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

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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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2017 Réunion de l’AELAC

The annual meeting of the Association pour l’étude de la littérature apocryphe chrétienne (AELAC) will take place this year June 30 to July 2 at the Centre Jean Bosco in Lyon. The program has been posted to the AELAC web site and is reproduced below.

Friday, June 30

Réunion du comité de l’AELAC avec les responsables des différents projets éditoriaux.

20:15 Présentations.

20:30 Isabel Iribarren (Université de Strasbourg), Utilisations et fonctions des écrits apocryphes dans l’œuvre de Jean Gerson.

Saturday, July 1

9:00 Anne-Catherine Baudoin (ENS Paris) – Zbigniew Izydorczyk (University of Winnipeg), The Latin Versions of the Evangelium Nicodemi.

10:45 Brent Landau (The University of Texas at Austin), A Summary of Research on the Revelation of the Magi in Anticipation of the Forthcoming CCSA Edition.

14:45 Échange d’informations et discussion sur les projets en cours dans le domaine des littératures apocryphes.

15:30 Grigory Kessel (Austrian Academy of Sciences), Sinai Palimpsest Witnesses of the New Testament Apocrypha.

16:45 Paul-Hubert Poirier (Université Laval), Le témoignage du manuscrit de Trichur sur les Actes syriaques de Thomas.

18:00 Zbigniew Izydorczyk (University of Winnipeg), Evangelium Nicodemi : A Comprehensive Database of Latin Manuscripts.

20:30 Assemblée générale de l’AELAC.

Sunday, July 2

9:00 Caitríona Ó Dochartaigh (University College Cork), Recherches sur le Saltair na Rann.

10:45 Stephen J. Shoemaker (University of Oregon), The Coptic Homily on the Theotokos attributed to Cyril of Jerusalem: An Aberrant and Apologetic ‘Life’ of the Virgin from Late Antiquity.

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Christian Apocrypha at the 2017 CSBS Annual Meeting

For several years now I have been organizing a Christian Apocrypha panel at the annual meeting of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies, which takes place this year at Ryerson University, May 27-29. Here is the program for the session.

Monday, May 29 8:30-11:45 ~ New Testament and Apocryphal Studies

Presided by: Callie Callon (Queen’s University)

8:30-9:00 Ian Phillip Brown (University of Toronto), “Where Indeed was The Gospel of Thomas Written?: Thomas as a Product of Alexandrian Intellectual Culture”
First century Alexandria represents a significant location at which Hellenistic culture, the Roman Empire, and Jewish intellectual culture converged. Alexandria was a cosmopolitan centre wherein the pinnacle of Hellenistic cultural attainment (paideia) was manifest in rhetorical schools, philosophical schools, among its sophists, and in the writings of Philo. In my paper I argue that the Gospel of Thomas, a first or second century collection of sayings attributed to Jesus, is best understood as an example of Alexandrian Judaism that brings together the Hellenistic desire for paideia with Jewish Genesis exegesis in the form of a wisdom teacher, Jesus.

9:00-9:30 Amelia Porter (University of Toronto), “New Paideia?: The Construction of Social Identity in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas”
The concept of paideia plays a significant role in the apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Thomas. The text is constructed around three ‘teacher episodes,’ which are characterized by conflict between the child Jesus and his prospective teachers (IGT 6.1-8.2, 13.1-3, 14.1-4). The inherent connection between paideia and social identity suggests that these episodes speak to a larger process of identity formation, particularly as it pertains to a smaller group within a dominant culture. When viewed through the lens of social identity theory (SIT), the Jesus of IGT can be understood as a symbolic leader, or ‘group prototype,’ whose rejection of traditional models of cultural identity is representative of a similar process occurring within the larger context of the group. By positioning Jesus in direct conflict with paideia, IGT’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.

9:30-10:00 Robert Revington (McMaster University), “Name Repetition in Narrative Units in the New Testament and Other Literature”
Using examples from antiquity to modern literature, this paper will examine whether the repetition of a particular name within a narrative is evidence of historical authenticity. It may be argued that, in a “fictional” creation, (a) giving two characters the same name in close proximity demonstrates a lack of creativity on the part of the author, and (b) reusing a name is counterintuitive to the creative process. Applying these assumptions to different narrative contexts, this analysis will argue that those underlying assumptions are not helpful in all situations in the New Testament. In certain cases, however, these observations can support the historicity of a given text—with particular emphasis on the named women in the burial and empty tomb traditions.

10:00-10:15 Break

10:15-10:45 Chiaen (Joshua) Liu (McMaster Divinity College), “Peter’s Sermon on  Christological Prophecy: A Register Analysis on Acts 3:12-26”
This paper analyzes the register in Acts 3:12–26 to understand the context of situation regarding what the text is about, who is participating in, and how the author expresses. Therefore, this paper will argue that God’s prophecy and action are the foundation for Peter to encourage the audience to repent, to be converted, and to respond. Peter asks listeners to repent and be converted on the basis of the core of the prophecy which is brought by Christ so that their sins may be blotted out, while God is the backstage driving force for foretelling and fulfilling the prophecy.

10:45-11:15 Robert Edwards (University of Notre Dame), “The Deposition and Christology in the Gospel of Peter”
Jesus’ removal from the cross is hardly mentioned in the canonical Gospels, and is very sparsely received prior to the middle ages (then labelled ‘the deposition’). This paper examines the narration of the deposition in the Gospel of Peter – one of the few early expansions thereof – in relation to the canonical Gospel accounts that it receives. It then argues, on the basis of this comparison and the narrative context, that the Gospel’s christology is neither docetic nor theologically unsophisticated; instead, the Gospel of Peter works to maintain the intimacy of the human and the divine in the person of Jesus, even – as the expansion of the deposition shows – in his death.

11:15-11:45 Tony Burke (York University), “Christian Apocrypha in Ancient Libraries”
Several of the most prominent literary discoveries of the past century have been the contents of ancient libraries—i.e., collection of texts, rather than single texts or single codices. Many of these libraries include Christian apocryphal literature. The Bodmer Papyri (aka the Dishna Papers), for example, which may have belonged to a monastery library, include the Infancy Gospel of James and 3 Corinthians. And, the most well-known collection of Christian apocrypha, the Nag Hammadi Library, which may have originated at a nearby Pachomian monastery, features numerous apocryphal texts including the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Philip. This paper reviews the manuscript evidence of the apocryphal texts from these libraries to get a sense of how the texts were regarded by those who collected them. The paper includes also a discussion of allusions in early Christian literature to other ancient Christian libraries that contained apocryphal texts.

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The Acts of Thomas in CNN’s Finding Jesus

Season 2 of CNN’s Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, and Forgery had far fewer references to Christian apocrypha than season 1, and so there has been little reason to mention the series here (click HERE for reviews of last season). Episode six, however, is devoted to the apostle Thomas and features an extended discussion of the Acts of Thomas.

The episode traces the origins of the Thomas Christians who live in Kerala, on the southwest coast of India. They believe their church was established through evangelization by Thomas in the first century. Along with appealing to the Acts of Thomas as a (partly) historical document, the episode attempts to verify the Thomas Christians’ claim by examining a relic of Thomas now residing in Italy.

The episode opens with a re-enactment and discussion of the story of “doubting Thomas” from John 20:24-29. The re-enactments this season have been liberally embroidered, and this one is no exception. Here Peter asks Thomas where he was. “Away,” Thomas answers. Then Peter says, “Thomas. So little faith.” Thomas sullenly responds with, “It’s over.” The panel of scholars then speculate about Thomas’s doubt and absence from the group , with Candida Moss suggesting, “Perhaps he felt they should break up. Perhaps he decided to grieve privately.” Of course, the text is silent. John simply says he “was not with them when Jesus came.” He could have been fetching bread and wine. The scene continues with the apostles performing the Eucharist meal. Then Jesus appears in a blinding light but only Thomas sees him. In the Gospel, however, Jesus seems to appear to everybody in the room (it says only “Jesus came and stood among them”). My point here is not to fault the filmmakers—they simply want to make the scene come alive for the audience. What is interesting is that their re-enactment has become an apocryphal telling of the Thomas story, with expansions and interpretations just as we see in ancient apocrypha.

Ben Witherington and Mark Goodacre remark that, after the appearance of Jesus in the room, Thomas vanishes from the New Testament. Unless, of course, one counts the letter attributed to Jude, “the brother of James,” and presumably, the brother of Jesus mentioned in Mark 6:3 and Matt 12:55-56. But that identification is only possible through the tradition that Thomas’s true name is Judas, as recorded in the Gospel of Thomas, the Acts of Thomas, the Book of Thomas, and the Syriac translation of John 14:22. Nevertheless, the scholars are correct that the New Testament does not report anything about Thomas’s evangelizing activities. But they are documented in great detail in the Acts of Thomas.

Nicola Denzey Lewis examines the British Library manuscript.

The episode cuts to Nicola Denzey Lewis in the British Library examining a Syriac manuscript of the text, presumably BM Add. 14645 copied in 936 CE. An earlier copy exists, a palimpsest at Sinai (Codex 30) from the fifth or sixth century, but this one is certainly less accessible than the British Library manuscript. Of this copy, Denzey Lewis says, “The text is written in Syriac and that’s significant because it’s very closely related to Aramaic and Aramaic is the language that Jesus spoke to his disciples.” The suggestion is that the text thus has a claim to authenticity, more than, presumably, a text in Greek or Latin. Indeed, likely the Acts of Thomas was written in Syriac—a rare case of early Syriac composition for an apocryphal text, or any Christian text for that matter. But the language of composition, particularly for a late second or early third century text, doesn’t have any impact on the authenticity of what the text reports.

The episode continues with a re-enactment of the Great Commission in which the apostles draw lots to determine where they will evangelize. This event is reported in Acts of Thomas 1, but it is a widespread tradition that appears in several other texts, including Origen’s Commentary on Genesis: “The holy apostles and disciples of our Savior were scattered over the whole world. Thomas, tradition tells us, was chosen for Parthia, Andrew for Scythia, John for Asia, where he remained till his death at Ephesus. Peter seems to have preached in Pontus, Galatia and Bithynia, Cappadocia and Asia, to the Jews of the Dispersion. Finally he came to Rome where he was crucified, head downwards at his own request. What need be said of Paul, who from Jerusalem as far as Illyricum preached in all its fullness the gospel of Christ, and later was martyred in Rome under Nero?” (quoted in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.1). In the Acts of Thomas, Thomas draws India and initially refuses to go, fearing that the Indians would not understand him. The narrator says, “After a night of prayer, Thomas accepts his lot.” Then Thomas tells a radiant Jesus, “I’ll go wherever you wish.” The episode leaves out a key component of the story. After Thomas’s refusal, Jesus sells Thomas as a slave to a merchant from India named Chaban (Acts Thomas 2). Thomas does pray on the following night, but his statement to Jesus is more an acquiescence to his fate than an acceptance of the results of the lot.

When Thomas arrives in India he makes contact with the King Gundafar and we are told by the filmmakers that this element of the story has some historical verisimilitude. Denzey Lewis is once again depicted in London, this time at the British Museum examining a coin of Gundafar discovered in the 19th century. Mind you, Gundafar ruled over Parthia, the location of Thomas’s missionary activities according to Origen, not India.

The arm of Thomas in Bari, Italy.

In the final re-enactment, Thomas is killed by a group of soldiers. According to the Acts of Thomas, the apostle’s body is placed in a tomb “ where the kings of old used to be buried” (168), but is later taken “to the western regions” (169). Ephrem (d. 377) and Gregory of Tours (583-594) both place Thomas’s remains in Edessa. From there they were apparently taken in 1258 to Ortona in Italy, where they now reside in the Basilia di San Tommaso. At this point in Finding Jesus, the investigation turns to Georges Kazan and Tom Higham, a team from Oxford who travel the world to examine relics and determine their origins and movement over time. They take another Thomas relic, an arm bone of the apostle housed in Bari, Italy, and submit it to radio carbon tests. The goal, Kazan says, is to see what it can tell us about the legends of Thomas: “A first-century date will potentially open the door towards validating that Jesus went to India.” Of course, no amount of scientific testing can do that much; at best, it can prove that the bone is from a man, any man, who lived in the first century. As it turns out, it cannot even prove that. The relic dates from 130-330 which, Higham says, “is still incredibly old” and “seems to cover the period where we find the first historical references to his remains coming back from India.” Presumably, Higham is referring here to Ephrem and is suggesting that the remains of Thomas known to Ephrem were instead of someone close to his own time

Despite these speculations, embroideries, and infelicities, the episode draws the viewers’ attention to a text that is little known by the wider public. There are now many, many documentaries that feature explorations of apocryphal texts, but only one other focuses on the Acts of Thomas: National Geographic’s Deadly Journeys of the Apostles episode 4 (watch it HERE), which covers much of the same ground as the CNN documentary, but without the dodgy interest in relics. Finding Jesus is a welcome addition to the pedagogical resources available to those of us who teach about Christian apocrypha, Syriac Christianity, and late antiquity.

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Manuscripta apocryphorum: Online Christian Apocrypha Manuscripts

P. Heidelberg 300, a 6th-century copy of the Acts of Paul in Coptic

Each entry for the e-Clavis: Christian Apocrypha, the online Christian Apocrypha clavis constructed and maintained by members of NASSCAL (North American Society for the Study of Christian Apocryphal Literature), contains branch pages for manuscripts that contain the text of the entry. The pages feature links to online images (where available) and other databases, along with such information as physical description, provenance, date of composition, contents, and catalogs.

All of these branch pages can be accessed via the Manuscripta apocryphorum page. At present pages have been created for 45 manuscripts and there are many, many more to come. Libraries throughout the world are releasing images of their manuscripts online; unfortunately, manuscripts of apocryphal texts seem to be low on their priorities. Nevertheless, they are appearing ever-so-slowly and Manuscripta apocryphorum is a helpful resource to consult when looking to see what materials are available.

e-Clavis is always looking for volunteers to contribute entries for unassigned texts. Contact members of the editorial board for more information.

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Book Note: The Book of Mary by Michael P. Closs

Michael P. Closs. The Book of Mary: A Commentary on the Protevangelium of James. Victoria, BC: Friesen Press, 2016.

This self-published commentary by retired University of Ottawa professor Michael Closs is a welcome tool for study of Prot. Jas., as there are few other commentaries available on the text—indeed, there are few available on any apocryphal texts!  It is presented as a refutation of Émile Amann’s classic study, Le Protévangile de Jacques et ses remaniements latins: Introduction, textes, traduction et commentaire (1910). Closs opens page 1 with the statement: “This commentary will show that Amann’s work is seriously flawed and that later assessments of the Protevangelium  are equally incorrect. The Protevangelium is a very different type of document than has been envisaged and its contents shed light on the earliest theological developments in marian dogma.” Closs claims instead that, “the intent of the author is to write a theological narrative with the goal of understanding Mary in relationship to her son. Its purpose is not so much to defend Mary as to reveal who she is, given that she is the mother of Jesus” (8).

The study works through the text chapter-by-chapter in English, providing along the way a paraphrase of Amann’s commentary with critique and additional comments, and his own explanatory notes. The book’s layout is a model of clarity, with HB/OT parallels in yellow callouts, NT in pink, patristic authors in green, rabbinic texts in orange, and large quotations from scholars in blue. Closs’s notes at times delve deeply into the text, with much attention paid to key issues such as the possible existence of temple virgins who weaved the temple veil (as Mary does in Prot. Jas. 10). It is unfortunate, however, that the text is presented, and interpreted, only in English translation. In constructing his text, Closs has drawn upon four previous translations: Amann, Walker, and Elliott (all translations of Tischendorf’s edition), and Hock (a translation of Emile de Strycker’s edition of Papyrus Bodmer V). This is an odd strategy, made necessary, I assume because Closs does not have facility with Greek.

The book concludes with five short studies presented as appendices: Attributes of the Author (of Jewish descent and priestly lineage, and perhaps even a woman), the Theology of the Narrative, Dating the Manuscript (i.e., the composition of the text), On Revelation 11:19-12:5, and Liturgical Connections.

The Book of Mary can be ordered from Friesen Press, and is available in hardcover, paperback, and as an e-book for only $10.99. The following abstract is from the publisher’s web site:

This commentary provides a new paradigm for understanding the Protevanglium of James, an early Christian manuscript that was marginalized in the West in the late 4th century but continued to be highly valued in the East.

The Protevangelium has long been recognized as the single most important manuscript associated with the development of marian dogma in early Christianity. The theology of the manuscript and the interpretation of its contents, however, have been woefully misunderstood for almost two thousand years. The present work reveals that the Protevangelium is a theological presentation of Mary in the same genre as the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke. The story of Mary in the Protevangelium tells of a Jewish maiden whose unique vocation was to be the mother of the holy one, the Son of the Most High. The christological awareness in Gospel times was sufficient to single out Mary’s place in salvation history. However, it was her role as a holy of holies of the divine presence—a role that can only be understood within the holiness tradition of the Jewish people—that first engendered her veneration among early Christians.


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Cursing in the Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles

I will be presenting a paper at the Spring 2017 meeting of the Westar Institute next week (March 22-25) in sunny Santa Rosa, California (further information HERE). The paper, “Cursing and the Apostle: The Fight for Authority in Early Christianity,” will be read during the Christianity Seminar (papers available online HERE). It features a lengthy introduction on cursing in the ancient world, including the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. The final section covers cursing in the canonical Acts and Paul’s letters and then turns to the apocryphal acts. For those interested in Christian Apocrypha (and why else would you be here?), I have excerpted here, with some changes, the portion of the paper focusing on Acts and apocryphal acts.

The canonical book of Acts is a treasure trove of curse stories. Several of these are perpetrated by God: the fatal punishment of Judas (Acts 1:15–20), the death of Herod Agrippa (12:20–23;  cf. Josephus, Ant. 19.8.2, where Agrippa’s death is also seen as divine retribution), and the blinding of Paul (9:3–9). In two other curse stories, an apostle is given an active role. The first of these is the story of Ananias and Sapphira (5:1–11; influenced perhaps by the story of Achan who misappropriated what had been dedicated to God and was killed along with his family; see Josh 7:1–26). As the story goes, the community in Jerusalem shares its resources so that “no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common” (4:32). Members of the group sold their land and houses and gave the proceeds to the apostles who “distributed to each as any had need” (4:35). Two members of the community, however, had not given all they owned.

Ananias and Sapphira

But a man named Ananias, with the consent of his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property; with his wife’s knowledge, he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. “Ananias,” Peter asked, “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to us but to God!” Now when Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard of it. The young men came and wrapped up his body, then carried him out and buried him. After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you and your husband sold the land for such and such a price.” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, so they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things. (5:1–11)

It is not clear who exactly is the instrument of doom in the tale, God or Peter. While God is certainly the power behind the curse, Peter has the ability to know that Ananias is lying and Ananias dies after Peter’s declaration of the falsehood. The same formula is followed for Sapphira, though by now Peter certainly knows what fate will befall her if she lies. The story is a frightening warning to those who dare to cheat or lie to the community. Readers of the text, or hearers of the tale, would feel some hesitation in doing the same. They may also have felt that the successors of Peter would have the same ability to curse those who disobey the church’s commands and justifiably worry if they are called before their superiors.

The second apostolic curse story in Acts is Paul’s encounter with Bar-Jesus, also known as Elymas (13:6–11). Paul and Barnabas have traveled to Cyprus and meet the proconsul of Paphas who is accompanied by “a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet, named Bar-Jesus” (13:6). When Elymas tries to prevent Paul and Barnabas from speaking to the proconsul about Jesus, Paul curses him: “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? And now listen—the hand of the Lord is against you, and you will be blind for a while, unable to see the sun” (13:10–11). And, as one might expect, Elymas is blinded. It is not revealed to the reader how long the blindness lasts—perhaps for his entire life. As for the proconsul, “when [he] saw what happened, he believed” (13:12). Miracles are often depicted in the canonical Gospels and Acts as effective ways to attract people to the faith and encourage belief; they are an entryway, an attention-getter for the teacher, who then follows up the miracles with teachings. But this story demonstrates that a curse can be just as effective, particularly when encountering rival wonderworkers. It is a classic case of my god is bigger and better than your god.

The same conflict between apostles and rival wonderworkers is observable in the curse stories of the apocryphal acts. The apocryphal acts are similar to the canonical Acts—they feature stories of apostles travelling to various locations, performing miracles, converting people to the faith, and encountering persecution and martyrdom—but focus on individual apostles, each of whom is appointed a corner of the world to evangelize. Every apostle, as well as several secondary figures, such as Cornelius the Centurion and Mark the Evangelist, gets his own text, but five of these stand out in scholarship as the earliest: Andrew, Peter, Paul, John, and Thomas, all composed in either the late second or early third century. Christian institutions and theologians have not looked favorably upon these texts. Uneasy about the somewhat unorthodox preaching and ascetic practices of the apostles in the apocryphal acts, orthodox revisers removed the martyrdom accounts and discarded the rest. Due to the efforts of Christian apocrypha scholars, portions of the discarded material have been recovered but even today, only the Acts of Thomas is available in its entirety. The material that is available for study features a number of curse stories, but the texts may once have featured more.

Several of the stories focus on encounters between the apostle and minor characters who offend the apostle or interfere in his mission. Both Paul and Thomas encounter unworthy people who attempt to take part in the Eucharist. In one story, “a certain youth who had wrought an abominable deed” (he killed a woman who spurned his advances) cannot not put the Eucharist in his mouth because his hands had withered up (Acts Thom. 51). The apostle says that the Eucharist had detected his lie, though presumably the punishment came directly from God. In the other story, the apostle is more active in the curse. A woman named Rufina approaches Paul to receive the Eucharist but he stops her and says, “Rufina, you are not coming to the altar of God like a true (worshipper), rising from beside (one who is) not your husband but an adulterer, yet you seek to receive the Eucharist of God. For behold Satan shall trouble break your body and cast you down in the sight of all that believe in the Lord, so that they may see and believe, and know that it is the living God who examines (men’s) hearts. But if you repent of your action, he is faithful, so that he can wipe away your sins (and) deliver you from this sin. But if you do not repent while you are still in the body, the consuming fire and the outer darkness shall receive you forever” (Acts Pet. 2). Rufina falls down, paralyzed on the left side of her body. The onlookers worry now that God will not forgive their own former sins, a concern that reflects the overarching theme of the text, that apostates during times of persecution should be welcomed back to the community if they repent. Rufina, for her part, is not repentant of her sin and is punished as a result.

Another tale of Paul features the common punishment of blindness. A man in Myra named Hermocrates is cured by Paul of dropsy. This angers his son Hermippus because he wanted his father to die so that he could inherit his property. Hermippus comes at Paul with a sword but after Paul prays to God to “look down upon their counsel and let me not be brought to nought by them,” Hermippus is struck blind (Acts Paul 4). Attacking an apostle brings misery also when a cupbearer at a wedding strikes Thomas. The apostle says to him, “My God will forgive you for this wrong in the world to come, but in this world he will show his wonders, and I shall soon see that hand that struck me dragged along by dogs” (Acts Thom. 6). And indeed, the cupbearer is later killed by a lion and a black dog takes his hand and brings it back to the wedding (Acts Thom. 8). Andrew also meets resistance and is twice saved from death by curses from God. In the first story, a noble youth named Exoos comes to Andrew without his parents’ consent. The parents lead a mob to the house where Andrew is staying, but before any harm can come to him, God blinds the mob. “All were converted,” the text reports, “except the youth’s parents, who cursed him and went home again, leaving all their money to public uses. Fifty days after they suddenly died, and the citizens, who loved the youth, returned the property to him” (Acts Andr. 12). In the second story, a proconsul sends Andrew into a pit of wild animals, but God intervenes and a fierce bull spares Andrew, killing instead its two handlers; then a fierce leopard enters the pit but it “left every one alone but seized and strangled the proconsul’s son” (Acts Andr. 18).

Giotto, Raising of Drusiana, Peruzzi Chapel (14th. cent.)

The final example of cursing opponents is the infamous tale of the attempted necrophilia of Callimachus from the Acts of John (70–86). Callimachus and Fortunatus enter the tomb of Drusiana but before they can defile her body, a snake comes out of nowhere and kills Fortunatus. Then an angel appears. He covers Drusiana and says to Callimachus, “die, that you may live” (76). And Callimachus is bitten by the snake. John comes to the tomb, dismisses the snake and raises Callimachus to life so that he can reveal what happened. Now repentant of his attempted crime, Callimachus is  accepted into the apostle’s group. Drusiana is then restored to life and in turn she raises Fortunatus, who flees from the tomb. Later John receives a revelation that Fortunatus will die of blood-poisoning from the bite, and he dispatches one of his followers to determine if he is indeed dead. When they discover it is true, John says, “You have your child, devil!” (86) and they all rejoice.

Another apostolic curse story deserves separate mention, because one of the victims in the account is not a sinner, but someone who was cursed in order to prevent sin. The story is the sole episode in the Act of Peter from Berlin Coptic Papyrus 8502. A crowd comes to Peter in search of healing. One person in the group asks him about his daughter: “why haven’t you helped your virgin daughter, who has grown up to be beautiful and has believed in the name of God? For look, she is completely paralyzed on one side and lies there in the corner, helpless. We see people you have healed, but your own daughter you have neglected” (128,15–129,8). Peter responds that it is indeed within God’s power to heal her and Peter does so, “so that your soul may be convinced and those here may increase their faith” (129,17–19). The crowd rejoices and Peter declares, “Look, your hearts are convinced that God is not powerless regarding what we ask of him” (130,12–16). Then Peter says to his daughter, “Now go back to your place, lie down, and become an invalid again, for this is better for both of us” (131,2–5). The crowd begs him to heal her again but Peter refuses, saying the Lord told him on the day she was born, “this girl will harm many souls if her body stays healthy” (132,1–4). He then relates a story of a man named Ptolemy who was tempted by the girl when she was only ten years old. The text is damaged at this point, but it seems that Ptolemy attempted to “defile” her and was prevented when God paralyzed the girl and blinded her attacker. Ptolemy repented and his sight was restored, though he died shortly after. Ptolemy’s story is not unlike those of Hermippus, Callimachus and Fortunatus, and the parents of Exoos, all of whom were cursed for their attacks on believers. But the curse on Peter’s daughter is different, because she never sinned. She was paralyzed largely to avert another man’s sin and remains that way to prevent others from doing the same. The story is a shocking example of victim blaming of a girl who was never even given a name.

A second set of curse stories in the apocryphal acts were written to demonstrate to the reader that the Christian God is mightier than other gods. The tales involve the destruction of pagan temples, and sometimes the temple officials along with them. In a lengthy account from the Acts of John 37–47, John enters the temple of Artemis in Ephesus dressed in black. The worshippers, all dressed in white, are insulted and try to kill him. John evades the crowds and issues a challenge: “Behold, here I stand. You all assert that Artemis is powerful. Pray to her, that I alone die! Or if you cannot accomplish this, I alone will call upon my own God to kill you all because of your unbelief” (39). Those who had witnessed his previous miracles realize their danger and plead for their lives. The apostle prays for God’s mercy on them. In response, half of the temple falls down, the idols and altar are smashed, and the priest is crushed by the roof. Again, the people cry out for mercy and then destroy the rest of the temple themselves and declare, “We know that the God of John is the only one, and henceforth  we worship him, since we have obtained mercy from him” (44). Later, one of the priest’s family takes his body and lays it at the gate of the house where John is staying. Impressed by the man’s  faith, John tells him to raise the priest to life using the words, “The servant of God, John, says to you, Arise!” The priest is restored to life and follows John. A similar story is told of Paul (Acts Paul 5), who is imprisoned along with two companions in the temple of Apollo in Sidon. He prays for liberation and half of the temple falls. There is no mention of loss of life but the text is too fragmentary at this point to know for sure. In its present form, the episode is more of a “liberation miracle” in the same vein as Acts 12:1–19. Destruction of temples occurs also in later apocryphal acts, though no one is hurt in the accounts. In the Acts of Cornelius the converted centurion visits Skepsis and prays for the temple of Zeus to fall, temporarily trapping the governor’s wife and son (2:10—3:4), and in the Acts of Titus a temple under construction falls after Titus walks by and “utters a deep groan” (9:1–2). The outcome of both miracles, as usual, is the conversion of onlookers.

Bennozzo Gozzoli, Fall of Simon Magus (1461)

The final category of curses in the apocryphal acts are those invoked against religious rivals. The high priest of Artemis killed in the Acts of John could be placed also in this category, but far more illustrative of the competition for followers is the fall of Simon Magus in the Acts of Peter. The two figures are established as rivals in the canonical acts, though their encounter ends rather peacefully with Simon repenting of his attempt to buy the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:9–24), and thus prevents Peter’s curse (“May your silver perish with you, because you though you could obtain God’s gifts with money,” 8:20) come coming to fruition. The pair compete more aggressively in Peter’s solo adventures, not only in the Acts of Peter but also the Pseudo-Clementine Romance and several derivative texts. But it is the martyrdom portion of the Acts of Peter that features the final contest between the two wonderworkers (ch. 32). In a final attempt to demonstrate his greater power, Simon climbs up on a high place in the city of Rome and there appears to be flying. Worried that many would turn from God and worship Simon, Peter prays to Jesus for assistance, saying, “Make haste, O Lord, show your mercy and let him fall down and become crippled but not die; let him be disabled and break his leg in three places.” As expected, Simon does fall and is crippled. To add insult to injury, the crowds stone him and “from that time” they believed in Peter. Simon is carried off by his remaining supporters to Africa where he is operated on and dies shortly thereafter. Simon’s end is relatively tame compared to those who oppose Philip in the fourth-century Acts of Philip. In one story (ch. 2), Philip is opposed by a Jewish delegation to Athens led by the high priest Ananias, who is possessed by the demon Mansemat. Ananias comes to the apostle with 500 men and accuses him of sorcery. After Philip gives a spirited defense of his mission, Ananias runs at the apostle to whip him but his hand withers and his eyes are blinded. Then the 500 are blinded also (2:12). The 500 repent and eventually regain their sight, but Ananias remains stubborn and refuses to believe, even after Jesus himself descends from heaven in glory and lightning. The apostle restores the high priest’s sight but utters a spell in Hebrew and the earth swallows him up, first to his knees, then his waist, then his neck. Finally, with Ananias still unrepentant, Philip becomes angry and says, “A curse on you! Depart now entirely into the abyss in front of all these people” (2:23).  And Ananias descends alive into Hades. Philip’s anger eventually becomes his undoing. In the final act of the text, Philip is crucified upside down. He is told by Christ not to prevent his martyrdom, but he is incensed by the treatment of his companion John and declares, “I will no longer hold myself back, but I will bring my full indignation upon them and destroy them all” (15:25). Again he cries out to God in Hebrew and the proconsul, the temple and its priests, and 7000 men are swallowed up by the abyss. Fortunately for the townspeople, Jesus appears again and punishes Philip for disobeying his rule to “not return evil for evil” by preventing his entry into paradise for forty days (15:29–31). Philip struggles to understand the reason for this punishment—he asks, “Why are you angry with me, Lord, that I called down curses on my enemies? Indeed, why do you not strike them down since they still live in the abyss?” (15:30)—but relents and accepts his fate. Jesus saves the townspeople from the abyss by transforming his cross into a ladder (15:32). What is most surprising in this final story is that Philip can curse without the consent of God; the power is entirely the apostle’s.

The apocryphal acts, as with other noncanonical texts, tend to be disparaged for their abundant use of wonders and prodigies, the principal aim of which is to entertain their readers while at the same time demonstrating that the apostles’ miracles are mightier than the magic of their rivals and that their God is the only god. The apocryphal acts look garish, they say, in comparison to the more sober canonical acts. Yet, when it comes to curse stories (the most offensive element of the acts for many readers), the canonical Acts has the apocryphal acts beat: there are far more punitive miracles per page in Acts than in the longer individual acts. And the curses largely function the same way: to demonstrate the might of the apostles over their opponents and thereby elicit belief from onlookers. There is little that separates Philip’s blinding of the high priest Ananias and his men from Paul’s blinding of Elymas, nor God’s murder of Judas, Agrippa, and Ananias and Sapphira from the killing and maiming of Fortunatus, the parents of Exoos, and the priest of Artemis.

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“On the Funeral of Jesus”: Apocryphal Passion Traditions from a Fifteenth-Century Manuscript

Opening page of On the Funeral of Jesus

Opening page of On the Funeral of Jesus

The latest volume of Le Muséon (129: 251-78) features my article “Two New Witnesses to the Acta Pilati Tradition.” I first came across the two texts while working on my dissertation (way back in 2000!). The catalog for one of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas manuscripts (Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Cod. hist. gr. 91, 14/15th cent.) lists the first as a fragment of On the Passion, for the Preparation Day, a sermon attributed to Eusebius of Alexandria. The second appears under the title “Anonyme. Fragment über die Bestattung Jesu Christi.” It is a curious mix of canonical and noncanonical traditions: the burial of Jesus is derived mostly from the Gospel of John, and then much of the post-burial material has parallels in the Acts of Pilate and the Narrative of Joseph of Arimathea, though there is some never-before-seen material in the text also. The article took an awfully long time to see publication. I presented the text at a conference in Winnipeg in 2010 and for one reason or another it was turned down for publication by a few journals before finding a home at Le Muséon. For more information on the text, see the entry in e-Clavis: Christian Apocrypha. The abstract is reproduced below:

A 14th/15th-century Greek manuscript in Vienna (Cod. hist. gr. 91) contains two fragmentary texts relating to the Acta Pilati corpus of the Christian Apocrypha. The first is a fragment of On the Passion, for the Preparation Day, a sermon attributed to Eusebius of Alexandria drawing upon the Descensus ad inferos, found appended to several versions of the Acts of Pilate. The paper includes a transcription and translation of the fragment along with an overview of the publication history of the sermon. The second text is an unpublished, untitled excerpt from an unknown homily dealing with the burial of Jesus and the imprisonment of Joseph of Arimathea. This paper presents a diplomatic edition of the text with an English translation along with a discussion of its relationship to the Acts of Pilate and the related Narrative of Joseph of Arimathea.

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Book Notice: Biblical Pseudepigraphy in Slavonic Traditions

Alexander Kulik and Sergey Minov, Biblical Pseudepigraphy in Slavonic Traditions (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).

From the Oxford University Press catalog page:

slavonicEarly Slavonic writings have preserved a unique corpus of compositions that develop biblical themes. These extracanonical, parabiblical narratives are known as pseudepigrapha, and they preserve many ancient traditions neglected by the canonical scriptures. They feature tales of paradise and hell, angels and Satan, the antediluvian fathers and biblical patriarchs, kings, and prophets. These writings address diverse questions ranging from artistically presented questions of theology and morals to esoteric subjects such as cosmology, demonology, messianic expectations, and eschatology.

Although these Slavonic texts themselves date from a relatively late period, they are translations or reworkings of far earlier texts and traditions, many of them arguably going back to late biblical or early postbiblical times. The material in these works can contribute significantly to a better understanding of the roots of postbiblical mysticism, rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity, ancient and medieval dualistic movements, as well as the beginnings of the Slavonic literary tradition.

The volume provides a collection of the minor biblical pseudepigrapha preserved solely in Slavonic; at the same time, it is also the first collection of Slavonic pseudepigrapha translated into a western European language. It includes the original texts, their translations, and commentaries focusing on the history of motifs and based on the study of parallel material in ancient and medieval Jewish and Christian literature.

The aim of the volume is to to bridge the gap between the textual study of this corpus and its contextualization in early Jewish, early Christian, rabbinic, Byzantine, and other traditions, as well as to introduce these texts into the interdisciplinary discussion of the intercultural transmission of ideas and motifs.

Table of Contents:

1. About All Creation
2. The Creation of Adam
3. Adam’s Contract with Satan
4. The Tale about the Tree of the Cross
5. The Appeal of Adam to Lazarus
6. The Sea of Tiberias
7. About the Ark
8. The Ladder of Jacob

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2016 SBL Diary: Days Three and Four

Day three began with a breakfast meeting for the NASSCAL board—about eight of the 12 of us were presenting at SBL, so the annual meeting presents us with a good opportunity to sit around a table together and talk about projects we have in the works. I chose a café in La Villita a little distance away from the hotels, thinking that it would be quiet and quick, but it seems that they were unprepared for, well, serving anyone, so we never managed to get breakfast, despite being there for 90 minutes. Nevertheless, the assembled board members discussed the first NASSCAL conference, books in our two series (Early Christian Apocrypha and Studies in Christian Apocrypha), and the establishment of some formal by-laws. Watch this space, and NASSCAL.com, for further news.

charlesworthBetween non-breakfast and lunch I visited the book display again and discovered that MNTA vol. 1 had sold out! Why oh why didn’t they bring enough copies to satisfy what clearly was a high demand? On the bright side, it’s an achievement to have the book sell out (mind you, they probably only brought three copies). I picked up only two books at the display this year (my expense account is on fumes): April DeConick’s The Gnostic New Age and James H. Charlesworth’s pocket book translation of the Odes of Solomon (The Oldest Christian Hymnbook: The Odes of Solomon).

The second session of the Christian Apocrypha Section focused on apocryphal acts, a theme that, though not planned, came naturally out of the proposals we received. Michael Flexsenhar III (Rhodes College) spoke first with “Creating a Christian World: Martyrdom, Memory, and ‘Caesar’s Household’ in the Apocryphal Acts.” The paper takes as its starting point the conclusion of Philippians where Paul says “All the saints greet you, especially those of the emperor’s household” (4:22). Several apocryphal acts develop this notion with stories of slaves in Nero’s household converting to Christianity: in Acts of Paul, Patroculus’s conversion sets up Paul’s audience with Nero, the prologue to the Actus Vercellenses again places Paul with Nero’s slaves, and in the Martyrdom of Peter, Nero is upset that Peter dies before he can punish him for converting his slaves. Flexsenhar sees all of these traditions as efforts to establish an early Christian foothold in Rome, contributing to a “sacred geography” for the stories of the two chief apostles. Valentina Calzolari (University of Geneva) followed with “The Armenian Acts of Paul and Thecla.” Calzolari is the current president of l’AELAC (Association pour l’étude de la littérature apocryphe chrétienne) and this was her first appearance at SBL. We had some time over the weekend to discuss better co-operation between AELAC and NASSCAL in our respective publishing endeavours.  Calzolari’s paper was a welcome entry into Armenian apocrypha, which few of us have the ability to study in any detail, though we will have more opportunity to do so in Calzolari’s forthcoming editions of the Thecla material in a volume in the Corpus Christianorum Series Apocryphorum (vol. 20 is Apocrypha Armeniaca, t. 1: Acta Pauli et Theclae – Miracula Theclae – Martyrium Pauli). The paper noted parallels between the Acts of Thecla in the Armenian Story of Rhipsime, which documents the conversion of Armenia, and the Martyrdom of Thaddaeus and Sandukht, which tells the story of Sandukht, the daughter of the king Sanatruk and the first Armenian martyr. Both Rhipsime and Sandukht are portrayed in ways very similar to Thecla, and it would appear that Thecla’s story was very influential in forming the account of Armenia’s conversion.


Jonathan Henry

The third paper of the session was Jonathan Henry’s (Princeton University) “Thomas in Transmission: Some Noteworthy Witnesses to the Acts and Passion of Thomas.” Henry showed us images of several manuscripts of the Acts of Thomas, including an Irish palimpsest, which, dated 650 CE, is the second earliest witness we have to the text and a rare example of its transmission in the West. Most interesting, however, is Vallicellanus B 35, the only Greek MS of the text that includes the Hymn of the Pearl. Surprisingly, the unorthodox Acts of Thomas is nestled in this MS among the very orthodox writings of John Chrysostom, leading Henry to make the tantalizing statement, “We should not ask why the church is transmitting what it condemned but why they are condemning what they are transmitting.” He also brought our attention to images related to variant readings from the Acts of Thomas and noted that these types of witnesses do not show up in the critical editions.

Another excellent presentation about transmission was given by Ivan Miroshnikov (Helsingin Yliopisto – Helsingfors Universitet) in his paper, “Towards a New Edition of the Coptic Acts of Andrew and Philemon.” This rarely-examined text likely was written in Coptic but is extant also in Arabic and Ethiopic. The Coptic witnesses encompass five fragmentary MSS. The most interesting of these is designated MONB.DN, which is a compendia of Andrew apocrypha (containing Acts of Andrew and Matthias in the City of the Cannibals, Acts of Andrew and Philemon, Acts of Andrew and Paul, Acts of Andrew and Bartholomew, and Acts of Andrew and Peter), and MONB.DM, which is a collection of apostolic passion accounts. Miroshnikov established an origin of the text in a sixth-century monastic environment and illustrated how the length of readings in the text varies in the sources, making it difficult to determine the original form of the text. The final paper of the session was delivered by Sung Soo Hong, a student at the University of Texas at Austin. In “The Word of the Father Shall Be to Them a Work of Salvation”: Thinking with the Chaste Body of Thecla,” Hong examined three ways Thecla’s body functions in the text: as a demonstration of God’s salvific power (since Thecla does not experience martyrdom), as the embodiment of Paul’s beatititudes of self-control and resurrection, and as a display of God’s ability to protect his agents from harm.

The session concluded with an informal discussion of what the Christian Apocrypha Section might focus on next year. An appeal was made also to submit proposals for the 2017 SBL International in Berlin (call for papers; proposals are due by Feb. 22). The executive then headed off for their business meeting to take these suggestions and put them into action. It was decided that the four sessions next year will comprise: 1. a joint session with the Nag Hammadi and Gnosticism Section on the subject of “Coptic Apocrypha: Nag Hammadi and Beyond,” 2. a book review panel for MNTA vol. 1, and 3. and 4. open sessions, though with an appeal for papers on art and material culture, and apocryphal letters. The committee discussed also the possibility of a joint session with the Religious Competition Section in 2018.

Kloppenborg and the FEstschrift editors. Photo by Sarah Rollens.

Kloppenborg and his Festschrift editors. Photo by Sarah Rollens.

After the meeting, I caught up with fellow Canadian and good friend Phil Harland over dinner, and then we headed off to a reception for John Kloppenborg (Scribal Practices and Social Structures Among Jesus Adherents: Essays in Honour of John S. Kloppenborg, published by Peeters). He was presented with a Festschrift edited by four of his former students (one of whom is Phil). Kloppenborg was one of my instructors at the University of Toronto, though he was not my doctoral supervisor. He has been very supportive of my work over the years (including his participation on a review panel for MNTA vol. 1 at the 2016 CSBS). He approached me at the end of the reception to tell me about an exciting project that, if I accept the invitation (and if the publisher agrees that I should do it), will keep me very busy for the next few years.

Monday morning was free of sessions, so my wife and I took a water taxi trip to the Pearl Brewery. Little did we know it would take an hour to get there! So, we took a quick spin around the site, jumped on another water taxi back to the conference center, and managed to have enough time to change and get to the first afternoon session. Good thing, too, because I was one of the presenters. This third Christian Apocrypha Section session was a joint session with Digital Humanities. It opened with Brent Landau’s (University of Texas at Austin) “What No Eye Has Seen: Using a Digital Microscope to Produce a New Transcription of Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 210, a Possible Apocryphal Gospel.” Brent worked on a translation of P. Oxy. 210 for MNTA (yet another shameless plug). His presentation illustrated, on the one hand, the value of digital microscopes for resolving problematic readings in MSS, but emphasized also, on the other hand, that some readings cannot be resolved without firsthand viewing of the MS—demonstrated in several examples for P. Oxy. 210 where the folding over of fibres in the conservation process had obscured some of the letters. The two techniques, working together, can yield some significant results.

Janet Spittler

Janet Spittler

Janet Spittler (University of Virginia) and I followed Brent with our presentation on “Founding an Academic Society in the Digital Age: The North American Society for the Study of Christian Apocryphal Literature.” Janet spoke first, providing a history of the group and a tour of the membership directory portion of the NASSCAL site. She emphasized that NASSCAL was formed to encourage networking among Christian Apocrypha scholars, and the web site provides opportunities for “virtual conferencing” in a time when expense accounts are strained by the high cost of travel. Then I gave the audience a history and tour of the e-Clavis: Christian Apocrypha project.

Jennifer Barry (University of Mary Washington) introduced us to her developing project BandofAngels.org in “BandofAngels.org: Accessing Women’s History through the Digital Humanities.” The project, inspired by and named for Kate Cooper’s book Band of Angels: The Forgotten World of Early Christian Women, aims to provide online resources for the study of early Christian women’s stories and experiences. It is similar to Project Vox, which focuses on the lost voices of women in the histories of modern philosophy. For now, Barry’s project contains materials only on Thecla and the martyrs Perpetua and Felicitas. Unfortunately, it is not yet live, but it looks to be a promising pedagogical resource. Barry’s presentation included a tour of sites linked to her own, including Mapping the Martyrs, which gathers information on martyrdom accounts, including (for Christian Apocrypha enthusiasts) those of apostles.

Rounding out the session was James F. McGrath (Butler University) with his paper “Learning from Jesus’ Wife: The Role of Online Scholarship in Creating and Exposing a Forgery.” This was one of two papers this year on GJW; the other was “Dating Ancient Egyptian Papyri through Raman Spectroscopy: Concept and Application to Fragments of The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife and the Gospel of John” by James T. Yardley (Columbia University), Sarah Goler (Columbia University in the City of New York) and David Ratzan (New York University). For a discussion of this paper see James’ blogpost at Religion Prof. James’ own presentation covered some of the same ground as his contribution to the 2015 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium—i.e., online scholars declared GJW a forgery but it was slow and rigorous investigation that proved it to be so. He also mentioned how imitations of ancient manuscripts and artifacts can be helpful—as display items in museums or for use in classrooms—and how finetuning these imitations helps in identifying imitations designed for nefarious ends. Finally, James remarked that many of our authentic texts, such as the Gospel of Philip, have sensational contents; informing people of such texts could thus make it more difficult for forgers to dream up something that can capture the public’s attention.

Christine Luckritz Marquis (chair), with Janet Spittler and Patricia Duncan

The final Christian Apocrypha session took place in the early evening and was focused loosely around the theme of “Violence and Healing in the Christian Apocrypha.” Janet Spittler opened the session with “Causality and Healing of Disease in the Acts of John.” The paper grew out of Janet’s forthcoming commentary on the Acts of John. Originally the paper was to cover a variety of maladies in the text but Janet’s presentation focused primarily on ch. 30 of the text in which elderly women of Ephesus suffer from a variety of illnesses because the townspeople are “slack.” Janet compared this diagnosis with descriptions by medical writers Chrysippus and Galen of the effects of slackness in the soul. The author of the Acts of John, then, is combining mind and body in the story of the Ephesian women, as well as other healing stories in the text—slackness in the soul gives them a fever, and the only prescription is more apostle.

In “Philosophical Foundations of (Self) Healing and Exorcism in the Pseudo-Clementine ‘Homilies’,” Patricia A. Duncan (Texas Christian University) noted similarities regarding the relationship between demons and illness in the Klementia (but not the Recognition) and Porphyry of Tyre, a third-century Neoplatonic philosopher. Both writers assert that demon-inflicted illness is related to contact with the material world; baptism and self-control helps to rid oneself of them. Judith Hartenstein (Universität Koblenz – Landau) followed Duncan with “Violence in the Gospel of Mary (BG 1).” The paper drew upon a new text from Codex Tchacos, the Book of Allogenes, to examine Gos. Mary’s confrontation of the soul with the violent powers that seek to restrain it on earth. The fourth presenter of the session, Annette Merz (Protestant Theological University Amsterdam Groningen), canceled her trip to San Antonio due to illness.

The session concluded with Matthias Geigenfeind’s (Universität Regensburg) “The Apocryphal Revelation of Thomas – Unique, but Underappreciated.” The paper was a text-critical examination of the apocalypse and thus did not cohere with the theme of the session. Nevertheless, it was an excellent study of the sources available to us on this text. Apoc. Thom. is relatively well-known in that it is typically included in the standard CA collections; however, the introductions tend to be obscure and rarely are they accompanied by a translation of the entire text. The apocalypse focuses on signs of the end time and comes in three forms: short form, a long form, and an abbreviated form comprised simply of the list of signs without attribution to Thomas. Likely it was composed in Latin and was very popular in the British Isles. Geigenfeind’s list of sources included a new MS from Kassel from the eighth century and, to my surprise, some fragments housed at the University of Toronto. Certainly the text is “underappreciated,” so perhaps we can help bring attention to this text by including it in a future volume of MNTA (was that another plug?).  

And that brings my2016 SBL Diary to an end. After the final paper I headed out with my wife to soak in more of the sights and sounds of San Antonio, my second favourite annual meeting location (after the much-loved San Diego). San Antonio has fewer cultural charms than, say, Boston, but the weather can’t be beat, particularly to those of us traveling from the north. Keep an eye out for the 2017 call for papers and perhaps I will see you at next year’s sessions.

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2016 SBL Diary: Days One and Two

Looking back at my other SBL diary entries over the years, I see they usually begin with an apology about posting so late (the meeting concluded over a week ago). Well, at least I’m consistent. Some bloggers, like the prolific James McGrath, are far more swift than I (I think he posts about his own presentations while he is presenting). But what I lack in speed I (hopefully) make up for in depth. Here goes…

I arrived at San Antonio Friday evening at around 9 pm. That wouldn’t be so bad, except that I was supposed to hosting a reception at 8. Brent Landau, my co-editor for New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, and I wanted to have a little party to celebrate the launch of the book and to thank our contributors. Thankfully Brent arrived by car from Austin and was able to get everything ready in my absence. After chugging a few plastic cups of “two-buck chuck” from Trader Joes and a few slices of meat, I gave a short thank you speech and then spent much of the next two hours listening to my American colleagues vent about their future president. That was the theme of the weekend for many of us, it seems.


MNTA vol. 1 on display

I typically spend most of my SBL time either in meetings and receptions or at Christian Apocrypha sessions; there is little time to attend other sessions, even those featuring CA-related papers (and there were plenty of them this year). Saturday began with a video interview to promote MNTA vol. 1. Eerdmans prepared a bunch of these over the weekend. It was relatively painless—Brent and I sat across from one another in front of a green screen and answered some questions about the book. Brent is far more seasoned at this than I, so I expect the finished product will be mostly his answers and some cut-aways to me nodding my head and sipping from my Starbucks cup. I worry too what they will end up substituting for those green screens (it better not be that Star Wars kid).

After the filming, I did a quick run through the book exhibit, mostly to see MNTA on display. As it happens, they had only a “display copy” available. So, apologizing for being a pest, I asked them to place a stack on the table. Hell, if it was up to me there would be balloons and dancers. Books don’t sell themselves, y’know? I also popped by Gorgias Press and dropped off a draft of my forthcoming edition of the Syriac Infancy Gospel of Thomas, now four years late! Acquisitions Editor Melonie Schmierer-Lee seemed very pleased to see it. Speaking of Infancy Thomas, my second meeting of the day was a conversation over tea with Rob Cousland from the University of British Columbia. Rob is working on a book on the text and wanted to meet me and discuss the project. It’s good to know what people are doing with the text and always flattering to be consulted.

I finally made it to a session at 4 pm: a memorial for Helmut Koester. The late Harvard professor has been immensely influential, particularly on North American scholarship in the field. Though I never had the opportunity to meet Koester, his Ancient Christian Gospels was formative for my views on Christian Apocrypha. The panel was chaired by Brent Landau and featured Melissa Harl Sellew (University of Minnesota-Twin Cities), Christine Thomas (University of California-Santa Barbara), Christoph Markschies (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin – Humboldt University of Berlin), Stephen Patterson (Willamette University), Cavan Concannon (University of Southern California), and Robyn Walsh (University of Miami). Ann Graham Brock (Iliff School of Theology) was scheduled to appear also but due to sickness, her remarks were read by Deborah Saxon.

The Helmut Koester memorial panel

The Helmut Koester memorial panel

Sellew began the session with an overview of Koester’s work on several apocryphal texts: Secret Mark, the Dialogue of the Savior, and the Gospel of Thomas. Koester was known for refusing to privilege canonical texts over noncanonical and sought to illustrate with these texts how both texts from both categories grew out of earlier, common traditions (e.g., the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of John reflect a conflict between two groups, with their shared ideas influencing the final forms of both texts). Sellew mentioned also that Koester believed the search for the Historical Jesus was a waste of time, though she noted several places in Koester’s scholarship where he seemed to be unable to resist speculation.

Christine Thomas followed Sellew with some interesting history of the Christian Apocrypha section, which was begun 25 years ago by Dennis MacDonald. For the first several years it was a seminar and achieved permanent status in 1997. Koester’s students frequently participated. Many of the early proposal submissions to the section indicated that some scholars were confused about what constituted “apocrypha”—papers on such texts as Sirach and Tobit were returned with an email stating “Wrong apocrypha. Sorry.” In the discussion after the presentations, Stephen Patterson mentioned a 1972 coup d’état of the SBL led by Koester. At first the group was a small, exclusive gathering of scholars; but Koester and others took control and opened up the membership. In one year SBL thus grew from 200 to 3000 participants. Thomas concluded with some remarks about Koester’s doctoral students. Surprisingly, only seven of the dissertations supervised by Koester focused exclusively on apocryphal texts. There seems to have been some concern among his students that writing on apocrypha would affect their job opportunities. Most often, Koester’s students, like their teacher, would write on both canonical and noncanonical texts; indeed, Thomas said, “under Koester no-one ever studying the New Testament actually wrote about it.”

Christoph Markschies focused his comments on Koester’s German roots. Koester was Rudolph Bultmann’s final doctoral student and Koester’s interest in form criticism is indebted to his teacher. For more on Koester’s background, Markschies recommended reading Brent Landau’s essay, “The ‘Harvard School’ of the Christian Apocrypha” published in the 2013 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium Papers (shout-out to YCAS!). Markschies mentioned also his own interactions with Koester, whom he met at his first SBL in 1995 at a plenary organized by James Robinson for the fifty-year anniversary of the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library. Markschies commented that Koester was critical of Robinson’s negative comments about European scholars.

(Cambridge, MA - February 22, 2007) - Harvard Divinity School Professor Helmut Koester is pictured in Andover Hall. Photo Stephanie Mitchell

Helmut Koester. Photo Stephanie Mitchell

Both Koester and Robinson were influential for the next speaker on the panel: Stephen Patterson. He studied with Robinson, and Koester was a reader of his thesis. Patterson praised Koester’s seminal works “One Jesus and Four Primitive Gospels” and “GNOMAI DIAPHORAI: The Origin and Nature of Diversification in the History of Early Christianity.” Patterson said, “Take any paragraph from these two papers, add water and you have an instant dissertation—that’s what I did.”

The remaining presenters, like Patterson, were all students of Koester and praised their teacher for his guidance and affability. Ann Graham Brock (as read by Deborah Saxon), was introduced to Koester in an archeology course and then became his research assistant. From a conservative background, Brock was always told that apocryphal texts were heresy and she should do everything to avoid them. “I did,” she said, “until I met Helmut.” Brock called Koester “the Michelangelo of Mentors”: “he would look at us and say there must be a scholar in there somewhere.” Koester’s twin interests in literature and archeology were mentioned also by Concannon and Walsh. Concannon worked for Koester converting his extensive slides into electronic form; Walsh commented that Koester was prescient about the promises of Digital Humanities, as well as other topics currently in discussion. The two youngest members of the panel shared jokes and stories about their mentor but also confessed some unease about Koester’s background in Nazi Germany—he was a soldier and a POW. Overall the session was a fitting tribute to Koester’s work. I hope that someone, either in North America or Europe (if not both), will take up the task of assembling a volume of papers demonstrating his continued influence on our field.

After the session, my wife Laura and I joined Brent Landau and Janet Spittler for a sea food dinner on the Riverwalk. The conversation once again drifted to the US election results, but we also chatted about work, travel, and things apocryphal. The day came to a close with a cameo at the reception for the Toronto School of Theology.

To be continued…

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Christian Apocrypha Books to Look for at SBL 2016

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.

deconickJ. N. Bremmer, T. R. Karmann, and T. Nicklas, eds. The Ascension of Isaiah. Studies on Early Christian Apocrypha 11. Peeters.

Tony Burke and Brent Landau, eds. New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures. Eerdmans.

April DeConick. The Gnostic New Age: How a Countercultural Spirituality Revolutionized Religion from Antiquity to Today. Columbia University Press.

J.K. Elliott, ed. A Synopsis of the Apocryphal Nativity and Infancy Narratives. 2nd ed. Brill.

Alan Mugridge. Copying Early Christian Texts: A Study of Scribal Practice. WUNT 362. Mohr Siebeck.

stoneMichael E. Stone. Armenian Apocrypha Relating to Angels and Biblical Heroes. SBL Press.

Johannes Tromp, ed. The Life of Adam and Eve in Greek. A Critical Edition. SBL Press.

Eric Vanden Eykel. But Their Faces Were All Looking Up. The Reception of Jesus in the First Three Centuries 1. Bloomsbury.


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Legend of the Thirty Pieces of Silver in The Veritas Deception

the-veritas-deceptionAbout a year ago, an independent author named Lynne Constantine contacted me about a text I have worked on (and featured in New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures) called the Legend of the Thirty Pieces of Silver (information on e-Clavis). Lynne wanted to use the coin relics as a plot device in her latest book and wanted some advice about the text and the veracity of “Judas penny” relics still existing today. Lynne’s book, The Veritas Deception, was released a few months ago, and I just finished reading it last night.

The novel is a thriller that involves a secret organization led by the psychopathically evil Damon Crosse intent on corrupting society by desensitizing people to murder, violence, and moral depravity through social media and television programming. Crosse is opposed by investigative journalist Jack Logan and his former fiancé Taylor Phillips, who has become Crosse’s target. Crosse is after the silver pieces, which according to legend, bestow upon their bearer their ultimate, evil desire.

The legend of the silver pieces is recounted on pp. 240-41 and 438-39. Logan and Philips read a portion of the text from a web site (is it mine?). The story of the coins’ journey from Abraham to Judas continues beyond the text when the characters reveal that the coins were given to the guards at Jesus’ tomb, and from them to Mary Magdalene, who entrusted ten each to Peter, Matthew, and John son of Zebedee, who passed them on to John of Patmos. As it turns out, Phillips is a descendant of John of Patmos, and her family has been safeguarding his ten coins for generations. The novel comes to a climax with Phillips recovering the coins and using them to bring about Crosse’s downfall.

The novel is a multi-layered nail-biter that, to my delight, features two strong female protagonists who overshadow the male heroes of the story. When I began working on the Legend of the Thirty Pieces of Silver with Slavomir Céplö years ago, almost no-one had even heard of the text; it is a delight to see it drawn into popular culture. Congratulations to Lynne on her book. If you are interested in reading more about it, visit http://lynneconstantine.com/the-veritas-deception/.

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