With the exception of the Book of Mormon, this is probably the most widely known book discussed on this website. According to publishers, it has been sold in more than 400,000 copies. As literature, it is a better read than most hoaxes. Yet it is without a doubt a forgery.
According to the author, Edmond Székely, this is a genuine antique manuscript which exists in two copies. The first is written in Old Slavonic and is in the National Library at Vienna. The second is in Aramaic and belongs to the secret archives of the Vatican Library. There were also fragments in Hebrew at the Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino. Székely was a "health food" oriented Hungarian-French physician, head of a successful "biogenic" institute in San Diego, California. He died in 1979.
The publishing of this book has a rather complicated history. It was first printed in England in 1937 under the title The Gospel of Peace of Jesus Christ by the disciple John. The preface of that edition claims that this is only a part of the manuscripts but that the rest was being translated and would be published soon. But nothing happened until 1974 when two more volumes were published. In Britain these are named The Gospel of the Essenes, while the American edition containing all three volumes is entitled The Essene Gospel of Peace.
Székely's own story about himself says that he went to a Catholic school where the headmaster gave him an opportunity to study in Rome with Monsignor Angelo Mercati, the prefect or the Archivio Segreto. This was where he discovered the Aramaic manuscript in 1923-24. At a visit to Monte Cassino, he found Hebrew fragments which corresponded to the Aramaic text. Székely is very vague about the exact circumstances and doesn't even say if the manuscript is a scroll or a codex.
Reading such a vast Aramaic manuscript is a qualified task even for a scholar. Copying it is a matter of years, not to mention translating it. This does not worry Székely. He "read" the manuscript in Msgr Mercati's room and apparently this was enough because soon after, he left and never saw Mercati again. How did he come into possession of the text? Did he have photocopies? He does not say. Even with modern technology it is difficult to make photos or photocopies that are good enough for a scientific edition. Perhaps we should expect to find some information about this at the university of Paris, where Székely claims to have presented his finds in 1925. However, the thesis is conveniantly lost and Székely never named what professor examined it.
We know even less about the alleged Old Slavonic version. Székely himself tells us nothing of when and why he went to Vienna. The publisher's catalogue lists Székely's impressive knowledge of languages, but says nothing of any skills in Slavic languages. Later editions of the "Gospel of Peace" do not even mention the Old Slavonic manuscript. Many questions are unanswered here. However, Székely did publish a Hebrew text which we must assume is the one he claims to have found at Monte Cassino. It is 15 pages of non-vocalized text which does contain the first part of the Gospel of Peace, with some omissions and aberrations. It is written in correct Hebrew of a post-Biblical variant, much like what one finds in the Mishna.
So what's the explanation here? If none of the ancient manuscripts ever existed, where did the Hebrew text come from? Székely needs to show us at least one text in the original language, He doesn't know any of these languages, and finding someone who can translate from a modern language into Old Slavonic or Aramaic is very difficult. But in the USA it is fairly easy to find a learned Jew who is able to translate into acceptable Hebrew. The difference between modern spoken Hebrew and that of the Bible isn't very great, and both the old Testament and the Mishna are still used by Jews in the original language. Hence, we got a Hebrew text but no Aramaic or Old Slavonic. Székely cannot have been ignorant of that Monte Cassino was bombed to smithereens during WWII, erasing every trace of what was never actually there.
At the first publication, Székely claimed that he had only translated one eighth of the manuscript text. As we know, the rest of the text wasn't published until nearly 40 years later. In the 1974 edition of the complete text, the "one eighth" has grown to one third. The preface to this book contains several other alterations to the claims made in 1937 -- but it is still dated 1937 -- a blatant lie.
Not only has the text of the original book been re-edited. It is also obvious that the later two thirds of the text is significantly different from the first. The apostle John is no longer important, but the Essenes play a central role. We can safely assume that it is the find of the Dead Sea scrolls which has given Székely inspiration. In 1937, Székely claimed to have a single gospel written in the first century and preserved in Hebrew fragments and two complete translations, Aramaic and Old Slavonic. In 1974, there is no longer a complete gospel, just a partial gospel and then a lot of fragments with contents suspiciously like the Dead Sea scrolls.
Can you spell "bullshit"?