Christian Apocrypha at the 2014 CSBS/CSPS: A Report

The Annual Meetings of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies and the Canadian Society of Patristic Studies took place last weekend (May 23-26) at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario. Both societies are modest-sized groups of scholars; their gatherings are nothing on the scale of SBL or NAPS—the CSBS meeting, the larger of the two, regularly features 60-70 papers. But the gatherings are no less valuable and, in my opinion, far more friendly and collegial (they’re full of Canadians after all). They provide a welcome opportunity for Canadians living near and far to reconnect with one another.

For the past three years I have been leading a session at the CSBS on Christian Apocrypha. So far, the session has progressed without a guiding theme; with such a small number of scholars, it is best to keep the focus of the session as broad as possible. There was one major change this year in that we partnered with CSPS for a joint session. The goal was to expand our pool of possible presenters. As a result, we ended up with a good balance of New Testament and Patristics scholars, examining and discussing the texts through the particular perspectives of their fields. Also for this year I relinquished my role as chair of the session to Tim Pettipiece of the CSPS.

The first paper was “The Dialogue of the Saviour and the Synoptic Gospels” by Anna Cwikla, a student at the University of Toronto. Cwikla offered an overview of early theories (by Pagels and Koester) about the Dialogue’s relationship to the Synoptics; these theories attempted to bring some order to the structure of the text and argued that the Dialogue demonstrated no certain dependence on NT writings. Cwikla favours moving away from the structure imposed on the text and, by doing so, she says, more Synoptic parallels become evident. Her discussion focused on three sections of the text: 139.8-11 (with a possible parallel to Matt 6:34b/Matt 10:10b/Matt 10:25a), 144.13-20 (with Luke 11:1-2//Matt 6:5-6), and 136.5-10,20-24 (with Matt 24:27,30-31). The latter example has not been proposed previously, and John Kloppenborg, in the discussion period, noted additional Matthean allusions in that section of the Dialogue.

The second paper was “Physiognomy as a component of characterization in the Acts of Peter” by Callie Callon (another University of Toronto student). Callon was unable to attend the conference, so her paper was read by Michelle Christian (you guessed it: also from the University of Toronto). The paper examines the portrayals of Simon Magus and the apostle Peter in the Acts of Peter with an eye to contemporary physiognomic manuals. In the Acts, Peter is portrayed positively, speaking with a strong voice. But Simon speaks in a high voice, which is associated with femininity, androgyny, and poor oratorical skills. At one point in the narrative, Simon runs, which reveals “a disordered state of mind” and is associated with both femininity and with the actions of slaves. Also, Simon has a highly-sexualized vision of a female slave; visions reflect on their recipient, thus adding to the shameful portrayal of Peter’s opponent.

The reading of Callon’s paper was followed by Bradley Rice’s (McGill University) “Jesus the Gadfly: Introducing the Dialogue of the Paralytic with Christ.” Rice’s presentation drew from his work on the text for the More Christian Apocrypha volume that I am editing with Brent Landau. The Dialogue is extent in two forms: a shorter Georgian text from the 13th century and the longer Armenian from the 14th century. Few other scholars have worked on this text, leaving Rice with plenty of questions to address. Most interesting is the text’s connection to the Armenian Infancy Gospel. Both texts tell structurally-similar stories, with Jesus approaching someone in need of healing and entering into a dialogue about the nature of the illness and the afflicted’s attempts at relief before Jesus reveals that he has the power to heal his dialogue partner. The Dialogue also functions to communicate points of orthodox christology, though strangely in response to comments and questions from Jesus that are not orthodox.

After a short break, John Horman (an independent scholar living in Waterloo) presented his paper on “Translation Matters.” Horman presents regularly at CSBS on the Gospel of Thomas. His previous work finally saw publication a few years ago in his monograph A Common Written Greek Source for Mark and Thomas (WLU Press, 2011). This year he focused on the proclivities of the Coptic translator of Thomas and how the translation has obscured the original contents of the text. Horman pointed out that there are some inherent deficiencies in the Coptic language—it has no participles, no passive, no verb for “to have”—which contribute to difficulties understanding Thomas in its Coptic form. Horman’s paper was difficult to follow (it was somewhat technical, but there was no handout, and the structure of Horman’s argument was not always clear); nevertheless, he made it apparent that scholars must approach the Coptic Thomas with caution and resist thinking it represents well the Greek original. On occasion, Horman referenced a paper from another session delivered by Ian Brown (a student at—well, you know) called “You want answers, go to school! What Graeco-Roman schooling practices can tell us about early Jesus people.” Brown endeavoured to demonstrate that the Gospel of Thomas functions like texts used in philosophical schools—that is, collections of chreia composed on similar topics that do not reflect a systematic doctrine but are meant to evoke discussion on a wider corpus of materials. The implication of this connection is that Thomas is the tip of the iceberg for the writings and traditions used by the “Jesus school” who valued the text.

Finally, the session came to a close with Robert Kitchen’s (Knox-Metropolitan United Church) overview of the “Syriac History of Philip.” Kitchen is preparing an introduction and translation of the text for a future volume of the More Christian Apocrypha project. The text is extant in eight Syriac manuscripts, one of which was published by William Wright (Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles [1871], vol. 2: 69-92; online text), and in an Arabic form. Kitchen emphasized the text’s kinship with the Greek Acts of Philip, which contains 15 self-contained episodes of Philip’s missionary travels and the story of his martyrdom. The Syriac text is also a self-contained story which could fit easily within the Greek Acts, and the Syriac text features an antagonist named Ananias, who appears also in Acts of Philip 2. It is unlikely that the Syriac story was originally part of the Greek Acts, but the parallels suggest that the Syriac author was writing his text as a sequel of sorts to the earlier work.

Following the papers, I led a brief discussion on where we might take the Christian Apocrypha session next year. Likely, the informal nature of the gathering will continue, again to elicit as much involvement from CSBS/CSPS members as possible, particularly because so many of the presenters are students, who have less opportunity to depart from their thesis work to examine other topics. I mentioned also in my remarks that there is an observable tension between the CSBS members who, for the most part, examine the apocryphal texts for what they can tell us about New Testament texts or the origins of Christianity, and the CSPS members who advocate appreciating the material in its present form and setting. Both approaches are valid and lead to interesting results. The pairing of the two groups of scholars is helpful, then, for exposing the presenters and their audience to different methodological options.

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2 Responses to Christian Apocrypha at the 2014 CSBS/CSPS: A Report

  1. Thanks Tony,
    I sometimes feel out of things here in the colonies.

  2. Thanks! I always enjoy these types of blog post as a great way to gain insight into what happened at a conference I wasn’t able to attend.

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