2018 New Testament Apocrypha Course: Week 6

Our first of two classes on Passion and resurrection gospels began and ended with the Gospel of Mary. We read the conclusion to Gos. Mary as a group and I had the class consider who the Mary of the text is (the Marys tend to blur in apocryphal traditions), why the apostles doubt her vision (did the author anticipate resistance to the text’s “strange teachings”?), and what to make of the interplay between Peter and Mary (a microcosm of orthodox and “heretical” group conflicts?).

Nag Hammadi Codex VII

We carried this discussion of orthodoxy and heresy into our discussion of the next text examined this week: the Revelation of Peter. As a Nag Hammadi text, Rev. Peter is not usually discussed among Passion gospels, but it is set during the crucifixion of Jesus. Its docetic Christology—i.e., the divine Christ only “seemed” to be human, and departed the body of Jesus of Nazareth at the crucifixion—makes Rev. Peter one of the most controversial texts among the Christian Apocrypha and elicited much discussion from the class. We followed up Rev. Peter with a look at other texts that share the crucifixion-substitution motif, including Irenaeus’s description of the teaching of Basilides, the Second Treatise of the Great Seth, the Acts of John, the Qur’an (Sura 4.157), and the Gospel of Barnabas. To supplement this survey of literature we looked also at a segment from the documentary Secret Lives of Jesus focusing on Basilides and Rev. Peter.

The Gospel of Barnabas’s use of Judas as the substitute for Jesus led into a brief look at the Gospel of Judas. I usually save in-depth discussion of Gos. Judas for my Gnosticism course starting, so I did not want to spend too much time on the text this week. We simply examined the text’s polemic against orthodox Christianity from 38,1-39,5: “Some sacrifice their own children, others their wives, while praising and blaming each other. Some have sex with men. Some perform acts of murder,” etc.

The most well-known apocryphal Passion narrative, the Acts of Pilate, is a text that I have always struggled to master. There are far too many manuscripts (500!), in a great variety of languages (not only Greek, Latin, and Syriac but also Armaic, Armenian, Georgian, and vernaculars), and with way too many variants. And then there are all the other texts of the Pilate Cycle, and the medieval homilies that incorporate them. Oy. To my surprise, our primary text reader (Ehrman’s Lost Scriptures) does not contain Acts Pilate. So, I went through the contents of the Greek A version with the class, noting some of its more interesting features (its treatment of Jewish complicity in the trial of Jesus, its added biographical details to some of the characters from the canonical Gospels). This was followed by a quick discussion of the Descent to Hell tradition of the Greek B text, supplemented with a minor detour into the Barnabas texts (Questions of Barnabas, Book of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ by Bartholomew) that also preserve this tradition.

Pierpont Morgan Library M610 with the Homily of Ps.-Cyril

We could not spend any time on the other Pilate Cycle texts, but I did manage to squeeze in some brief descriptions of two lesser-known Passion accounts: the Book of the Rooster and the recently-published On the Life and the Passion of Christ attributed to Cyril of Jerusalem. They both contain some curious features. In Bk. Rooster, Paul participates in the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus (he even places the crown of thorns on Jesus’ head). And in the Ps.-Cyril text, Judas needs to identify Jesus with a kiss because Jesus can take on many forms, and Pilate offers to sacrifice his own son in Jesus’ place. One other aspect of the text that was mentioned in my notes, but not discussed in class, is the physical description it offers of Jesus. Since we spent some time last week on the description of Jesus from the Epistle of Lentulus, I promised the class I would provide them with the  passage from Ps.-Cyril, which reads, “As, then, they brought Jesus before him, he looked at him for a long time, marveling at his beauty and his youth. This is his appearance: he is corn-coloured, his hair is black, coming down to his shoulders like bunches of grapes, his nose is prominent, he has beautiful eyes, his eyebrows are joined together, his cheeks are red like roses. He wears a grape-coloured tunic, he has silver-studded adornments on his side, like a sword, and a linen garment covers him so that he looks like a royal son” (114).

In our last half hour we returned to Gos. Mary for a discussion of Mary Magdalene in canonical and noncanonical traditions. I noted that her role as a representative of forms of Christianity with more opportunities for women is given support by evidence outside the text, including Tertullian’s indictment of Christian groups who allow women to lead, preach, and baptize, and the female recipient of Ptolemy’s Epistle to Flora. We finished with a few scenes from the 2005 film Mary, starring Juliette Binoche as an actress playing Mary Magdalene in a film within the film. Three scenes are based on Gos. Mary (incorporating roughly half of the text from 10,1-18,10), and others show Mary interacting with Jesus and the male apostles. Other scenes show Theodore Younger (played by Forest Whitaker) viewing footage of Elaine Pagels and other scholars discussing the text. I remarked that Mary is perhaps the most accurate portrayal of an apocryphal text on film, yet there is no acknowledgement made of the source of the material—a viewer could come away from it thinking the scenes from Gos. Mary are the invention of the filmmaker. Before I adjourned the class for Reading Week, we took a look at the trailer for the new film Mary Magdalene to be released in time for Easter. It is unclear from the trailer what, if any, apocryphal traditions it includes, but it certainly presents Mary as an important force in Jesus’ life.

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2018 New Testament Apocrypha Course: Reflections on Week 5

The second of our classes focusing on the ministry of Jesus (that is, the time between his childhood and his Passion) included two letters, two fragmentary texts, and two complete gospels.

We began by reading the Epistle of Lentulus, a letter attributed to a Roman official at the time of Jesus and which contains a detailed description of Jesus. I asked the students to consider as we read evidence from the text that indicates it is a medieval (not ancient) composition—e.g., Lentulus’s use of Jewish terminology he is unlikely to have known (“prophet,” “Nazarene,” the quotation from Psalm 45:2), and the Aryan (rather than Palestinian) looking Jesus he describes. I noted that many scholars of Christian Apocrypha would label this text “inauthentic” or a “forgery” and asked the class to consider why a later apocryphal text should be valued differently from ancient apocrypha. To my mind (and to the minds of several of the students who responded), there really is no difference—they are all fictional representations of figures from early Christianity and all worthy of study for what they can tell us about the interests of the writer and his/her time period.

A tenth-century icon of Abgar receiving the image of Christ

We turned next to the Abgar Correspondence and a discussion of H.J.W. Drijvers’ theory that the letters were created to obscure the history of Manichean evangelization in Edessa (e.g., Mani’s apostle Addai preached in Syria, the Correspondence and its sequel the Doctrine of Addai replaces Mani’s disciple with a Christian missionary of the same name). We watched also an excerpt from the video Letters of Faith, a short (35 min.) docu-drama about the Abgar Correspondence. The film was released in 2007 by the Newington-Cropsey Foundation. It is quite melodramatic at times and plays fast and loose with the source material (Eusebius and the Doctrine of Addai) but it is fun to watch and a rare treat—a devotional film about an apocryphal text!

I began my discussion of the Gospel of the Savior by stating that everything I say about the text in my Secret Scriptures Revealed book I no longer believe (sometimes things move fast in scholarship). This is due to becoming acquainted with Alin Suciu’s work on the text. The text’s first editors, Charlie Hedrick and Paul Mirecki, believed it was a narrative gospel translated from Greek and originally around the length of the Gospel of Matthew. Suciu places it instead firmly within Coptic Christianity, specifically in a genre of texts called “Pseudo-Apostolic Memoirs”—homilies attributed to famous church leaders with embedded apocryphal texts purported to have been found in Jerusalem. I think this is one of the most exciting area of Christian Apocrypha scholarship, one that I hope will attract more scholars and students in the years ahead. Three of the texts appeared in the first volume of New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures and the second volume will feature three more. We moved more quickly through the Gospel of Peter, with a brief overview of two theories of compositions: Raymond Brown’s “secondary orality” (Gos. Pet. joined the various traditions found in the canonical Gospels from the writer’s memory) and John Dominic Crossan’s “Cross Gospel” (Gos. Pet. is a witness, and a better witness at that, to an account of the Passion Narrative that precedes the canonical Gospels). I threw in a brief scene from the documentary Bible Hunters in which intrepid archeologist Jeff Rose pokes around the cemeteries of Akhmim, where the primary manuscript of the Gospel of Peter was found in the late nineteenth century.

Our examination of the Gospel of Thomas began with an overview of the sources for the text—in Greek and Coptic. I mentioned also a strip from a burial shroud that was once in the possession of Henri-Charles Puech, one of the early scholars of the Nag Hammadi Library. The shroud features Gos. Thom. 5: “Jesus says, ‘There is nothing buried that will not be raised.’” The day before class I had asked members of the SBL Christian Apocrypha Section Facebook page if anyone had a decent image of the shroud. I was directed to the Claremont Colleges Digital Library and found also a paper on the shroud by Anne Marie Luijendijk. Before long, a number of scholars added their voices to the post, raising doubts about the shroud’s authenticity. I had accidentally renewed interest on this artifact and helped to bring awareness to its place in contemporary discussion about forgeries (which helped me to connect our discussion of Gos. Thom. to the Epistle of Lentulus). Not bad for a day’s work.

After an open discussion about how Jesus is portrayed in Gos. Thom., I turned to an overview of the various theories of origin for the text, from those who see it as early and independent of the New Testament gospels (Crossan, Koester), to those who see it as late and dependent (Goodacre, Perrin), and those who see it as both early and late (Pearson, DeConick). I capped it all off with a few scenes from Stigmata, a 1999 thriller that features Gos. Thom. prominently in its plot.

We finished up with a very quick look at the Gospel of Philip (specifically, 63.32-64.5 on Mary Magdalene as Jesus’ “companion”). This segued into a mention of how this saying figures prominently in Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code as proof that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. From there I turned to the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife, a modern apocryphon inspired by the interest in Jesus’ marital status that came partly as a result of Brown’s novel. Which brought us back around to the Epistle of Lentulus, because like Lentulus, the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife is still a valid object of study as an expression of the Christianity of its (our!) time.

I wanted to mention as part of this final section of the lecture that scholars sometimes are dismissive of a newly-discovered text simply because they object to its content (either it cannot possibly be authentic because Jesus would never DO that! or it appears to reflect contemporary, not ancient, interests). James McGrath (Butler University) pointed out during the criticism that attended the publication of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife that if a fragment containing the Gospel of Philip 63.32-64.5 was discovered today, likely it would receive the same skeptical reception as the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. Given the often shocking content of some apocryphal texts, scholars of Christian Apocrypha need to proceed cautiously in their assessments of the evidence.

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2018 New Testament Apocrypha Course: Reflections on Week 4

My course on the New Testament Apocrypha focused this week on part one of a two-part discussion of “Ministry Gospels”—i.e., texts focusing on Jesus’ adult life, between the infancy gospels and the passion narratives. For this first part we looked at agrapha and fragmentary texts, the latter group including Jewish-Christian gospels, several papyri from Oxyrhynchus, and the Secret Gospel of Mark. Our next class is dedicated to complete Ministry Gospels, namely the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Philip, and two fragmentary texts we ran out of time to cover: the Gospel of Peter, and the Gospel of the Savior.

The gateway to the Jama Mosque which bears a saying of Jesus

We began with agrapha, the “unwritten” sayings of Jesus, though clearly they are written or we wouldn’t have them to study. More accurately, the term denotes sayings of Jesus that are not in the New Testament Gospels, appearing as variants in Gospel manuscripts, Acts, fragmentary apocryphal texts, works of the Apostolic Fathers, in Islamic texts (go HERE for a selection of some of these), and such unlikely locations as a mosque in India, which bears the inscription “Jesus, on whom be peace, said: ‘The world is a bridge. Go over it—do not settle on it!’” I discussed the methodology scholars of the agrapha use to reduce the great number of agrapha (270 by one count) to a manageable amount of “authentic” Jesus material (though I cautioned that this is not necessarily the goal of the study of this material; there are reasons enough to study any and all of the agrapha for various goals). One student asked about eliminating agrapha that reflect anti-Christian polemic and I promised to provide an example, but I don’t seem to have anything on hand. But sayings of Jesus in the Toledot Yeshu, the Talmud, or the Gospel of Barnabas would certainly be dismissed as anti-Christian. I noted also in our discussion how agrapha blur the line between canonical and noncanonical traditions—how can a saying be “apocryphal” if it is found in a New Testament manuscript? or in a work by an orthodox writer?

I finished our discussion of agrapha with the story of Paul Coleman-Norton’s “amusing agraphon.” He claimed to have found a leaf of text in Greek sandwiched between pages of an old Arabic book in a mosque in North Africa, where he was stationed in 1943. The text was an expansion of Matthew 24:51, where Jesus mentions hypocrites being consigned to a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. The expanded text reads, “And behold, a certain one of his disciples standing by said unto him: ‘Rabbi (which is to say, being interpreted, Master), how can these things be if they be toothless?’ And Jesus answered and said: ‘O thou of little faith, trouble not thyself; if haply they will be lacking any, teeth will be provided.’” Coleman-Norton’s text was published in Catholic Biblical Quarterly in 1950; 20 years later one of his former students, Bruce Metzger, declared the text a hoax because he remembers Coleman-Norton joking with his students prior to 1943 about Jesus saying to his disciples that the damned who are toothless will receive a set of dentures so that in Hell they may weep and gnash their teeth.

A “to Ioudakion” manuscript with the variant in the left margin

We turned next to Jewish Christian gospels, which are preserved only in quotations by early church writers, particularly Clement of Alexandria and Origen. There is much confusion in the literature about the content and identification of these texts. Where there two or three or more? Most curious to me are the variants in some manuscripts of the Gospel of Matthew from “to Ioudakion”—said to be based on an old gospel manuscript once kept in the basilica on Mount Zion in Jerusalem dated to 370-500.

We finished the first half of the class with a detailed look at Secret Mark. I began with a video of Morton Smith describing his discovery (taken from Channel 4’s Jesus the Evidence) and followed this up with an interview with Lee Strobel, author of The Case for Christ and several sequels. For his latest book The Case for the Real Jesus, Strobel interviewed Craig Evans on Secret Mark, and Evans essentially repeated the case for forgery/hoax advanced by Stephen Carlson. I listed off Carlson’s evidence myself (with a brief mention of Peter Jeffrey’s perceived euphemisms) and then countered it with arguments against his claims advanced by Allan Pantuck, Scott Brown, and Roger Viklund. I was asked what my position was; I am fully convinced by Allan Pantuck that Smith did not forge the text but I remain agnostic about whether Clement’s letter describing the text is truly ancient, or even truly by Clement. I hope, at least, that the students see that the apparent homoerotic content in the text is largely in the imaginations of its critics.

The final hour of the class was dedicated to a discussion on the major assignment for the course. Instead of having the students write an essay on an assigned text (as I have done in previous years), I decided to direct their efforts into the creation of entries for e-Clavis: Christian Apocrypha. This allows them to contribute to a project that other students and scholars will use, hopefully, for many years to come. The assignment will entail close collaboration with me, guiding them through resources such as the claves (CANT, BHG, and others) and online resources such as Pinakes. But in the end, we will have over 20 new entries for e-Clavis as well as a number of manuscript pages for Manuscripta apocryphorum. Now how do I get them to work on my next book?

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2018 New Testament Apocrypha Course: Reflections on Week Three

This week’s class focused on Infancy Gospels, with particular emphasis on the Infancy Gospel of James and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, the earliest examples of this literature. We began, however, with a discussion of the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke. It helps considerably to have the students spend some time discussing canonical texts, in part so they can see what the noncanonical texts do with the earlier traditions and also because some students come into the course without any knowledge of Christian texts, biblical or otherwise. So we read Matthew 1-2 together and noted its similarities and differences with Luke 1-2. The differences are particularly significant as infancy gospels like Infancy James must confront these differences in the process of harmonizing the two accounts. I discussed also the reference to Jesus’ brothers and sisters (and lack of mention of Joseph) in Mark 6:3 and the anti-Christian polemic in Celsus’s True Doctrine, the Talmud, and the Toledot Yeshu (all in anticipation of our examination of Infancy James).

A Romanian icon of the nativity featuring the midwife (bottom right)

For Infancy James we looked first at a segment from the documentary Banned From the Bible (History Channel, 2003), which helped students recall the contents of the text and opened up conversation on some of the interpretations and implications of the text. I emphasized in our discussion that there are several features of the text that have become integral to Christian teaching about Mary, including the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, the Doctrine of the Perpetual Virginity, the names of Mary’s parents, and the presence of Salome in Greek Orthodox depictions of the nativity scene. In discussing the cave of the nativity, we briefly touched on the relationship between apocryphal traditions and pilgrimage sites (for more on this see my three posts on pilgrimage, beginning HERE). One student asked what was known about Christian pilgrimage sites in the first few centuries. I could only recall Justin’s mention of the cave (see Dial. 78) and perhaps grave sites of early saints. As far as I am aware, all other sites were established after Constantine.

It’s widely known (I think) that I have a soft spot for Infancy Thomas—it was the focus of my doctoral dissertation and several additional published works. I’m not alone in my appreciation for this text; many scholars enjoy introducing it to students because it is one of the more outlandish texts of the Christian Apocrypha. As my students said, Jesus is here portrayed as a “brat” and a “murderer.” As I often do with discussions of this text, I tried to convince the students that Infancy Thomas’s portrayal of Jesus would not be so problematic in antiquity and that late-antique objections to the text were about how it contradicts John’s declaration that Jesus’ first miracle was at Cana, not because its cursing Jesus was offensive and inappropriate. I brought into the discussion the use of the story of Jesus animating the birds (Infancy Thomas 3) in the Qur’an and the Toledot Yeshu (noting that it seems to be a story well-known even to outsiders to and critics of Christianity); we also looked at an adaptation of the story of Jesus killing a boy in the marketplace (Infancy Thomas 4) in the Young Messiah, based on the first book in Anne Rice’s Christ the Lord series. I pointed out how the film tries to “clean up” the story—Jesus does not curse the boy, instead a Satan figure makes him fall and incites the crowd to blame Jesus—and how these efforts are similar to the addition of miracle stories to the Infancy Thomas manuscript tradition.

We finished up the class with a quick look at later infancy gospels, such as the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, the Book of the Birth of the Savior (aka M. R. James’s Latin Infancy Gospel), the Syriac Life of the Virgin (known in Arabic translation as the Arabic Infancy Gospel), and the Armenian Infancy Gospel. I assigned also a summary of the Revelation of the Magi but we had little time to discuss it. I intended to show a video of Brent Landau discussing his translation of the text; I have embedded it here in case readers would like to see it. The last text mentioned was On the Priesthood of Jesus, in which Mary’s claims of perpetual virginity are confirmed by midwives (recalling Salome’s gynecological examination of Mary in Infancy James).

Clearly Christian literature is rich with stories of Jesus’ childhood and infancy (and Mary’s too). The lecture could easily have been expanded to two classes. Next week we turn to texts focusing on Jesus’ adult career.

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Book Note: What Did Jesus Look Like?

Christian Apocrypha enthusiasts, particularly those interested in the Pilate Cycle, the Epistle of Lentulus, and/or the Doctrine of Addai, may want to seek out Joan E. Taylor’s new book What Did Jesus Look Like? (T & T Clark, 2018). Complete details can be found on the Bloomsbury web site. Here is the abstract:

Jesus Christ is arguably the most famous man who ever lived. His image adorns countless churches, icons, and paintings. He is the subject of millions of statues, sculptures, devotional objects and works of art. Everyone can conjure an image of Jesus: usually as a handsome, white man with flowing locks and pristine linen robes.

But what did Jesus really look like? Is our popular image of Jesus overly westernized and untrue to historical reality?

This question continues to fascinate. Leading Christian Origins scholar Joan E. Taylor surveys the historical evidence, and the prevalent image of Jesus in art and culture, to suggest an entirely different vision of this most famous of men.

He may even have had short hair.

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2018 New Testament Apocrypha Course: Reflections on Week Two

Last week I began the latest incarnation of my course “The New Testament Apocrypha” (syllabus posted on my parent site HERE). As in previous years, I am posting weekly reflections on each week’s lecture, in part to encourage pedagogical discussion on how to teach this material (and I won’t always do it well), and to provide a forum for my students to offer their thoughts on the course (and thereby gain additional participation marks).

The first class mostly comprised housekeeping: going over the syllabus, providing some background on the New Testament for the benefit of students who have never taken a course in Christianity, and running over some basic concepts (“apocrypha,” “canon,” etc.). The second class, which took place last night, had more substance, so I start this reflections series at week two.

This second class covered two topics: canon formation and the categories of orthodoxy and heresy. The readings entailed an assortment of canon lists from our primary text collection (Bart Ehrman’s Lost Scriptures) a few chapters from our course textbook (my Secret Scriptures Revealed), and a chapter from Walter Bauer’s Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity.

The class began with reading the Muratorian Fragment as a group. I like to start each class with a discussion of one of the assigned texts; it gets people talking early in the night rather than at the end, when they are starting to get tired (this is a three-hour evening class after all). We went through this canon list slowly and tried to tease some nuances out of it. I think it gave the students some sense of how closely to read the texts and the kind of critical questions to ask of them.

As mentioned above, we looked also at the Bauer Thesis. Bauer’s book is a beloved piece of scholarship among “liberal” scholars (like Bart Ehrman and me). It argues for an early plurality of thought in the early centuries, with various “heretical” forms of Christianity being dominant (and therefore “orthodox”) in some areas, and only one of these became the dominant form of Christianity in the fourth century and beyond. It is a relativistic look at the development of Christianity that rankles conservative scholars who have worked hard to discredit the book. Some of their concerns are legitimate (discoveries of new texts, like the Nag Hammadi Library, are damaging to some of Bauer’s points), but Bauer’s larger argument remains valid, at least for some areas, particularly Edessa. Unfortunately, students tend to find the text a difficult read—it’s not friendly to beginners—and perhaps next time I will assign some questions to guide their reading (e.g., what is the name given to the orthodox group who came to Syria in the third century?). A few students remarked that my textbook was a far easier and more entertaining read (congratulations on earning an A in the course!).

We finished the class with an exercise that I tried a few times in previous incarnations of the course. It was created by Bryan Whitfield and is found in Roncare and Gray’s Teaching the Bible volume (from SBL). The exercise asks the students to choose the three most significant movies they have seen. They then partner with another student and the two of them must reach a consensus on the significance of four of their six choices. Then they join another group and pick six from the eight, and finally they merge into groups of eight and pick five (we had to modify this slightly for the number of students in the class). When finished we discussed the process by which they reached that consensus and link this to canon formation. I think the students enjoyed the process; it certainly led to some animated discussion. Of interest to me is how the students interpret the ambiguous requirement to pick “significant” films (classics, award-winners, favourites) and how they go about paring down their lists (popularity, thematic coherence, each member picks one from the list). In future I would like to try James McGrath’s Canon: The Card Game—I just need to remember to buy one when I have the opportunity! I capped off the exercise with a quick look at a modern attempt to re-order the canon: Hal Taussig’s The New New Testament, which combines the 27-book canon with an assortment of noncanonical texts.

Next week we begin our look at apocryphal texts that focus on the life of Jesus. We will read several infancy gospels, including (in my view) the queen of all Christian Apocrypha: the Infancy Gospel of Thomas.

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Update on More New Testament Apocrypha, vol. 2

The first volume of New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures (co-edited with Brent Landau) was published just over a year ago. Even before the book went to press, we were planning the contents of volume 2, and included a preliminary list of its contents at the end of the introduction. There have been some changes to that list, even some changes to the names given to the texts, and I present the (hopefully) finalized table of contents below. All of the contributors are making a final push at submitting their work over the next few months and we are on track for sending the manuscript to the publisher at the end of the summer. There are 38 texts in total, at least four never before published, about ten translated for the first time in a modern language, and many of the remainder appearing in English for the first time. Of particular interest are a group of texts relating to the birth and martyrdom of John the Baptist and a selection of apocryphal apocalypses of John.

Pseudo-Eusebius of Caesarea, On the Star by Brent Landau

The Adoration of the Magi by Adam McCollum

The Rebellion of Dimas by Mark Glenn Bilby

The Hospitality and Perfume of the Bandit by Mark Glenn Bilby

A Homily on the Life of Jesus by Timothy Pettipiece

Severian of Gabala, An Encomium on the Apostles by Alin Suciu

The Book of the Rooster by Pierluigi Piovanelli

Pseudo-Evodius, On the Passion and Resurrection, by Dylan M. Burns

The Healing of Tiberias by Zbigniew Izydorczyk

The Decapitation of John the Baptist by Tony Burke

The Birth of John the Baptist by Tony Burke

The Martyrdom of Zechariah by Tony Burke and Sarah Veale

The Invention of John the Baptist’s Head by Paul Dilley

The Story of Joseph of Arimathea by Bradley Rice

The Life of Judas by Brandon Hawk and Mari Mamyan

The Life of Mary Magdalene by Christine Luckritz-Marquis

The Epistle of James to Quadratus by Brent Landau (University of Texas at Austin) and Bradley Rice (McGill University)

The Catechesis of Ps.-Basil of Caesarea/Letter of Luke by Paul Dilley

The Epistle of Pelagius by Adam McCollum

The Acts of Andrew and Philemon by Ivan Miroshnikov

The Acts of John in the City of Rome by Janet Spittler

The Acts of Nereus and Achilleus by Richard Pervo

The Act of Peter in Ashdod by Cambry Pardee

The Preaching of Peter in the City of Rome by James Walters

The Voyages of Peter by James Walters

The Exhortation of the Apostle Peter by James Walters

The History of Philip in the City of Carthage by Robert A. Kitchen

The Minor Acts of Thomas by Jonathan Holste and Janet Spittler

1 Apocryphal Apocalypse of John by Rick Brannan

The Apocalypse of John Chrysostom (2 Apocryphal Apocalypse of John)  by Jeannie Sellick, Rebecca Draughon, and Janet Spittler

The Questions of James to John (3 Apocryphal Apocalypse of John) by Kate Gibbons

4 Apocryphal Apocalypse of John by Chance Bonar

Dialogue between the Redeemer and John by Philip Tite

The Mysteries of John by Hugo Lundhaug

The Investiture of Gabriel by Lance Jennott

The Investiture of Michael by Lloyd Abercrombie and Hugo Lundhaug

The Revelation of Thomas by Matthias Geigenfeind

The Teaching of the Apostles by Witold Witakowski


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2018 Conference for the North American Society for the Study of Christian Apocrypha (NASSCAL)


North American Society for the Study of Christian Apocryphal Literature

The Material of Christian Apocrypha

University of Virginia

November 2018

Confirmed speakers: Mary Cunningham (Nottingham), Maria Evangelatou (University of Southern California), Derek Krueger (UNC Greensboro), and Robin Jensen (Notre Dame)

We invite abstracts for a conference on the “Material of Christian Apocrypha,” hosted by the University of Virginia’s Department of Religious Studies and McIntire Department of Art, under the auspices of the North American Society for the Study of Christian Apocryphal Literature. We hope to assemble a group of participants who will address two interrelated yet distinct topics: 1) the physicality of our apocryphal texts (i.e. various aspects of the manuscripts or papyri themselves), and 2) the representation of apocryphal narratives in other forms of material culture (e.g. frescos, mosaics, sculptures, icons, pilgrimage objects, reliquaries, etc.). By drawing our collective attention to the material aspects of the literary and the literary aspects of the material, we hope to spark a fruitful and enduring exchange between scholars and students rooted in both areas. Questions to be posed include: What do the physical aspects of manuscripts and papyri tell us about the use and value of the apocryphal texts they contain? Which apocryphal traditions attain such a level of scriptural authority that they appear in art, iconography, church decoration, and biblical manuscript illuminations? What do discussions of images within apocryphal texts, such as the portrait of John the Apostle described in the Acts of John, or the “mandylion” (that is, the miraculous image of Jesus) described in the Doctrine of Addai) tell us about the importance of images in Christian piety? Given the ongoing composition, adaptation, and development of apocryphal narratives throughout late antiquity and the medieval period, what interplay between text and image can be observed? Note: we are eager to be surprised—to receive paper proposals that approach the topic in ways that have not occurred to us.

We welcome proposals from both established scholars and graduate students. Presenters must be prepared to circulate drafts of their papers to registered conference participants two weeks prior to the event. Pending the success of our funding applications, we plan to provide food and lodging to all participants. The conference will take place in late October or early November; the exact dates will be determined in February.

The conference will feature also the general meeting of NASSCAL, during which a new board of directors and executive will be selected by the members. For more information about the society, visit www.nasscal.com.

Email abstracts for papers or panel proposals to Janet Spittler (jes9cu@virginia.edu) or Fotini Kondyli (fk8u@virginia.edu) by March 1, 2018. Abstracts for papers should be approximately 300 words.

Download CFP as PDF


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2017 SBL Diary: Day Three

The third and (for me) final day of the annual meeting began with a breakfast with the NASSCAL executive. The annual meeting presents an opportunity for the executive to meet informally, with a loose gathering of whoever happens to be at SBL—which is usually most of us. I presented the group with an update of our various projects, including the e-Clavis (now at 64 texts completed and another 26 in progress), the Early Christian Apocrypha series (with Brandon Hawk’s Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew  translation at the press and Lily Vuong’s Protevangelium of James near completion), the Studies in Christian Apocrypha series (with one title in progress, one in the proposal stage, and another two possibilities discussed), and the first NASSCAL conference (planned for the University of Virginia in September of October 2018). NASSCAL is now two-and-a-half years old and looking back, we have accomplished an awful lot in that short time.

After breakfast Brent Landau and I headed over to the review session for our book New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures. It featured an all-star panel: David Brakke (Ohio State University), Philip Jenkins (Baylor University), Valentina Calzolari Bouvier (University of Geneva), Julia Snyder (Universität Regensburg), Judith Hartenstein (Universität Koblenz – Landau), Christoph Markschies (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin – Humboldt University of Berlin), and for a student perspective, J. Gregory Given (Harvard University). Two of the respondents have already posted their comments online (Jenkins and Brakke). All of the reviewers were effusive in their compliments about the volume: Calzolari Bouvier, for example, called it “a beautiful achievement,” Jenkins “an impeccable work of scholarship” and “a wonderful treasure house” that “maintains a ferociously high scholarly standard throughout,” Brakke “a triumph in every way,  a precious gift to biblical scholars, historians of Christianity, and any other curious reader,” and Hartenstein “an enormous achievement for many branches of theological studies.” Many of the respondents touched on a few key topics: the limits of the literature (how much “more” is there?), the use of genre categories for the texts, and the definition of Christian apocrypha. Rather than summarize each of the panelists’ comments one-by-onen, I will present here a spruced up version of my response to them.

The field of Christian apocrypha is a mixture of tradition and innovation. Our earliest scholars published editio principes based on late manuscripts not representative of the original texts and gave them names that are not found in any of the sources. The Protevangelium of James and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas are two good examples of this; more on point, I just published a critical edition of the Syriac Infancy Gospel of Thomas using the traditional name of the text, yet it does not appear in any of the manuscripts, and divided it into the traditional chapters and verses despite the fact that some chapters are not present in the Syriac text (readers may wonder where ch. 10, 17 and 18 are). But we use these titles and conventions because we are stuck with them—we want other scholars to be able to correlate our work with what has come before.

As for innovation, despite the pull of the editio principes, we are always looking for new versions of texts and new texts to publish, encouraged too by the new philology to value every variation of a text as an object of study. And we have been engaged in the last few decades in redefining the scope of our field, moving away from “New Testament Apocrypha” as a service industry for understanding the development of canonical texts and for reconstructing the historical Jesus, to “Christian Apocrypha” as a temporally and generically limitless area of study that encourages us to engage with scholars in a wide range of other fields.

It is both tradition and innovation that is reflected in the More New Testament Apocrypha series. As Valentina points out we opted for a traditional title for the collection because it coheres with other volumes in English that we set out to supplement, yet we often use “Christian Apocrypha” within the book. The title is influenced also by our “sister publication” Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, which carries some of the same baggage (and “Old Testament” always makes me cringe). So, the lure of tradition—both longstanding and recent—overwhelmed our desire for innovation. And again, “New Testament Apocrypha” has greater brand recognition—we want potential readers to know what they are getting.

The desire to parallel MOTP also influenced the arrangement of the texts within the volume. MOTP groups its texts in two categories: Texts Ordered According to Biblical Chronology, and Thematic Texts. So it largely follows the arrangement of the OT/HB, at least in the sense of a historical movement from creation to hellenism. The convention for arranging Christian apocrypha is similarly influenced by its canonical counterpart, following the genres of gospels, acts, letters, and apocalypses, and a certain order within those categories (e.g., infancy material before passion material). Julia and Greg raise valid concerns about this arrangement. Julia asks “as a field, can we please stop using these categories?” and notes all sorts of problems with category designations (e.g., Ps.-Dionysius is a good example of a text better suited to Acts than Letters); mind you, even canonical texts blur genre boundaries—the Synoptics include an apocalyptic section, Luke-Acts is unnecessarily separated, and many of the letters are better characterized as sermons; of course, that doesn’t make the categories we use alright, but it is not a problem confined to Christian apocrypha.

So, despite our organizational strategy for MNTA, I agree that we should think more about the categories we use and how they affect interpretation; and stay tuned, because volume two will include the Teaching of the Apostles, a church manual, a genre that does not appear in the majority canon, though there are two of these kinds of text in the Ethiopic Bible. Note in this connection Valentina’s comment about the different shape of the Armenian canon and that our conceptions of canon are often restricted by the 27-book collection; this changing and varied view of canon also warrants more discussion.

Philip Jenkins raises the issue of even broader categories, noting the false distinction between OTP and NTA, because some OTP are Christian works and sometimes even include Christian figures within them. This is particularly the case for the Cave of Treasures, which Philip mentions, but the biggest concerns for us in editing the volume were two texts that were to be included in the as-yet-unpublished (at the time) MOTP collection: the Apocryphon of Seth, which is a portion of the Opus imperfectum in Matthaeum that relates to the Revelation of the Magi, and the Tiburtine Sibyl. We ended up including only a summary of Revelation of the Magi in our volume (since Brent’s English translation had recently appeared and was accessible to readers) but not the material from Opus imperfectum, and MOTP translated their version of the Tiburtine Sibyl from Greek whereas ours was from the Latin. The Investiture of Abatton (included in MNTA) equally could fit in MOTP as much of it deals with the roles of angels in the fall of the first humans. Certainly the categories of OTP and NTA are porous but our chief goal was to avoid duplication, and it helps that the two collections are not restrictive in which tradition, Jewish or Christian, authored the texts—they are not Jewish Pseudepigrapha, for example, or Christian Apocrypha, though in some contexts these terms are more useful.

Despite all of these traditional qualities to MNTA, the volume does innovate in some ways. Greg and Julia applaud our wide-open mandate to go beyond the 3rd/4th century, though we could not have done so without having the way paved for us by the expansive French, German, and Italian collections. Greg and Julia appreciate reading earlier, more well-known apocrypha alongside later texts usually categorized as hagiography (e.g., Acts of Cornelius). Such divisions feed an artificial distinction that characterizes apocrypha as early, rejected, heretical; and hagiographa, which was continually created, valued alongside the Bible (particularly as readings for the feast days of the saints), and orthodox. I’m happy to be contributing to the dissolution of this dichotomy.

Philip Jenkins’ recent book The Many Faces of Christ makes a similar argument—that apocrypha continued to be read and even created after the closing of the canon; they weren’t all burned in a pogrom against heretical literature. Philip points out here in his review that our abandonment of the temporal limit of the 3rd/4th century allows us to include modern apocrypha in the series (he asks “Why should 1960 be less valid a topic of study than 960?”). I agree, but with some caveats. He suggests that modern fiction or film about Jesus could also be included—I would object here based on my own definition of apocrypha that limits the field to texts that claim or imply first-century authorship (thus leaving out modern fiction and accounts of visions, such as those experienced by Sister Anne Catherine Emmerich). That said there is a modern apocrypha collection planned for NASSCAL’s series Studies in Christian Apocrypha; it will be assembled by Bradley Rice and I and will focus on what I call “scholarly apocrypha”—texts created by modern writers but said to have been found in one or more ancient manuscripts and in most cases are presented more as an object of study than for spiritual reflection.

Another innovation, this one mentioned by Greg, is the publication of multiple versions of texts. This decision was dictated to some extent by the variety of the materials and is not always followed consistently (we have multiple versions of On the Priesthood of Jesus but not the equally-varied Epistle of Christ from Heaven or the Apocalypse of the Virgin). But certainly the reconstruction of the “original text” is not something we encouraged and we’re glad that readers appreciate seeing both multiple recensions of texts and detailed notes about variant readings.

Greg mentions also that the introductions show some fluidity and applauds particularly those that devote some space to the use and dispersion of the text over time; the suggestion to encourage other contributors to do the same is a good one and as we work on volume two, we will certainly ask our contributors to consider these aspects of the texts.

I finished my response with a quick plea to buy the book (why not? apparently it’s a “beautiful achievement”). Brent then offered his response, focusing on comments made by Hartenstein, Markschies, and Brakke and there was a brief discussion with the audience. The session segued into a business meeting planning the sessions for next year, which will include a joint session with Religious Competition in the Ancient World and perhaps a partnership with the group examining canonical and noncanonical motifs, themes, etc. that I mentioned in my last post.

Following the session, Janet Spittler and I had a business lunch with Trevor Thompson of Eerdmans, the publisher of MNTA and my Secret Scriptures Revealed book. The three of us discussed a possible project that can serve as a companion to the MNTA series.

Detail from Schaffhausen, Stadtbibliothek, Generalia 8

The only afternoon session I attended was Bible and Visual Art which featured a paper by Geert Van Oyen (Université catholique de Louvain) on “The Pictorial Representation of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas in the Klosterneuburger Evangelienwerk (ca. 1340).” The manuscript (Schaffhausen, Stadtbibliothek, Generalia 8) features 21 images accompanying nine stories in Middle-German from Jesus’ childhood, culled (more likely) from the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew. Other stories in the sprawling work come from canonical texts, isolated stories, and apocryphal texts such as the Gospel of Nicodemus. There are more medieval manuscripts out there with such images, though few have been brought into Christian apocrypha scholarship; Van Oyen’s paper is a welcome push toward seeking out more.

The day concluded with a trip downtown with some Canadian friends for a nice dinner away from the conference center. Most of us there (Alicia Batten, Colleen Shantz, Bob Derrenbacker, Dan Smith, and I) met back in the late 90s in John Kloppenborg’s Synoptic Problem class at St. Michael’s College (on the University of Toronto campus). It’s impressive how many of us from that class have remained in academia and have gone on to some success. Kloppenborg must have been working some kinda magic.

And so concludes my reminiscences of the 2017 SBL Annual Meeting. See you next year in Denver.

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Guest Post: David Brakke “The abundant, never-ending Christian apocrypha, which no list can contain”

David Brakke appeared on the 2017 SBL review panel for New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures. I really enjoyed his paper and asked him to allow me to publish it here.

Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I have decided, after investigating everything carefully from the first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.

So the author of the Gospel of Luke explained his decision to write a story that many had already written.  His account would be carefully investigated and orderly and so give the truth.

Picture for brakke.2

David Brakke

1900 years later José Saramago placed these words as the epitaph to his novel, The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, and so signaled his own audacity and anxiety about telling a story that had been told countless times before.  Saramago’s specific challenge of rewriting what has already been written about Jesus becomes in the novel emblematic both of any human being’s inability to rewrite the story that has been written for him or her and also of the Western novelist’s predicament at the end of modernity: How can one write when so many words have gone before, or tell a new story when all the great stories have been told, or perhaps resist the divinely ordained closure for which the Christian narrative yearns?

It seems that many Christian writers of late antiquity and the Middle Ages did not share Saramago’s anxiety, but of course even he overcame it to write his own story of Jesus, which is characterized by gentle irony and real suspense over whether even Jesus can write his own story.  Tony Burke and Brent Landau, the learned and generous editors of New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, devote much of their introduction to situating their collection in a history of those who have gone before.  They make clear in what ways many have undertaken to set down an orderly collection of early Christian apocrypha, they explain and justify their own careful investigations, and they even recruited one of those many, J. K. Elliott, to write the foreword.  But if Tony and Brent had any anxiety about their project, they should not have.  It’s a triumph in every way, a precious gift to biblical scholars, historians of Christianity, and any other curious reader.  They and their colleagues adhere to the highest scholarly standards and yet also have made their texts and their scholarship accessible to a wide range of readers.  Most of the texts will be new even to the most erudite of apocryphalists.  For all of this we owe the editors and their team immense gratitude.

I suspect that I was invited to join this distinguished panel of reviewers because I have spent some time with Athanasius of Alexandria’s 39th Festal Letter of 367.  Like Saramago, Athanasius used the first lines of Luke to mark the audacity of his project, in this case, listing the Scriptures, which it seemed no one had done before:

As I begin to mention these things, in order to commend my audacity, I will employ the example of Luke the evangelist and say myself: Inasmuch as certain people have attempted to set in order for themselves the so-called apocryphal books and to mix these with the divinely inspired Scripture, about which we are convinced it is just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and assistants of the Word handed down to our ancestors, it seemed good to me, because I have been urged by genuine brothers and sisters and instructed from the beginning, to set forth in order the books that are canonized, transmitted, and believed to be divine, so that those who have been deceived might condemn the persons who led them astray, and those who have remained pure might rejoice to be reminded (of these things).

As Tony and Brent note, here we find the terms “canonical” and “apocryphal” juxtaposed, complete with a list of precisely the standard 27 canonical books of the New Testament.  The new volume inspires me to make three observations about Athanasius’s letter.  First, it provides evidence for the positive use of the term “apocrypha” in Egypt in the 360s.  That is, Athanasius does not use the term to label books excluded from his canon or to designate spurious books.  Instead, he denies the very existence of a category of apocryphal books, which he calls an invention of heretics.  That’s because Egyptian Christians were using “apocrypha” to identify books attributed to such Old Testament figures as Moses and Enoch as special because they had been lost but now were found or were reserved for a special in-group – an echo of the positive use of the term in the second century.  Athanasius simply denies that, say, Moses wrote any apocryphal books.

Second, note that Athanasius mentions only apocryphal books attributed to figures of the Old Testament: Moses, Enoch, Isaiah.  He does not mention any works that we would include in a collection of New Testament or Christian apocrypha.  Most likely he would not have endorsed any of them either: after all, as he says, only the canonical books form “the springs of salvation” in which the word of truth can be found.  Nonetheless, if a letter to virgins preserved in Syriac and Armenian and attributed to Athanasius is authentic – and I believe that it is – he did offer Thecla as a model to virgins, and he cited specific incidents and characters from what we know as the Acts of Paul and Thecla.

Third, although Athanasius presented his list of the books of the Old and New Testaments as closed – “let no one add to or subtract from it!” – he could not help but make another list, a list of books to be read by catechumens, which includes such works as the Didache and the Shepherd of Hermas.  Even the closed list generated a new list – and, as I shall argue, a late ancient age of lists.

Today we live in an age of lists, generated above all by the need for clickbait on the internet.  As I surf the web, I could study the “12 Best Opening Themes to 1980s Sitcoms” or the “7 Styling Things Men Do That Women Hate.”  The New York Times recently offered me, among other lists, “10 Tips for Fascinating Table Talk at Your Next Dinner Party” and “52 Places to Go in 2017.”  Academics have joined the listing craze.  On vox.com the historian Kyle Harper lists “6 Ways Climate Change and Disease Helped Topple the Roman Empire,” and here at this meeting you could have attended yesterday a session entitled “Six Things about Late Antiquity.”  What is it about the number 6?  As for books, we can soon anticipate the Times’s list of the ten best books of the year, always carefully divided into five fiction and five non-fiction, as well as lists of movies, plays, albums, and so on.  But none of these lists will be definitive.  They will all be supplemented by additional lists of also-rans, honorable mentions, editors’ choices, and the like.  Readers will be encouraged to list their own favorites.

So too Tony and Brent conclude their introduction with a list, what they call “the current list of texts to be included in volume two.”  But they’re not sure when they will stop: there may be volume three or even four because there are still plenty of candidates for inclusion.  This list is definitely not closed.

Image result for eco The Infinity of ListsThat’s the problem with lists, as Umberto Eco notes in his book The Infinity of Lists.  Even when a list is not numbered, enumeration provides the organizing principle of listing, which in its form highlights uniformity and sequence.  And enumeration has no natural end.  You can always add one more, despite what Athanasius says.  Are there really only 52 places to go in 2017, no more and no fewer?  Do women really hate only 7 styling things we men do?  Eco suggests that there is a specific kind of list, the practical list, which is exhaustive and finite – the shopping list of all the things I need at the grocery store, the guests at a party, the library catalogue.  But who has not stood in aisle 8 of Kroger and wondered, Is this really everything that should be on the list?  Who here thinks that their library catalogue should be considered finite?  Or, as J. K. Elliott asks in his preface to our volume, “When is Enough Enough?”  Never, I think.  No wonder men like Philo and Irenaeus must spend time so much energy naturalizing numbers: Why seven days of creation? Why four gospels?  After all, four could just as easily have been three, and four could easily become five.  Irenaeus must turn to nature – four winds and so on – to find reasons why four is the natural end to that list.

Not only do lists, even when they purport to be complete, always suggest the possibility of addition, but they also inspire new lists.  Should we not know which 7 styling things women do that men hate?  And why only sitcoms of the 1980s?  We need a list for the 1990s.  And although it seems obvious that what’s not on a particular list is what’s not on the list, it’s hard to resist listing what’s not on the list – what one could have put on the list, but did not.

The late fourth century inaugurated a late ancient age of lists.  Athanasius may have claimed to have composed the definitive list of canonical books, but as we have seen, that just generated another list of his own.  Canon lists began to proliferate, and so did supplementary lists.  Jerome provided a list of whom he called “illustrious men,” authors of the New Testament and related works, which found its end in Jerome himself, but of course Gennadius and Isidore of Seville expanded that list.  Augustine listed his own works, and an anonymous monk in Upper Egypt did the same with the works of Shenoute after his death.  Epiphanius listed heresies as well as gemstones of the Bible.  Evagrius of Pontus listed demons – just seven – and then listed 498 biblical passages to fight the thoughts inspired by those demons.  Consular diptychs, lists in an attractive visual format, became trendy among politicians, and more churches employed liturgical diptychs, with all the drama of adding and removing names from those lists.  In the world of canon and apocrypha, this late ancient proclivity for listing reached its climax with works like the Decretum Gelasianum, the stichometry of Nicephorus, and the so-called Catalogue of 60 Books, which has a neat list of precisely 25 apocryphal books.  Only 25, Tony and Brent!

All this is to say that the strategy of closing the canon by listing books inevitably generated new lists and therefore new collections.  Jerome’s list of famous men is the ancestor of the elaborate lists we call patrologies and the origin of a canon of early Christian literature iconically embodied in the volumes of Migne.  And although it seems obvious that what’s not in the canon is what’s not on the canon list, it proved impossible to resist listing what’s not on the list.  After all, theoretically any early Christian book could have been on the list of the New Testament, but in fact this was not the case: not every book was a possible candidate, and thus one needed to list books that are not on the list but could have been but really, really most certainly should not be!  In addition, even the open-ended list, like that of the Christian apocrypha, invites discussion of where it should end, for deciding when a list should end, what should not be on it, is an important way to figure out what you’re listing in the first place.  That is, even if we think that the production of Christian apocrypha is endless, a discussion of what should not be considered apocrypha might be a good way to figure what the apocrypha are.

The failure of listing to end – its inevitable generation of supplementation through ever more listing – mirrors the failure of the Christian narrative to end – its inevitable generation of supplementation through ever more narrative.  By starting with the creation of this world in Genesis and ending with its transformation, indeed replacement, in Revelation, the Bible seems to offer a story with a beginning, middle, and end.  But that plot has too many gaps, and its end has not arrived.  It appears to be the single divine Word, definitive and closed, but it continues to generate new words.  Every effort to define the Word, to produce the final Christian story, whether through lists, collections, creeds, systematic theologies, or whatever, has failed, as actual Christians live that story, explore its ambiguities, elaborate on its characters, place themselves in it, fill in its gaps, and imagine its end, without ever reaching it.  They strain against the claim that what has been written is all there is to be written.

In Saramago’s novel, Jesus tries to rewrite his story, to change the script that the divine author has written for him.  As theologians from Augustine to Calvin to Barth would insist, Jesus fails.  What God has written, God has written.  But even the failed effort to rewrite an already written story generates a story.  The abundant, never-ending Christian apocrypha, which no list can contain, testifies to the generative power of a Logos whose claim to finality generates abundant novelty.

We must thank Tony Burke, Brent Landau, and their collaborators for helping us to see that power more clearly.

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2017 SBL Diary: Day Two

My second day at the 2017 SBL began with my first Journal of Biblical Literature Editorial Board meeting. I was surprised to see so many people around the table (and so many people that I know). The large number of submissions to the journal means that a large number of manuscript referees are needed, especially if they want to process them in a reasonable amount of time. Apparently there are two Christian Apocrypha (or “other”) editors: me and Pierluigi Piovanelli. I’ve joked that I took this position because it’s the only way I’ll get my name in JBL; John Marshall (University of Toronto) pointed out that it will be in every issue for the next few years!

After the meeting, I went to my first session of the day: Corpus Hellenisticum Novi Testamenti’s presentation of papers from the new Richard Pervo festschrift Delightful Acts. The session included a paper by NASSCAL Vice-President Janet Spittler (University of Virginia) entitled “Joking and Play in the Acts of John.” She opened with statement by John Chrysostom (Hom. Heb. xv) that Jesus never laughed. That may be true for the Jesus of the New Testament but he laughs plenty in apocryphal texts. Spittler looked at three case studies of Christian humor from the Acts of John: when John jokes with Lycomedes about John’s portrait (26–29), the obedient bed bugs (called by the writer “a certain comic act,” 60–61), and the episode when John sees Jesus in many forms, including a “small person” who does “a joking tug” on John’s beard (90). Though the text has plenty of dark material, Spittler said its overall theme is on how to respond to crisis—rather than live in despair, John says the present age is a time for joy.

The one apocrypha paper of the morning finished, I popped over to the book display for a few more purchases (Susan Docherty’s The Jewish Pseudepigrapha  and Emmanuel Tov’s Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible from Fortress and a free copy of Tom Bissell’s Apostle: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve from Random House) before meeting up for lunch with Steve Wiggins of Oxford University Press. Steve is helping me fine-tune a proposal I submitted to Oxford a few months ago. This was my first time being wined and dined by a publisher (i.e., he paid for lunch—I should have ordered the steak!); last year I was too timid to approach the publishing reps, this year they’re coming to me. This is nice. Of course, that means I have to write something. Ugh.

The afternoon was an embarrassment of riches for apocrypha papers, but of course they were all scheduled in multiple session at the same time. I decided to take in the Ancient Fiction and Early Christian and Jewish Narrative session where Eric Vanden Eykel (Ferrum College) was presenting his paper, “‘Then Suddenly, Everything Resumed Its Course’: The Suspension of Time in the Protevangelium of James Reconsidered.” Eric promised to give me a copy of his book (“But Their Faces Were All Looking Up”: Author and Reader in the Protevangelium of James), so I thought this would be a good chance to grab it from him. I’m no dummy. The paper was an expansion of François Bovon’s “The Suspension of Time in Chapter 18 of Protevangelium Jacobi,” published in 1991. In the scene, Joseph leaves Mary in a cave and goes in search of a midwife. The text shifts to the first person and Joseph recounts how everything was momentarily standing still—birds at rest, sheep unmoving, people suspended in motion. Bovon’s article cites a number of parallels in Midrashic commentary on creation and in apocalyptic literature, and Vanden Eykel expanded on these references and added one of his own: the silence in heaven when the lamb opens the seal in Rev. 8.

The session featured also a paper by John C. Poirier (Independent Scholar) entitled, “Apicultural Keys to Joseph and Aseneth: An Argument for the Priority of the Shorter Text.” It focused on a scene from ch. 16 of the text where a heavenly man appears to Aseneth and feeds her from a honeycomb. The scene has eucharistic imagery (e.g., the man draws a cross on the honeycomb and blood flows out) and was one of the reasons I came to believe Joseph and Aseneth was a Christian work. But Poirier convinced me, and I suspect everyone in the room, that the version of the story in the shorter text, which has fewer Christian features, is explainable through knowledge of apiculture (beekeeping)—for example, the honeycomb is placed on Aseneth’s lips to attract the bees (as beekeepers smear honey on objects for the same purpose) and the hatched image on the bread recalls the mark of the honeycomb press, not the cross of Jesus.

Sarah Parkhouse

My final session of the day was a joint session of Christian Apocrypha and Nag Hammadi and Gnosticism. The session was intended to encourage dialogue between scholars of the two fields, which tend to work in isolation despite the fact that there are numerous apocryphal texts both from Nag Hammadi and from other Coptic sources. The first presentation was “Why Write a Post-Resurrection Dialogue?” by Sarah Parkhouse (University of Durham). The paper grew out of work by a group interested in looking at motifs, genres, etc. that cut across canonical and noncanonical texts. Parkhouse began her discussion noting that there is no consensus in scholarship on what texts belong to this category; the Dialogue of the Savior and the Apocryphon of James are obvious examples, but the Freer logion (an episode inserted into the longer ending of Mark in the Washington Codex) is usually left out of discussion, and perhaps the Gospel of Thomas could be included as it may have a post-resurrection setting and some of Jesus’ sayings are in response to comments or questions from his disciples. Parkhouse went deeper with canonical parallels by bringing the Johannine farewell discourse (chs. 14–17) into the discussion; some scholars say this is the model for the post-resurrection dialogues and it does have thematic links with the other texts, including the question of what will happen to the group after Jesus leaves them. Another canonical parallel is found in the story on the road to Emmaus in Luke (24:13–53), where a resurrected Jesus “interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” Parkhouse noted also a connection here to Luke’s passion predictions, in which Jesus is twice said to have “concealed” knowledge from his disciples (9:45; 18:34). The non-canonical post-resurrection dialogues, particularly the Apocryphon of John and Pistis Sophia, are all about revealing secret knowledge about Jesus from Jewish Scripture, though orthodox readers would have objected to the connections made by the authors of these works. In the discussion following Parkhouse’s paper, Ismo Dunderberg (University of Helsinki) suggested removing “post-resurrection” from the title of the genre so that it could include also the dialogue in the Gospel of Judas, and Jens Schröter (Humboldt University) objected to Parkhouse’s assessment of Luke. Schröter said Jesus was associating himself with messianic prophecies but Parkhouse, with the support of others in the room, maintained that he could be saying anything, including reinterpretations of Genesis as seen in the Apocryphon of John (or, as far as I’m concerned, the Emmaus episode gave later writers the opportunity to have Jesus say anything they wanted him to say). The response to Parkhouse’s paper demonstrates that such border-crossing studies can be rewarding and do indeed stimulate discussion between cognate fields.

Janet Timbie (Catholic University of America) followed Parkhouse with “Quoting the Prophet in the Epistle of the Apostles.” It’s a shame that the paper could not be slotted into the same session as David P. Griffin’s Epistula Apostolorum paper from the day before, especially given that both papers deal with the author’s use of what he/she considers “scripture.” Timbie focused on one prophetic fulfillment quotation of unknown origin in ch. 4 of the text. She noted that other Coptic writers quoted apocrypha in a similar manner (with the phrase “it is written in”), even writers otherwise hostile to apocryphal texts such as Shinoute, who used the phrase to cite the Didache. Timbie concluded that what is “scripture” depends on the author and the community and can vary over time and place.

The remaining four papers of the session examined a category of Coptic texts known as the “pseudo-apostolic memoirs” (or “diaries of the apostles”). The proclivities of the genre and the texts included within it were surveyed by Alin Suciu (Göttingen Academy) in “‘There are many matters which the gospels passed by’: Apocryphal Texts in Coptic Monasticism.” The paper was essentially a summary of his recently published dissertation The Berlin-Strasbourg Apocryphon: A Coptic Apostolic Memoir (which I discuss in this post from 2013). The memoirs are rich with possibilities for study. Four of them appeared in MNTA vol. 1 (Encomium on Mary Magdalene, Encomium on John the Baptist, the Berlin-Strasbourg Apocryphon, and the Investiture of Abbaton, the latter two by Suciu). Another three will be included in vol. 2, each translated by the following three presenters in the session.

The first of these was Hugo Lundhaug (Universitetet i Oslo) with his paper “Textual Fluidity and Exegetical Creativity in the Investiture of Michael the Archangel.” The Coptic text exists in three forms: two from the remains of the Monastery of the Archangel Michael at Pantou in the Fayum (Pierpont Morgan M593 and M614) and the other a fragment from the White Monastery (P. IFAO Copte ff. 145–148). Not discussed were a fragment in Greek and another in Old Nubian. Lundhaug focused his talk on the variations between the three Coptic manuscripts and, to the delight of the audience, referred to the pseudo-apostolic memoirs as the “fan-fiction” of the monastic communities who wrote them and coined the term “fanonical.” The second text was presented by Lance Jenott (Princeton University) in “Charity, Rewards, and Punishments in The Investiture of the Archangel Gabriel.” This text is found in the same codex as Invest. Mich. (Pierpont Morgan M593) and Jenott made available a preliminary translation on Alin Suciu’s blog back in May. There are two sections to the text: a list of angels and their respective duties, and the tale of the investiture of Gabriel. The latter portion includes an account of Mary’s annunciation, in which Mary conceives by swallowing a cloud of light given to her by Gabriel. The text also prominently features an exhortation to charity (receiving strangers, feeding the hungry, etc.), in return for which Gabriel will petition God to blot out one’s sins.

British Library, Or. 7026

The final text was presented by Lloyd G. Abercrombie (Universitetet i Oslo) in “The Mysteries of John: The Content and Context of a Manuscript from Early Islamic Egypt.” Myst. John was published by E. A. W. Budge in Coptic Apocrypha in the Dialect of Upper Egypt in 1913. Abercrombie discussed the discovery of the manuscript (London, British Library, Or. 7026) and some of its palaeographical features. As the story goes, the manuscript was found by an Egyptian peasant among seven codices in the ruins of the Monastery of St. Mercurius in Edfu and sold to the British Museum. Other writings in these codices include the Encomium on John the Baptist, the Repose of John the Evangelist, and the Book of Bartholomew. The account of the discovery is given by the man who purchased the codices, Robert de Rustafjaell, in The Light of Egypt: From Recently Discovered Predynastic and Early Christian Records (1909). Considerable doubt has since been cast on the discovery story—one writer has accused Rustafjaell of lying; perhaps we can add this cache of codices to the list of other ancient libraries that may have originated as smaller finds obtained by grave robbers. Abercrombie mentioned also that the manuscript features also the Life of Pisentius of Qift by “John the Elder” and suggested that the two texts may have been compiled together because both writers share the same name and both texts feature heavenly journeys.

After the papers I had a quick dinner and headed over to a reception for Canadian scholars hosted by Parasource Marketing and Distribution. The few Canadians we found there remarked that the refreshments on hand—no alcohol, only coffee and cake—indicated that the publisher did not know Canadians well. We moved quickly from there to the always-hopping Nordic Scholars reception but didn’t stay very long (one of our party was beginning to feel the effects of the flu and another was impatient with how long it took to get a drink). Day two ended with a whimper, but an early night was not such a bad idea as I had much to do on day three.

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2017 SBL Diary: Day One

Every year after the SBL Annual Meeting I take some time to compile a summary of my activities—the sessions I attended and/or participated in, meetings I had with scholars and publishers, books I purchased, and receptions I crashed. I do this for those interested in Christian Apocrypha who could not attend the meeting and also in lieu of tweets because Wi-fi access tends to be somewhat spotty. Since I write at a snail’s pace, this summary will be split into three separate posts that will appear over the next few days.

I flew into town Friday around 2:30 pm—far earlier than normal—and thought I could spend the rest of the afternoon leisurely wandering around the book display. That way I wouldn’t have to squeeze the tour in between papers or skip a session. Unfortunately, the display was not yet open, so I had to find something else to do (and who am I kidding? it’s not like I would only go once anyway). So I went back to my room to iron my balled-up suit and do a little work before meeting up with Brent Landau. Over dinner we discussed, among other things, the progress on the second volume of New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, which has been a bit sluggish due to some contributors having to withdraw because of other commitments or changes in their careers. The first volume contains a provisional list of texts to be included in vol. 2, and that list is looking less and less accurate as each day passes. But everything will be okay in the end, even if the book has to be delayed by about a year (and the second volume of our sister publication, Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, has not appeared yet, so I think we’re doing okay). After dinner I went back to my room and waited for the arrival of my “conference wife” Zeba Crook (Carleton University).

Adam McCollum

The true first day of the conference began with our first Christian Apocrypha session, which bore the title “Apocryphal Letters, Legends, and Sayings.”  The first paper was by Kimberly Bauser, a graduate student at Boston College: “Put on Your James Face: Pseudonymous Prosopopoeia and Epistolary Fiction in the Apocryphon of James.” Bauser described the text as a “literary nesting doll” with an epistolary framework by James around a post-resurrection dialogue between Jesus and the apostles. Bauser asked, did the author intend to be believed or was writing in James’ name simply a rhetorical exercise? She concluded that the epistolary frame was created for those on the fringes of the community who would be attracted by the James attribution and thus give the revelation dialogue a fair hearing. To illustrate, Bauser used the analogy of students who come into a Christian literature class interested in the gospels but then learn that the content of the texts is more important than the names they bear.

The second paper was delivered by Phillip Fackler, a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania. In “Survival of the Most Banal: Paul’s Letter to the Laodiceans and the Correspondence with Seneca,” he commented how scholars find the two texts banal because they don’t offer much that is different about Paul from what we read in the New Testament: Laodiceans is mostly cobbled together from Philippians and seems to have been composed simply to fill the gap left by Paul’s mention of a letter to the Laodiceans in Colossians 4:16, and the Seneca correspondence is little more than an exchange of praise between the two writers. Nevertheless, the two texts were extremely popular among orthodox Christians—Ep. Lao. appears in a number of Vulgate codices and there are over 400 manuscripts that contain Ep. Paul Sen.—because they meet the expectations of readers who are more likely to preserve a text that looks familiar than one that has radically different teachings or concepts. Fackler noted also that both texts invoke Paul as an ethical teacher, though it seems to me that the writers are more interested in Paul as a martyr and letter writer—the actual contents of Paul’s letters seem to matter little to the apocryphal writers. Recent papers by Jason BeDuhn and Gregory Fewster have argued that the early church seemed to have little interest in Paul’s ethics, and that seems borne out in these two apocryphal texts. In the subsequent discussion Fackler made an interesting point that a reader of a collection of Paul’s letters that included Ep. Lao. may have seen Philippians as an expansion of Ep. Lao., rather than Ep. Lao. as a “banal” reduction.

Another student, David P. Griffin from the University of Virginia, came next with “Psalm-Quotations in the Epistle of the Apostles and the State of Christian Psalmody in the Second Century.” Ep. Apos. features a number of quotations introduced with the phrase “as it is written” or “as written in the prophet.” Several of these are agrapha—statements by or about Jesus not actually found in other texts, or at least not texts that have survived—and others come from the Psalms. Frequently, Griffin said, the Psalms quotations betray a lack of deep knowledge of Jewish scripture and suggest that they were known to the author from liturgical materials. If so, Christians may have sung or recited psalms earlier than what is commonly believed, perhaps at agape meals, which are featured prominently in ch. 15 of the text. Bart Ehrman was present at the session and asked Griffin about the agrapha, noting that modern Christians frequently quote something from Scripture that does not actually appear in the Bible—consider, for example, a poll that showed that 80% of practicing evangelicals believed the saying “God helps those who helps themselves” is biblical.

The fifth paper was “East of the Magi: An Old Uyghur (Turkic) Text on their Visit to the Young Jesus” by Adam McCollum of the University of Notre Dame. The paper is a preview of a text McCollum is working on for MNTA 2. It is found in a tenth-century manuscript discovered over a century ago but now lost; fortunately it is accessible through photographs published in the 1907/1908 editio princeps by F. W. K. Müller. The Old Uyghur materials were found in Central Asia in the nineteenth century; about 75% of the texts are Buddhist and the Christian texts include a copy of the Acts of Paul and Thecla. The Magi text is about four pages long but the beginning is missing. It includes a story of the Magi and another of Herod’s murder of Zechariah, the latter presumably taken from the Protevangelium of James or a related text. In the Magi tale, the travelers from the east bring three gifts to Jesus representing the three roles of god, king, and healer; they expect Jesus to take one and thus reveal his destiny, but he takes all three.

The final paper of the session was delivered, once again, by a graduate student: Jeremiah Bailey of Baylor University. In “Male Angels, Resurrection Marriage, and Manly Mary: A Possible Connection Between GTh 114 and the Synoptics” Bailey looked for an explanation of the puzzling logion in the Question about the Resurrection from Mark 12:18–27 (and par.) where Jesus answers the question of whose wife will the woman who married seven brothers be in the resurrection. Jesus answered, “when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” Bailey noted references in other literature (such as 1 Enoch) indicating that angels are all male. Jesus’ response to Peter in Gos. Thom. 114 (“I will lead her that I may make her male, in order that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who makes herself male will enter into the kingdom of heaven”) becomes more intelligible if it is subjected to an “angelomorphic reading,” and may help also with understanding log. 22 (“when you make the male and the female one and the same, so that the male not be male nor the female female”). Bailey himself is surprised that his approach is not reflected in the scholarly work on the text and several audience members praised his argument.

After the session, Bradley Rice (McGill University) and I caught up over lunch, which ended a bit too late for me to catch any of the early afternoon sessions—reason enough to head to the book display! Among my purchases are vols. 2–4 of John H. Elliott’s Beware the Evil Eye: The Evil Eye in the Bible and the Ancient World from Wipf & Stock (will I be lost without having read vol. 1?), the latest volume in the Polebridge Early Christian Apocrypha series (The Acts of John by Richard Pervo), and a collection of early patristic homilies on the Dormition of Mary from St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

Geoffrey Smith

From the book display I made my way to the Nag Hammadi and Gnosticism session. The highlight of the session was the highly-anticipated paper by Geoffrey Smith and Brent Landau (both of the University of Texas at Austin) entitled “Nag Hammadi at Oxyrhynchus: Introducing a New Discovery.” I knew ahead of time what text the two were going to debut but I had promised to keep that information to myself. Smith began the discussion with a list of all of the texts from Nag Hammadi that are available in Greek—Gospel of Thomas, Wisdom of Jesus Christ, and (not from Nag Hammadi but often associated with it in scholarship) the Gospel of Mary—before revealing the new text: 1 Apocalypse of James. This was greeted with a bit of a gasp in the room, and it is certainly exciting to have the text in Greek, or at least a portion of it. The manuscript, which has been sitting in a cabinet at Oxford for a century, is dated to around the fifth or sixth century. It follows closely the text as found in Codex Tchacos, so it does not provide any new or radically different readings. Landau took over the second portion of the presentation to discuss the scribe’s use of mid-dots to divide syllables—a practice found only in manuscripts used to teach reading. Landau remarked that it is odd that of all the texts that a teacher could chose from (such as the Iliad or the Psalms), she or he chose this “obscure Christian writing.”

My conference obligations done for the day, I met up with Andrew Gregory, co-editor of the Oxford Early Christian Gospel Texts series and the Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Apocrypha. I’ve corresponded with Andrew for years but we have not met until now and we chatted about our various projects over dinner. The night finished with taking in some receptions with my Canadian friends—first the Wabash Center (where the booze flows freely) and then the Toronto School of Theology (where it trickles slowly, though by that time the two free drinks were just enough). At the TST reception I ran into Gregory Fewster (University of Toronto) and we discovered that we had both done some detective work on a peculiar apocrypha-related manuscript at the University of Toronto. We decided to join forces and work on the manuscript together. Look for that sometime in the future.

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Christian Apocrypha Books to Look for at SBL 2017

One of the highlights of the SBL Annual Meeting is the publishers exhibition. As you make your way from one booth to another, keep an eye out for these new books.


Dirk Rohmann. Christianity, Book-Burning and Censorship in Late Antiquity: Studies in Text Transmission.


Alessandro Falcetta. A Biography of James Rendel Harris 1852-1941. The Daily Discovers of a Bible Scholar and Manuscript Hunter.

Lee Martin McDonald. The Formation of the Biblical Canon. 2 vols.


Robert W. Thomson. Ners?s of Lambron: Commentary on the Dormition of Saint John. Armenian Text and Annotated Translation. ARTS 1.

De Gruyter

Liv Ingeborg Lied and Hugo Lundhaug, eds. Snapshots of Evolving Traditions: Jewish and Christian Manuscript Culture, Textual Fluidity, and New Philology. TUGAL 175.

Gorgias Press

János M. Bak. Introduction to Working with Manuscripts for Medievalists.

Tony Burke. The Infancy Gospel of Thomas in the Syriac Tradition: A Critical Edition and English Translation. Gorgias Eastern Christian Studies 48.

Amir Harrack, ed. and trans. The Chronicle of Zuqnin: Parts I and II. From the Creation to the Year 506/7 AD.

Mohr Siebeck

Jan N. Bremmer. Maidens, Magic and Martyrs in Early Christianity. Collected Essays I. WUNT 379.

David Creech. The Use of Scripture in the Apocryphon of John. A Diachronic Analysis of the Variant Versions. WUNT II/447.

Patricia A. Duncan. Novel Hermeneutics in the Greek Pseudo-Clementine Romance. WUNT.

Jörg Frey et al., eds. Between Canonical and Apocryphal Texts: Processes of Reception, Rewriting, and Interpretation in Early Judaism and Early Christianity (release date: January).

Hugo Lundhaug and Lance Jenott, eds. The Nag Hammadi Codices and Late Antique Egypt.

Oxford University Press

Theodore de Bruyn. Making Amulets Christian: Artefact, Scribes, and Contexts.

Edmon L. Gallagher and John D. Meade. Biblical Canon Lists from Early Christianity.


Paul Géhin. Les manuscrits syriaques de parchemin du Sinaï et leurs ‘membra disjecta.’


Christopher de Hamel. Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts: Twelve Journeys into the Meideval World.

Random House

Tom Bissell. Apostle: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve (paperback).

Society of Biblical Literature

Timothy Lim, ed. When Texts are Canonized.

University of Pennsylvania Press

Frilingos, Christopher A. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph: Family Trouble in the Infancy Gospels.

Wipf & Stock

Tony Burke, ed. Fakes, Forgeries, and Fictions: Writing Ancient and Modern Christian Apocrypha. Proceedings of the 2015 York University Christian Apocrypha Symposium.

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Christian Apocrypha and Pilgrimage, Part 3

In the first post in this series I discussed the visits of pilgrims to locations mentioned only in apocryphal texts, in the second I provided an overview of the texts that expand on the Flight to Egypt to create a fictional pilgrimage map for those who want to follow in the Holy Family’s footsteps, now I turn to some aspects of the intersection of apocrypha pilgrimage that remain largely unexplored by scholars.

A pilgrim flask (ampulla) depicting scenes from the life of Thecla as told in the Acts of Paul.

The first of these is the connection between the production of apocryphal texts and the pilgrimage locations associated with them. Egeria mentions reading copies of the works of Thomas at the apostle’s tomb in Edessa (Itin. Eger. 19.2) and while in the city she received a copy of the Abgar Correspondence (Itin. Eger. 19.19). When visiting the martyrium of Thecla in Isaurian Seleucia, Egeria read tales of the saint (Itin. Eger. 23.5), likely from the Life and Miracles of Thecla—a retelling of Thecla’s story from the Acts of Paul along with an account of the end of her life in Seleucia followed by a series of posthumous miracles performed on behalf of pilgrims at the site. The account of Thecla’s final days in Seleucia includes a trip to and from Daphne, which functioned as an itinerary for fifth-century pilgrims on their way to Thecla’s sanctuary.

Several late antique apocryphal acts also establish a connection between characters in the narratives and particular shrines. The Acts of Barnabas, for example, documents the travels of Barnabas through Seleucia, Cyprus, Perga, Antioch, Cilicia, and cities in between before concluding at Cyprus, where Barnabas is martyred. The cities in Cyprus are not chosen by accident: they are all associated with fifth-century church districts and pagan temples. The text also provides readers with the date of Barnabas’s death (11 June), which is here established as the feast day of the saint. A contemporary text, the Encomium of Barnabas, retells the Acts and finishes with Barnabas appearing to Anthemis, the bishop of Salamis in 488 and revealing to him the location of his remains.

A miniature Life of Mary codex from Mardin.

A similar structure is observable in the Acts of Cornelius. Cornelius is assigned the city of Skepsis to evangelize. After some exploits there, he dies and his burial place becomes lost to memory.  In the fifth century, the location of Cornelius’s body is revealed in a dream to Silvanus, the bishop of Troas, and he is instructed to build Cornelius a sanctuary and place the coffin within it. Later a painter named Encratius is commissioned to decorate the shrine with an image of the saint; he is able to capture his image because Cornelius appears to him and reveals his features. Both of these texts establish a particular location for the celebration of the saint and provide back stories for how the site was selected and for how the saint’s remains were discovered and interned there. These locations are likely the place of origins for the texts and would be suitable also as sites for the creation and dissemination of copies that could be purchased by pilgrims who visited the sites and wished to return home with a souvenir of their experience. Even today one can purchase transcriptions and translations of such texts produced for visitors of monasteries and churches. Consider, too, such examples as the West Syriac Life of Mary codices that collect apocryphal Marian texts, sometimes grouped with various memre on the Virgin, and the East Syriac History of the Virgin manuscripts, many of which derive from the monastery of Notre-Dame des Semences in Alqoš. The compilation and centralized dissemination of these codices suggests production as souvenirs for pilgrims or devotees of sites dedicated to the worship of Mary.

Codices also associated also with Thecla devotion in Egypt. The Life of Eugenia, composed in the late fifth century, tells of how the saint travelled out from Alexandria to a nearby village and along the way read a miniature codex of Thecla’s adventures. Two such miniatures of Thecla exist today: P. Oxy. I 6 (5th cent.) and P. Ant. I 13 (4th cent.). It is tempting to associate other ancient apocryphal miniatures with pilgrimage (e.g., P. Oxy. VI 849 of the Acts of Peter; and P. Oxy. V 840 of an unidentified gospel text).

A blessing token depicting Elizabeth and John’s escape from Herod’s soldiers.

Other pilgrimage souvenirs reveal connections between sacred sites and apocryphal texts. Pilgrims often returned home with ampullae (flasks) containing healing oil or water from the site. Many of these ampullae are decorated with images. The most popular images were of the cross and Jesus’ tomb, but a good portion of them have images associated with the life of Mary. Those that feature the Annunciation often depict Mary spinning and looking back at Gabriel, features found in the Protevangelium of James and related texts. A large number of ampullae from the cult centre of Saint Menas in Mareotis (Egypt) depicts Menas on one side and Thecla on the other, with images derived from her exploits told in the Acts of Paul. One ampulla from the Shrine of St. John in Ephesus includes a seated figure, which some say is Prochorus, the secretary of John and putative author of a fifth-century Acts of John. Another common souvenir containing images is the eulogia (blessing) token. Notable among these are the sixth/seventh-century ceramic medallions depicting the flight of Elizabeth and John, one of which is said to come from Ain Karim, the traditional location of the mountain of refuge as told in Protevangelium of James and several other Baptist apocrypha.

There is much still to be learned from these examples about the interplay of apocrypha and pilgrimage.  The itineraries demonstrate that as early as the late fourth century Christians were creating and maintaining associations between sacred places and traditions that appear outside of Scripture, even reading apocryphal texts at these locations that relate to the saint celebrated there. The influence of apocrypha extends to pilgrimage souvenirs—ampullae, eulogia tokens, miniature codices—that contributed to the dispersion of apocryphal texts and traditions to the lands pilgrims called home. The connections between pilgrimage sites and the origins and dispersion of apocryphal texts needs further exploration, not only for what can be learned about literary networks but also for how the destruction or inaccessibility of pilgrimage sites could have contributed to the loss of certain texts. And other texts should be brought into the discussion of apocrypha and pilgrimage, particularly the apocryphal acts with their stories of the travels and martyrdoms of individual apostles—do they too represent a stop on a literary journey on its way toward a full-blown pilgrimage map culminating in celebration of the apostle’s death at a sanctuary stocked with souvenirs? Egeria’s mention of reading the exploits of Thomas in Edessa suggests so, as does the veneration of Thecla in Mareotis. Certainly, pilgrimages to the churches dedicated to the saints included all of these features; what remains unknown is whether the early Christians tried to mimic the apostles’ missionary routes or whether, if the apocryphal acts had survived their pruning by orthodox revisers into little more than martyrdom accounts, they would have developed into the kind of detailed pilgrimage map observable in the Vision of Theophilus tradition.

Scholars of Christian apocrypha, and other fields, are increasingly integrating examinations of material culture (including iconography and the physical features of manuscripts) into their work. Physical evidence associated with pilgrimage, and even the act of pilgrimage itself, intersects with this new direction and offers several opportunities for scholars to explore.

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Christian Apocrypha and Pilgrimage, Part 2

The earliest Christian pilgrimage itineraries, discussed in the part 1 of this series post, say little about sites in Egypt, despite the fact that the canonical Gospel of Matthew (2:13–15, 19–21) narrates a visit to Egypt by the Holy Family early in Jesus’ life. Matthew does not say what happened to the Holy Family in Egypt nor how long they resided there, but other Christian writers filled the gap with tales of the family visiting various locations in Egypt, each one a site of miraculous proofs of Jesus’ divinity and superiority over native deities. As time went on, these flight narratives became more and more elaborate, with the most detailed accounts serving as pilgrimage maps for those who want to follow Jesus’ footsteps and visit the sites where Jesus performed his wonders, either in person or vicariously through reading the texts.

Ceiling tile from the Church of St. Martin in Zillis, Switzerland.

The apocryphal flight narratives range in origin from East to West and from roughly the fifth to eighth centuries, with further expansion in the manuscript tradition and in other literature inspired by these tales for centuries thereafter. The earliest developed narrative of the flight story is likely the tales collected in the Gospel of the Infancy, extant today in Syriac and Arabic (for more information visit the e-Clavis pages for the Arabic Infancy Gospel and the East Syriac History of the Virgin). The flight narrative comprises the middle portion of this text (corresponding to Arab. Gos. Inf. 10–24). The section begins with a retelling of Matthew 2:13–15 (Arab. Gos. Inf. 9), and then, within a day’s journey, the family arrives in the first of several unnamed Egyptian cities (10–12). The city is host to an idol to whom the other idols and divinities in Egypt are subservient. The family enters the city’s hospital, which is dedicated to the idol, and the earth trembles, causing all of the idols to fall. The story, a literal interpretation of Isaiah 19:1 (“See, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt; the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them”), is designed to show the superiority of Jesus to other gods and to foreshadow the conversion of pagan lands to Christianity. The remaining stories have a much different tone. The family moves from city to city, but not in flight—that is, they are not pursued by Herod’s soldiers, though they are exiles, wandering the desert without home. In each town they encounter rulers and nobles, perform healings, and are suitably honored and given provisions before they move to the next.

Another apocryphal flight narrative that circulated in the East is found in the Armenian Infancy Gospel, which also seems to have an origin in, or at least through, Syriac.  After a retelling of Prot. Jas. (chs. 1–14), the narrative shifts to the family’s exile (ch. 15). They move first to Ashkelon, then Hebron, and then to Egypt to escape the soldiers of Herod. For the first time, names are given to the cities visited by the family, along with precise times they spent there. “At the many stations where they lodged,” the text reports, “the child Jesus would draw water out of the sand and would offer it to them to drink” (15.3). The water is necessary for their survival but the author is laying the groundwork here for pilgrimage to sites boasting to be the location of a healing spring or a sacred well. The family arrive in Egypt at the plains of Tanis, where they stay for six months, before moving on to Cairo, where they stay for two years and four months (15.4). Then they move to another, unnamed city with high walls decorated with statues of beasts, all of whom fall when Jesus enters the city (15.6–7). They stay there for a year. The city also has a massive temple of Apollo, and during his festival, Jesus, upset at the worship of this “false” god, causes the temple to fall, killing all of the priests (15–16). The family are later invited to live with a Hebrew prince named Eleazar, who is father to Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, and who had brought his family to Egypt because of persecution by Herod (23–25). The family stays with him for three months (26) before being summoned home by the angel; along the way they camp at Mount Sinai (28). Many of the themes observed in Arab. Gos. Inf. are found also in the Armenian text. The family is continually on the move, sometimes because of the trouble they stir up in the city, but mostly to continue their exilic wandering; along the way temples are destroyed and healings performed in order to demonstrate Jesus’ superiority over other gods.

Christians in the West encountered the flight narrative in a Latin expansion of the Protevangelium of James known today as the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew. At ch. 17 the angel tells Joseph to flee to Egypt and then follows a series of stories told on their journey (18–24). In the first story (18–19), the family stop at a cave to cool off. Three boys and one girl accompany them, but no mention of this larger company is made hereafter, and they may be present here only to provide a contrast to Jesus, who remains calm when a dragon comes out of the cave, whereas the boys run away in fear. The dragons worship Jesus, an event said to have happened in fulfillment of Psalm 148:7 (“Praise the Lord from the earth, dragons and all the depths”). The travelers journey on and additional animals—lions, panthers, and other wild beasts—worship and accompany them, thus fulfilling Isaiah 65:25: “The wolf and lamb will feed together, and the lion and the ox will feed on straw together.”

Illustration from Schaffhausen, Stadtbibliothek, Gen. 8 (ca. 1340)

In the next story (20–21), Mary is fatigued and rests beneath a palm tree. Jesus sits in her lap and calls out to the tree to bend down and provide fruit for his mother. He then commands water to spring up from its roots and refresh the family. Jesus rewards the tree by commanding an angel to take one of its branches and plant it in Paradise. The legend bears some similarity to a tale of Jesus in Egypt from the History of the Church of Sozomen (ca. 439–450). He reports a story of a tree in Hermopolis called Persis, which was given healing powers by Jesus as a reward for bending down and worshiping him, an event, once again, linked to Isaiah 19:1 (Hist. eccl. 5.21.8–11). This connection between the tree and Isaiah 19:1 is significant, as the same passage is cited in the next story in Ps.-Mt. (22–24). Here the family finally arrive in Egypt, thanks to Jesus shortening a journey of 30 days into one (cf. Arab. Gos. Inf. 9). They come to a town named variously in the manuscripts—Sohennen, Syenem, Shohen, etc.—and difficult to identify, though some manuscripts say it is near Hermopolis. There they enter a temple housing 365 idols and the idols fall, thus fulfilling Isaiah 19:1.

Additional tales of the family’s time in Egypt are featured in an expanded version of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas assigned the designation Greek D and known also in a Latin translation. The expansion entails a brief prologue that appears designed to connect Inf. Gos. Thom. with Prot. Jas.—the title attributes the text to “James, the brother of God” and concludes with a reproduction of the final verse of Prot. Jas. It begins with a reproduction of Matt 2:13 and adds the detail that Jesus was two years old when he went to Egypt. Little is said about the journey to Egypt, except for one brief episode: “As they were passing through the grainfields, he began to pluck the heads of grain and eat them” (2). The story is longer in some of the Latin witnesses—one version presents it as an etiology for an unnamed field that “each year that it is to be sown, it returns as many measures of grain to its owner as many seeds as it accepted from him.” The story may have some connection to the Field of the Lord in Jericho mentioned in the itineraries of the Piacenza Pilgrim and Theodosius. Once Mary and Jesus reach Egypt, they stay in the house of an unnamed widow, but after a year, the widow drives them out of her house after Jesus performs a miracle in which he makes a salted fish come to life (3–4). A similar structure is at play in the final story of the prologue, in which Jesus and Mary encounter a teacher, who chases them out of the city after the young Jesus foretells an event that comes true (5–7). The prologue comes to a close when the angel of the Lord comes to Mary and tells her to return home (as in Matt 2:19–21). This Egyptian prologue is relatively neglected in scholarship, since it appears in a late branch of the Inf. Gos. Thom. tradition, one that cannot be traced earlier than the twelfth century. Still, it has some noteworthy elements—including the theme of constant flight that is present, but not as prevalent, in the other Egyptian narratives; the Holy Family is forever on the move, chased from one city to another.

Egyptian icon of the Holy Family on the Nile.

The Flight to Egypt is transformed from an exile story to a full-blown pilgrimage map in the final text in this survey: the Vision of Theophilus. The text is little-known in the West, even to Christian apocrypha scholars, but it is highly important in Coptic Christianity as one of several efforts by the late antique Egyptian church to establish Egypt as a new Holy Land with pilgrimage sites on par with those of Palestine. Today there are some forty sites on the official pilgrimage map of the Coptic Church, some established only a few decades ago, and other sites known only in oral tales are situated in-between. The flight is such an integral part of the identity of Coptic Christianity that some elements of the narrative frequently appear in iconography—showing the mother and child on a donkey and Joseph walking alongside, or the family in a boat on the Nile—and of the six pilgrimage festivals dedicated to Mary, five are held at sites associated with their sojourn in Egypt.

Vis. Theo. belongs to a genre of texts that feature an apocryphon framed by a homily delivered on a feast day dedicated to the subject of the embedded text; this genre was popular in Egyptian Christianity of the fifth century and was employed to establish festivals and encourage the veneration of saints and angels. In Vis. Theo. the flight to Egypt is narrated by Mary, who appears to Theophilus, the patriarch of Alexandria (r. 385–412), while he was staying at a house on the grounds of Dayr al-Muharraq, a monastery on a holy mountain near the village of Qusqam. The house is said to have been the dwelling of the holy family for six months of their three-year and six-month stay in Egypt. Theophilus gives the details of his vision on the feast day of Mary’s dormition.

In its earliest extant form, Vis. Theo. features three stories associated with explicitly named sites in Egypt: Tell Basta, al-Ashmunayn, and Qusqam. Tell Basta is celebrated as the first town visited by the Holy Family in a retelling of the story of the fallen idols and the thieves from Arab. Gos. Inf. 10–13 (pp. 19–21). The author’s choice of Tell Basta as the location for the story is not accidental. In antiquity it was a thriving and powerful city known for being a center for the worship of Bastet, the cat goddess. The city was prominent enough for it to earn Ezekiel’s rebuke (30:17) and Herodotus (2.58–60) documents a festival there for Bastet that drew 700,000 pilgrims. Tell Basta remained an important city into Christian times. Early pilgrims who followed the footsteps of the Holy Family could associate its Christian transformation to Jesus’ visit and when the city went into decline in the seventh century, they could pass by the ruins and attribute its demise to Jesus’ curse on the town and the destruction of its temples.

From Tell Basta the family moves on to the second major site: the village of al-Ashmunayn, known in antiquity as Hermopolis,  the location of the healing tree  mentioned by Sozomen. Vis. Theo. also mentions the tree, though here it is named Mukantah. Jesus also encounters statues of horses at the gate of the city, which crumble at his presence, and five camels that block the family’s path are turned to stone—presumably these two groups of statues were still extant when the author wrote the text. When the family enter the city, once again all the idols of the town fall to the ground (pp. 21–23).

The Egyptian itinerary compiled from written and oral sources.

After a brief stop in Qenis, the family reach Qusqam, home to the monastery of Dayr al-Muharraq. On their climb up the mountain, Jesus creates two sacred sites: he plants Joseph’s staff and from it comes an olive-bearing tree, and he creates a healing spring from Mary’s tears.  Once they find shelter at the house that will one day become a church, they are visited by a friend of Joseph named Moses (Yusa in the Arabic versions) who dies after warning the family of the approach of Herod’s soldiers. The remains of Moses are said to reside in the wall of the church there to this day (pp. 30–35); they seem to have been lost for some time, however, until their rediscovery (or so it is claimed) during renovations in the monastery in 2000.

After six months, an angel comes to tell Joseph that Herod has died and the family may return home (p. 35). Before they leave, Jesus consecrates the house and says it will become a church and that pilgrims who come there will be blessed, their sins forgiven, their infirmities healed, and all of their requests answered; barren women will give birth to sons and monks will live there in protection (pp. 35–36). The family return to al-Ashmunayn and head home on a ship that Jesus creates by making the sign of the cross on the water (p. 37). Mary concludes her vision by telling Theophilus about a gathering after Jesus’ death at the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark. The apostles are present, along with Mary Magdalene, Anna, and Salome. She recounts her various trials (evoking, it seems, the similar event in the Dormition of the Virgin). And then Jesus appears and takes them all in a cloud to the house at Dayr al-Muharraq which they consecrate as the first church in all the world and then return to Jerusalem (pp. 37–39). The vision ends with Mary telling Theophilus to write everything down so that the world knows about the history and miraculous qualities of the house (pp. 39–40).

The account of the family’s journey in Vis. Theo. grew over the centuries, both in the text’s manuscript tradition and in other texts that expanded on Vis. Theo.’s itinerary. The additional tales usually include sacred wells and signs of the family’s presence, such as the imprint of Jesus’ foot in a stone; in some tellings the family is continually pursued by Herod’s soldiers, providing a greater impetus for their continual movement from one town, one pilgrimage site, to another. The creation of these stories also influenced manuscripts of Arab. Gos. Inf.; in the version edited by Heinrich Syke there is a tale inserted in which Jesus visits the town of Matariya,where there is a sacred sycamore tree that grew from where Jesus’ sweat hit the ground and a spring that Jesus produced so Mary could wash his garments (ch. 24 in Sike’s numbering). The family then moves on to Memphis where they stay three years (ch. 25).

Despite the great distance that separates the Eastern and Western traditions there is a surprising amount of commonality between them. The application of Isaiah 19:1 to the fall of the Egyptian idols and the palm tree miracle seem to be integral to the flight tradition, and other elements weave in and out of the sources, such as the presence of the thieves and the creation of springs. Themes also recur: constant movement brought on by pursuit by Herod’s soldiers or the abuse of the townspeople, the Christianization of pagan holy sites, and the portrayal of Jesus as a god wandering among people. All of the texts attempt to satisfy a desire common throughout Christendom for more information about where Jesus went and as the traditions develop, an increasing interest in how one might also journey there.

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