More Christian Apocrypha Updates 9: The Legend of the Thirty Silver Pieces

[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].

LTPS exists in two main forms: an Eastern recension in Syriac, Garshuni, and Armenian, and a Western recension in Latin and European vernaculars. Both forms relate the origin and transmission of the silver pieces paid to Judas to betray Christ. The story begins with the minting of the coins by Terah, then they are passed on to Abraham, to Solomon, to Nebuchadnezzar, to the Magi, to Jesus, who deposits them in the temple, and then to Judas. The two recensions diverge in the passing of the coins from the Magi to Jesus. In the Eastern version the Magi lose the coins in Edessa, merchants find them and give them to King Abgar, and he sends them, along with the Seamless Robe, to Jesus as a reward for healing him. In the Western version the coins pass directly from the Magi to Mary (as part of the gifts to the newborn Messiah), who loses them while the Holy Family is in Egypt; they come into the hands of a shepherd and he gives them to Jesus. Some of the Western versions include an epilogue describing the Judas penny relics that remained in circulation and elaborate descriptions of the potters’ field purchased with the coins returned to the Jews by Judas (Matt 27:7-10).

I first mentioned LTPS on Apocryphicity back in April 2008 when I came across a catalog entry of the text while hunting for Syriac MSS of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. This led to a partnership with Slavomir Céplö; together we assembled several critical texts of the work (two in Syriac and two in Garshuni) and the translation for MNTA. With hope, the critical edition will appear in print soon.

LTPS is not the only text that traces the history of a relic. There are several accounts (Christian and Jewish) of the transmission of the Staff of Moses, which was fashioned from the Tree of Life and, in the Christian accounts, was also used to craft the cross of Jesus. Solomon of Basra recounts a brief history of the purple cloak, which he says was given to the Maccabees by the “emperors of the Greeks,” was then used to dress the temple, and then was placed upon Jesus (see Book of the Bee 44). LTPS differs from these other histories in that a reader of the text, in any one of its many forms, could also own one of the coins from the account; numerous Judas penny relics exist even today, though not one of them was of the kind in circulation at the time of Jesus.

Another story of the silver pieces exists in Latin, Greek, Amharic, and Arabic; this version ties the coins in to the story of the True Cross, and has some commonalities with the Staff of Moses legends. We may include this tale in a future volume of MNTA.

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One Response to More Christian Apocrypha Updates 9: The Legend of the Thirty Silver Pieces

  1. barbara Siskos says:

    The passing of the coins became a focus for me in this lecture, and readings. I have learned through faith that the Western version is correct- the coins were passed from the Magi to Mary upon the birth of the Messiah. in the Greek culture ,we CONTINUE TO REPLICATE THESE COINS, AND PASS THEM ON TO PEOPLE ON CHRISTMAS EVE , so to show blessings for the Messiah.

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