More Christian Apocrypha Updates 6: Dialogue of the Paralytic

[This is the latest in a series of posts on texts to be featured in New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures edited by Brent Landau and I. The material here is incorporated also into the information on the texts provided on my More Christian Apocrypha page].

Dial. Paralytic is an elaboration of the story of Jesus and the paralytic from John 5:1–15, though here the encounter is situated after the resurrection, perhaps as late as the fourth century if the paralytic's mention of Arius (d. 336) is original to the text. Christ descends to earth and sees the paralytic. His situation is grave: “disabled and helpless, paralyzed and deprived of the use of all his limbs; he was indeed blind, without strength in his hands, disabled of the two feet and covered with wounds.” He asks Jesus who he is, but Jesus is evasive about his identity. He says, “I am a man who walks a lot, a traveler.” At one point he says he has traveled from India. The two begin to discuss Christ, who was famed as a healer. The paralytic had heard of Christ but no one could carry him to the healer to be cured. Jesus then questions why the man is afflicted: “Whereas you have hopes at this point in Christ, why did he not cure you? Would you not be unbelieving and guilty of very serious sins?” Then follows a series of exchanges recalling the protests of Job to his friends who sought some explanation for the evils he was suffering. Finally, Jesus stops playing with the poor man and says to him “Stand up, take your palate and walk!” (16). The man rises fully healed and Jesus vanishes.

Dial. Paralytic is extant in a number of Armenian and Georgian manuscripts of the 13th to 19th centuries. There are three recensions in Georgian, five in Armenian. A translation of the Armenian appears in Écrits apocryphes chrétiens (2:63-74) by the scholar most associated with the text, Bernard Outtier. For MNTA, Brad Rice has given a translation of the Armenian from an unedited manuscript and a translation of the shorter Georgian version.

Brad's introduction to the text includes an exhaustive list of the known manuscripts (more detailed than most of the contributions to the volume, but the list is a valuable resource for future work on this neglected text), a thoughtful discussion of the text's origins (likely both versions, Georgian and Armenian, derive from a tenth-century translation of an Arabic exemplar), and some thoughts on parallels to the text in the Armenian Infancy Gospel. In both the Dialogue and the Infancy Gospel (chs. 24 and 27) Jesus has encounters with sick people unaware of his divine identity; in both Jesus questions his interlocutor about his situation and requests payment for healing before finally revealing his identity and effecting the healing. In the Dialogue, however, Jesus makes a number of statements contrary to Christian orthodoxy (e.g., that Jesus' disciples stole his body, and that the apostles are "stupid and lazy men, who wrote whatever they wished") though the statements are made in order to allow the paralytic to refute them and be rewarded for his faith. Nevertheless, it is jarring to see Jesus portrayed as a mouthpiece for heresy and blasphemy.


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