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.

Baylor

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

Bloomsbury

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.

Brill

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.

Peeters

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

Penguin

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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Christian Apocrypha and Pilgrimage, Part 1

I have been asked to contribute an essay to the T&T Clark Handbook to Children and Childhood in the Biblical World, edited by Sharon Betsworth and Julie Faith Parker. Initially the editors asked me to write something on the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, given my previous work, but I feel that I have said everything I have to say (at least for the time being) on that text and its relationship to real or imagined children in antiquity. Instead I proposed a piece on “Travelling with Children: Flight Stories and Pilgrimage Routes in the Apocryphal Infancy Gospels.” I finished up the paper last week and thought I would share a portion of it here.

Scholars of Christian apocrypha have only begun to examine the intersection of pilgrimage and apocrypha. Tobias Nicklas’s recent essay (that fortuitously arrived just as I was writing this paper) “Beyond ‘Canon’: Christian Apocrypha and Pilgrimage” (pages 23–38 in The Other Side: Apocryphal Perspectives on Ancient Christian “Orthodoxies,” ed. Tobias Nicklas et al. [NTOA 117; Göttingen: Vandenhoek & Ruprecht, 2017) is the first wideranging look at the apocryphal traditions that appear in the early pilgrimage itineraries. These itineraries, composed between the fourth and the seventh centuries, all focus on Palestine, though a few of the pilgrims travel further afield to Sinai and Egypt. References in them to locations from noncanonical texts and traditions include the Piacenza Pilgrim’s mention of a synagogue in Nazareth where he saw “the book in which the Lord wrote his ABC” (an allusion to Infancy Gospel of Thomas 6 and 14) and a bench that Jesus and other children sat upon that cannot be moved (Plac. Itin. 5). The pilgrim also visited Scythopolis, where miracles were performed by John the Baptist (Plac. Itin. 8), and saw the cross of St. Peter housed in the Basilica of St. Zion (Plac. Itin. 22; related, albeit loosely, to the various martyrdom accounts of Peter), and a field in Jericho “which the Lord sowed with his own hand. Its yield is three pecks, and it is reaped twice a year, but it grows naturally, and is never sown. They reap it in February, and then use the harvest for Communion at Easter. After this harvest, they plough, and the next reaping is at the time of other harvesting, after which it is ploughed and left fallow” (Plac. Itin. 13; an allusion perhaps to Inf. Gos. Thom. 12, but associated by Nicklas with P. Egerton 2). The field is mentioned also twice by Theodosius (1 and 18) along with Sinope as the location for the Acts of Andrew and Matthias (13), and the Ecclesia Kathismatis, a church built in the mid fifth century to commemorate where Mary dismounted from her donkey  on the way from Jerusalem to Bethlehem (28; cf. Protevangelium of James 17:3).

A Spanish stamp from 19765 commemorating Egeria’s travels

As for locations in Egypt, Piacenza visited the place where Mary rested on the flight to Egypt (Plac. Itin. 28; cf. perhaps related to Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew 20–21) and mentions an otherwise unknown tradition about the Holy Family’s stay in Memphis: “In Memphis was the temple (now a church) which had a door which shut in the Lord’s face when he visited it with Blessed Mary, and until this day it cannot be opened. We saw there a piece of linen on which is a portrait of the Saviour. People say he once wiped his face with it, and that the outline remained. It is venerated at various times and we also venerated it, but it was too bright for us to concentrate on it since, as you went on concentrating, it changed before your eyes” (Plac. Itin. 44).

Nicklas’s narrow focus on the pilgrim itineraries leaves neglected several other sites associated with apocryphal texts and traditions, including the Eleona Church, which is built over a cave on the Mount of Olives where Jesus appeared to John (cf. Acts of John 97), the Cave of the Nativity (cf. Prot. Jas. 18:1) known to Jerome (Epist. 57.3; cf. Justin, Dial. 78), the Tomb of the Virgin (cf. the various Dormition of the Virgin texts), and Ain Karim, where Elizabeth and John the Baptist are said to have hidden from Herod’s soldiers (cf. Prot. Jas. 22:3 but explicitly identified in Life of John the Baptist by Serapion 3:9). Several more are listed in John Wilkinson’s Jerusalem Pilgrims before the Crusades (Warminster: Aris & Phillips, 1977, p. 41 n. 140), but no sources are provided: Mary’s Nativity at the Sheep Pool, her Falling Asleep on Sion, Diocaesarea as the scene of her childhood, Tabgha as the scene of the apostles’ baptism, and Choziba as the place where Mary’s birth was announced to Joachim.

The pilgrims of Nicklas’s study also do not journey to the sites in Rome that commemorate the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul (for these see David L. Eastman, Paul the Martyr: The Cult of the Apostle in the Latin West. WGRWSup 4. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature; Leiden: Brill, 2011), and even those who do make it to Egypt seem to be unaware of sites described in a selection of apocryphal texts that expand upon the Holy Family’s Flight to Egypt as told in Matthew 2:13–15 and 19–21. These texts will be discussed in Christian Apocrypha and Pilgrimage part 2.

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Christian Apocrypha at SBL 2017

The program for the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature is now available. Here, as usual, is my rundown of presentations focusing on Christian Apocrypha. Among the highlights this year are the book review panel for New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, and the mysterious new text being announced by Brent Landau and Geoffrey Smith in the Nag Hammadi and Gnosticism session. See you in Boston.

Christian Apocrypha Section sessions:

S18-118 Christian Apocrypha (9:00 AM to 11:30 AM)
Theme: Apocryphal Letters, Legends, and Sayings
Brent Landau, University of Texas at Austin, Presiding
Kimberly Bauser, Boston College: “Put on Your James Face: Pseudonymous Prosopopoeia and Epistolary Fiction in the Apocryphon of James
Phillip Fackler, University of Pennsylvania: “Survival of the Most Banal: Paul’s Letter to the Laodiceans and the Correspondence with Seneca
David P. Griffin, University of Virginia: “Psalm-Quotations in the Epistle of the Apostles and the state of Christian Psalmody in the Second Century”
Adam Carter McCollum, Notre Dame: “East of the Magi: An Old Uyghur (Turkic) Text on their Visit to the Young Jesus”
Jeremiah Bailey, Baylor University: “Male Angels, Resurrection Marriage, and Manly Mary: A Possible Connection Between GTh114 and the Synoptics”
Rick Brannan, Faithlife: “Sounding Biblical: The Use of Stock Phrases in Christian Apocrypha”

S19-330 Nag Hammadi and Gnosticism; Christian Apocrypha (Joint Session; 4:00 PM to 6:30 PM)
Theme: Coptic Apocrypha at Nag Hammadi and Beyond
Adeline Harrington, University of Texas at Austin, Presiding
Sarah Parkhouse, University of Durham: “Why Write a Post-Resurrection Dialogue?”
Janet Timbie, Catholic University of America: “Quoting the Prophet in the Epistle of the Apostles
Alin Suciu, Göttingen Academy: “‘There are many matters which the gospels passed by’: Apocryphal Texts in Coptic Monasticism”
Hugo Lundhaug, Universitetet i Oslo: “Textual Fluidity and Exegetical Creativity in the Investiture of Michael the Archangel
Lance Jenott, Princeton University: “Charity, Rewards, and Punishments in The Investiture of the Archangel Gabriel
Lloyd G Abercrombie, University of Oslo: “The Mysteries of John: The Content and Context of a Manuscript from Early Islamic Egypt”

S20-111 Christian Apocrypha (9:00 AM to 11:30 AM)
Theme: Panel Review of New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures (Eds. Tony Burke and Brent Landau; Eerdmans, 2016)
Lily Vuong, Central Washington University, Presiding
Panelists: David Brakke (Ohio State University), Philip Jenkins (Baylor University), Valentina Calzolari Bouvier (University of Geneva), Julia Snyder (Universität Regensburg), J. Gregory Given (Harvard University), Judith Hartenstein (Universität Koblenz – Landau), Christoph Markschies (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin – Humboldt University of Berlin)
Respondents: Tony Burke (York University), Brent Landau (University of Texas at Austin)

Additional Nag Hammadi and Gnosticism papers:

S18-330 Nag Hammadi and Gnosticism (4:00 PM to 6:30 PM)
Tuomas Rasimus, Helsingin Yliopisto – Helsingfors Universitet, Presiding
Carl Johan Berglund, Uppsala University: “Discerning Quotations from Heracleon in Origen’s Commentary on the Gospel of John”
Forrest A.B. Kentwell, University of Groningen: “Re-envisioning ‘Light’ and ‘Death’ in the Gospel of Thomas: A Demiurgical Myth?”
Kristine Toft Rosland, University of Agder: “Reading the Apocryphon of John through the frame narrative”
Austin Busch, College at Brockport: “Greek Philosophical Circles and Gnostic Scriptural Interpretation”
Eric Crégheur, Université d’Ottawa – University of Ottawa: “The Celestial Topography of the ‘Untitled Text’ of the Bruce Codex”
Geoffrey Smith, University of Texas at Austin and Brent C. Landau, University of Texas at Austin: “Nag Hammadi at Oxyrhynchus: Introducing a New Discovery”

And there are a variety of additional papers on apocryphal texts in other sessions:

S18-112 Archaeology of Religion in the Roman World (9:00 AM to 11:30 AM)
Paula Tutty, University of Oslo: “Monks, materiality and manuscripts: putting early Coptic codices into their social context”

S18-133 Letters of James, Peter, and Jude (9:00 AM to 11:30 AM)
Rebecca Skaggs, Patten University and John Skaggs, Patten University: “Christ’s Visit to Hades or the Harrowing of Hell: The Effects of 1 Peter 3: 18-22 on Theology, Culture, Literature and Art”

S19-114 Corpus Hellenisticum Novi Testamenti (9:00 AM to 11:30 AM)
Janet Spittler, University of Virginia: “Joking and Play in the Acts of John

S19-155 Wisdom and Apocalypticism; Nag Hammadi and Gnosticism (9:00 AM to 11:30 AM)
René Falkenberg, Aarhus Universitet: “Wisdom Speculation from Wisdom of Solomon to Wisdom of Jesus Christ

S19-203 Ancient Fiction and Early Christian and Jewish Narrative (1:00 PM to 3:30 PM)
Eric M. Vanden Eykel, Ferrum College: “‘Then Suddenly, Everything Resumed Its Course’: The Suspension of Time in the Protevangelium of James Reconsidered”

S19-324 Jewish Christianity / Christian Judaism (4:00 PM to 6:30 PM)
Benjamin M. De Vos, Universiteit Gent: “Paganism and Jewish-Christian identity in the Pseudo-Clementines: An Analysis of the Disputes between Appion and Clement”
Stanley Jones, California State University – Long Beach: “The Dispute with Appion in Recent Research”

S20-223 Johannine Literature (1:00 PM to 3:30 PM)
Karen L. King, Harvard University: “The Gospel of Mary reads the Gospel of John”

S18-145 Rhetoric of Religious Antiquity (9:00 AM to 11:30 AM)
Sheila E. McGinn, John Carroll University: “Gender and Virginity in the Acts of Paul and Thecla
Lily Vuong, Central Washington University: “The Testing of Mary: Virginity and Gender in the Protevangelium of James

S18-309 Children in the Biblical World (4:00 PM to 6:30 PM)
Anna Rebecca Solevåg, VID Specialized University: “Absence and Presence of Children in the Apocryphal Acts”

S19-308 Book History and Biblical Literatures (4:00 PM to 6:30 PM)
Gregory Fewster, University of Toronto: “3 Corinthians among the Pauline Textual Tradition: Ancient Manuscripts, Modern Publishing, and the Demands of Textual Materiality”

S19-335 Redescribing Early Christianity (4:00 PM to 6:30 PM)
Mark Letteney, Princeton University: “Authoritative Forgeries and Authentic Apocrypha in Late Antiquity”
Anna Cwikla, University of Toronto: “The Coptic Apocalypse of Peter as a Pseudepigraphon”

S20-206 Bible and Visual Art (1:00 PM to 3:30 PM)
Geert Van Oyen, Université catholique de Louvain: “The Pictorial Representation of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas in the Klosterneuburger Evangelienwerk (ca. 1340)”
Rebecca Skaggs, Patten University and John Skaggs, Patten University: “The Harrowing of Hell (1 Peter 3:18-22): Theological Observations from the Consideration of its Reception History in Art”

S20-321 Greco-Roman Religions (4:00 PM to 6:30 PM)
Travis Proctor, Northland College: Of Landscapes and Legacies: “The Reconfiguration of Cultic Space in the Acts of John

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Addenda to Syriac Tradition of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas: A Neglected Edition of the Life of Mary and a Forgotten Palimpsest

In the short time between when I submitted the manuscript of my new book, The Syriac Tradition of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, to its publisher and when it was printed, two additional sources for the text came to my attention. This was to be expected, particularly for the rather robust Sw recension, in which Inf. Gos. Thom. appears as the fourth of five books in a sprawling Life of Mary collection. It was a big surprise, however, to discover a fifth/sixth-century manuscript belonging to the Sa recension (the best witness to the early form of the text), and that this manuscript had been mentioned in scholarship over a century ago! I promised in the preface to the book that I would publish updates (chiefly via the e-Clavis: Christian Apocrypha entries for the three recensions), but I didn’t think I would be doing it so soon!

I will cover the Sw manuscript first. It is an uncatalogued and unnumbered manuscript belonging to the Monastery of St. Ephrem in Holland. It was published in a devotional edition prepared by Julius Y. Çiçek (Die heilige Meryem/Tad’itho d’yoldath aloho Maryam. Holland: Bar Hebraeus Verlag, 2001) that came to my attention via Grigory Kessel. These kind of editions are fairly common in places like Cairo and the monasteries of Greece and essentially entail a transcription of a single manuscript, sometimes with translation. Çiçek’s edition is significant not only for its use of a previously unknown manuscript but also because it is the first ever publication of the entire West Syriac Life of Mary compendium, which includes the Protevangelium of James, the Vision of Theophilus, Inf. Gos. Thom., and the Six-Books Dormition of the Virgin. My volume includes an edition and translation of only the Inf. Gos. Thom. portion of the collection. The edition draws from 20 manuscripts, and I discuss another six that lack Inf. Gos. Thom., and note 14 extant in Garšuni; Charles Naffah is working on a proper scholarly edition of the full corpus.

Çiçek’s edition is slightly different from other devotional publications in that it relies on two manuscripts: the one on hand at the monastery and another from the Mingana collection (Syr. 560; assigned the siglum C in my edition and dated 1491). The Holland manuscript is dated 1567 and was produced in Gargar, near the Turkish city of Adiyaman. It is complete, which is helpful given that many of the Life of Mary manuscripts lack at least portions of book one. An untitled image presumably of the manuscript appears in the edition; surprisingly, the script is East Syriac, rather than the western Serto that one would expect.

A portion of the Holland manuscript

As interesting as Çiçek’s edition is, the Sa manuscript is a much more exciting find, though takes a little more time to explain. The story begins with the publication of a famous palimpsest manuscript found at Sinai (St. Catherine’s Monastery, syr. 30) in 1892 by Agnes Smith Lewis and her sister Margaret Gibson. It is an eighth-century collection of lives of female saints written over pages taken from multiple codices, including a fifth/sixth-century copy of the Old Syriac Gospels (the first fourteen quires, comprising 142 leaves), the Acts of Thomas (quires 15, 16, and 17), four leaves of the Gospel of John in Greek from the fourth century (quire 15), and part of 6 Bks. Dorm. (quire 16). The gospels were published as Robert L. Bensly, J. Rendell Harris, and F. Crawford Burkitt, with an introduction by Agnes Smith Lewis, The Four Gospels in Syriac Transcribed from the Sinaitic Palimpsest (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1894). The overwriting was published as Agnes Smith Lewis, Select Narratives of Holy Women from the Syro-Antiochene or Sinai Palimpsest as Written above the Old Syriac Gospels by John the Stylite, of Beth-Mari-Qanûn in A.D. 778 (Studia Sinaitica 9–10; London: C.J. Clay and Sons, 1900), with the Acts of Thomas (text, translation, and notes) in an appendix by Burkitt (pp. 23–44) and the Greek Gospel of John in another (pp. 45–46).

At the time, Smith Lewis believed that another Sinai manuscript (St. Catherine’s Monastery, ar. 588) used additional leaves from the same palimpsest (Four Gospels, p. xvii), based in part on “the coincidence of the contents.” The manuscript is comprised of 69 folios; the overwriting is a ninth/tenth-century Prophetologion (Old Testament lectionary used in the Byzantine tradition), and the underwriting is from two Syriac manuscripts and a few fragments in early Arabic and Christian Palestinian Aramaic. The Syriac portions are significant parts of 6 Bks. Dorm. (excerpt given in Four Gospels, p. xvii), Prot. Jas., and Inf. Gos. Thom. (excerpt with explicit of Prot. Jas. and beginning of Inf. Gos. Thom. in Four Gospels, pp. xviii–xix). In 1902, Smith Lewis returned to the topic of this palimpsest in her introduction to Apocrypha Syriaca. The Protevangelium Jacobi and Transitus Mariae with Texts from the Septuagint, the Corân, the Peshitta, and from a Syriac Hymn in a Syro-Arabic Palimpsest of the fifth and other centuries (Studia Sinaitica 11; London: C. J. Clay, 1902). She mentions here ar. 588 and ar. 514 as witnesses to Prot. Jas. and 6 Bks. Dorm., though they differ so negligibly from the manuscript published in Apocrypha Syriaca—yet another Sinai palimpsest, later catalogued as Cambridge University Library, Or. 1287—that she did not include readings from them in her edition. No mention is made of ar. 588 also including Inf. Gos. Thom. (and why it escaped not only my attention but also the attention of every other Inf. Gos. Thom. scholar of the last 100 years!). Most importantly she states that she was wrong about ar. 588’s relationship to syr. 30: the two do not re-use the same manuscript after all, since portions of their Dorm. Vir. materials overlap in content (Apocrypha Syriaca, p. v).

Schøyen MS 579

As for Sinai ar. 514, it is a ninth/tenth-century Arabic collection of patristic works translated from Syriac. It comprises 175 folios culled from more than ten different Syriac manuscripts containing a range of materials, including Old Testament texts, a herbal treatise, and a sixth-century copy of, once again, Prot. Jas. and Dorm. Vir. Four folios of this manuscript now reside in the Schøyen collection (as MS 579; detailed description at the Schøyen Collection web site); they were published by Stephen  Shoemaker as “New Syriac Dormition Fragments from Palimpsests in the Schøyen Collection and British Library,” Le Muséon 124.3-4 (2011): 259–78. The 6 Bks. Dorm. portions of two of the palimpsests have re-examined recently in Sebastian. P. Brock and Grigory Kessel, “The ‘Departure of Mary’ in Two Palimpsests at the Monastery of St. Catherine (Sinai Syr. 30 and Sinai Arabic 514),” Khristiansky Vostok 8 (2017): 115–52.

There are plans now to digitize the Sinai palimpsests and make them freely available on the web site of the Sinai Palimpsests Project. Kessel, who is working for the project, presented some  preliminary findings on ar. 514 and ar. 588 at this summer’s Réunion de l’AELAC. His handout, circulated to AELAC members, reveals that the Inf. Gos. Thom. material in ar. 588 is comprised of the following:

fol. 67r–67v=IGT 1–6
fol. 62r–62v=IGT 6–7
fol. 52v=IGT 7–13
fol. 52r=IGT 13–16
fol. 66r–66v=no exact correspondences

For this list, Kessel compared ar. 588 to Wright’s edition of British Library Add. 14484, which lacks portions of chs. 6, 7 and 15; it is possible that fol. 66 contains some of this material, or that it corresponds to the final chapter (19 in the traditional numbering), which is the only portion of the British Library manuscript not included in Kessel’s list.

Excerpt from Sinai ar. 588

Until the Sinai Palimpsests Project posts their images, the only knowledge we have of the text of Inf. Gos. Thom. from ar. 588 is Smith Lewis’s excerpt, which agrees sometimes with Wright’s manuscript and sometimes with the other fifth/sixth-century manuscript of the text: Göttingen Syr. 10 (originally from Sinai, and indeed a few additional pages from the manuscript were found among the “new finds” discovered in 1975). I am excited at the prospect of seeing the full manuscript and hope that the images will be posted soon. The palimpsests are also very important for work on the other two texts in these “Life of Mary” collections; together they amount to five witnesses to this combination of texts, and all but one of them derive from the same location (the exception is British Library Add. 14484, which has been traced to tenth-century Baghdad, though it certainly could have been produced at St. Catherine’s). It’s amazing that ar. 588 so completely escaped scholars’ attention, due simply because the only mention of Inf. Gos. Thom.’s presence in it was made in a completely unrelated book. Were it not for Kessel and the Palimpsests Project it would have remained forgotten.

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2017 International SBL Christian Apocrypha Sessions Report

This year’s International Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature took place August 7-11 at Humboldt University in Berlin, an auspicious location since Berlin is the hub of Christian Apocrypha Studies in German, and Humboldt in particular is where Christoph Markschies, co-editor of the “new Hennecke,” teaches. I was able to attend the first three of four Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha sessions and will provide here some comments on the papers and discussions; Bradley Rice graciously agreed to pass along some comments on the fourth.

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

The first session began with the paper I previewed on Apocryphicity co-written with Slavomír Céplö (Univerzita Karlova v Praze) entitled “‘Arabic’ Infancy Gospel No More: The Challenges of Reconstructing the Original Gospel of the Infancy.” The paper was an overview of the sources for the Gospel of the Infancy in both Syriac and Arabic and posed some questions about how to present that evidence in a new translation to be included in a future volume of New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures. One of the other presenters in the session, Mari Mamyan, was absent, leaving much time for discussion of how the growth of Digital Humanities impacts the construction of critical editions. Christoph Markschies, who was present at the session, remarked that the publisher of his multi-volume compendium Antike christliche Apokryphen in deutscher Übersetzung has stated that the current edition will be the last one they publish, because the audience has changed so much over the years—scholars interested in the material are increasingly working online and the wider public want inexpensive and easily-digestible popular market books.

Tony Burke and Slavomír Céplö

In response, Slavomír made some positive comments about how electronic critical editions could be constructed, and a promise was made by the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha Section chairs to continue discussion at the Annual Meeting in Boston and next year’s International Meeting with some thoughts to establishing electronic publishing standards that could be adopted for future critical editions. Julia Snyder noted also that each venue for a text has its own expectations—e.g., a popular market book need not be extensive in its use of manuscript variants, and could simply present one manuscript as a sample of the text. I mentioned in this regard a publication of the West Syriac Life of Mary made in Holland for devotional reading that does precisely that; similar editions exist in Arabic and Greek, though they often escape the notice of scholars working on the texts. The translations we prepare for MNTA (and that Markschies includes in his volumes) try to steer a line down the middle, essentially presenting a complete (where possible) overview of the sources for a given text and a translation that is detailed enough to accompany a critical edition, but without providing the text in its original language(s). As far as I’m concerned, I see the scholar’s role as to adjudicate between variants and provide a text that can be situated at a particular time and place, whether the text’s time of composition or a stage along the way. Electronic editions that allow the user to create their own editions by picking and choosing their own variants are useful tools but if they do not present an argument, they are not really scholarship. Keep in mind this comes from a guy who just spent much of the last ten year’s working on a “conventional” print critical edition!

Janet Spittler responds to Justin Mihoc

The other paper in the session (unfortunately eclipsed by the discussion of critical editions) was “Mary-Temple in the Protevangelium of James” by Justin A. Mihoc (University of Durham). Mihoc focused on the symbolism in the text of the church as mother, seen also, for example, in the Shepherd of Hermas with its depiction of the church as an aged woman who becomes a young virgin. In Prot. Jas., Mary functions in a similar way: a model of the church as pure, virginal, etc. Mihoc also noted the parallels in the text between Mary and Eve that evoke an image of Mary as embodying a restored Eden. Included in this discussion was a series of evocations of creation: the suspension of time at Jesus’ birth, Jesus’ conception through the word of God, the annunciations to Joseph and Mary taking place outside gardens, and others. In the discussion that followed, Dennis MacDonald drew attention to Prot. Jas.’s “transgressive” use of Matthew and Luke—e.g., the author omits the conception and birth of John the Baptist. Mihoc agreed that the author freely used her sources, suggesting a time of composition before Matthew and Luke became authoritative. I would agree that the text is certainly early (a late second-century terminus ante quem is established by Clement of Alexandria’s knowledge of the text) but orthodox writers continued to play around with the New Testament Gospels and construct new texts long after the establishment of the canon.

Independent scholar Kwang Meng Low opened the second session with his paper “Text of Subversion: Gospel of Judas and Carnivalesque.” Kwang’s interpretive lens is a methodology developed by Mikhail Bakhtin. I must confess that I have an utter lack of interest in post-modern literary criticism and found the paper difficult to follow. He was certainly correct that the Gospel of Judas is a subversive text that, in his words, “aimed to mock the institutionalized (‘orthodox’) church,” but that interpretation is not new. Another “new reading” of a text was promised by Eric Beck (University of Edinburgh) in his paper “Hell in Context: A New Reading of the Apocalypse of Peter.” Beck took issue with the common view that Apoc. Pet., like other Tour of Hell apocalypses, was intended to be monitory—i.e., its depiction of various punishments for sins is intended to warn sinners away from such behavior. Beck argued instead that the readers of the text are meant to feel compassion for those outside of the faith, not inside, who are punished for their unbelief. As proof, Beck presented a new translation of ch. 3 of the text where Peter and Jesus weep for the sinners who have been separated from the righteous. When asked why the text’s author wanted his readers to feel compassion for those being punished, Beck answered that she was encouraging such behavior between believers and nonbelievers in the present, not at the eschaton. Determining the original intentions of Apoc. Pet.’s author is difficult, particularly where one has to rely on the later Ethiopic sources for the text; however, Beck said the same theme is observable in the Greek fragments of the text. 

The session concluded with a paper from Bradley Rice (McGill University): “The Story of Joseph of Arimathea and the Inventio of Icons in Christian Apocrypha.” Like Slavomír and I, Rice was previewing material that will be included in a future volume of MNTA. The text is extant only in Georgian and is included in a list of “inventio” texts discussed in works by Paul Dilley. The first portion details Joseph’s role in the burial and resurrection of Jesus, drawing upon material from the more widely known Narrative of Joseph of Arimathea. The second portion shifts the action to the city of Lydda where Joseph is sent by Jesus to preach and where Joseph converts a synagogue into a church, which leads to a conflict with the Jewish community that is settled when an image of the Virgin Mary appears in the building. Similar contests occur in other inventio texts, but Rice’s interest is in the role icons play in several of them and he suggested that they are used to champion a particular form of Christianity, in this case one particularly interested in the veneration of Mary. He noted also that some inventio texts were created after the Christianization of the empire, when the delineation of Christian and Jewish space was no longer an issue; so something more most be going on in these texts.

Jonathan Henry

After a two-day break, the second pair of Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha sessions returned to the topic of “what is a text?” with Jonathan Henry’s (Princeton University) paper “Theories and Methods for the Study of Christian Apocryphal Literature.” Henry works on the Acts of Thomas and dazzled a crowd at the 2016 SBL meeting in San Antonio with a presentation on the “material philology” of manuscripts and images related to the text. He drew on some of that work in Berlin but widened the discussion to include musings on what is lost when a manuscript is used to create a critical edition. Close study of a manuscript shows us how a text was valued and used at a particular moment (moments, really, since it may move around over the course of its lifetime) in history; critical editions focus on the original text, not how, where, and why the particular witnesses to it were used. Henry brought into the discussion similar methodology in use in both medieval and rabbinic studies, noting particularly work on Hekhalot literature by Peter Shäfer that demonstrates that there is no authoritative, fixed text of the material until it appeared in print form, and Hugo Lundhaug’s essay on the Nag Hammadi Codices in Snapshots of Evolving Traditions. Also noted was Michael Meerson and Peter Shäfer’s study of the Toledot Yeshu and Bill Adler’s translations of On the Priesthood of Jesus (from MNTA vol. 1) both of which present multiple texts, each with their own interests and histories, rather than an attempt to recover a single original. The discussion that followed Henry’s paper debated the merits of the “new philology” Henry has embraced and the need to balance it with traditional methods. Janet Spittler again brought up the subject of digital editions and Henry responded that these need to be embraces and that scholars need to “get creative.”

The following two papers moved discussion away from Christian Apocrypha to Jewish Apocrypha. Francis Borchardt (Lutheran Theological Seminary, Hong Kong) examined 2 Maccabees and the additions to Daniel in “The Limits of the ‘Book’ when Studying Ancient Writings.” The problem addressed by Borchardt was somewhat different: the first two chapters of 2 Macc are widely believed to be not original to the text and are usually set aside when interpreting it, despite the fact that it never circulated without them. A similar issue exists in New Testament Studies, as Dennis MacDonald pointed out, with the Signs Source of John or Q, though there are plenty of examples of apocryphal texts with similar concerns, such as the various theories over the original form of the Gospel of Thomas. Borchardt argued for examining 2 Macc as it exists in the manuscript tradition, not what scholars want it to be. As for Daniel, Borchardt pointed out that we commonly read the additions separately from the rest of Daniel, out of their literary context. Borchardt concluded that scholars need to stop thinking of books and authors in a modern sense. In response, Eric Beck argued that modern scholars are not that different from the copyists and transmitters of the texts—we all try to establish a text as we want to see it. Borchardt agreed.

The final paper was presented by James D. Moore (Brandeis University): “Calling all Cards a Spade?: Reflections on the Story of Ahiqar and the Different Editions of the Tale that Go by the Same Name.” Ahiqar appears in dozens of manuscripts and a dozen languages, with considerable variation among them. As Moore wrote in his abstract for the paper, “Some manuscripts contain an autobiographical narrative with a single collection of maxims, others an expanded narrative with two collections of maxims, while some editions have completely recast the narrative into a different period and setting or have changed the narrative style from autobiography to biography.” When dealing with this amount of variation, the questions becomes, what do we consider the Story of Ahiqar to be? Moore likened the process of answering this question to work on myth by Levi Strauss. In reconstructing an original myth Strauss said one must look at all versions and include those versions that “felt” the same. As an example of the depth of the problem, Moore looked at the Syriac tradition of the text which is extant in 10 recensions with distinctly different structures. In scholarship these recensions are often condensed into a “Syriac” text that does a disservice to the evidence. As a cap on the discussion, Dennis MacDonald cautioned that the new philology should not prevent scholars from theorizing about parent texts (hypothetical branches in the tradition that gave rise to later copies). “Philology,” he said, “also includes the imaginative.”

After Moore’s paper I had to rush out to catch a plane home; fortunately, Bradley Rice stuck around and passed along some comments about the final session.

In his paper, “The ‘Novel’ or Letter from Clement of Rome to James of Jerusalem,” Dominique Côté (Université d’Ottawa – University of Ottawa) considered the question of genre in the Pseudo-Clementines. Côté first offers a brief introduction to this corpus of writings, which is extant in two main versions, the Recognitions and the Homilies. Côté then drew our attention to the several literary genres attested by the corpus, including “romance,” “dialogue,” and “epistle,” and wondered if these genres are perhaps intentionally linked with various apostles, such as Peter with dialogue or James with the epistle, and considered what such a connection would mean for readers of the Pseudo-Clementines. Drawing on some of the usual suspects of postmodern biblical criticism, like Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes, Côté asked just how we should conceive of the author of a corpus like the Pseudo-Clementines. Finally, Côté tentatively concluded that the author(s) of the Pseudo-Clementines deliberately employed specific literary genres in order to, as he put it, “take a stand in defining the true version of prophecy.”

In “Textual Fluidity in Coptic Apocrypha,” Ivan Miroshnikov (University of Helsinki) attempted to show just how unstable and fluid the texts of various Coptic apocrypha actually were. He argued that in those cases where the text of a given apocryphon is quite fluid, it is essentially futile to create a critical edition or attempt to establish the “original text.” Miroshnikov demonstrated that whereas it may make good sense to create a critical edition of the Coptic Bible, in the case of certain apocrypha—he gave the examples of the Preaching of Bartholomew (CANT 261) and the Preaching of Philip (CANT 252)—it is virtually impossible to establish the original form of the text. Miroshnikov further showed that some apocrypha change their genre, such as the Martyrdom of Matthew (CANT 269), which is also found as the Preaching of Matthew; still other apocrypha change their protagonist, such as the Acts of Peter and Andrew (CANT 237), a form of which is found in the Preaching of Thaddaeus. After providing several other examples of textual fluidity, Miroshnikov offered the following conclusions: First, unlike the Coptic Bible but like Coptic hagiographica, Coptic apocrypha are subject to considerable textual fluidity; second, this fluidity may be seen in apocryphal texts composed in Coptic as well as in those translated from Greek; third, it is impossible to produce a critical edition of a Coptic apocryphon—each textual witness should be understood as an “idiosyncratic performance of the source text”; fourth, this textual fluidity should not preclude us from theorizing about the principal recensions of a given apocryphon.

And finally, section co-chair Janet Spittler (University of Virginia) asked “What do we mean when we say ‘Acts of John’?” Spittler asked the important question of just what it is we are referring to when we speak of the “Acts of John,” for this title has been used for quite a number of works connected with the apostle John. The Acts of John as we know it today simply did not exist in the early church. Spittler offered an excellent survey of the various texts that have been identified as the “Acts of John” in various editions from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. These include Thilo’s fragments from the Council of Nicea, Tischendorf’s “Acts of John in Rome,” and Zahn’s “Acts of John by Prochorus.” The Acts of John as we know it today is found in the now standard CCSA edition by Junod and Kaestli. According to Spittler, the multiple text forms of the Acts of John show that it was an open text, a fluid text, a “moving piece of literature.” She drew our attention to the “new philology” of medievalists and the shift from the “original” text to the text as we have it, citing Bernard Cequiglini’s dictum that “medieval literature does not have variance, it is variance.” Spittler applied the new philology to the Acts of John, and observed that Rémi Gounelle has applied a similar approach to the Acts of Pilate literature. Finally, Spittler posed a number of important questions concerning how scholars of Christian apocrypha should move forward in the years to come, such as: What problematic practices are there in the presentation of the various texts comprising the “Acts of John”? What is gained or lost when the original text is prioritized? What is the ideal presentation of a fluid text?

With those questions, the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha sessions came to a close. Anyone interested in pursuing these investigations further should consider presenting at next year’s meeting in Helsinki. Watch for the call for papers early in the new year.

 

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2017 ISBL Preview: “‘Arabic’ Infancy Gospel No More”

Laurenziana 387, fol. 5r

I am about to depart for the 2017 International Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Berlin. Slavomír Céplö and I will be presenting at the first of four Christian Apocrypha sessions; for a full listing of the Christian Apocrypha papers at this year’s ISBL see this post. The paper, entitled “‘Arabic’ Infancy Gospel No More: The Challenges of Reconstructing the Original Gospel of the Infancy,” has two aims: to present the current status of our work on the Arabic Infancy Gospel (aka Gospel of the Infancy), and to interact with the session’s theme of “Is this a ‘text’?” (questioning practices of how we title texts and if these titles capture the dynamic, fluid natures of verbal communication). Here is the abstract for the paper:

The Arabic Infancy Gospel (Arab. Gos. Inf.) was first published by Henry Sike in 1697, long before many of the apocryphal texts that now dominate the study of Christian Apocrypha. Only one other edition of the text has appeared in the intervening centuries: from a much-different and likely-superior manuscript at the Biblioteca Laurenziana. Additional manuscripts exist but no one, as yet, has evaluated these witnesses. Nor has there been much effort to integrate into the study of this text the East Syriac History of the Virgin, which shares a large portion of material with Arab. Gos. Inf. This paper presents the results of careful analysis of the manuscript sources for both texts and offers some preliminary observations about how best to present the evidence in a new critical edition. As with many other apocryphal texts, scholars are burdened with and restricted by Arab. Gos. Inf.’s editio princeps, which  bestowed upon the text an inadequate title that marginalizes the text in Christian Apocrypha scholarship as a product of a community far beyond the traditional centres of Christianity in the Latin West and the Greek East (though this core is increasingly broadening to include Syriac and Coptic Christianity). The influence of the editio princeps is felt also in determinations of the earliest recoverable form of the text, for the parallel material in the Syriac History of the Virgin certainly preceded the Arabic version, but the Arabic perhaps reflects better the original extent of the text. What must be avoided, however, is the reconstruction of a “Syriac Infancy Gospel” that no longer exists, nor may have ever existed.

Work on the Syriac sources for the text was completed as part of my newly-released book The Infancy Gospel of Thomas in the Syriac Tradition, which contains a comprehensive overview of the East Syriac History of the Virgin manuscripts, both those that contain Infancy Thomas and those that do not. The Arabic sources were more of a challenge. To date only two manuscripts of the text—named Gospel of the Infancy in their incipits and explicits—have been published: one by Heinrich Sike way back in 1697 (Oxford, Bodleian Library, Bodl. Or. 350)  and one by Mario Provera in 1973 (Florence, Biblioteca Laurenziana, codex orientalis 387). Georg Graf listed about 13 more in the first volume of his Geschichte der christlichen Arabischen Literatur (1944). No-one, it seems, has returned to this list to see what the manuscripts contain. Well, until now.

Bodl. Or. 350, fol. 1r

Slavomír and I have obtained copies of almost all of the manuscripts in Graf’s list, not an easy task given that some are described incorrectly or inadequately, and we were able to add to it five more (see pp. 113–15 of The Infancy Gospel of Thomas in the Syriac Tradition for this provisional list). As it turns out, not all of the manuscripts contain Arab. Gos. Inf. after all. In the end, there are at least six manuscripts in the form edited by Sike (Recension S, a shorter text that includes Infancy Thomas), only one in the form edited by Provera (Recension L, which lacks Infancy Thomas but continues past the childhood to include a number of chapters summarizing canonical stories from Jesus’ adulthood), and two in a form that is unpublished (Recension P, which lacks both Infancy Thomas and the adulthood stories). A further five are pending evaluation, either because we are still waiting for copies or, in the case of one of them, it’s too bloody difficult to read! Four of the manuscripts we gathered actually contain the Apocryphal Gospel of John, and one other curious manuscript features a text by the name of “some of what was explained from the gospel of the infancy which we find said in some of the Syriac manuscripts.”

Our initial goal in working with this material was to contribute a new English translation of the “Gospel of the Infancy” to the next volume of New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures. But we are still unsure of how to proceed. Do we favor the Syriac text, essentially extracting the infancy material from the larger History of the Virgin that is paralleled in Arab. Gos. Inf.? That solution assumes that Hist. Vir. and Arab. Gos. Inf. are two independent witnesses to a Syriac infancy gospel. What if, instead, Arab. Gos. Inf. is an extraction from Hist. Vir.? If so,  there never was a Syriac infancy gospel. There are other problems also, not the least of which is that Hist. Vir.’s parallels to the Protevangelium of James are far more expansive than those in Arab. Gos. Inf. Does this mean that Hist. Vir. expanded the original infancy gospel with further material from Prot. Jas., or that Arab. Gos. Inf. reduced it? And what do we call the text? Arab. Gos. Inf. has become the standard title, but it is misleading and has contributed to the neglect of the Syriac text. If we call it Gospel of the Infancy, do we risk it being accidentally overlooked by subsequent scholars and bibliographers?

These concerns are not unique to the Gospel of the Infancy. Scholarship in our field is littered with nomenclature that has long outlived its suitability (consider the case of Prot. Jas. which has been given a title that is not found in any of the manuscripts and was adopted to reflect its first editor’s view that it predated and was a source of the canonical infancy narratives) . We hope that our paper will start a robust discussion about how other scholars can address similar problems in their own work.

For more information on the Arabic Infancy Gospel and the East Syriac History of the Virgin, look them up on e-Clavis: Christian Apocrypha.

 

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2017 CSBS Christian Apocrypha Session Report

Last weekend (May 27-29) I attended the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies at Ryerson University in Toronto. For several years now I have organized an ad hoc Christian apocrypha panel—essentially, if enough papers are submitted, I cajole the program director to put them all together into one session. This year we had four papers, and these were paired with two papers that did not fit into other sessions.

Ian Brown

The first presentation was by University of Toronto student Ian Phillip Brown: “Where Indeed was the Gospel of Thomas Written?: Thomas as a Product of Alexandrian Intellectual Culture.” Brown argued against the notion that Gos. Thom. was composed in Edessa, a position dominant in discussions of the text, indeed to the point that some scholars romanticize a “school of Thomas” situated in Syria. This idea has spilled over also to the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, leading early scholars of the text to assume it too was composed in Syria, and even posit a Syriac origin to the text (a view that I have taken great pains to refute). But, as Brown said, the popularity of a text in a given area is not proof for origin, nor should later texts, in this case the Acts of Thomas, be used to date and situate earlier texts. Brown considers Alexandria a much more likely location for the writing of Thomas as it fits in well with the Jewish exegetical traditions of Genesis practiced there by Philo and others. Brown took time also to note arguments for the presence of Semitisms in the text and Simon Gathercole’s efforts to show that this phenomenon can be explained without recourse to a Syriac or Aramaic original. The conversation after Brown’s paper was lively. He was asked how origin in Alexandria affected source critical arguments for the text—e.g., its (perhaps) early origins, its relationship to Tatian, etc. Another question came up about how to interpret the esteem held for James in logion 12, which some scholars have seen as evidence for an early Jewish-Christian stratum for the text. I mentioned also that our earliest physical evidence for Gos. Thom. is the Greek fragments from Oxyrhynchus and the earliest testimonies are from writers in Alexandria (Clement and Origen).

Amelia Porter

The second presentation came from another student at the University of Toronto, Amelia Porter, with her paper “New Paideia?: The Construction of Social Identity in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas.” Porter’s supervisor, John Kloppenborg, had mentioned Porter to me a few days earlier because of my work on the text, and likely I will be added to her supervisory committee. Porter’s paper focused on the three teacher stories in the text. She sees these as efforts to replace Roman paideia (which, Porter argued, is not just learning to read and write, but also the acquisition of Roman culture) with a Christian paideia, where knowledge of Jesus is considered superior to all other learning. This is observable in the first teacher story (ch. 6), in which Zacchaeus seeks to teach the unruly child, “so that he may learn to love those his own age, honour old age and revere elders, so that he may acquire a desire to be among children, also teaching them in return” (6:2). The teaching begins with the alphabet, but Jesus refuses to repeat it back to the teacher, and instead instructs Zacchaeus on the esoteric qualities of the Alpha. Zacchaeus is humbled by this display of knowledge. A second teacher (ch. 14) is killed by Jesus after striking Jesus on the head for refusing to repeat the alphabet to him. And finally, in the third story (ch. 15), another teacher worships Jesus after witnessing him open a book and, instead of reading from it, he speaks “in the spirit.” Porter concluded that the gospel’s teacher episodes “illustrate a move by Roman/Gentile Christians toward separation and differentiation from the reigning cultural paradigm. In its place, IGT is constructing an identity based on access to ‘true’ knowledge, embodied in the text by the child Jesus, and illustrated via his superiority to both the teachers of the ‘old school’ and the cultural systems they represent.” There was little time for discussion after the paper, but Porter and I spoke at the break and I made a few suggestions to her. First, in the text, Jesus naturally is taught by Jewish teachers, and Jacob Neusner, perhaps the first scholar to look seriously at these stories for what they might say about the text’s origins, suggested that Jesus is shown here to be superior to Jewish, not Roman culture, specifically the rabbinic school being formulated by Zacchaeus’s namesake Johanan ben Zakkai around the same time as Inf. Gos. Thom.’s composition. Mind you, it is unlikely that the gospel’s writer and readers are Jewish, and Jesus’ conflict with Jewish learning can work just as effectively as an analogy for Roman or Greek culture, but the thoughtworld of the text should be acknowledged. I also suggested she broaden the narrative ark of the teacher stories to include the gospel’s climax in the story of Jesus in the temple borrowed from Luke; hereJesus amazes the teachers with his knowledge of “the main points of the law and the riddles and the parables of the prophets.” Of course, here Jesus is shown as having mastered Jewish learning, not rejected it.

The next two papers in the session—Robert Revington (McMaster University), “Name Repetition in Narrative Units in the New Testament and Other Literature” and Chiaen (Joshua) Liu (McMaster Divinity College), “Peter’s Sermon on Christological Prophecy: A Register Analysis on Acts 3:12-26”—did not examine apocryphal texts, so I will not comment on them, except to say that the pop culture references in Revington’s presentation would have put Mark Goodacre to shame (the best was his mention of the two Marthas of Superman v. Batman).

Robert Edwards

We returned to Christian apocrypha with Robert Edwards’ (University of Notre Dame) paper “The Deposition and Christology in the Gospel of Peter.” Edwards challenged the common assessment of Gos. Pet.’s Christology as “unsophisticated” in relation to the canonical Gospels, a rather unfair characterization given that we only have a few fragments of the text. For some time, scholars tried to find evidence of docetic Christology in the text, a search occasioned by Eusebius’ discussion of its use among docetics in the church of Serapion. Scholars eventually abandoned that view but have not replaced it with anything else. Edwards looked at the deposition account in the gospel, a section mostly without parallel in the NT Gospels, and noted some interesting features: the earthquake occurs when Jesus is placed on the ground (affirming the sacredness of Jesus’ body, Edwards said, rather than an eschatological event as in Matthew), Jesus is called “Lord” throughout the text, even after his death (the NT Gospels tend to have “Jesus’ body”), and the giant Jesus who exits the tomb, with his head stretching to heaven, forms a bridge between heaven and earth, the spiritual and the physical. All of these phenomena suggest to Edwards that Gos. Pet. affirms the materiality of Jesus, with his body and soul united throughout the text. In the discussion that followed, questions were asked about the meaning of Jesus’ final words (“My power, my power, you have forsaken me”) and the possible connection between the two figures who take Jesus out of the tomb with Moses and Elijah from the Transfiguration scene.

Tony Burke

The final paper in the session was mine: “Christian Apocrypha in Ancient Libraries.” This paper was supposed to be presented at the 2009 SBL Annual Meeting. François Bovon, well-known for his scholarship on the Christian apocrypha, was slated to offer a response. As it turned out, I had to cancel my appearance at SBL that year when my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. François too died of cancer just a few years ago. I was asked to contribute something to a memorial volume for François and thought it would be appropriate to resurrect this paper and finish it at last. The idea of discovering lost Christian gospels in a musty old library is a familiar motif, found often in fiction, film, and in the discovery stories of modern forgeries; the discovery site ranges from the vaults of the Vatican, to a remote monastery, to a cave; of course, there is good reason to use this motif—we do often find lost and forgotten apocrypha in such locations. Apocrypha were present in ancient libraries also; the evidence indicates that they sat upon shelves near or next to canonical texts and non-Christian literature; this goes against the common notion that once banned in the canon selection process, apocryphal texts were cast aside, or destroyed; but where else would heresy hunters get the source material they needed for their polemics, and how would church councils know which texts to ban and which writers to anethamatize? The paper draws together the evidence of apocrypha in ancient libraries from the church writers of the first four centuries, from caches of codices discovered in Egypt, and from references to libraries in apocryphal texts, to see what we can learn about how apocrypha were read, stored, and exchanged in the early Christian library network as it developed just prior to and shortly after the Christian triumph brought by Constantine the Great. Along the way I look at works used in Alexandria by Clement, Origen, and Didymus the Blind, in Caesarea by Eusebius, in Jerusalem by Jerome and Epiphanius, in Rome by Hippolytus, and texts believed to have come from Pachomian monasteries (the Nag Hammadi Codices, the Dishna papers, and the Chester Beatty Papyri). It is a sweeping paper sorely in need of reduction to a manageable size—even the presentation version of it went a little long despite a fast-paced read. But in the five minutes of discussion that followed I received some very useful feedback that will improve the paper considerably (including taking a look at Lucian’s Ignorant Book Collector, adding some nuance to my discussion of private vs. public libraries, and considering the mischievous appeal of owning banned books, even for orthodox writers).

And that brings another CSBS Christian apocrypha session to a close. If you are interested in presenting a paper next year, please get in contact with me. The CSBS is a relatively small gathering (around 80 papers presented on average), but its size is its strength. Participants routinely praise it as much for its cordiality as the quality of the work presented. This is Canada, after all.

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Christian Apocrypha at the 2017 SBL International Meeting

The 2017 Society of Biblical Literature International Meeting will take place August 7-11 in Berlin Germany. There are five Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha panels at this year’s event, with three of them focusing on Christian Apocrypha. The program book is available online but the complete list of presentations on Christian Apocrypha from all sessions is provided below.

8-2 Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha (9:00 AM to 10:30 AM)
Tony Burke, York University and Slavomír Céplö, Univerzita Karlova v Praze: “Arabic” Infancy Gospel No More: The Challenges of Reconstructing the Original Gospel of the Infancy
Justin A. Mihoc, University of Durham: Mary-Temple in the Protevangelium of James
Mari Mamyan, Yerevan State University: The “Armenian Gospel of the Infancy”: The Ambiguous Fate of the Armenian Apocryphon in the Later Middle Ages

8-25 Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha (11:00 AM to 12:30 PM)
Kwang Meng Low, Independent: Text of Subversion: Gospel of Judas and Carnivalesque
Eric J Beck, University of Edinburgh: Hell in Context: A New Reading of the Apocalypse of Peter
Bradley N. Rice, McGill University: The Story of Joseph of Arimathea and the Inventio of Icons in Christian Apocrypha

11-3 Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha (9:00 AM to 10:30 AM)
Jonathan Henry, Princeton University: Theories and Methods for the Study of Christian Apocryphal Literature
Francis Borchardt, Lutheran Theological Seminary, Hong Kong: The Limits of the “Book” when Studying Ancient Writings
James D. Moore, Brandeis University: Calling all Cards a Spade?: Reflections on the Story of Ahiqar and the Different Editions of the Tale that Go by the Same Name

11-27 Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha (11:00 AM to 12:30 PM)
Dominique Cote, Université d’Ottawa – University of Ottawa: The “Novel” or Letter from Clement of Rome to James of Jerusalem
Ivan Miroshnikov, University of Helsinki: Textual Fluidity in Coptic Apocrypha
Janet Spittler, University of Virginia: What do we mean when we say “Acts of John”?

8-12 Nag Hammadi and Gnosticism (9:00 AM to 10:30 AM)
Simeon R Burke, University of Edinburgh: The Gospel of Thomas and the Synoptics: Thomas’ Representation of the Scribes and Pharisees as Further Evidence of its Second Century Dating
Petru Moldovan, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen: The Gospel of Thomas within the Egyptian Milieu: An Artifact Between Conventions and Promises

8-47 The Language of Colour in the Bible: From Word to Image (EABS) (11:00 AM to 12:30 PM)
Evangeline Kozitza, University of Oxford: The Annunciation in Color: The Visuality of the Temple Curtain and Mary’s Spinning in the Protevangelium of James

8-72 Slavonic Parabiblical Traditions (EABS) (2:00 PM to 3:30 PM)
Iva Trifonova, Cyrillo-Methodian Research Center, BAS: NARRATIO APHRODITIANI in Medieval Orthodox Culture
Florentina Badalanova Geller, Freie Universität Berlin: Apocryphal Apocalypses Reconsidered: Transmission of Judaeo–Christian Parabiblical Traditions in the Indigenous Visionary Narratives of Slavia Orthodoxa

9-29 Families and Children in the Ancient World (11:00 AM to 12:30 PM)
Common Lung-pun Chan, Chinese University of Hong Kong: Right to Life Against Infanticide in Apocalyptic Texts

8-91 The Language of Colour in the Bible: From Word to Image (EABS) (4:00 PM to 5:45 PM)
Emanuela Valeriani, Université de Genève: The use of colors in the Sibylline Oracles

9-49 Apostolic Fathers and Related Early Christian Literature (2:00 PM to 3:30 PM)
Simeon R. Burke, University of Edinburgh: The Gospel of Thomas and the Synoptics: Thomas’ Representation of the Scribes and Pharisees as Further Evidence of its Second Century Dating

9-73 Apocalyptic Literature (4:00 PM to 5:45 PM)
Vicente Dobroruka, Universidade de Brasília: The Final Updating of a Conversion Tool: Hagiographies, Martyrologies and the Apocalyptic Tradition of the Sibylline Oracles

9-91,Rethinking Biblical Written Tradition through Slavonic Interpretations (4:00 PM to 5:00 PM)
Cornelia Horn, Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg: Linking Slavonic and Oriental Christian Apocrypha in the Digital Realm

9-94 The Bible and Its Reception in Eastern Europe Scholarship (4:00 PM to 5:30 PM)
William Adler, North Carolina State University: The text-critical value of the Slavonic version of the Palaea Historica
Florentina Geller, Freie Universität Berlin: Slavonic Folk Bible

10-34 Slavonic Apocrypha (EABS) (11:00 AM to 12:30 PM)
Anissava Miltenova, Institute for Literature Bulgarian Academy of Sciences: Symbiosis between Apocryphon and Nomocanon: Apocalypsis Johannis quarta
Amber Ivanova, Universiteit Gent: The Apocryphal Origin of the Martyr Act of Saint Thekla in the Medieval Slavonic Tradition

11-4 Bible and Syriac Studies in Context (9:00 AM to 10:30 AM)
TODA Satoshi, Hokkaido University: The So-Called Hebrew Urmatthäus and Syriac Gospel Tradition

Posted in SBL Christian Apocrypha Section | Leave a comment

Review: Markus Bockmuehl’s Ancient Apocryphal Gospels

Bockmuehl, Markus. Ancient Apocryphal Gospels. Interpretation: Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 2017.

I am typically leery of studies of Christian apocrypha that come from conservative or Evangelical perspectives (I have written about such works in SBL Forum and her eon this blog). Scholars with faith commitments typically do not treat the texts objectively and sympathetically as expressions of Christian belief that are equally as valid as canonical texts; they frequently disparage the contents of apocryphal texts and spend much of their time lauding and defending the canonical texts against some perceived liberal-scholar pro-apocrypha bogeyman. But I was pleasantly surprised by Bockmuehl’s introduction. Granted, it is not empty of conservative rhetoric (the series is subtitled “Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church” after all), but the book is nevertheless a worthy and up-to-the-minute survey of the texts that draws upon and points readers toward a deep base of Christian apocrypha scholarship.

Bockmuehl confesses that he when asked to write Ancient Apocryphal Gospels back in 2008, he was not receptive to the request. “While this seemed a fine objective in its own right,” he writes, “its intellectual impetus was not mine—nor could I pretend to either passion or expertise in the subject matter” (p. ix). Bockmuehl is perhaps too modest here, as he does have experience with some of the literature, particularly the Protevangelium of James and the Gospel of Peter. Still, I wonder why the series editors did not seek out a contributor who did have “passion” and “expertise.”

The book follows a fairly typical structure for Christian apocrypha surveys. The first chapter covers introductory matters such as defining key terms (gospel, apocryphal, canon, Gnosticism), tracing the pathways toward canon formation, and noting the sources for the texts (though only Nag Hammadi and Oxyrhynchus are mentioned). Chapters 2–5 offer summaries of the texts, divided into four categories: Infancy Gospels, Ministry Gospels, Passion Gospels, and Post-Resurrection Discourse Gospels. The final chapter focuses on “How to Read Apocryphal Gospels.” The volume concludes with a glossary (pp. 239–42) and an extensive bibliography (pp. 243–90).

Bockmuehl provides his readers with a list of the five emphases that govern the volume: 1. “to provide an introduction that is both accessible and nonsenationalist while offering a sympathetic account of these writings in relation to what became the New Testament” (p. 29); 2. to demonstrate that one can read the texts alongside the canonical and indeed that is how they were written, standing in “epiphenomenal and supplementary” position to canonical texts (p. 29); 3. that none of the texts offer an alternative narrative account of the kind provided in the four canonical texts (p. 30); 4. that instead of trying to show relationships of direct dependence between texts, “it seems in many cases preferable to think in terms of antecedence and influence” (pp. 30–31); 5. and to illustrate how the texts reflect the social memory of the community—i.e., the “social, cultural, ritual, and religious dimensions” of the communities who wrote them (p. 31). These are worthy pursuits, though item 3 is striking and indicates that Bockmuehl has a an axe to grind in this volume.

In his discussions of the individual texts, Bockmuehl provides a description of each text’s contents, origin and setting, interpretation, and transmission and influence. The focus is on the major, early texts. For example, his chapter on infancy gospels looks in detail at the Protevangelium of James, and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas but only cursorily at other texts, such as P. Cairo 10735 and later derivative infancy texts (such as the Arabic Infancy Gospel and the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew). Each chapter ends with a brief list of titles for further reading. Bockmuehl’s knowledge of the field is very current—for example, he includes a discussion of the recent re-evaluation of the Nag Hammadi library discovery stories (by Nicola Denzey Lewis and Justine Blount, p. 17) and a brief examination of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife (p. 187).

There are a few infelicities in his survey of the text. He includes the Dormition of the Virgin in the Infancy Gospels section, though it is unclear why, and he only mentions the Egyptian tradition (p. 83). His comment that “In the West, the document only achieved a certain influence on piety about the Holy Family after about the fifteenth century” obscures how significant this text has been in churches of the East. The chapter on Passion Gospels includes the Gospel of the Savior (also called the Berlin-Strasbourg Apocryphon) only because early scholarship on the text tried to make connections between it and the Gospel of Peter; but, more importantly, Bockmuehl here neglects the important work on recontextualizing the text by Alin Suciu and Joost Hagen. The chapter also deals quite summarily with the Pilate Cycle literature, affording this large body of literature only three pages of discussion (pp. 156–58); this neglect is due to the fact that the Acts of Pilate was not renamed the Gospel of Nicodemus, Bockmuehl says, until the thirteenth century and thus “does not fall under the present volume’s rubric of ancient noncanonical gospels” (p. 158). Yet, titles are largely irrelevant for determining genre and Bockmuehl looks at plenty of other texts that are not explicitly titled “gospels.”

Bockmuehl spends much of his introduction and conclusion defending the primacy of the canonical gospels. In his introduction he states that “known portions of one or more of the subsequently canonical gospels were known and cited as ‘the gospel’ before any of the extant noncanonical gospels were composed” (6) and “no ancient author refers to any identifiable version of a noncanonical text like Thomas or Q as ‘the gospel’” (6). It seems to me that there are too many gaps in our knowledge of the first and early second century to make such arguments. What evidence we do have for early use of noncanonical texts is also notably absent—i.e., 2 Clement includes material that could derive from oral traditions but it has parallels also in the Gospel of Thomas and Jewish-Christian gospels.

In his efforts to show that the noncanonical texts were not valued as highly as the canonical, Bockmuehl comments that in the Oxyrhynchus papyri “canonical and noncanonical gospels are not found together within the same manuscripts” (24), but the materials are so fragmentary that it is not possible to determine the full extent of the manuscripts. He later states that even after canonization we do not get canonical and noncanonical texts bound together (26); however, he neglects here the fourth-century Bodmer Miscellaneous Codex, which features the Protevangelium of James along with 1 and 2 Peter and Jude. Mention could be made also of Codex Sinaiticus (with Ep. Barn. and Hermas) and Codex Alexandrinus (with 1 and 2 Clem.) and the numerous Latin biblical manuscripts that contain the Epistle to the Laodiceans. Of course these examples are not manuscripts with extra gospels; nevertheless, Bockmuehl’s discussion could benefit from acknowledgment of the fluidity of the canon, even after the fourth century.

Bockmuehl further emphasizes the popularity of the canonical four by noting that they are more widely used by early orthodox writers (and there are no early commentaries on noncanonical gospels, pp. 10–11) and extant early papyri demonstrate that they were more widely disseminated (he directs readers to recent lists of the evidence that refute earlier discussions by Robert Funk and Helmut Koester that indicate the number of canonical and non-canonical gospels are balanced in the papyri, pp. 25–27). Bockmuehl adds also that none of the alternative gospels “ever achieved a comparable catholicity that might place them in competition with the four gospels, whether individually or as a fourfold whole” (p. 13) and that no canonical gospel ever became apocryphal, that no apocryphal gospel is included in a canon list, etc.

Inevitably, the Bauer Thesis is brought into the discussion. Its proponents are mischaracterized as believing “the gnostic gospels in particular offered access to the authentic original genius of the Christian message” (p. 23). On the Bauer school’s early dating of noncanonical texts, Bockmuehl concludes, rather quizzically, that “while scholars from time to time postulate the existence of primitive texts like Q or early sources of Thomas, no extant alternative gospel forms or attestations predate the New Testament four” (p. 23). In arguing against the notion that noncanonical gospels were widely suppressed, Bockmuehl throws in a jab against Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson’s The Lost Gospel (which argues that Joseph and Asenath is a coded history of Jesus’ marriage to Mary Magdalene) calling it “historical nonsense on stilts”  (p. 21). On a side note, Bockmuehl offers another cheeky comment about sensationalism in his discussion of the Gospel of Judas: “the necessarily painstaking and lengthy process of critical sifting, assessment, and reassessment was repeatedly short-circuited by the Gospel of Judas’s release into the giddy world of instant Internet punditry that leaves no fleeting thought unblogged” (p. 205).

Bockmuehl is not wrong that the noncanonical gospels on the whole were not as popular as the canonical, but I’m not sure why the argument has to be made so strongly and persistently. Relative popularity does not strike me as particularly significant, unless Bockmuehl feels his audience has been particularly swayed or irritated by the sensationalist claims he lists as one of the targets of his five emphases. Certainly sensationalism should be addressed but I fear Bockmuehl is so fueled by this goal that he obscures the evidence. His tendency is to minimize the exceptions to his arguments—for example, none of the apocryphal gospels were particularly popular, well, except for the Pilate texts and Prot. Jas. (and one could add here Ps.-Mt. and Dorm. Vir.) (p. 27); and no noncanonical gospel before 300 CE is extant in more than one copy, well, except for Gos. Thom. and Gos. Mary (p. 11). In addition, his repeated comments that no apocryphal gospel gives a complete birth to death account of Jesus’ life obscures, again, the fact that the Gospel of Peter, though now known only in fragments, likely did, as did, it seems, at least one of the Jewish-Christian gospels. The gaps in our evidence should not be presented as a lack of evidence.

Bockmuehl returns to these arguments in the final chapter of the book, How to Read Apocryphal Gospels. Here he enumerates five theses: 1.“the canonical gospels appear to be unique and distinctive” (no other gospel-like text was a contender for the canon; nor was doubt cast on any of the four); 2. “Noncanonical gospels did not ‘become apocryphal’ and were not ‘suppressed’ from the canon” (secretive protest-texts, like Gos. Thom., were not intended to be canonical); 3. “The apocryphal gospels are epiphenomenal to the gospel tradition that became canonical” (they presuppose the contents of the canonical gospels); 4. “only a minority of the apocryphal gospels seem to intend explicit subversion or displacement of the fourfold gospel”; and 5. “The apocryphal gospels illustrate the diversity of early Christianity’s cultural and religious engagement with the memory of Jesus.” I have no argument against these statements, though several again have an air of polemic to them—why is it so important in a book on apocryphal gospels to defend the primacy of the canonical texts? Why is this given so much emphasis? Should the reader still not be convinced of the superiority of the canonical four, Bockmuehl concludes the book by driving this point home: “To read the apocryphal gospels in this way alongside the New Testament is at the same time to open one’s eyes to the uniqueness and remarkably fine-grained particularity of the four canonical accounts of Jesus” (p. 236). Thankfully his final sentence is more irenic: “And yet, perhaps both the Four and the many that so diversely reflect them express a desire above all to encounter and embrace through their words the compelling person of Jesus Christ” (p. 237).

There is much to recommend Ancient Apocryphal Gospels. Bockmuehl may not have begun as an expert on the literature but he certainly demonstrates sufficient mastery of it to inform his readers about the contributions these texts make to scholarship and to Christian thought and practice. Certainly other Christian apocrypha introductions accomplish much the same thing, and without the distracting apologetics, but they may not appeal to the audience that this book is intended for. That said, scholarly investigation of any subject should not include as its goal the affirmation of deeply held religious convictions; history is messy and its study can be unsettling. Readers of the Interpretation series would benefit from being challenged in their views on this literature instead of being comforted and coddled to the point that they may feel justified in dispensing with it as derivative, insignificant, and irrelevant.

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