“Hoaxes” or Apocrypha?

Larry Hurtado has an interesting post on his blog entitled "Hoaxes From the Past (That Keep on Re-appearing)." He discusses briefly (essentially presenting an overview of the contents of Edgar J. Goodspeed's Famous Biblical Hoaxes, or, Modern Apocrypha) a number of modern apocryphal texts, including The Aquarian Gospel of Christ (see this previous post on a handy source for such texts). The overview raises for me an issue over the appropriate use of the term "hoax." What is it that divides these modern apocryphal texts from ancient apocrypha? Or, in some cases, from pseudepigraphical canonical texts? The writer of the introduction to the Apocalypse of Paul, for example, claimed to have found this text hidden away beneath his house in the fourth-century. Clearly Paul did not write the text and it was likely written in the fourth-century by the text's "discoverer." A similar "discovery" in the nineteenth-century, such as The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ, is not much different, is it?

I understand the hostility some may feel toward modern apocrypha, but I don't feel the same way about ancient apocrypha. Is the difference solely of time and distance? Or is there something else that is different about the origins of these texts? Are modern apocrypha just as valid an area of study for 19th and 20th century developments in Christianity as ancient apocrypha for medieval Christianity?

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2 Responses to “Hoaxes” or Apocrypha?

  1. DBlocker says:

    A “forged” or “new” apocryphal text is often a challenge to authority.
    It is a new, possibly threatening challenge to traditional interpretations of older texts. Often the creation of a new history or myth is intended to justify the belief system of its creator or gain new followers at the expense of the traditional or established group.
    A new apocryphal text can also force a new hearer to rethink his old deeply ingrained beliefs which can be a very uncomfortable process. The greater the cognitive dissonance and mental discomfort caused by the new apocryphal text the more it will be resented.

    The older texts have already been debated, accounted for, and a place has been found for them within an institutions formal structure: they have been dismissed as mistaken, heretical, of historical but not spiritual value, ect.

    They no longer pose a direct threat to one’s spiritual or intellectual equanimity and can be dispassionately studied. The older texts do not pose a current challenge or threat to either an institution’s dogma or an individual’s beliefs.

    Until new texts have been classified by consensus opinion, they do pose an assortment of challenges which creates discord and discomfort.

    And the new texts are a valid area of study since they can illuminate how beliefs and social structures can change with time.

  2. Kevin Long says:

    I think venerability is a consideration in these sorts of things. No one really believes in “The Acts of John,” but nobody feels threatened by them. They’re a lie, but they’re a very old lie, and they have some interesting bits, and theories about their compilation are interesting, but at the end of the day, they’re still as dead as the Greek gods, and no threat to anyone.

    New Apocrypha (“Novapocrypha?”) carries less respect because, basically, it’s not ancient. Its specific purpose is to mislead people for whatever reason, whereas that’s no longer an issue with the ancient stuff.

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