Thoughts on Ehrman and Pleše’s Apocryphal Gospels

Spurred on by the brief review of The Apocryphal Gospels by Bart Ehrman and Zlatko Pleše (Oxford University Press, 2011) in the LA Times, I have finally gathered together my own thoughts on the collection.

The goal of the collection, in the editors’ words, is to provide “everything that a graduate student or scholar working on the apocryphal Gospels would need or want access to” (p. viii). And, to some extent, they succeed. This is the first ever collection of primary texts in their original languages with facing English translations (though Andrew Bernhard’s Other Early Christian Gospels, used on occasion here, contains a number of texts). And it is undeniably an excellent all-in-one source for the material, drawing in texts from Tischendorf’s Evangelia Apocrypha, several CCSA (Corpus Christianorum Series Apocryphorum) editions, a variety of century-old journal articles, the Nag Hammadi Library, and others. On Tischendorf, the editors comment that his 150-year-old editions are  “inadequate for the needs of scholars today” and that “many texts have been uncovered since Tischendorf’s day, some of them relatively difficult to access” (p. viii).  Nevertheless, they liberally draw upon Tischendorf’s work, primarily in the absence of new editions of certain texts—a deficiency the editors point out on several occasions, lamenting the slow pace of text-critical scholarship.

One of the strengths of this volume is in its expansiveness. Many apocrypha collections (in translation, that is) limit their content to texts composed in the first three or four centuries, thus eliminating a large amount of very interesting material. But this collection, running to almost 600 pages, features such rarely-seen texts as the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, the History of Joseph the Carpenter, the Dura fragment of the Diatessaron (though an odd choice), an expansive collection of agrapha, and a large amount of the Acts of Pilate cycle (including the Anaphora Pilati, the Paradosis Pilati, the Letter of Pilate to Claudius and other letters, the Vengeance of the Savior, and the Death of Pilate). The editors avoided texts from the Nag Hammadi Library, since they are readily available in current editions, but opted to include the three most commonly-used texts: the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, and the Gospel of Judas. To their credit, they feature both the Coptic and the Greek fragments of Thomas and Mary, and with Judas, though they appeal to the contentious National Geographic edition of the text, they include expanded notes discussing the disputed readings.

As praiseworthy as the collection is, I can’t help but add a few nitpicky criticisms on their treatment of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas (a text close to my heart).

  • They chose to feature and translate Tischendorf’s Greek A text (fairly standard practice) and the first three chapters of Greek C (usually called Greek D; the same material is found in the late Latin version of the text).  Mention is made of an additional eight Greek Mss (drawing upon my article on the Greek tradition in Apocrypha 14) which “have never been published or made available to scholarly study” (p. 3). But these are certainly available in my PhD diss. (recently published in the CCSA series), and even Reidar Aaasgard’s 2009 IGT-study The Childhood of Jesus (which Ehrman is certainly aware of as he wrote a very supportive endorsement for its back cover) features an edition and translation of the very important Cod. Sabaiticus 259. There may be good reasons not to draw upon these resources, but they should be mentioned.
  • Mention should be made also of Thomas Rosén’s study of the Slavonic Mss (The Slavonic Translation of the Apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Thomas, 1997). They do note de Santos Otero’s earlier 1967 work but Rosén’s is more recent and it is in English.
  • They discuss briefly the two fifth-century Syriac Mss (from London and Göttingen) and allude to three other later Mss. Which Mss are these? Only two (Vat. Syr. 159 and Budge’s Life of Mary Ms from Alkosh) have made much of a mark in scholarship. Many more exist, mind you, but it is still not clear what the editors are referring to. It would have been extremely helpful to include the Syriac IGT in the volume as it includes the longer version of chapter six missing in Tischendorf’s Greek Mss.
  • Fabricius is credited with first publishing IGT in 1703 when, in fact, the Ms from the Fabricius collection first appeared in full in a work by J. B. Cotelier in 1698.
  • And the Athens Ms of Greek C published by Armand Delatte is mistakenly said to be from the Bibliothèque National (sic) in Paris (p. 25, though they get the location right on p. 4).

Despite these minor reservations for IGT, I heartily recommend Ehrman and Pleše’s collection. But I would caution readers not to think of their editions, in many cases, to be authoritative. These are often merely entry points into the texts and must be supplemented with other text-critical work, particularly the contributions made by l’Association pour l’étude de la littérature apocryphe chrétienne reflected in the CCSA series and the two-volume French collection Écrits apocryphe chrétiens (1997 and 2005).

This entry was posted in Apocryphal Gospels, Infancy Gospel of Thomas. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Thoughts on Ehrman and Pleše’s Apocryphal Gospels

  1. freecredit says:

    Heya! I just wanted to ask if you ever have any issues with hackers?
    My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and I ended up losing many months of hard work due to no back up.
    Do you have any methods to protect against hackers?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *