Newly-Published Coptic Passion Apocryphon Features a Shape-Shifting Jesus

The online magazine Live-Science features an article on Roelof van den Broek's new book Pseudo-Cyril of Jerusalem on the Life and the Passion of Christ (Brill, 2013). The text, based on two Coptic manuscripts, contains a number of interesting variations on the story of Jesus' arrest, trial, and crucifixion–including the placement of Jesus' arrest on Tuesday (rather than Thursday), the need for Judas to kiss Jesus because Jesus often changed his form, and mention of Jesus and Pilate sharing a meal on the night of his trial. The narrator claims to have found these details in a text "found written in the house of Mary." Read the complete article HERE (with thanks to Brent Landau for passing along the information).

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2 Responses to Newly-Published Coptic Passion Apocryphon Features a Shape-Shifting Jesus

  1. David Blocker says:

    The story found in PseudoCyril has some features in common with other non canonical naratives.

    Here is text where Jesus’ (first) arrest occurred earlier in the week than in the Canonical Gospels:
    “‘And Jesus also was taken on the third day before the passover, in the evening.'” (Extracted from the summary of The Narrative of Joseph of Arimathea in “The Apocryphal New Testament : a collection of apocryphal Christian literature in an English translation” by James Keith Elliot, Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 217 et seq.)

    The Wonder Worker of the Slavonic Josephus was also arrested earlier in the week, released and then re captured and executed.
    ” 22And he (Pilate) had that wonder-doer brought up. And when he had instituted a trial concerning him, …. and set him free. … 28. And they took him and crucified him according to the ancestral law.”( From Gnostic John the Baptizer: Selections from the Mandæan John-Book by G. R. S. Mead [1924], Chapter 3)(See also : Leeming, Henry; Osinkina, Lyubov V.; Leeming, Katherine (2003). Josephus’ Jewish War and Its Slavonic Version: A Synoptic Comparison of the English Translation by H. St. Thackeray with the Critical Edition by N.A. Meš?erskij of the Slavonic Version in the Vilna Manuscript Translated into English by H. Leeming and L. Osinkina. Leiden: Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-11438-8.)

    In some versions of the Toldoth Jesu, Jesus was disguised, so he had to be identified by an informer before he could be arrested:
    “So what did the Sages do? They convened, held counsel and decided to go to the Temple just as pilgrims who are going to a festival do, discreetly and silently. And that is what they did. Raising their eyes, they saw the company of bandits all wearing the same color. They saw Papa prostrate himself before Yeshuh. The Sages immediately put their hands on his collar ” (From the Vienna Manuscript version of the Toldoth Jesu, my translation.)

    Judas was mistaken for Jesus and executed in his place in the Gospel of Barnabas, Chapter 216:
    “Whereupon the wonderful God acted wonderfully, insomuch that Judas was so changed in speech and in face to be like Jesus that we believed him to be Jesus.”

    Another text has Simon ( of Cyrene) crucified in Jesus’ stead: “It was another, their father, who drank the gall and the vinegar; it was not I. They struck me with the reed; it was another, Simon, who bore the cross on his shoulder. I[t] was another upon Whom they placed the crown of thorns…And I was laughing at their ignorance.” From Second Treatise of the Great Seth, Codex VII of the Nag Hammadi Codices. (This text voices the same Gnostic concept that the Gospel of Judas does, that the Christ was temporarily clothed in another’s body.)

    The “Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter” dispenses with the idea that Jesus was disguised, or that another was mistakenly executed in his place, and presents the idea of two phases of Jesus, one a body and the other a spirit. This represents the final stage in the evolution of the story from a disguised Jesus hiding in a crowd, to the idea of a simultaneous corporeal and spiritual manifestation of Jesus:
    “The other one, into whose hands and feet they are driving spikes, that one is the body … Look at him, then look at me.” (From the Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter” in the Nag Hammadi Codices.”

    It is interesting that often where the non canonical narrative is dissimilar from the canonical narrative, they often show points of agreement with each other.

  2. David Blocker says:

    Another non canonical account of mistaken or shifting identity:
    “Wherefore he did not himself suffer death, but Simon, a certain man of Cyrene, being compelled, bore the cross in his stead; so that this latter being transfigured by him, that he might be thought to be Jesus, was crucified, through ignorance and error, while Jesus himself received the form of Simon, and, standing by, laughed at them.” (From Irenaeus on Basilides in Against Heresies, Book I, Chapter 24, section 4) Irenaeus on Basilides appears to be a paraphrase of the Second Treatise of the the Great Seth.

    The Acts of John (from MR James,The Apocryphal New Testament, 1924) tells of a shape changing crucified Jesus:
    “And the Lord himself I beheld above the cross, not having any shape ….”

    Jesus laughed at his crucifixion in “The Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter” and in Irenaeus, as did John in the Acts of John, another place where non canonical narratives overlap.

    (Thank you for having posted about Pseudo Cyril and providing a place to comment on it.)

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