, Rev. William Mahan was an ordained minister in Missouri, but otherwise unknown.

In 1879, Rev. William D. Mahan, a Presbyterian minister of Boonville, Missouri, published a 32-page pamphlet titled, A Correct Transcript of Pilate's Court. The pamphlet was actually plagiarized from Ponce Pilate à Vienne, a short story by Joseph Méry that was originally published in Revue de Paris, 1837. It was later translated and printed in Boston.

The pamphlet was widely distributed and brought Mahan some recognition as an author. Readers began to ask questions and Mahan told friends that he was taking a couple of months to travel to Europe to search for answers. After his return in 1884, Mahan printed a 200-page book which later became known as The Archko Volume, but he gave the first edition the impressive title, The Archaeological Writings of the Sanhedrin and Talmuds of the Jews, Taken from the Ancient Parchments and Scrolls at Constantinople and the Vatican at Rome, Being the Record Made by the Enemies of Jesus of Nazareth in His Day: The Most Interesting History Ever Read by Man.

Although Mahan sold many copies of his book and some newspapers reported on his findings, it was not long before literature and history experts began to question and investigate his claims. The manuscripts were dismissed as "spurious and the alleged translation a forgery." The Presbyterians dismissed him for one year in hopes of his admission of error and desisting from the sale of his writings. The one year retraction of Mahan's license to preach was reviewed after a year and extended indefinitely (see link below). After William's death, the book was all but forgotten for about fifty years until the charismatic miracle healers and TV-evangelists, Katherine Kuhlman, and Benni Hin promoted Mahan's book and sold many copies to their followers.

Mahan's book is still being sold on Amazon and in some book stores. The version in my possession is titled, The Acts of Pilate and even if the book had been written and promoted as a novel, I would not consider it worth reading. Mahan's claim of authenticity in spite of grievous errors and proven falsehoods, makes it unacceptable.

The first chapter, "How These Records Were Discovered," echoes Joseph Smith's attempt to explain and verify his miraculous discovery of the golden plates. Later printings omitted one section titled, "Eli and the Story of the Magi," which was copied verbatim from the 1880 novel, Ben-Hur. Facts and dates given in the chapters of Gamaliel's supposed interview with Joseph and Mary and Letters of Hillel are clearly concocted and impossible to accept. I have ample reason to believe that the author was riding a wave of intense interest in the spectacular, incredible and miraculous that was sweeping across America in the 1800s and that Mahan's writings are mere human fabrications.

Before writing my book, Rabban Gamaliel, I spent more than ten years researching the subject and only used documents and sources that were written in German or English. Mahan claimed to have located, translated and edited ancient parchment documents in just a couple of months! This included travel which would have consumed half that time!

I worked several years in an American art gallery and Museum of Biblical Antiquities. I lived and worked in Europe for 38 years and traveled extensively throughout Europe and Asia. I have visited numerous museums including the Museum of Anatolian Civilization in Ankara and the magnificent Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, where Mahan claimed to have discovered those extremely rare and valuable papyrus writings (in a non-existent library). As an ardent reader and dedicated student of history, church history in particular, I must agree with other renowned experts who claim that Mahan's book is a forgery.

Ralph V. Harvey, March, 2014

Readers may also wish to check the following website for further information: