Book Note: The Book of Mary by Michael P. Closs

Michael P. Closs. The Book of Mary: A Commentary on the Protevangelium of James. Victoria, BC: Friesen Press, 2016.

This self-published commentary by retired University of Ottawa professor Michael Closs is a welcome tool for study of Prot. Jas., as there are few other commentaries available on the text—indeed, there are few available on any apocryphal texts!  It is presented as a refutation of Émile Amann’s classic study, Le Protévangile de Jacques et ses remaniements latins: Introduction, textes, traduction et commentaire (1910). Closs opens page 1 with the statement: “This commentary will show that Amann’s work is seriously flawed and that later assessments of the Protevangelium  are equally incorrect. The Protevangelium is a very different type of document than has been envisaged and its contents shed light on the earliest theological developments in marian dogma.” Closs claims instead that, “the intent of the author is to write a theological narrative with the goal of understanding Mary in relationship to her son. Its purpose is not so much to defend Mary as to reveal who she is, given that she is the mother of Jesus” (8).

The study works through the text chapter-by-chapter in English, providing along the way a paraphrase of Amann’s commentary with critique and additional comments, and his own explanatory notes. The book’s layout is a model of clarity, with HB/OT parallels in yellow callouts, NT in pink, patristic authors in green, rabbinic texts in orange, and large quotations from scholars in blue. Closs’s notes at times delve deeply into the text, with much attention paid to key issues such as the possible existence of temple virgins who weaved the temple veil (as Mary does in Prot. Jas. 10). It is unfortunate, however, that the text is presented, and interpreted, only in English translation. In constructing his text, Closs has drawn upon four previous translations: Amann, Walker, and Elliott (all translations of Tischendorf’s edition), and Hock (a translation of Emile de Strycker’s edition of Papyrus Bodmer V). This is an odd strategy, made necessary, I assume because Closs does not have facility with Greek.

The book concludes with five short studies presented as appendices: Attributes of the Author (of Jewish descent and priestly lineage, and perhaps even a woman), the Theology of the Narrative, Dating the Manuscript (i.e., the composition of the text), On Revelation 11:19-12:5, and Liturgical Connections.

The Book of Mary can be ordered from Friesen Press, and is available in hardcover, paperback, and as an e-book for only $10.99. The following abstract is from the publisher’s web site:

This commentary provides a new paradigm for understanding the Protevanglium of James, an early Christian manuscript that was marginalized in the West in the late 4th century but continued to be highly valued in the East.

The Protevangelium has long been recognized as the single most important manuscript associated with the development of marian dogma in early Christianity. The theology of the manuscript and the interpretation of its contents, however, have been woefully misunderstood for almost two thousand years. The present work reveals that the Protevangelium is a theological presentation of Mary in the same genre as the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke. The story of Mary in the Protevangelium tells of a Jewish maiden whose unique vocation was to be the mother of the holy one, the Son of the Most High. The christological awareness in Gospel times was sufficient to single out Mary’s place in salvation history. However, it was her role as a holy of holies of the divine presence—a role that can only be understood within the holiness tradition of the Jewish people—that first engendered her veneration among early Christians.


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Cursing in the Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles

I will be presenting a paper at the Spring 2017 meeting of the Westar Institute next week (March 22-25) in sunny Santa Rosa, California (further information HERE). The paper, “Cursing and the Apostle: The Fight for Authority in Early Christianity,” will be read during the Christianity Seminar (papers available online HERE). It features a lengthy introduction on cursing in the ancient world, including the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. The final section covers cursing in the canonical Acts and Paul’s letters and then turns to the apocryphal acts. For those interested in Christian Apocrypha (and why else would you be here?), I have excerpted here, with some changes, the portion of the paper focusing on Acts and apocryphal acts.

The canonical book of Acts is a treasure trove of curse stories. Several of these are perpetrated by God: the fatal punishment of Judas (Acts 1:15–20), the death of Herod Agrippa (12:20–23;  cf. Josephus, Ant. 19.8.2, where Agrippa’s death is also seen as divine retribution), and the blinding of Paul (9:3–9). In two other curse stories, an apostle is given an active role. The first of these is the story of Ananias and Sapphira (5:1–11; influenced perhaps by the story of Achan who misappropriated what had been dedicated to God and was killed along with his family; see Josh 7:1–26). As the story goes, the community in Jerusalem shares its resources so that “no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common” (4:32). Members of the group sold their land and houses and gave the proceeds to the apostles who “distributed to each as any had need” (4:35). Two members of the community, however, had not given all they owned.

Ananias and Sapphira

But a man named Ananias, with the consent of his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property; with his wife’s knowledge, he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. “Ananias,” Peter asked, “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to us but to God!” Now when Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard of it. The young men came and wrapped up his body, then carried him out and buried him. After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you and your husband sold the land for such and such a price.” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, so they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things. (5:1–11)

It is not clear who exactly is the instrument of doom in the tale, God or Peter. While God is certainly the power behind the curse, Peter has the ability to know that Ananias is lying and Ananias dies after Peter’s declaration of the falsehood. The same formula is followed for Sapphira, though by now Peter certainly knows what fate will befall her if she lies. The story is a frightening warning to those who dare to cheat or lie to the community. Readers of the text, or hearers of the tale, would feel some hesitation in doing the same. They may also have felt that the successors of Peter would have the same ability to curse those who disobey the church’s commands and justifiably worry if they are called before their superiors.

The second apostolic curse story in Acts is Paul’s encounter with Bar-Jesus, also known as Elymas (13:6–11). Paul and Barnabas have traveled to Cyprus and meet the proconsul of Paphas who is accompanied by “a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet, named Bar-Jesus” (13:6). When Elymas tries to prevent Paul and Barnabas from speaking to the proconsul about Jesus, Paul curses him: “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? And now listen—the hand of the Lord is against you, and you will be blind for a while, unable to see the sun” (13:10–11). And, as one might expect, Elymas is blinded. It is not revealed to the reader how long the blindness lasts—perhaps for his entire life. As for the proconsul, “when [he] saw what happened, he believed” (13:12). Miracles are often depicted in the canonical Gospels and Acts as effective ways to attract people to the faith and encourage belief; they are an entryway, an attention-getter for the teacher, who then follows up the miracles with teachings. But this story demonstrates that a curse can be just as effective, particularly when encountering rival wonderworkers. It is a classic case of my god is bigger and better than your god.

The same conflict between apostles and rival wonderworkers is observable in the curse stories of the apocryphal acts. The apocryphal acts are similar to the canonical Acts—they feature stories of apostles travelling to various locations, performing miracles, converting people to the faith, and encountering persecution and martyrdom—but focus on individual apostles, each of whom is appointed a corner of the world to evangelize. Every apostle, as well as several secondary figures, such as Cornelius the Centurion and Mark the Evangelist, gets his own text, but five of these stand out in scholarship as the earliest: Andrew, Peter, Paul, John, and Thomas, all composed in either the late second or early third century. Christian institutions and theologians have not looked favorably upon these texts. Uneasy about the somewhat unorthodox preaching and ascetic practices of the apostles in the apocryphal acts, orthodox revisers removed the martyrdom accounts and discarded the rest. Due to the efforts of Christian apocrypha scholars, portions of the discarded material have been recovered but even today, only the Acts of Thomas is available in its entirety. The material that is available for study features a number of curse stories, but the texts may once have featured more.

Several of the stories focus on encounters between the apostle and minor characters who offend the apostle or interfere in his mission. Both Paul and Thomas encounter unworthy people who attempt to take part in the Eucharist. In one story, “a certain youth who had wrought an abominable deed” (he killed a woman who spurned his advances) cannot not put the Eucharist in his mouth because his hands had withered up (Acts Thom. 51). The apostle says that the Eucharist had detected his lie, though presumably the punishment came directly from God. In the other story, the apostle is more active in the curse. A woman named Rufina approaches Paul to receive the Eucharist but he stops her and says, “Rufina, you are not coming to the altar of God like a true (worshipper), rising from beside (one who is) not your husband but an adulterer, yet you seek to receive the Eucharist of God. For behold Satan shall trouble break your body and cast you down in the sight of all that believe in the Lord, so that they may see and believe, and know that it is the living God who examines (men’s) hearts. But if you repent of your action, he is faithful, so that he can wipe away your sins (and) deliver you from this sin. But if you do not repent while you are still in the body, the consuming fire and the outer darkness shall receive you forever” (Acts Pet. 2). Rufina falls down, paralyzed on the left side of her body. The onlookers worry now that God will not forgive their own former sins, a concern that reflects the overarching theme of the text, that apostates during times of persecution should be welcomed back to the community if they repent. Rufina, for her part, is not repentant of her sin and is punished as a result.

Another tale of Paul features the common punishment of blindness. A man in Myra named Hermocrates is cured by Paul of dropsy. This angers his son Hermippus because he wanted his father to die so that he could inherit his property. Hermippus comes at Paul with a sword but after Paul prays to God to “look down upon their counsel and let me not be brought to nought by them,” Hermippus is struck blind (Acts Paul 4). Attacking an apostle brings misery also when a cupbearer at a wedding strikes Thomas. The apostle says to him, “My God will forgive you for this wrong in the world to come, but in this world he will show his wonders, and I shall soon see that hand that struck me dragged along by dogs” (Acts Thom. 6). And indeed, the cupbearer is later killed by a lion and a black dog takes his hand and brings it back to the wedding (Acts Thom. 8). Andrew also meets resistance and is twice saved from death by curses from God. In the first story, a noble youth named Exoos comes to Andrew without his parents’ consent. The parents lead a mob to the house where Andrew is staying, but before any harm can come to him, God blinds the mob. “All were converted,” the text reports, “except the youth’s parents, who cursed him and went home again, leaving all their money to public uses. Fifty days after they suddenly died, and the citizens, who loved the youth, returned the property to him” (Acts Andr. 12). In the second story, a proconsul sends Andrew into a pit of wild animals, but God intervenes and a fierce bull spares Andrew, killing instead its two handlers; then a fierce leopard enters the pit but it “left every one alone but seized and strangled the proconsul’s son” (Acts Andr. 18).

Giotto, Raising of Drusiana, Peruzzi Chapel (14th. cent.)

The final example of cursing opponents is the infamous tale of the attempted necrophilia of Callimachus from the Acts of John (70–86). Callimachus and Fortunatus enter the tomb of Drusiana but before they can defile her body, a snake comes out of nowhere and kills Fortunatus. Then an angel appears. He covers Drusiana and says to Callimachus, “die, that you may live” (76). And Callimachus is bitten by the snake. John comes to the tomb, dismisses the snake and raises Callimachus to life so that he can reveal what happened. Now repentant of his attempted crime, Callimachus is  accepted into the apostle’s group. Drusiana is then restored to life and in turn she raises Fortunatus, who flees from the tomb. Later John receives a revelation that Fortunatus will die of blood-poisoning from the bite, and he dispatches one of his followers to determine if he is indeed dead. When they discover it is true, John says, “You have your child, devil!” (86) and they all rejoice.

Another apostolic curse story deserves separate mention, because one of the victims in the account is not a sinner, but someone who was cursed in order to prevent sin. The story is the sole episode in the Act of Peter from Berlin Coptic Papyrus 8502. A crowd comes to Peter in search of healing. One person in the group asks him about his daughter: “why haven’t you helped your virgin daughter, who has grown up to be beautiful and has believed in the name of God? For look, she is completely paralyzed on one side and lies there in the corner, helpless. We see people you have healed, but your own daughter you have neglected” (128,15–129,8). Peter responds that it is indeed within God’s power to heal her and Peter does so, “so that your soul may be convinced and those here may increase their faith” (129,17–19). The crowd rejoices and Peter declares, “Look, your hearts are convinced that God is not powerless regarding what we ask of him” (130,12–16). Then Peter says to his daughter, “Now go back to your place, lie down, and become an invalid again, for this is better for both of us” (131,2–5). The crowd begs him to heal her again but Peter refuses, saying the Lord told him on the day she was born, “this girl will harm many souls if her body stays healthy” (132,1–4). He then relates a story of a man named Ptolemy who was tempted by the girl when she was only ten years old. The text is damaged at this point, but it seems that Ptolemy attempted to “defile” her and was prevented when God paralyzed the girl and blinded her attacker. Ptolemy repented and his sight was restored, though he died shortly after. Ptolemy’s story is not unlike those of Hermippus, Callimachus and Fortunatus, and the parents of Exoos, all of whom were cursed for their attacks on believers. But the curse on Peter’s daughter is different, because she never sinned. She was paralyzed largely to avert another man’s sin and remains that way to prevent others from doing the same. The story is a shocking example of victim blaming of a girl who was never even given a name.

A second set of curse stories in the apocryphal acts were written to demonstrate to the reader that the Christian God is mightier than other gods. The tales involve the destruction of pagan temples, and sometimes the temple officials along with them. In a lengthy account from the Acts of John 37–47, John enters the temple of Artemis in Ephesus dressed in black. The worshippers, all dressed in white, are insulted and try to kill him. John evades the crowds and issues a challenge: “Behold, here I stand. You all assert that Artemis is powerful. Pray to her, that I alone die! Or if you cannot accomplish this, I alone will call upon my own God to kill you all because of your unbelief” (39). Those who had witnessed his previous miracles realize their danger and plead for their lives. The apostle prays for God’s mercy on them. In response, half of the temple falls down, the idols and altar are smashed, and the priest is crushed by the roof. Again, the people cry out for mercy and then destroy the rest of the temple themselves and declare, “We know that the God of John is the only one, and henceforth  we worship him, since we have obtained mercy from him” (44). Later, one of the priest’s family takes his body and lays it at the gate of the house where John is staying. Impressed by the man’s  faith, John tells him to raise the priest to life using the words, “The servant of God, John, says to you, Arise!” The priest is restored to life and follows John. A similar story is told of Paul (Acts Paul 5), who is imprisoned along with two companions in the temple of Apollo in Sidon. He prays for liberation and half of the temple falls. There is no mention of loss of life but the text is too fragmentary at this point to know for sure. In its present form, the episode is more of a “liberation miracle” in the same vein as Acts 12:1–19. Destruction of temples occurs also in later apocryphal acts, though no one is hurt in the accounts. In the Acts of Cornelius the converted centurion visits Skepsis and prays for the temple of Zeus to fall, temporarily trapping the governor’s wife and son (2:10—3:4), and in the Acts of Titus a temple under construction falls after Titus walks by and “utters a deep groan” (9:1–2). The outcome of both miracles, as usual, is the conversion of onlookers.

Bennozzo Gozzoli, Fall of Simon Magus (1461)

The final category of curses in the apocryphal acts are those invoked against religious rivals. The high priest of Artemis killed in the Acts of John could be placed also in this category, but far more illustrative of the competition for followers is the fall of Simon Magus in the Acts of Peter. The two figures are established as rivals in the canonical acts, though their encounter ends rather peacefully with Simon repenting of his attempt to buy the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:9–24), and thus prevents Peter’s curse (“May your silver perish with you, because you though you could obtain God’s gifts with money,” 8:20) come coming to fruition. The pair compete more aggressively in Peter’s solo adventures, not only in the Acts of Peter but also the Pseudo-Clementine Romance and several derivative texts. But it is the martyrdom portion of the Acts of Peter that features the final contest between the two wonderworkers (ch. 32). In a final attempt to demonstrate his greater power, Simon climbs up on a high place in the city of Rome and there appears to be flying. Worried that many would turn from God and worship Simon, Peter prays to Jesus for assistance, saying, “Make haste, O Lord, show your mercy and let him fall down and become crippled but not die; let him be disabled and break his leg in three places.” As expected, Simon does fall and is crippled. To add insult to injury, the crowds stone him and “from that time” they believed in Peter. Simon is carried off by his remaining supporters to Africa where he is operated on and dies shortly thereafter. Simon’s end is relatively tame compared to those who oppose Philip in the fourth-century Acts of Philip. In one story (ch. 2), Philip is opposed by a Jewish delegation to Athens led by the high priest Ananias, who is possessed by the demon Mansemat. Ananias comes to the apostle with 500 men and accuses him of sorcery. After Philip gives a spirited defense of his mission, Ananias runs at the apostle to whip him but his hand withers and his eyes are blinded. Then the 500 are blinded also (2:12). The 500 repent and eventually regain their sight, but Ananias remains stubborn and refuses to believe, even after Jesus himself descends from heaven in glory and lightning. The apostle restores the high priest’s sight but utters a spell in Hebrew and the earth swallows him up, first to his knees, then his waist, then his neck. Finally, with Ananias still unrepentant, Philip becomes angry and says, “A curse on you! Depart now entirely into the abyss in front of all these people” (2:23).  And Ananias descends alive into Hades. Philip’s anger eventually becomes his undoing. In the final act of the text, Philip is crucified upside down. He is told by Christ not to prevent his martyrdom, but he is incensed by the treatment of his companion John and declares, “I will no longer hold myself back, but I will bring my full indignation upon them and destroy them all” (15:25). Again he cries out to God in Hebrew and the proconsul, the temple and its priests, and 7000 men are swallowed up by the abyss. Fortunately for the townspeople, Jesus appears again and punishes Philip for disobeying his rule to “not return evil for evil” by preventing his entry into paradise for forty days (15:29–31). Philip struggles to understand the reason for this punishment—he asks, “Why are you angry with me, Lord, that I called down curses on my enemies? Indeed, why do you not strike them down since they still live in the abyss?” (15:30)—but relents and accepts his fate. Jesus saves the townspeople from the abyss by transforming his cross into a ladder (15:32). What is most surprising in this final story is that Philip can curse without the consent of God; the power is entirely the apostle’s.

The apocryphal acts, as with other noncanonical texts, tend to be disparaged for their abundant use of wonders and prodigies, the principal aim of which is to entertain their readers while at the same time demonstrating that the apostles’ miracles are mightier than the magic of their rivals and that their God is the only god. The apocryphal acts look garish, they say, in comparison to the more sober canonical acts. Yet, when it comes to curse stories (the most offensive element of the acts for many readers), the canonical Acts has the apocryphal acts beat: there are far more punitive miracles per page in Acts than in the longer individual acts. And the curses largely function the same way: to demonstrate the might of the apostles over their opponents and thereby elicit belief from onlookers. There is little that separates Philip’s blinding of the high priest Ananias and his men from Paul’s blinding of Elymas, nor God’s murder of Judas, Agrippa, and Ananias and Sapphira from the killing and maiming of Fortunatus, the parents of Exoos, and the priest of Artemis.

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“On the Funeral of Jesus”: Apocryphal Passion Traditions from a Fifteenth-Century Manuscript

Opening page of On the Funeral of Jesus

Opening page of On the Funeral of Jesus

The latest volume of Le Muséon (129: 251-78) features my article “Two New Witnesses to the Acta Pilati Tradition.” I first came across the two texts while working on my dissertation (way back in 2000!). The catalog for one of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas manuscripts (Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Cod. hist. gr. 91, 14/15th cent.) lists the first as a fragment of On the Passion, for the Preparation Day, a sermon attributed to Eusebius of Alexandria. The second appears under the title “Anonyme. Fragment über die Bestattung Jesu Christi.” It is a curious mix of canonical and noncanonical traditions: the burial of Jesus is derived mostly from the Gospel of John, and then much of the post-burial material has parallels in the Acts of Pilate and the Narrative of Joseph of Arimathea, though there is some never-before-seen material in the text also. The article took an awfully long time to see publication. I presented the text at a conference in Winnipeg in 2010 and for one reason or another it was turned down for publication by a few journals before finding a home at Le Muséon. For more information on the text, see the entry in e-Clavis: Christian Apocrypha. The abstract is reproduced below:

A 14th/15th-century Greek manuscript in Vienna (Cod. hist. gr. 91) contains two fragmentary texts relating to the Acta Pilati corpus of the Christian Apocrypha. The first is a fragment of On the Passion, for the Preparation Day, a sermon attributed to Eusebius of Alexandria drawing upon the Descensus ad inferos, found appended to several versions of the Acts of Pilate. The paper includes a transcription and translation of the fragment along with an overview of the publication history of the sermon. The second text is an unpublished, untitled excerpt from an unknown homily dealing with the burial of Jesus and the imprisonment of Joseph of Arimathea. This paper presents a diplomatic edition of the text with an English translation along with a discussion of its relationship to the Acts of Pilate and the related Narrative of Joseph of Arimathea.

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Book Notice: Biblical Pseudepigraphy in Slavonic Traditions

Alexander Kulik and Sergey Minov, Biblical Pseudepigraphy in Slavonic Traditions (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).

From the Oxford University Press catalog page:

slavonicEarly Slavonic writings have preserved a unique corpus of compositions that develop biblical themes. These extracanonical, parabiblical narratives are known as pseudepigrapha, and they preserve many ancient traditions neglected by the canonical scriptures. They feature tales of paradise and hell, angels and Satan, the antediluvian fathers and biblical patriarchs, kings, and prophets. These writings address diverse questions ranging from artistically presented questions of theology and morals to esoteric subjects such as cosmology, demonology, messianic expectations, and eschatology.

Although these Slavonic texts themselves date from a relatively late period, they are translations or reworkings of far earlier texts and traditions, many of them arguably going back to late biblical or early postbiblical times. The material in these works can contribute significantly to a better understanding of the roots of postbiblical mysticism, rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity, ancient and medieval dualistic movements, as well as the beginnings of the Slavonic literary tradition.

The volume provides a collection of the minor biblical pseudepigrapha preserved solely in Slavonic; at the same time, it is also the first collection of Slavonic pseudepigrapha translated into a western European language. It includes the original texts, their translations, and commentaries focusing on the history of motifs and based on the study of parallel material in ancient and medieval Jewish and Christian literature.

The aim of the volume is to to bridge the gap between the textual study of this corpus and its contextualization in early Jewish, early Christian, rabbinic, Byzantine, and other traditions, as well as to introduce these texts into the interdisciplinary discussion of the intercultural transmission of ideas and motifs.

Table of Contents:

1. About All Creation
2. The Creation of Adam
3. Adam’s Contract with Satan
4. The Tale about the Tree of the Cross
5. The Appeal of Adam to Lazarus
6. The Sea of Tiberias
7. About the Ark
8. The Ladder of Jacob

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2016 SBL Diary: Days Three and Four

Day three began with a breakfast meeting for the NASSCAL board—about eight of the 12 of us were presenting at SBL, so the annual meeting presents us with a good opportunity to sit around a table together and talk about projects we have in the works. I chose a café in La Villita a little distance away from the hotels, thinking that it would be quiet and quick, but it seems that they were unprepared for, well, serving anyone, so we never managed to get breakfast, despite being there for 90 minutes. Nevertheless, the assembled board members discussed the first NASSCAL conference, books in our two series (Early Christian Apocrypha and Studies in Christian Apocrypha), and the establishment of some formal by-laws. Watch this space, and, for further news.

charlesworthBetween non-breakfast and lunch I visited the book display again and discovered that MNTA vol. 1 had sold out! Why oh why didn’t they bring enough copies to satisfy what clearly was a high demand? On the bright side, it’s an achievement to have the book sell out (mind you, they probably only brought three copies). I picked up only two books at the display this year (my expense account is on fumes): April DeConick’s The Gnostic New Age and James H. Charlesworth’s pocket book translation of the Odes of Solomon (The Oldest Christian Hymnbook: The Odes of Solomon).

The second session of the Christian Apocrypha Section focused on apocryphal acts, a theme that, though not planned, came naturally out of the proposals we received. Michael Flexsenhar III (Rhodes College) spoke first with “Creating a Christian World: Martyrdom, Memory, and ‘Caesar’s Household’ in the Apocryphal Acts.” The paper takes as its starting point the conclusion of Philippians where Paul says “All the saints greet you, especially those of the emperor’s household” (4:22). Several apocryphal acts develop this notion with stories of slaves in Nero’s household converting to Christianity: in Acts of Paul, Patroculus’s conversion sets up Paul’s audience with Nero, the prologue to the Actus Vercellenses again places Paul with Nero’s slaves, and in the Martyrdom of Peter, Nero is upset that Peter dies before he can punish him for converting his slaves. Flexsenhar sees all of these traditions as efforts to establish an early Christian foothold in Rome, contributing to a “sacred geography” for the stories of the two chief apostles. Valentina Calzolari (University of Geneva) followed with “The Armenian Acts of Paul and Thecla.” Calzolari is the current president of l’AELAC (Association pour l’étude de la littérature apocryphe chrétienne) and this was her first appearance at SBL. We had some time over the weekend to discuss better co-operation between AELAC and NASSCAL in our respective publishing endeavours.  Calzolari’s paper was a welcome entry into Armenian apocrypha, which few of us have the ability to study in any detail, though we will have more opportunity to do so in Calzolari’s forthcoming editions of the Thecla material in a volume in the Corpus Christianorum Series Apocryphorum (vol. 20 is Apocrypha Armeniaca, t. 1: Acta Pauli et Theclae – Miracula Theclae – Martyrium Pauli). The paper noted parallels between the Acts of Thecla in the Armenian Story of Rhipsime, which documents the conversion of Armenia, and the Martyrdom of Thaddaeus and Sandukht, which tells the story of Sandukht, the daughter of the king Sanatruk and the first Armenian martyr. Both Rhipsime and Sandukht are portrayed in ways very similar to Thecla, and it would appear that Thecla’s story was very influential in forming the account of Armenia’s conversion.


Jonathan Henry

The third paper of the session was Jonathan Henry’s (Princeton University) “Thomas in Transmission: Some Noteworthy Witnesses to the Acts and Passion of Thomas.” Henry showed us images of several manuscripts of the Acts of Thomas, including an Irish palimpsest, which, dated 650 CE, is the second earliest witness we have to the text and a rare example of its transmission in the West. Most interesting, however, is Vallicellanus B 35, the only Greek MS of the text that includes the Hymn of the Pearl. Surprisingly, the unorthodox Acts of Thomas is nestled in this MS among the very orthodox writings of John Chrysostom, leading Henry to make the tantalizing statement, “We should not ask why the church is transmitting what it condemned but why they are condemning what they are transmitting.” He also brought our attention to images related to variant readings from the Acts of Thomas and noted that these types of witnesses do not show up in the critical editions.

Another excellent presentation about transmission was given by Ivan Miroshnikov (Helsingin Yliopisto – Helsingfors Universitet) in his paper, “Towards a New Edition of the Coptic Acts of Andrew and Philemon.” This rarely-examined text likely was written in Coptic but is extant also in Arabic and Ethiopic. The Coptic witnesses encompass five fragmentary MSS. The most interesting of these is designated MONB.DN, which is a compendia of Andrew apocrypha (containing Acts of Andrew and Matthias in the City of the Cannibals, Acts of Andrew and Philemon, Acts of Andrew and Paul, Acts of Andrew and Bartholomew, and Acts of Andrew and Peter), and MONB.DM, which is a collection of apostolic passion accounts. Miroshnikov established an origin of the text in a sixth-century monastic environment and illustrated how the length of readings in the text varies in the sources, making it difficult to determine the original form of the text. The final paper of the session was delivered by Sung Soo Hong, a student at the University of Texas at Austin. In “The Word of the Father Shall Be to Them a Work of Salvation”: Thinking with the Chaste Body of Thecla,” Hong examined three ways Thecla’s body functions in the text: as a demonstration of God’s salvific power (since Thecla does not experience martyrdom), as the embodiment of Paul’s beatititudes of self-control and resurrection, and as a display of God’s ability to protect his agents from harm.

The session concluded with an informal discussion of what the Christian Apocrypha Section might focus on next year. An appeal was made also to submit proposals for the 2017 SBL International in Berlin (call for papers; proposals are due by Feb. 22). The executive then headed off for their business meeting to take these suggestions and put them into action. It was decided that the four sessions next year will comprise: 1. a joint session with the Nag Hammadi and Gnosticism Section on the subject of “Coptic Apocrypha: Nag Hammadi and Beyond,” 2. a book review panel for MNTA vol. 1, and 3. and 4. open sessions, though with an appeal for papers on art and material culture, and apocryphal letters. The committee discussed also the possibility of a joint session with the Religious Competition Section in 2018.

Kloppenborg and the FEstschrift editors. Photo by Sarah Rollens.

Kloppenborg and his Festschrift editors. Photo by Sarah Rollens.

After the meeting, I caught up with fellow Canadian and good friend Phil Harland over dinner, and then we headed off to a reception for John Kloppenborg (Scribal Practices and Social Structures Among Jesus Adherents: Essays in Honour of John S. Kloppenborg, published by Peeters). He was presented with a Festschrift edited by four of his former students (one of whom is Phil). Kloppenborg was one of my instructors at the University of Toronto, though he was not my doctoral supervisor. He has been very supportive of my work over the years (including his participation on a review panel for MNTA vol. 1 at the 2016 CSBS). He approached me at the end of the reception to tell me about an exciting project that, if I accept the invitation (and if the publisher agrees that I should do it), will keep me very busy for the next few years.

Monday morning was free of sessions, so my wife and I took a water taxi trip to the Pearl Brewery. Little did we know it would take an hour to get there! So, we took a quick spin around the site, jumped on another water taxi back to the conference center, and managed to have enough time to change and get to the first afternoon session. Good thing, too, because I was one of the presenters. This third Christian Apocrypha Section session was a joint session with Digital Humanities. It opened with Brent Landau’s (University of Texas at Austin) “What No Eye Has Seen: Using a Digital Microscope to Produce a New Transcription of Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 210, a Possible Apocryphal Gospel.” Brent worked on a translation of P. Oxy. 210 for MNTA (yet another shameless plug). His presentation illustrated, on the one hand, the value of digital microscopes for resolving problematic readings in MSS, but emphasized also, on the other hand, that some readings cannot be resolved without firsthand viewing of the MS—demonstrated in several examples for P. Oxy. 210 where the folding over of fibres in the conservation process had obscured some of the letters. The two techniques, working together, can yield some significant results.

Janet Spittler

Janet Spittler

Janet Spittler (University of Virginia) and I followed Brent with our presentation on “Founding an Academic Society in the Digital Age: The North American Society for the Study of Christian Apocryphal Literature.” Janet spoke first, providing a history of the group and a tour of the membership directory portion of the NASSCAL site. She emphasized that NASSCAL was formed to encourage networking among Christian Apocrypha scholars, and the web site provides opportunities for “virtual conferencing” in a time when expense accounts are strained by the high cost of travel. Then I gave the audience a history and tour of the e-Clavis: Christian Apocrypha project.

Jennifer Barry (University of Mary Washington) introduced us to her developing project in “ Accessing Women’s History through the Digital Humanities.” The project, inspired by and named for Kate Cooper’s book Band of Angels: The Forgotten World of Early Christian Women, aims to provide online resources for the study of early Christian women’s stories and experiences. It is similar to Project Vox, which focuses on the lost voices of women in the histories of modern philosophy. For now, Barry’s project contains materials only on Thecla and the martyrs Perpetua and Felicitas. Unfortunately, it is not yet live, but it looks to be a promising pedagogical resource. Barry’s presentation included a tour of sites linked to her own, including Mapping the Martyrs, which gathers information on martyrdom accounts, including (for Christian Apocrypha enthusiasts) those of apostles.

Rounding out the session was James F. McGrath (Butler University) with his paper “Learning from Jesus’ Wife: The Role of Online Scholarship in Creating and Exposing a Forgery.” This was one of two papers this year on GJW; the other was “Dating Ancient Egyptian Papyri through Raman Spectroscopy: Concept and Application to Fragments of The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife and the Gospel of John” by James T. Yardley (Columbia University), Sarah Goler (Columbia University in the City of New York) and David Ratzan (New York University). For a discussion of this paper see James’ blogpost at Religion Prof. James’ own presentation covered some of the same ground as his contribution to the 2015 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium—i.e., online scholars declared GJW a forgery but it was slow and rigorous investigation that proved it to be so. He also mentioned how imitations of ancient manuscripts and artifacts can be helpful—as display items in museums or for use in classrooms—and how finetuning these imitations helps in identifying imitations designed for nefarious ends. Finally, James remarked that many of our authentic texts, such as the Gospel of Philip, have sensational contents; informing people of such texts could thus make it more difficult for forgers to dream up something that can capture the public’s attention.

Christine Luckritz Marquis (chair), with Janet Spittler and Patricia Duncan

The final Christian Apocrypha session took place in the early evening and was focused loosely around the theme of “Violence and Healing in the Christian Apocrypha.” Janet Spittler opened the session with “Causality and Healing of Disease in the Acts of John.” The paper grew out of Janet’s forthcoming commentary on the Acts of John. Originally the paper was to cover a variety of maladies in the text but Janet’s presentation focused primarily on ch. 30 of the text in which elderly women of Ephesus suffer from a variety of illnesses because the townspeople are “slack.” Janet compared this diagnosis with descriptions by medical writers Chrysippus and Galen of the effects of slackness in the soul. The author of the Acts of John, then, is combining mind and body in the story of the Ephesian women, as well as other healing stories in the text—slackness in the soul gives them a fever, and the only prescription is more apostle.

In “Philosophical Foundations of (Self) Healing and Exorcism in the Pseudo-Clementine ‘Homilies’,” Patricia A. Duncan (Texas Christian University) noted similarities regarding the relationship between demons and illness in the Klementia (but not the Recognition) and Porphyry of Tyre, a third-century Neoplatonic philosopher. Both writers assert that demon-inflicted illness is related to contact with the material world; baptism and self-control helps to rid oneself of them. Judith Hartenstein (Universität Koblenz – Landau) followed Duncan with “Violence in the Gospel of Mary (BG 1).” The paper drew upon a new text from Codex Tchacos, the Book of Allogenes, to examine Gos. Mary’s confrontation of the soul with the violent powers that seek to restrain it on earth. The fourth presenter of the session, Annette Merz (Protestant Theological University Amsterdam Groningen), canceled her trip to San Antonio due to illness.

The session concluded with Matthias Geigenfeind’s (Universität Regensburg) “The Apocryphal Revelation of Thomas – Unique, but Underappreciated.” The paper was a text-critical examination of the apocalypse and thus did not cohere with the theme of the session. Nevertheless, it was an excellent study of the sources available to us on this text. Apoc. Thom. is relatively well-known in that it is typically included in the standard CA collections; however, the introductions tend to be obscure and rarely are they accompanied by a translation of the entire text. The apocalypse focuses on signs of the end time and comes in three forms: short form, a long form, and an abbreviated form comprised simply of the list of signs without attribution to Thomas. Likely it was composed in Latin and was very popular in the British Isles. Geigenfeind’s list of sources included a new MS from Kassel from the eighth century and, to my surprise, some fragments housed at the University of Toronto. Certainly the text is “underappreciated,” so perhaps we can help bring attention to this text by including it in a future volume of MNTA (was that another plug?).  

And that brings my2016 SBL Diary to an end. After the final paper I headed out with my wife to soak in more of the sights and sounds of San Antonio, my second favourite annual meeting location (after the much-loved San Diego). San Antonio has fewer cultural charms than, say, Boston, but the weather can’t be beat, particularly to those of us traveling from the north. Keep an eye out for the 2017 call for papers and perhaps I will see you at next year’s sessions.

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2016 SBL Diary: Days One and Two

Looking back at my other SBL diary entries over the years, I see they usually begin with an apology about posting so late (the meeting concluded over a week ago). Well, at least I’m consistent. Some bloggers, like the prolific James McGrath, are far more swift than I (I think he posts about his own presentations while he is presenting). But what I lack in speed I (hopefully) make up for in depth. Here goes…

I arrived at San Antonio Friday evening at around 9 pm. That wouldn’t be so bad, except that I was supposed to hosting a reception at 8. Brent Landau, my co-editor for New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, and I wanted to have a little party to celebrate the launch of the book and to thank our contributors. Thankfully Brent arrived by car from Austin and was able to get everything ready in my absence. After chugging a few plastic cups of “two-buck chuck” from Trader Joes and a few slices of meat, I gave a short thank you speech and then spent much of the next two hours listening to my American colleagues vent about their future president. That was the theme of the weekend for many of us, it seems.


MNTA vol. 1 on display

I typically spend most of my SBL time either in meetings and receptions or at Christian Apocrypha sessions; there is little time to attend other sessions, even those featuring CA-related papers (and there were plenty of them this year). Saturday began with a video interview to promote MNTA vol. 1. Eerdmans prepared a bunch of these over the weekend. It was relatively painless—Brent and I sat across from one another in front of a green screen and answered some questions about the book. Brent is far more seasoned at this than I, so I expect the finished product will be mostly his answers and some cut-aways to me nodding my head and sipping from my Starbucks cup. I worry too what they will end up substituting for those green screens (it better not be that Star Wars kid).

After the filming, I did a quick run through the book exhibit, mostly to see MNTA on display. As it happens, they had only a “display copy” available. So, apologizing for being a pest, I asked them to place a stack on the table. Hell, if it was up to me there would be balloons and dancers. Books don’t sell themselves, y’know? I also popped by Gorgias Press and dropped off a draft of my forthcoming edition of the Syriac Infancy Gospel of Thomas, now four years late! Acquisitions Editor Melonie Schmierer-Lee seemed very pleased to see it. Speaking of Infancy Thomas, my second meeting of the day was a conversation over tea with Rob Cousland from the University of British Columbia. Rob is working on a book on the text and wanted to meet me and discuss the project. It’s good to know what people are doing with the text and always flattering to be consulted.

I finally made it to a session at 4 pm: a memorial for Helmut Koester. The late Harvard professor has been immensely influential, particularly on North American scholarship in the field. Though I never had the opportunity to meet Koester, his Ancient Christian Gospels was formative for my views on Christian Apocrypha. The panel was chaired by Brent Landau and featured Melissa Harl Sellew (University of Minnesota-Twin Cities), Christine Thomas (University of California-Santa Barbara), Christoph Markschies (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin – Humboldt University of Berlin), Stephen Patterson (Willamette University), Cavan Concannon (University of Southern California), and Robyn Walsh (University of Miami). Ann Graham Brock (Iliff School of Theology) was scheduled to appear also but due to sickness, her remarks were read by Deborah Saxon.

The Helmut Koester memorial panel

The Helmut Koester memorial panel

Sellew began the session with an overview of Koester’s work on several apocryphal texts: Secret Mark, the Dialogue of the Savior, and the Gospel of Thomas. Koester was known for refusing to privilege canonical texts over noncanonical and sought to illustrate with these texts how both texts from both categories grew out of earlier, common traditions (e.g., the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of John reflect a conflict between two groups, with their shared ideas influencing the final forms of both texts). Sellew mentioned also that Koester believed the search for the Historical Jesus was a waste of time, though she noted several places in Koester’s scholarship where he seemed to be unable to resist speculation.

Christine Thomas followed Sellew with some interesting history of the Christian Apocrypha section, which was begun 25 years ago by Dennis MacDonald. For the first several years it was a seminar and achieved permanent status in 1997. Koester’s students frequently participated. Many of the early proposal submissions to the section indicated that some scholars were confused about what constituted “apocrypha”—papers on such texts as Sirach and Tobit were returned with an email stating “Wrong apocrypha. Sorry.” In the discussion after the presentations, Stephen Patterson mentioned a 1972 coup d’état of the SBL led by Koester. At first the group was a small, exclusive gathering of scholars; but Koester and others took control and opened up the membership. In one year SBL thus grew from 200 to 3000 participants. Thomas concluded with some remarks about Koester’s doctoral students. Surprisingly, only seven of the dissertations supervised by Koester focused exclusively on apocryphal texts. There seems to have been some concern among his students that writing on apocrypha would affect their job opportunities. Most often, Koester’s students, like their teacher, would write on both canonical and noncanonical texts; indeed, Thomas said, “under Koester no-one ever studying the New Testament actually wrote about it.”

Christoph Markschies focused his comments on Koester’s German roots. Koester was Rudolph Bultmann’s final doctoral student and Koester’s interest in form criticism is indebted to his teacher. For more on Koester’s background, Markschies recommended reading Brent Landau’s essay, “The ‘Harvard School’ of the Christian Apocrypha” published in the 2013 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium Papers (shout-out to YCAS!). Markschies mentioned also his own interactions with Koester, whom he met at his first SBL in 1995 at a plenary organized by James Robinson for the fifty-year anniversary of the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library. Markschies commented that Koester was critical of Robinson’s negative comments about European scholars.

(Cambridge, MA - February 22, 2007) - Harvard Divinity School Professor Helmut Koester is pictured in Andover Hall. Photo Stephanie Mitchell

Helmut Koester. Photo Stephanie Mitchell

Both Koester and Robinson were influential for the next speaker on the panel: Stephen Patterson. He studied with Robinson, and Koester was a reader of his thesis. Patterson praised Koester’s seminal works “One Jesus and Four Primitive Gospels” and “GNOMAI DIAPHORAI: The Origin and Nature of Diversification in the History of Early Christianity.” Patterson said, “Take any paragraph from these two papers, add water and you have an instant dissertation—that’s what I did.”

The remaining presenters, like Patterson, were all students of Koester and praised their teacher for his guidance and affability. Ann Graham Brock (as read by Deborah Saxon), was introduced to Koester in an archeology course and then became his research assistant. From a conservative background, Brock was always told that apocryphal texts were heresy and she should do everything to avoid them. “I did,” she said, “until I met Helmut.” Brock called Koester “the Michelangelo of Mentors”: “he would look at us and say there must be a scholar in there somewhere.” Koester’s twin interests in literature and archeology were mentioned also by Concannon and Walsh. Concannon worked for Koester converting his extensive slides into electronic form; Walsh commented that Koester was prescient about the promises of Digital Humanities, as well as other topics currently in discussion. The two youngest members of the panel shared jokes and stories about their mentor but also confessed some unease about Koester’s background in Nazi Germany—he was a soldier and a POW. Overall the session was a fitting tribute to Koester’s work. I hope that someone, either in North America or Europe (if not both), will take up the task of assembling a volume of papers demonstrating his continued influence on our field.

After the session, my wife Laura and I joined Brent Landau and Janet Spittler for a sea food dinner on the Riverwalk. The conversation once again drifted to the US election results, but we also chatted about work, travel, and things apocryphal. The day came to a close with a cameo at the reception for the Toronto School of Theology.

To be continued…

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Christian Apocrypha Books to Look for at SBL 2016

One of the highlights of the SBL Annual Meeting is the publishers exhibition. As you make your way from one booth to another, keep an eye out for these new books.

deconickJ. N. Bremmer, T. R. Karmann, and T. Nicklas, eds. The Ascension of Isaiah. Studies on Early Christian Apocrypha 11. Peeters.

Tony Burke and Brent Landau, eds. New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures. Eerdmans.

April DeConick. The Gnostic New Age: How a Countercultural Spirituality Revolutionized Religion from Antiquity to Today. Columbia University Press.

J.K. Elliott, ed. A Synopsis of the Apocryphal Nativity and Infancy Narratives. 2nd ed. Brill.

Alan Mugridge. Copying Early Christian Texts: A Study of Scribal Practice. WUNT 362. Mohr Siebeck.

stoneMichael E. Stone. Armenian Apocrypha Relating to Angels and Biblical Heroes. SBL Press.

Johannes Tromp, ed. The Life of Adam and Eve in Greek. A Critical Edition. SBL Press.

Eric Vanden Eykel. But Their Faces Were All Looking Up. The Reception of Jesus in the First Three Centuries 1. Bloomsbury.


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Legend of the Thirty Pieces of Silver in The Veritas Deception

the-veritas-deceptionAbout a year ago, an independent author named Lynne Constantine contacted me about a text I have worked on (and featured in New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures) called the Legend of the Thirty Pieces of Silver (information on e-Clavis). Lynne wanted to use the coin relics as a plot device in her latest book and wanted some advice about the text and the veracity of “Judas penny” relics still existing today. Lynne’s book, The Veritas Deception, was released a few months ago, and I just finished reading it last night.

The novel is a thriller that involves a secret organization led by the psychopathically evil Damon Crosse intent on corrupting society by desensitizing people to murder, violence, and moral depravity through social media and television programming. Crosse is opposed by investigative journalist Jack Logan and his former fiancé Taylor Phillips, who has become Crosse’s target. Crosse is after the silver pieces, which according to legend, bestow upon their bearer their ultimate, evil desire.

The legend of the silver pieces is recounted on pp. 240-41 and 438-39. Logan and Philips read a portion of the text from a web site (is it mine?). The story of the coins’ journey from Abraham to Judas continues beyond the text when the characters reveal that the coins were given to the guards at Jesus’ tomb, and from them to Mary Magdalene, who entrusted ten each to Peter, Matthew, and John son of Zebedee, who passed them on to John of Patmos. As it turns out, Phillips is a descendant of John of Patmos, and her family has been safeguarding his ten coins for generations. The novel comes to a climax with Phillips recovering the coins and using them to bring about Crosse’s downfall.

The novel is a multi-layered nail-biter that, to my delight, features two strong female protagonists who overshadow the male heroes of the story. When I began working on the Legend of the Thirty Pieces of Silver with Slavomir Céplö years ago, almost no-one had even heard of the text; it is a delight to see it drawn into popular culture. Congratulations to Lynne on her book. If you are interested in reading more about it, visit

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Available at Last! More New Testament Apocrypha vol. 1

I was very happy to receive in the mail today (on my birthday) a box full of copies of my volume New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures Vol. 1, co-edited with Brent Landau. It was a long process seeing this project from conception to birth. Brent and I began soliciting contributions for it at the 2010 SBL. Brent and I will be doing some promotion for it over the next month, including a reception for contributors next week in San Antonio and a video interview for our publisher, Eerdmans. My thanks once again to everyone who worked on the volume and for putting their faith in a couple of junior scholars to see this thing through to publication.

MNTA coverTestimonials from the Book Jacket:

“This fine collection brings together thirty recently published or long known but often neglected Christian texts, variously inspired by or responding to characters or events presented in the books of the New Testament, together with one Jewish parody of the Life of Jesus. Editors and contributors alike are to be congratulated on their achievement, which paves the way for a wider appreciation and understanding of these varied, fascinating, and sometimes surprising texts, some of which may at times have been more popular than their biblical counterparts.” ~ Andrew Gregory, University College, Oxford

“In this masterful volume we find that greatest of rarities—a collection of ancient texts scarcely known (let alone studied) by scholars of Christian antiquity. With these fresh translations of some thirty apocryphal works, each with a gratifyingly full introduction and bibliography, Burke, landau, and all the contributors have provided us with a rigorous but highly accessible volume that will long prove to be a scholarly vade mecum.” ~ Bart D. Ehrman, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

“A treasure trove of early Christian writings dating from the second century onward. Created by Tony Burke and Brent Landau as a supplement to more traditional collections of apocryphal literature, this book contains amazing stories from the Christian imagination about Jesus and other biblical characters whose legends were popular witnesses to the Christian faith in late antiquity and the Middle Ages. Many of the texts introduced and translated here are being made available to us for the first time. A must-have collection.” ~ April D. DeConick, Rice University

“Magnificent…The thirty writings brought together here present a fascinating snapshot of the concerns, interests, and piety of various early believers expressed in the form of literary texts. This volume will become a standard work in the field; serious scholars of early Christianity and interested readers will learn much while being entertained and captivated by these enigmatic ancient texts.” ~ Paul Foster, University of Edinburgh

From the Eerdmans Catalog:

Compilation of little-known and never-before-published apocryphal Christian texts in English translation

This anthology of ancient nonbiblical Christian literature presents introductions to and translations of little-known apocryphal texts from a wide variety of genres, most of which have never before been translated into any modern language.

An introduction to the volume as a whole addresses the most significant features of the included writings and contextualizes them within the contemporary (quickly evolving) study of the Christian Apocrypha. The body of the book comprises thirty texts that have been carefully introduced, annotated, and translated into readable English by eminent scholars. Ranging from the second century to early in the second millennium, these fascinating texts provide a more complete picture of Christian thought and expression than canonical texts alone can offer.


1. Gospels and Related Traditions of New Testament Figures
The Legend of Aphroditianus (Katharina Heyden)
The Revelation of the Magi (Brent Landau)
The Hospitality of Dysmas (Mark Bilby)
The Infancy Gospel of Thomas (Syriac) (Tony Burke)
On the Priesthood of Jesus (Bill Adler)
Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 210 (Brent Landau)
Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 5072 (Ross P. Ponder
The Dialogue of the Paralytic with Christ (Bradley N. Rice)
The Toledot Yeshu (Stanley Jones)
The Berlin-Strasbourg Apocryphon (Alin Suciu)
The Discourse of the Savior and the Dance of the Savior (Paul C. Dilley)
An Encomium on Mary Magdalene (Christine Luckritz Marquis)
An Encomium on John the Baptist (Philip L. Tite)
The Life of John the Baptist by Serapion (Slavomír Céplö)
Life and Martyrdom of John the Baptist (Andrew Bernhard)
The Legend of the Thirty Silver Pieces (Tony Burke and Slavomír Céplö)
The Death of Judas according to Papias (Geoffrey S. Smith)

2. Apocryphal Acts and Related Traditions
The Acts of Barnabas (Glenn E. Snyder)
The Acts of Cornelius the Centurion (Tony Burke and Witold Witakowski)
John and the Robber (Rick Brannan)
The History of Simon Cephas, the Chief of the Apostles (Stanley Jones)
The Acts of Timothy (Cavan Concannon)
The Acts of Titus (Richard Pervo)
The Acts of Xanthippe and Polyxena (David Eastman)

3. Epistles
The Epistle of Christ from Heaven (Calogero A. Miceli)
The Letter of Ps.-Dionysius the Areopagite to Timothy on the Death of Peter and Paul (David Eastman)

4. Apocalypses
The (Latin) Revelation of John about Antichrist (Charles Wright)
The Apocalypse of the Virgin (Stephen Shoemaker)
The Tiburtine Sibyl (Stephen Shoemaker)
The Investiture of Abbaton (Alin Suciu and Ibrahim Saweros)

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Lost and Found Items in Manuscripts of the Life of Mary

I have spent much of the past ten years working on a project that has been mentioned on this blog several times (start HERE): a critical edition of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas in Syriac. The project is now virtually complete; right now it is in the hands of readers and I look forward to getting their feedback in the next few months. In the meantime I thought I would use some of the downtime to get back to blogging with more regularity. And what better to write about than, once again, the Syriac Infancy Gospel of Thomas?

Mar Behnam 20, fol. 1

Mar Behnam 20, fol. 1

In the course of my manuscript hunting and gathering, I came across some manuscripts that should be of interest to a wider audience of scholars than the few of us who work on Infancy Thomas. This is one of the joys of text-critical research: the serendipitous discovery of texts or versions of texts obscured, in many cases, by sloppy cataloguing—because the cataloger either missed or misidentified the material. Several of the West Syriac Life of Mary manuscripts included in my project contain additional texts on the Virgin Mary—e.g., Jacob of Serug’s memra On the Death and Burial of the Virgin, or the Miracle of the Theotokos in the City of Apamea. In a few cases, one of these texts—a memra On the Malice of the Jews against Mary and Joseph, sometimes attributed to Ephrem—is inserted between books one and two of the Life of Mary (book 1 is Protevangelium of James 1-16; book 2 is Prot. Jas. 17-25). But since many of the Life of Mary manuscripts have suffered damage in the first (and often the last) pages, it is not always clear that Malice is present in the collection, and thus it slips the cataloger’s attention. A similar problem occurs in another manuscript—Mosul, Mar Behnam Monastery, MBM 20—this time of the Sa recension of Infancy Thomas (the Sa manuscripts feature Infancy Thomas as a distinct, separate text, and not as book four of the Life of Mary). The manuscript has not been formally catalogued but after it was photographed for the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library, Adam McCollum described the manuscript in a blog post for Hmmlorientalia as containing Prot. Jas., Infancy Thomas, and the Dormition of Mary. The manuscript has numerous pages missing and disordered, so it is no surprise that McCollum did not notice that Prot. Jas. is not present in the manuscript after all; rather, the text he read was Ps-Ephrem’s Malice. At first sight, I did not recognize the text either and thought perhaps it was a newly-discovered infancy gospel. Alas, a closer reading proved that it was a known text, though one rarely discussed in scholarship.

Another Mary-related text found in the Life of Mary manuscripts is a memra On the Departure of Mary, sometimes attributed to Timothy of Gargar. When looking for information about the hymn on the extremely helpful resource The Syriac Reference Portal, I noticed that there were two texts of this same name and with the same incipit: one attributed to Timothy of Gargar and the other to John of Birtha. It became clear that these were in fact the same text, a fact confirmed by Anton Baumstark’s brief mention of the dual attribution in his Geschichte der syrischen Literatur. I informed the editors of about this oversight and, likely, they will correct the references for future readers. This is another joy of working with manuscripts: being able to contribute to the storehouse of knowledge about not only the text on which you are working, but other texts as well. In addition I provided with two supplements to their gazatteer: a reference to the rarely-attested Yangija from the colophon of Columbia University, Butler Library X893.4 B47 (dated 1796) and a peculiar designation to Sophene from Charfeh, Syrian-Catholic Patriarchate, Fonds Rahmani 42 (dated 1495).

One of the Life of Mary manuscripts contains another seldom-studied text: the Syriac Apocalypse of Daniel. The text was edited by Matthias Henze (The Syriac Apocalypse of Daniel: Introduction: Text and Commentary, Studien texte zu Antike und Christentum 11 [Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001]) based on a single manuscript: Harvard, Houghton Library, Syr. 42. I came across a second copy of the text in a manuscript from Mardin and passed the information on to Henze, who hopes to be able to use it to clear up some faulty readings in the Harvard manuscript.

My investigations into the Syriac Infancy Thomas also led to the rediscovery of several manuscripts believed to be “lost.” These manuscripts were catalogued late in the 19th century by Addai Scher and others but, with the upheaval in the East during the two world wars, many manuscripts were transferred to other locations, or sold, or destroyed. When I began my work on Infancy Thomas I had a short list of these missing manuscripts; now that list is considerably shorter, thanks largely to the efforts of HMML to photograph the current contents of the libraries of the East. Two particular manuscripts of the Syriac Life of Mary, however, remain elusive. They were catalogued by Scher in two separate articles as Diyarbakir, Meryem Ana Syriac Orthodox Church, 99 and Mardin, Chaldean Bishopric, 80. According to Scher, they both contain 140 fol., measure 13 x 9 cm, and were created in the time of the patriarch Ignatius Masud, who reigned from 1493 to 1512 (Baumstark, however, gave precise dates for these manuscripts as 1728-1731, though it is not clear why). There is good reason to think these are the same manuscript, but if that were the case, wouldn’t Scher have known? To complicate matters further, a manuscript with the same contents and physical dimensions was photographed by HMML and catalogued as Mardin, Church of the Forty Martyrs, 265. Unfortunately, Mardin 265 does not have a colophon indicating its time of origin, but the HMML compilers assign it an origin in the sixteenth/seventeenth century; scribal notes also reveal that it once belonged to a certain Simon, and one page bears the stamp of the Deir al-Zafaran. Could all three be the same manuscript? At the very least it seems that they were produced, or better mass-produced, according to exact specifications, in roughly the same location and around the same time.

University of Leeds, Syr. 1

University of Leeds, Syr. 1

The most important re-discovered manuscript is one obtained at Alqosh by E. A. W. Budge and used for his 1899 edition of the East Syriac History of the Virgin. This text is another compilation of Mary-related apocrypha beginning with Prot. Jas. and ending with the Dormition. In between there are stories of the Holy Family in Egypt (found also in Arabic Infancy Gospel, which seems to be a translation of the Syriac text) and in Budge’s manuscript, much of Infancy Thomas. Budge collated the Alqosh manuscript against a manuscript of the Royal Asiatic Library which features a shorter reading of the text lacking Infancy Thomas and several large portions of Dorm. Vir. Ever since Budge’s death, scholars have declared the Alqosh manuscript missing. But, ever the completist, I hoped to be able to find it so that I could verify his readings. Much of Budge’s work ended up at Christ’s College in Cambridge, but they informed me that no Syriac manuscripts are included in the materials. Then, just a few months ago, I happened upon a detailed description of a West Syriac Life of Mary manuscript—Vatican, Borgia Syr. 128—posted online by Kristian Heal (“Vatican Borgia Syriac 128: A New Description”). In his notes, Heal identifies Budge’s History of the Virgin manuscript as University of Leeds, Syr. 1. As it turns out, the nine Syriac manuscripts owned by Budge were bequeathed to the British Library in 1934, purchased at a Sotheby’s auction in 1970, and were soon after purchased by the Department of Semitic Studies  at the University of Leeds, where they remain today. The collection was catalogued by Rifaat Ebied in an article from 1974 (“Some Syriac Manuscripts from the Collection of Sir E.A. Wallis Budge,” in Ignacio Ortiz de Urbina [ed.], Symposium Syriacum 1972: célèbre dans les jours 26-31 octobre 1972 à l’Institut Pontifical Oriental de Rome, Orientalia christiana analecta 197 [Rome: Pontifical Institutum Orientalium Studiorum, 1974], 509-39), but no-one, it seems, besides Kristian, was aware of it and even Kristian did not know its significance. Comparison of Budge’s edition to the manuscript indicates he transcribed the text well—in the Infancy Thomas portion, at least, there are only a few minor oversights; and now future scholars working on the Syriac History of the Virgin can verify Budge’s work on other portions of the text.

For more information on the Syriac Infancy Thomas, Life of Mary, and History of the Virgin manuscripts, see my previous posts and the entries on the texts in e-Clavis: Christian Apocrypha. The critical edition will be published by Gorgia Press some time (hopefully) in 2017.

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Mosaics Discovered of “Christian king” Abgar

  1. abgarAccording to the Daily Sabbah, five mosaics have been discovered from the reign of Abgar V (r. 4 BCE – 7 CE; 13-50 CE), the fifth king of the kingdom of Osroene (Edessa), “depicting fine engravings and Syriac inscriptions.” The find is pertinent to scholars of Christian Apocrypha because Abgar is featured in a famous correspondence with Jesus. This correspondence is known to Eusebius, who translates it from Syriac in his Ecclesiastical History (I 13; II 1.6-8). Ephrem Syrus (d. 373) also mentions the conversion of Edessa but not the correspondence, and Egeria the Pilgrim visited Edessa in 384 admired the palace of Abgar and was told about the letters by the bishop of Edessa. The correspondence was widely copied throughout the East and the West, both in manuscript form and in inscriptions, and appears also in expanded form in the Doctrine of Addai.

This is Eusebius’s version of the correspondence (from M. R. James, The Apocryphal New Testament):

A copy of a letter written by Abgarus the toparch to Jesus, and sent to him by means of Ananias the runner, to Jerusalem.

Abgarus Uchama the toparch to Jesus the good Saviour that hath appeared in the parts (place) of Jerusalem, greeting. I have heard concerning thee and thy cures, that they are done of thee without drugs or herbs: for, as the report goes, thou makest blind men to see again, lame to walk, and cleansest lepers, and castest out unclean spirits and devils, and those that are afflicted with long sickness thou healest, and raisest the dead.
And having heard all this of thee, I had determined one of two things, either that thou art God come down from heaven, and so doest these things or art a Son of God that doest these things.

Therefore now have I written and entreated thee to trouble thyself to come to me and heal the affliction which I have. or indeed I have heard that the Jews even murmur against thee and wish to do thee hurt. And I have a very little city but (and) comely (reverend), which is sufficient for us both.

The answer, written by Jesus, sent by Ananias the runner to Abgarus the toparch.

Blessed art thou that hast believed in me, not having seen me.

For it is written concerning me that they that have seen me shall not believe in me, and that they that have not seen me shall believe and live. But concerning that which thou hast written to me, to come unto thee; it must needs be that I fulfil all things for the which I was sent here, and after fulfilling them should then be taken up unto him that sent me.

And when I am taken up, I will send thee one of my disciples, to heal thine affliction and give life to thee and them that are with thee.

The Daily Sabah article goes on to say, “It is believed that Abgar V was one of the first Christian kings in history, having been converted to the faith by the Apostle Thaddeus of Edessa, one of the Seventy-two Disciples sent out to spread Christianity.” However, scholars are in general agreement that Abgar’s conversion is a fiction, one created by the church in the early fourth century to establish early proto-orthodox presence in the East (for more on this argument, see ch. 1 of Walter Bauer’s Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity; or H. J. W. Drijver’s entry on “The Abgar Legend” in Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha, vol. 1, pp. 492-500). Evidence suggests that the earliest forms of Christianity in the Syriac-speaking world were somewhat unorthodox: Bar Daisan, the “school of Thomas,” Marcionism, and Manichaeism all preceded proto-orthodoxy. Furthermore, the monarchy in Edessa seem to have been polythesists long into the fourth century.

The discovery of these mosaics is indeed an important discovery, but readers should be cautioned that Abgar V’s conversion is an extremely unlikely event. But it is interesting that knowledge of this conversion originated in an apocryphal tale, albeit one preserved by an orthodox writer.

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Call for Papers: 2017 SBL International Christian Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha Section

Berlin, Germany skyline over the Spree River.

Berlin, Germany skyline over the Spree River.

The 2017 SBL International Meeting will take place August 7-11 in Berlin, Germany. The deadline for proposals is February 22, 2017.

Description: The Section fosters ongoing study of extra-canonical texts, as subjects of literary and philological investigation; as evidence for the history of religion, theology, and cult practice; and as documents of the socio-symbolic construction of traditions along lines of class and gender.

Call for papers: For the 2017 meeting, we welcome papers that address the following discussion question: “Is this a ‘text’?” In scholarly writing about the ancient world, it is still conventional to employ capitalized (and often italicized) phrases such as The Acts of John, The Apocalypse of Peter, and The Gospel of Thomas. But what are we referring to when we write that way, or when we publish “translations” and “critical editions” with those “titles” on the cover? Do these scholarly practices adequately capture the dynamic, fluid nature of ancient verbal communication, which comes to light when one compares individual manuscripts? What do we gain or lose by labeling stories about John, sayings of Jesus, or tours of Hell with what sound like “titles” of “texts”? How else might we write about verbal communication in the ancient world that would be more helpful in our quest to appreciate extant written artifacts? We invite proposals for papers that specifically address this topic, and which combine methodological reflection with detailed textual case studies (of Jewish or Christian literature). Proposals are also welcome for an additional open session that will highlight creative, well-developed personal research projects on extra-canonical Jewish and Christian literature. NB: Those with papers on the Apostolic Fathers, Septuagint, or Qumran (unless they directly relate to the discussion question described above), are encouraged to submit to those other sections. Please do not submit the same proposal to more than one section.

For more information contact program chairs Janet Spittler ( and Julia Snyder (

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Christian Apocrypha at the 2016 SBL

Here is a quick rundown of the sessions and papers at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature focusing on Christian Apocrypha. I hope I found them all. See you in San Antonio.

Christian Apocrypha Section sessions:

S19-310: Christian Apocrypha
11/19/2016 4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Theme: Helmut Koester: In Memory of His Contributions to the Study of Christian Apocrypha
A panel in memory of Helmut Koester, one of the most influential scholars of the Christian Apocrypha in North America, assessing his ongoing legacy for this field.
Brent Landau, University of Texas at Austin, Presiding
Panelists: Melissa Harl Sellew (University of Minnesota-Twin Cities), Christine Thomas (University of California-Santa Barbara), Christoph Markschies (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin – Humboldt University of Berlin), Stephen Patterson (Willamette University), Ann Graham Brock, Iliff School of Theology), Cavan Concannon (University of Southern California), Robyn Walsh, University of Miami)

S20-207a: Christian Apocrypha
11/20/2016 1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Theme: Apocryphal Acts: New Texts and Approaches
Tony Burke, York University, Presiding
Michael Flexsenhar III, Rhodes College: Creating a Christian World: Martyrdom, Memory, and ‘Caesar’s Household’ in the Apocryphal Acts
Valentina Calzolari, University of Geneva: The Armenian Acts of Paul and Thecla
Ivan Miroshnikov, Helsingin Yliopisto – Helsingfors Universitet: Towards a New Edition of the Coptic Acts of Andrew and Philemon
Jonathan Henry, Princeton University: Thomas in Transmission: Some Noteworthy Witnesses to the Acts and Passion of Thomas
Sung Soo Hong, The University of Texas at Austin: “The Word of the Father Shall Be to Them a Work of Salvation”: Thinking with the Chaste Body of Thecla

S21-215: Digital Humanities in Biblical, Early Jewish, and Christian Studies; Christian Apocrypha
Joint Session With: Digital Humanities in Biblical, Early Jewish, and Christian Studies, Christian Apocrypha
11/21/2016 1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Theme: Christian Apocrypha and Digital Humanities
Joseph Verheyden, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Presiding
Brent Landau, University of Texas at Austin: What No Eye Has Seen: Using a Digital Microscope to Produce a New Transcription of Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 210, a Possible Apocryphal Gospel
Janet Spittler, University of Virginia and Tony Burke, York University: Founding an Academic Society in the Digital Age: The North American Society for the Study of Christian Apocryphal Literature
Jennifer Barry, University of Mary Washington: Accessing Women’s History through the Digital Humanities
James F. McGrath, Butler University: Learning from Jesus’ Wife: The Role of Online Scholarship in Creating and Exposing a Forgery

S21-308: Christian Apocrypha
11/21/2016 4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Theme: Violence and Healing in the Christian Apocrypha
Christine Luckritz Marquis, Union Presbyterian Seminary, Presiding
Janet Spittler, University of Virginia: Causality and Healing of Disease in the Acts of John
Patricia A Duncan, Texas Christian University: Philosophical Foundations of (Self) Healing and Exorcism in the Pseudo-Clementine “Homilies”
Judith Hartenstein, Universität Koblenz – Landau: Violence in the Gospel of Mary (BG 1)
Annette Merz, Protestant Theological University Amsterdam Groningen: Paul before the lion in the Acts of Paul, Tertullian, and the Zliten Mosaic
Matthias Geigenfeind, Universität Regensburg: The Apocryphal Revelation of Thomas – Unique, but Underappreciated

Nag Hammadi and Gnosticism sessions:

S19-139: Nag Hammadi and Gnosticism
11/19/2016 9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Theme: Eros and Ascent
Joint session with Platonism and Neoplatonism Group (AAR).
John Turner, University of Nebraska – Lincoln, Presiding
Mark Edwards, University of Oxford: Solomon’s Kiss from Origen to the Later Middle Ages
Christian H. Bull, University of Oslo: Eros Divine and Errant in the Hermetica
Zeke Mazur, Université Laval: Porphyry’s account of Plotinus’ four instances of union with the One (Vita Plotini 23) and Platonizing Sethian Gnostic visionary ascent
Ilaria L.E. Ramelli, Catholic University+Angelicum + Oxford University: Eros and Ascent in Gregory of Nyssa between Origen and Ps.Dionysius

S19-237: Nag Hammadi and Gnosticism
11/19/2016 1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Theme: Manichaeism and Nag Hammadi Revisited
Hugo Lundhaug, Universitetet i Oslo, Presiding
Iain Gardner, University of Sydney: The Jesus-Book in the Dublin Kephalaia Codex
Nils Arne Pedersen, Aarhus University: First Man and the Third Messenger in Manichaean Systems
Gavin McDowell, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes: Praise of the Manichaean Fathers in Ben Sira 49:14-16
René Falkenberg, Aarhus University: Manichaean influence in the Nag Hammadi texts
Jason BeDuhn, Northern Arizona University: Gnostic Myth in Manichaeism? A Systematic Inquiry
John C. Reeves, University of North Carolina at Charlotte: Dualist Currents in Tenth-Century Baghdad: Reassessing the Afterlife of Manichaeism and Cognate Forms of Gnosis in the Muslim East

S19-334: Mysticism, Esotericism, and Gnosticism in Antiquity
11/19/2016 4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Theme: New Methods and Gnosticism
Jason BeDuhn, Northern Arizona University, Presiding
David Brakke, Ohio State University: Pseudonymity and the Layered Self in Gnostic Mysticism
Elaine Pagels, Princeton University: What “hidden mystery” was Paul hiding? New insights on Reception History of Paul’s Letters
Eduard Iricinschi, Ruhr-Universität Bochum: Emotions Running High: Sophia’s Passions in Irenaeus of Lyon’s Heresiology and the Nag Hammadi Literature (30 min)
Review of April D. DeConick, The Gnostic New Age: How a Countercultural Spirituality Revolutionized Religion from Antiquity to Today (Columbia University Press, 2016)
Panelists: April DeConick (Rice University), James Davila (University of St. Andrews), Lautaro Lanzillotta (University of Groningen)

S20-218: Nag Hammadi and Gnosticism
11/20/2016 1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Theme: Special Review Session on the Production, Use, and Rediscovery of the Nag Hammadi Codices
Geoffrey Smith, University of Texas at Austin, Presiding
Review of James M. Robinson, The Nag Hammadi Discovery
Panelists: John Turner (University of Nebraska), Eric Crégheur (Université d’Ottawa – University of Ottawa), Dylan Burns (Freie Universität Berlin)
Review of Hugo Lundhaug and Lance Jenott, The Monastic Origins of the Nag Hammadi Codices
Panelists: James Goehring (University of Mary Washington), Malcolm Choat (Macquarie University), Hugo Lundhaug (Universitetet i Oslo), Lance Jenott (Universitetet i Oslo)

S21-334: Nag Hammadi and Gnosticism
11/21/2016 4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Theme: Gnostic Writings, Sayings, and Histories
René Falkenberg, Aarhus Universitet, Presiding
Sarit Kattan Gribetz, Fordham University: Women as Readers of the Nag Hammadi Codices
Eric Crégheur, Université d’Ottawa: On Plants, Spices and Gems: How Feasible are the Baptismal Rituals in the “Books of Jeu”?
J. Gregory Given, Harvard University: Four Texts from Nag Hammadi amid the Fluidity of the “Letter” in Late Antique Egypt
Geoffrey S. Smith, University of Texas at Austin: Medicine and Polemic in Tertullian’s Version of the Valentinian Sophia Myth
Emanuel Fiano, Fordham University: The Theory of Names of the Gospel of Truth
Einar Thomassen, Universitetet i Bergen: Did Gnostics Have a Concept of History?

S20-135: Mysticism, Esotericism, and Gnosticism in Antiquity
11/20/2016 9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Jared Calaway, Illinois College, Presiding
Paul M. Pasquesi, Marquette University: Liminality, Ritual, and Vision in Aseneth
Rebecca Lesses, Ithaca College: Did the authors of Joseph and Aseneth and the Gospel of Philip meet in Antioch? The “heavenly bridal chamber” between Jews and Christians.
Gregory Shaw, Stonehill College: Iamblichus and the Talisman of Gnosis
Jeffrey Pettis, New Brunswick Seminary: War Generals, Purple Robes, and Inner Chambers: Encountering the God in the Greco-Roman World
Pieter G.R. de Villiers, University of the Free State: Mystical knowledge of God in Philo and John’s gospel

And there are a variety of additional papers on apocryphal texts in other sessions:

P19-143a: Qur’an and Biblical Literature; The Qur’an and the Biblical Tradition (IQSA) (11/19/2016, 9:00 AM to 11:30 AM)
Cornelia Horn, Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen: Situating al-Kisa’i’s Role in the Development of Extra-Canonical Depictions of Jesus and Mary in the Christian Orient

S19-120: Cognitive Linguistics in Biblical Interpretation (11/19/2016, 9:00 AM to 11:30 AM)
Grant Adamson, Rice University: Solutions to Problems of Virgin Birth and Harmonization in the Protevangelium Jacobi

S19-152: Texts and Traditions in the Second Century (11/19/2016, 9:00 AM to 11:30 AM)
Kimberly Bauser, Boston College: Moonwalking with Jesus: The Art and Science of “Remembering” Everything in the Apocryphon of James

S19-341: Pseudepigrapha (11/19/2016, 4:00 PM to 6:30 PM)
Bradley N. Rice, McGill University: A New ‘Testament of Adam’ in the Syriac Revelation of the Magi?

S20-117: Corpus Hellenisticum Novi Testamenti
11/20/2016 9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Robert Matthew Calhoun, Independent scholar: Purity and Protection in Oxyrhynchus fr. 840

S20-126: Greek Bible (11/20/2016, 9:00 AM to 11:30 AM)
Ian N Mills, Duke University: Mediated Allusion in the Gospel of Thomas: Jewish Scripture, Jesus Traditions, and the Gospel of Thomas

S20-132: Maria, Mariamne, Miriam: Rediscovering the Marys (11/20/2016, 9:00 AM to 11:30 AM)
Cornelia Horn, Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen: The Power of Leadership through Mediation: Mart Mariam in the Syriac and Arabic Apocryphal Tradition

S20-154: Wisdom and Apocalypticism (11/20/2016, 9:00 AM to 11:30 AM)
Pamela Mullins Reaves, Colorado College: Apostolic Encounters with Persecution in the First Apocalypse of James

S20-302: Ancient Fiction and Early Christian and Jewish Narrative (11/20/2016, 4:00 PM to 6:30 PM)
Angela Standhartinger, Philipps-Universität Marburg: Intersections of gender, status, ethnos and religion in the Jewish novel Joseph and Aseneth
Eric M. Vanden Eykel, Ferrum College: Virginity, the Temple Veil, and their Demise: A Hypothetical Reader’s Perspective on Mary’s Work in the Protevangelium of James

S20-341: New Testament Textual Criticism (11/20/2016, 4:00 PM to 6:30 PM)
Bill Warren, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Allyson Nance, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Katie Morgan, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary: Early Infancy Gospels as Witnesses for the New Testament Text

S21-226: Jewish Christianity / Christian Judaism (11/21/2016, 1:00 PM to 3:30 PM)
Jae Han, University of Pennsylvania: Constructions of Prophecy and Prophethood in Late Antique Syria: Iamblichus’ De Mysteriis and the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies
Timothy B. Sailors, Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen: The Portrayal and Religious Significance of the Baptism of Jesus in the Pseudo-Clementine Romance

S22-105: Ancient Fiction and Early Christian and Jewish Narrative (11/22/2016,
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM)
Richard I. Pervo, Saint Paul, Minnesota: The Horror of Babylon: Iamblichus’ Babyloniaka and Christian Apocrypha
Malka Z. Simkovich, Catholic Theological Union: Don’t Make Me Laugh: The Absence of Humor in Early Christian and Jewish Rewritten Texts

S22-141: Religious Competition in Late Antiquity (11/22/2016, 9:00 AM to 11:30 AM)
Hugo Mendez, Yale University: Weaponizing Stephen: Caricature and Competition in the Revelation Sancti Stephani

Posted in SBL Christian Apocrypha Section | Leave a comment

“Lost Gospels” – Lost No More: New Article in Biblical Archaeology Review

BAR SO16 Lost Gospels 1The latest issue of Biblical Archaeology Review features my article entitled “‘Lost Gospels’–Lost No More” (BAR Sept/Oct [2016]: 41–47, 64–66). Along with a basic overview of the more well-known (and some lesser-known) Christian apocrypha, the article looks at Philip Jenkins’ recent book, The Many Faces of Christ, which argues that Christian apocrypha were not really “lost” at all, but have always been a part of Christian thought and practice. It also mentions the “rethinking” of the Nag Hammadi library discovery in two articles by Mark Goodacre and Nicola Denzey Lewis and Justine Blount. For further information about the issue, visit the Biblical Archaeology Review web site.

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2016 CSBS/CSPS More New Testament Apocrypha Panel (Part 2)

Part 2 of my report on the More New Testament Apocrypha book review panel. See part 1 HERE.

I divided my response to the panelists into three sections: the origins of the project (why more apocrypha?), the decisions behind selecting the volume’s contents (which more apocrypha?), and issues around defining “Christian Apocrypha” and other issues of categorization (what more apocrypha?). The MNTA project began at a gathering of North American Christian Apocrypha scholars in Ottawa in 2006. Jim Davila and Richard Bauckham’s MOTP series was still in its planning stages (Jim discussed the series at the event) and the group were thinking about a project that could represent the work of North American scholars. The idea of a project similar to Davila’s focusing on Christian texts was brought up but not pursued until 2010 when I considered taking it on myself. I asked Brent Landau of the University of Texas to partner with me on the project so that we could have leadership from both Canada and the U.S. Canadians are ever-vigilant about being overshadowed by our neighbours to the south, and while there are far fewer Christian Apocrypha scholars in Canada than the U.S., we ended up with a split of 5 Canadian, 17 American, and 5 international contributors (and more Canadians are involved in vol. 2 including panelists Tim Pettipiece and Robert Kitchen). noted by the panelists MNTA is modeled chiefly on Davila and Bauckham’s MOTP volume—i.e., they supplement Charlesworth’s Old Testament Pseudepigrapha compendia, imitating even the layout of the pages, with scripture citations in the margins (a real challenge for the publisher!). We follow the look of MOTP but our aim is to supplement J. Keith Elliott’s Apocryphal New Testament—i.e., we do not duplicate any of the texts in his volume unless necessitated by significant new discoveries. Just as MOTP includes a foreword by Charlesworth, we asked Elliott to contribute one for our volume. Pettipiece objected to Elliott’s “awkward and negative tone,” but when Brent and I first read the foreword we were surprised more at his comments on Secret Mark, which he called “an elaborate and clever hoax perpetrated by Morton Smith” (he’s entitled to his view on the text but it may seem odd given my own views on it and the work of the 2011 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium), and his negativity toward modern apocrypha, of which he said “all such modern forgeries are superfluous to the normal concerns of a serious academic study of Christian apocrypha” (again, somewhat discordant given the more irenic approach to these texts evident in the papers from the 2015 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium). Brent and I decided to let Elliott be Elliott and readers of MOTP will notice also that Charlesworth’s views are different in much the same ways from those of the MOTP editors.

As for the selection of texts (which more apocrypha?), as mentioned we aimed to avoid duplication of texts that are well-represented elsewhere. The only exceptions to that rule, as pointed out by the reviewers, are the Infancy Gospel of Thomas (though here presented in its rarely seen Syriac form) and the Revelation of the Magi (presented only in summary; another text, the lengthy Armenian Infancy Gospel, was also set to appear in summary but the contributor did not complete the work). We looked at texts included in the expansive French and Italian volumes and sought out scholars who could contribute chapters on such texts as the Dialogue of the Paralytic and Jesus and On the Priesthood of Jesus. Some texts were selected because of the interests of the editors (I contributed the Acts of Cornelius, the Legend of the Thirty Silver Pieces, and the Syriac Infancy Gospel of Thomas; Brent contributed Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 210 and the Revelation of the Magi), and others came as a result of suggestions from the contributors themselves (e.g., David Eastman, known for his work on martyrdoms of Paul, worked on the related Life and Conduct of Xanthippe and Polyxena and the Letter of Pseudo-Dionyisus to Timothy, and Alin Suciu, who had just completed his thesis on the Berlin-Strasbourg Apocryphon, worked on that text and the Investiture of Abbaton, another of the Coptic “pseudo-apostolic memoirs”). Looking back, there is a certain North American flavour to the collection, as several of the texts (e.g., Revelation of the Magi, the Berlin-Strasbourg Apocryphon) enjoy more popularity here than in Europe, and some have never appeared in any other apocrypha collection (e.g., Hospitality of Dysmas, Life of John the Baptist by Serapion, and several others).

The reviewers praised the uniformity of the entries, but there is some eclecticism to them, with a few introductions being lengthier than others, and a few texts with more variants indicated than others. Some maverick writers were a little reluctant to cohere with the guidelines, but we managed to convince them to conform and I think the collection is stronger for it.

Regarding Batten’s suggestion to broaden our scope to include Islamic texts, there is more material to be found in Islamic literature on Jesus outside of the Qur’an, and those who study this literature have noted the parallels with Christian Apocrypha (and certainly we should pay it more attention). Some of our contributors incorporated this research into their entries—namely, Slavomír Céplö’s discussion of the Life of John the Baptist by Serapion and Alin Suciu’s entry for the Investiture of Abbaton. Despite our mandate to focus on texts from the first ten centuries, I am tempted to follow Batten’s suggestion to incorporate Gospel of Barnabas to a future volume, as well as some medieval gnostic texts of the sort mentioned in the Cheese and the Worms (specifically the Secret Supper, known also as the Book of John the Evangelist).


François Bovon

Finally, what does MNTA tell us about the nature of North American Christian Apocrypha scholarship? (or, what more apocrypha?). To many people, we are most well-known for the approach of the Jesus Seminar, which tends to focus on certain apocrypha that they like to date early (in some cases earlier than the canonical texts) and therefore would be valuable for studying the historical Jesus. Of the Seminar participants, Helmut Koester is perhaps the most influential, particularly for championing the Bauer hypothesis. But there is a second strand in North American scholarship based on the influence of François Bovon, who, along with his partners in the AELAC, advocates examining apocrypha, particularly later apocrypha, not for what they may or may not say about Jesus, but for what they say about the Christians who created and valued them. The AELAC scholars value also manuscript research and produce a well-regarded series of critical editions of apocryphal texts (the Corpus Christianorum Series Apocryphorum). A number of our contributors are former students of Bovon (including Brent) and a few of us have published or are planning to publish in the CCSA series (my volume on the Infancy Gospel of Thomas was the first in the series by a North American scholar).

The scholars of the AELAC have been instrumental also in the recent redefinition of Christian Apocrypha, broadening its scope to post-New Testament texts (including what Schneemelcher would call hagiographical literature) and to Christian-authored Old Testament pseudepigrapha (funny enough, there has been some discussion with Davila and Bauckham about who gets to publish some of these texts, and there has already been some overlap: MOTP includes a section of the Opus imperfectum in Matthaeum which summarizes the Revelation of the Magi, and a version of the Tiburtine Sybil). The title of our volume may seem like a throwback to the earlier, restrictive definition, but that again is to make clear that the project is meant as a supplement to Elliott (and it mirrors effectively the title of the MOTP volumes). As for the term “apocrypha” and its pejorative nature, we’re stuck with it and must use it, though certainly with caveats. A similar problem occurs with some of our texts, which are burdened with the titles they were given when they were first published (e.g., the Infancy Gospel of Thomas originally went by the name of the Childhood Deeds of the Lord).  Getting back to Batten’s question, I think North American scholarship is just now coming into its own, thanks to the influence of Koester and Bovon but also of people like James Robinson, Karen King, and Elaine Pagels, and we are eager to show the world what we have to offer.

After my response to the reviewers, we had about 30 minutes for discussion. The bulk of that time was spent on the question of what constitutes an apocryphal text. I offered my own definition (from Secret Scriptures Revealed and also quoted in the introduction to MNTA): “non-biblical Christian literature that features tales of Jesus, his family and his immediate followers.” A suggestion was made that the works of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite  should apply since he is a Christian figure from the first century (he is mentioned in Acts 17:34). I countered that the content of the texts should also reflect the first-century context—e.g., we include Pseudo-Dionysius’s Letter to Timothy because it discusses the deaths of Peter and Paul, but not the other texts which are mystical and Neoplatonic. Someone noted that the Pseudo-Dionysius material is also widely available anyway. I mentioned in the same context the Epistle of Barnabas, which is credited to a first-century figure, but does not touch on first-century events (and in this context, I uttered the f-bomb I mentioned on Facebook and Twitter; I slipped and said “New Testament events” and had to correct myself). Another challenge to the definition that I struggled to remember at the time are apocryphal texts that began their life in a different genre and only later became apocrypha—an example of this is the Ethiopian text, the Story of the Passion of Christ, mentioned in Pierluigi’s essay in the 2013 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium papers (“Scriptural Trajectories Through Early Christianity, Late Antiquity, and Beyond: Christian Memorial Traditions and the longue durée”). This began its life as a revelation to three European visionary saints (St. Brigit of Sweden, St. Mathilde of Hackeborn, and St. Elisabeth, Queen of Hungary) but later these characters were changed to New Testament figures (Sarah, Salome, and Mary of Magdala) and the text thus became an apocryphon. What should be done about such texts?

The remainder of the discussion is now all a blur, in part because I am the world’s slowest blogger, but also because I felt some anxiety about having to run to catch a plane home. I express once again my thanks to the participants in the CSBS/CSPS Apocrypha Session for agreeing to mount the panel, to the reviewers for reading the book and offering their comments, and to everyone who attended the session.

Posted in CSBS/CSPS Christian Apocrypha, More New Testament Apocrypha | 2 Comments