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 NASSCAL.com, 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 BandofAngels.org in “BandofAngels.org: 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.

Posted in SBL Christian Apocrypha | Leave a comment

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…

Posted in SBL Christian Apocrypha | Leave a comment

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.


Posted in SBL Christian Apocrypha | Leave a comment

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 http://lynneconstantine.com/the-veritas-deception/.

Posted in Judas Apocryphon | Leave a comment

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)

Posted in More New Testament Apocrypha | Leave a comment

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 Syriaca.org: 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 Syriaca.org 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 Syriaca.org 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.

Posted in Infancy Gospel of Thomas, Syriac Life of Mary | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Abgar Correspondence | 1 Comment

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 (jespittler@gmail.com) and Julia Snyder (julia.snyder@ur.de).

Posted in SBL Christian Apocrypha | Leave a comment

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: BandofAngels.org: 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 Apocrypha | 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.

Posted in Biblical Archaeology Review | Leave a comment

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).

http://www.eerdmans.com/Content/Site146/ProductImages/9780802827395.jpgAs 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

2016 CSBS/CSPS More New Testament Apocrypha Panel (Part 1)

MNTA coverAs mentioned in my previous post, this year’s CSBS/CSPS Christian Apocrypha session was a book review panel dedicated to New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures edited by me and Brent Landau. This report on the panel, already quite late (I am the world’s slowest biblioblogger), is divided into two parts so that the post is not overly long. When the panel was planned at last year’s annual meeting, the assumption was that the book would be available by this time. Alas, the publication is not ready, though we are going through the final edits and it will be available at SBL in November. The panelists in the meantime had to read the book in electronic form. I have to remember to reward them with proper copies when the time comes. The panel was comprised of two members from each society: John Kloppenborg (University of Toronto) and Alicia Batten (Conrad Grebel College, Waterloo) from CSBS, and Robert Kitchen and Timothy Pettipiece from CSPS. The session was chaired by Emily LaFleche, a graduate student at the University of Ottawa working on the Gospel of Philip.

Kitchen opened the session with some queries about the terms applied to the texts in the collection. Most of us in the field fuss over the modifier “New Testament” but Kitchen took more of an issue with “apocrypha” given its connotations of “‘hidden,’ ‘secret,’ and so likely heterodox,” because many of the texts in the volume are none of these things. He then remarked positively about the number of Oriental languages represented—while 14 of the texts are in Greek and 5 in Latin, there are 5 in Coptic, 5 Syriac, 2 Arabic, and 1 each in Georgian, Ethiopic, and Aramaic. He applauded the consistent template used in each contribution (a summary of contents, list of manuscripts and editions, discussion of the original language(s) and provenance, a bibliography, and finally the English translation). He then provided some comments about the Syriac texts in the volume (Revelation of the Magi, Infancy Gospel of Thomas, the Legend of the Thirty Pieces of Silver, and the History of Simon Cephas, the Chief of the Apostles), since Syriac Christianity is his principle research interest. Kitchen finished saying he was looking forward to future volumes in the series: “as for Volume 2, 3, maybe 4 of such Christian Apocrypha, we want ‘more.’”

MNTA Panel

From left: Kloppenborg, Batten, Kitchen

John Kloppenborg began his review with a survey of other recent, expansive apocrypha collections and noted that their overlap with MNTA was “quite slight.” Nevertheless, he expressed concern that the series’ mandate of supplementing, not replacing, previous collections, could lead to a division in the literature between “canonical” apocrypha (i.e., the standard, early texts such as the Gospel of Thomas and the Protevangelium of James) and the “non-canonical” lesser-known texts: “It seems impractical from a publisher’s perspective to attempt a comprehensive collection of all 346 apocryphal texts listed in Geerard’s Clavis, as desirable as that might be. But steps should be taken to avoid the fragmentation of resources, which would, counterproductively lead to the further marginalization of some noncanonical texts.” That said, Kloppenborg applauded the wide scope of the collection, noting that Schneelcher’s now-infamous separation of apocrypha from hagiography was an artificial distinction (even New Testament texts, he said, are hagiography since they feature stories and teachings of saints).

Kloppenborg mentioned also the recently-launched e-Clavis: Christian Apocrypha resource, surprised that it is not mentioned at all in MNTA (note to self: email publisher to remedy this!). “While MNTA is a worthy publication,” he said, “one hopes that the clavis will be everyone’s first stop in studying Christian Apocrypha.” He then offered several suggestions to improve its usability (make it searchable by date, language, number of manuscripts, genre, dramatis personae, etc.).

Kloppenborg brought into the discussion a text often mentioned in conversations the two of us have had over the years: Carlo Ginzburg’s The Cheese and the Worms (1980). Ginzburg analyzes the heresy trial of a miller from Friuli who was brought before the inquisition in 1583 and eventually burned for heresy. The miller’s heretical views were informed by a number of apocryphal texts, many of which survive today. Kloppenborg takes from the study that “in the construction of Christian pieties of most ages, apocryphal and noncanonical representations played a significant role. We are misled if we think that either the creation of a canon, or its ‘closing’ of the canon in the fourth century displaced all other representations of Jesus and became the only source of the pieties of the general public.”

Finally (in an obviously rich review), Kloppenborg noted a tendency in Christian Apocrypha to resist the “taming” or “sanitizing” observable in canonical texts: “[the apocrypha] belong to the repertoire of what, in antiquity, was typical of the nature of the gods: they inspired fear and awe. Shape-shifting among gods and heroes is well-attested in antiquity. They visited humans in dreams and visions. They killed or maimed those who dishonored them or who failed to give them their due.” He asked: “is the relative ‘tameness’ of the canonical gospels and the disinclination of the learned Christian writers— Justin, Tertullian, Irenaeus, Eusebius, etc.—fully to embrace part of this repertoire, in spite of their commitments to the notion that Jesus was divine, a matter of a kind of inertia of a ‘core’ tradition that was always dominated by the plain-talking Jesus and Paul’s ignoring of the Jesus tradition; or is it a result of the apologetic instincts of already visible in Luke, and obvious in Justin, Tertullian, Origen and other writers, who for their own reasons did not want to endorse depictions of Jesus that made him too much like Men, Pan, Hermes or Athena…. Do apocryphal traditions provide other glimpses of bits of material that have avoided the editorial hands of apologists?”

Third of the panelists to speak was Alicia Batten, who, incidentally, shared a class of Kloppenborg’s with me in our first year of graduate school at the University of Toronto. She called the MNTA collection a “goldmine,” stating that “the contributors and editors have done an admirable job of delivering thorough introductions to each apocryphon which afford readers with a basic orientation from which they can pursue more focused questions.” She asked about the possibility of broadening the scope of the material to include Muslim texts, referring in this context to traditions about Mary and Jesus from the Qur’an showing points of connection with the Protoevangelium of James and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. Along the same lines she suggested incorporating also the Gospel of Barnabas, a late-medieval Muslim anti-gospel.

Batten also wondered about the history of the gathering and publication of apocryphal texts described in the volume’s introduction. “It is worth mentioning, as the editors do,” she said, “that this has been a much more European activity than a North American one….it causes me to pause and ask why has this been such a European enterprise, at least up to now? What are the specific social, institutional, religious and/ or cultural reasons for this? A parallel question might be what is changing in the North American context such that the study of these texts has become much more widespread?”

Finally, it was Tim Pettipiece’s turn to speak; alas, he had to cancel his appearance at the conference at the last minute, so Robert Kitchen read his comments. Pettipiece called the volume a “great scholarly achievement…an extensive and highly collaborative work, bringing together a wide range of highly capable specialists from the field under a common rubric and mission.” He too brought up Schneemelcher’s limited definition of apocrypha and praised MNTA for avoiding “deeply rooted canonical biases that tend to privilege biblical texts and the search for ‘origins’ above all else.” There is still a long way to go, he added, noting that the field is still relatively small and that universities still place an emphasis on teaching and researching the traditional canonical texts. Pettipiece detected this same attitude behind J. K. Elliott’s foreword to the volume. Here, Elliott characterizes the texts as “incredulous yarns” that are “bizarre” and “imaginative.” Pettipiece said, “such rhetoric is in no way helpful and in my view sets a rather awkward and negative tone for the volume.”

Up next: my response to the reviewers’ comments.

Posted in CSBS/CSPS Christian Apocrypha | 2 Comments

Christian Apocrypha Sessions for the 2016 SBL Annual Meeting

Christian Apocrypha
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Room: Room TBD – Hotel TBD

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 (5 min)
Philip Sellew, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Panelist (15 min)
Christine Thomas, University of California-Santa Barbara, Panelist (15 min)
Christoph Markschies, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin – Humboldt University of Berlin, Panelist (15 min)
Break (10 min)
Stephen Patterson, Willamette University, Panelist (15 min)
Ann Graham Brock, Iliff School of Theology, Panelist (15 min)
Cavan Concannon, University of Southern California, Panelist (15 min)
Robyn Walsh, University of Miami, Panelist (15 min)
Discussion (30 min)

Christian Apocrypha
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: Room TBD – Hotel TBD

Theme: Apocryphal Acts: New Texts and Approaches

Tony Burke, York University, Presiding
Michael Flexsenhar III, The University of Texas at Austin
Creating a Christian World: Martyrdom, Memory, and ‘Caesar’s Household’ in the Apocryphal Acts (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Valentina Calzolari, University of Geneva
The Armenian Acts of Paul and Thecla (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Ivan Miroshnikov, Helsingin Yliopisto – Helsingfors Universitet
Towards a New Edition of the Coptic Acts of Andrew and Philemon (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Break (5 min)
Jonathan Henry, Princeton University
Thomas in Transmission: Some Noteworthy Witnesses to the Acts and Passion of Thomas (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
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 (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Business Meeting (20 min)

Digital Humanities in Biblical, Early Jewish, and Christian Studies
Joint Session With: Digital Humanities in Biblical, Early Jewish, and Christian Studies, Christian Apocrypha
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: Room TBD – Hotel TBD

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 (30 min)
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 (30 min)
Jennifer Barry, University of Mary Washington
BandofAngels.org: Accessing Women’s History through the Digital Humanities (30 min)
Tara Andrews, University of Bern (CH)
When a text isn’t exactly a text: Digital editions and apocrypha (30 min)
James F. McGrath, Butler University
Learning from Jesus’ Wife: The Role of Online Scholarship in Creating and Exposing a Forgery (30 min)

Christian Apocrypha
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Room: Room TBD – Hotel TBD

Theme: Violence and Healing in the Christian Apocrypha

Janet Spittler, University of Virginia
Causality and Healing of Disease in the Acts of John (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Patricia A Duncan, Texas Christian University
Philosophical Foundations of (Self) Healing and Exorcism in the Pseudo-Clementine “Homilies” (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Christine Luckritz Marquis, Union Presbyterian Seminary, Presiding (5 min)
Judith Hartenstein, Universität Koblenz – Landau
Violence in the Gospel of Mary (BG 1) (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Break (10 min)
Annette Merz, Protestant Theological University Amsterdam Groningen
Paul before the lion in the Acts of Paul, Tertullian, and the Zliten Mosaic (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Matthias Geigenfeind, Universität Regensburg
The Apocryphal Revelation of Thomas – Unique, but Underappreciated (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)


Posted in SBL Apocrypha | Leave a comment

2016 CSBS/CSPS Christian Apocrypha Report, Part 1

The 2016 Annual Meetings of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies and the Canadian Society of Patristic Studies took place this past weekend at the University of Calgary. The two groups are small but mighty and the members are always friendly and gracious. Since 2013 I have been organizing, along with Timothy Pettipiece, a joint session for the two societies on Christian Apocrypha. This year we planned a book review panel for the forthcoming collection New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, edited by me (Tony Burke) and Brent Landau, and several members also contributed proposals for papers. Alas we did not have enough papers for a second session but it is a good sign for Christian Apocrypha Studies in Canada to get so much involvement (yes SBL has four Christian Apocrypha sessions and a multitude of other papers besides, but like I said: small but mighty). Unfortunately, I arrived in Calgary too late to catch two of the papers on the morning of day one (“Mary Magdalene: The Companion of Jesus” by Emily Laflèche, University of Ottawa, and “Hidden Words – Re-parsing What Thomas Overheard” by Bill Richards, College of Emmanuel & St Chad) and another two papers focusing on Marcion (The Priority of Marcion? The Text of Marcion’s Gospel and the Resurrected Jesus of Luke 24” by Daniel A. Smith, Huron University College, and Apples and Dragons: Q, Marcion and the Decontextualization of Divine Wisdom” by Glen J. Fairen, University of Alberta) that were scheduled at the same time as the MNTA book panel. Nevertheless, I will offer some comments on the MNTA panel (I was at that one!).

But first I will report on the CSPS book review panel dedicated to Christian Oxyrhynchus: Texts, Documents, and Sources (Second through Fourth Centuries) by Lincoln Blumell and Thomas A. Wayment. I was asked to offer a response/review of the book and I was pleased to do so given that so much of our early Christian Apocrypha manuscripts come from Oxyrhynchus. I have reproduced my response below. The authors were present at the session and they, in turn, responded to me. So, keep reading to see what they had to say about my comments.


Christian OxyI was very happy to be asked to contribute to this panel, because I really wanted a copy of this book! One of my scholarly pursuits is text-criticism, not only of the Bible (canonical texts) but also noncanonical texts, and Oxyrhynchus is a source of numerous biblical and apocryphal papyri. As the authors tell us, 42% of NT papyri come from Oxyrhynchus, and about the same can be said for manuscripts of apocryphal texts from before 400 CE.

The book is an excellent single-source for editions and manuscript-descriptions found otherwise scattered in the 80 volumes-and-counting of the Oxyrhynchus papyri, a series of Italian volumes, as well as journal articles, essays, etc. It also updates some of the early editions, not all of which were done with rigour, adds translations in English for some not translated, and allows for cross-references between papyri not possible with earlier published material. There is much here worthy of praise. But if that’s all I had to say, this session wouldn’t be very interesting.

Given my area of expertise, I’d like to focus on the section of the volume covering apocryphal texts, and then make some comments on the categorization of the materials, first as canonical vs. noncanonical and then as Christian (as opposed to Jewish or pagan).

The section on “extracanonical texts” covers 26 texts, about half as many as the New Testament section. Included here are the three fragments of the Gospel of Thomas, two on the Gospel of Mary, two that may be the Gospel of Peter, 11 of Hermas, the Didache, Acts of John, Acts of Peter, the Sophia Jesus Christ, and 4 unidentified texts. To be clear, Hermas and the Didache are not typically considered “apocryphal” texts since they do not fit the basic definition of the category: “non-biblical Christian literature that features tales of Jesus, his family and his immediate followers.” Nevertheless, they were often considered as candidates for inclusion in the NT and appear in some biblical codices. The category used here, “extracanonical texts,” is certainly more appropriate for the material covered in the section.

All of these papyri appear also in Thomas Wayment’s volume The Text of the New Testament Apocrypha (100-400 CE) published a few years ago by Bloomsbury. That volume also includes colour photographs of all the manuscripts, but the descriptions are more brief and there are no translations. I suspect Wayment is the primary contributor to this section of the book, so Lincoln can sit back and dismiss any criticisms by saying “that wasn’t me.” Incidentally, the section on letters owes much to Lincoln’s earlier work, his published thesis, Lettered Christians. Here he established criteria which he used to distinguish which letters were Christian; the earlier work did not contain editions and translations of the letters, so Christian Oxyrhynchus functions as a source book or companion to his Lettered Christians.

The discussion of the extracanonical texts is distinguished from the canonical in several ways. First, the texts are accompanied with some description of their contents and scholars’ views about their origins. For example, on the Gospel of Peter, the authors state, “it is now rather widely assumed that the Gospel of Peter is dependent upon the canonical gospels for some of its material” (p. 202); on the Acts of Peter, they say, “The Acts of Peter are clearly legendary and have no arguable affiliation with the apostle of that name in the first century, but they may have served the purpose of pious fiction rather than offering a semiformal statement of gnostic beliefs and practices” (p. 259); and the unidentified text of P. Oxy. 1224 is accompanied by the comment “it is perhaps best to withhold sweeping claims regarding this text and any supposed connections to gnostic Christianity” (p. 272). I think it is a service to the reader to offer some description of the texts (it is not necessary for the NT, and the same is done for patristic literature), but the comments strike me as apologetic—as if it is necessary to distance them in some way from canonical literature, particularly in the mention of gnostic Christianity, which neither of the texts have any connection to (and that is what is stated here, but there is no reason to even make the point). There is no statement about the papyri of the Gospel of John dismissing arguments for gnostic connections, nor for the deutero-Pauline epistles that a majority of scholars consider them pseudepigraphical; so why make such comments about the apocryphal texts?

The second way that the extracanonical texts are presented differently is the inclusion of translations. readers are not expected to have their own translations of these texts like they are with the canonical texts (and to be fair, not all apocrypha collections feature these texts, and sometimes when they do, they are not clearly differentiated from other witnesses to the texts). That said, the texts are not all treated equally: the Hermas fragments are not translated, and a few texts are so fragmentary that a translation would be too speculative (P. Oxy. 2949, 210, but not 1224, which is translated but lacks mention of NT parallels). Some texts have sections that harmonize canonical texts—such as a portion of P. Oxy 4009, which may be a witness to the Gospel of Peter—and this material is also not translated.

As an aside, there are a few texts in the Patristic section (no. 85 a Christian apology, no. 96 liturgical fragments, and 105 a theological work), that also are not translated, though all others in the section are.

When texts are fully translated, such as the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary, emendations, surprisingly, often are not signaled—either with ellipses or square brackets—thus giving the illusion that the contents of the text are more certain than they are. My point, then, is that it would have been more helpful to treat all of these texts consistently—translate all portions, indicate significant parallels, and clearly mark emendations.

The differences in presentation of extracanonical texts from the canonical brings me to the broader topic of categorization. Many of the manuscripts in the volume were produced before efforts in the fourth century to impose a rigid canon of Christian scripture. Even in Eusebius’ day there was still some equivocation over the status of Revelation and the Catholic letters. So I wonder if clearly separating “New Testament Texts” from “Extracanonical Texts” is helpful; indeed, it is questionable that the people who created and valued these manuscripts saw that distinction—or more precisely, they may have made different distinctions in each of the centuries covered here: second, third, fourth.  Consider in this regard the manuscript of Hebrews (no. 33) which may have been written by the same scribe as the Acts of John (no. 70); if so, this scribe appears not to have made a canonical/noncanonical distinction between the texts, so why should we? And one of the Gospel of Thomas fragments was found next to one of Matthew (indeed, these two manuscripts were the first to be pulled from the soil).

It is noteworthy also, though not mentioned by the authors, that some New Testament texts are absent: Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, the pastorals, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John (many of which are texts that were contested). Mark appears only in an amulet (no. 92). So the New testament texts are not all treated equally by the scribes of Oxyrhynchus: some are present more than others, some have been written with more care than others, some seem to have been regarded with more esteem than others, and some are entirely absent.

To illustrate this point further, let me bring your attention to a paper by Thomas Wayment presented at last year’s SBL meeting: “The Interaction between Apocrypha and Canon: A Case Study of Oxyrhynchus.” In the paper, Wayment compared canonical and noncanonical manuscripts found at Oxyrhynchus; he discovered that the canonical manuscripts bear the marks of use in liturgy but the noncanonical ones seem to have been created for personal and perhaps missionary or instructional use. I wasn’t convinced by Wayment’s argument, but I did not have the evidence on hand to properly evaluate it. But now I do. I was struck by the variety of presentation in the manuscripts for both categories of texts; so much that I found it hard to see the distinction that Wayment noted.

Some NT manuscripts are written with a skilled hand (1, 2, 11, 14, 23, 40, 41, 42), with fairly standard use of nomina sacra. Others are more amateurishly produced (using repurposed rolls, or in a documentary hand); 1 John (no. 47) is filled with errors; a manuscript of Matthew (48) has no nomina sacra; one of Romans is perhaps a school exercise (51). Manuscript size varies; a few are miniatures, a few are scraps used in amulets. Similar variety is observable in the extracanonical texts: some were made by professionals (58, 63), some by amateurs (61); some on recycled materials (60, 64); and again, a few are miniatures (71, 78). There seems to be no material difference between the two categories of texts,  though there may be more significant relationships between individual texts within the two corpora—perhaps the Hermas manuscripts are more consistently formal than the others, or perhaps the NT texts debated into the fourth-century  (such as 1 John) are more consistently informal than other NT texts. My point is, the rigid distinction between canonical and extracanonical texts is obscuring possible material relationships that cross these boundaries. I’m not alone in this view; after Wayment’s SBL paper, Larry Hurtado urged Wayment to avoid the use of the categories “canonical” and “noncanonical” for evidence from the first few centuries (a statement that drew some applause from the audience).

Incidentally, Lincoln offhandedly makes a similar distinction between canonical and noncanonical texts in Lettered Christians—he mentions that common use of miniatures in noncanonical texts suggests private reading or personal use (p. 168-69)—but again, I think the categories should be rethought and that the NT materials show considerable variation, including the use of miniatures.

The issue of categories can be extended to the collection as a whole. The authors state that the book contains “every text from Oxyrhynchus—regardless of medium or language—that meaningfully relates to Christianity up to the end of the fourth century” (p. 8). But viewing only these texts would give us an incomplete picture of life for Christians at Oxyrhynchus. For one, Christians did not exist in their own world within the city; wider knowledge of life in Oxyrhynchus would be essential for understanding the lives of Christians in the city. But, of course, the entire Oxyrhynchus corpus is available for anyone who wants to cast their net wider. Second, account needs to be made of evidence from Oxhryhyncus that may be Christian but is not clearly identified as Christian. This is particularly the case for Septuagint manuscripts—which the authors say are excluded because it is difficult to tell whether they are Christian or Jewish. Fortunately, these manuscripts are not entirely absent from the volume—they are provided in a table (p. 14). Notable in this regard is item no. 141, a letter in which the author requests an exchange of scripture (Little Genesis and Ezra); some previous scholars have suggested that this letter is Jewish or Jewish-Christian. Presumably the editors consider it Christian because of the use of the nomen sacrum of kurios in the greeting (“greetings in the Lord”), but there are some rare cases of Jewish writers using nomen sacrum, and these are alluded to in the introduction. Which brings me to my third, and final, point, over-reliance on the nomina sacra may have led to the inclusion of some epistolary manuscripts that are not Christian at all. They could be Jewish, particularly if the only evidence for Christian composition is the nomen sacrum in the phrase “greetings in the Lord” (e.g., 138, 140, 143). And I think no. 148, the letter from a sick woman, who writes “I write to you in sickness, being terribly ill, unable even to rise from my bed because I am terribly ill” sounds an awful lot like a Jewish mother to me.

Incidentally, again, Lincoln’s first book treats this topic in much more detail, and a reading of it may convince readers that the phrase “in the Lord” is distinctively Christian. This underscores the fact that Christian Oxyrhynchus should be read side-by-side with Lettered Christians so that the methodology that has led to identifying which letters are Christian can be taken into account. One letter in particular P. Oxy.  3314 discussed in detail in ch. 2, but not included in Christian Oxyrhynchus, has been the object of much debate. It is written by a certain Judas and scholars are divided over whether it is Christian or Jewish. Also noteworthy is the late third-century archive of Ploutogenia. This corpus includes eight letters, which sometimes begin with the formulaic prayer “to the Lord God” and periodically refers to God in the singular; but one letter has a prayer “before all the gods.” So one must certainly take care in identifying a text as Christian, and Lincoln has done the work on this and should be praised for his restraint in focusing only on those he believes are undoubtedly Christian. Lettered Christians (p. 84-85) also mentions the case of a letter by a certain Leonides. This letter contains Christian markers, but another letter by the same writer, does not; this demonstrates that Christians do not always include markers in their writings. Lincoln cautions also that over time Christians included more markers in their letters as their self-identity emerged; earlier letters from Oxyrhynchus, therefore, may be Christian even if they do not appear to be so.

There’s no getting around the fact that decisions had to be made about what to include in this already weighty volume, and better to cast one’s net wide and include inappropriate texts than risk leaving something out. But my larger point here is that removing a body of literature from a larger corpus of evidence and presenting it as the evidence for Christianity in Oxyrhynchus may lead readers to think that this is all they need to know about Christian presence in the city. And returning to my earlier argument, further dividing that material into canonical and extracanonical texts imposes later categories onto the literature and obscures how the Christians in ancient Oxyrhynchus read, transmitted, and cared for these texts.



Lincoln Blumell

Lincoln Blumell’s response began with some background on Oxyrhynchus and the discovery of the papyri. Regarding the exclusion of Septuagint manuscripts, he mentioned that he and Wayment promised the publisher that the book would be 500 pages, then it was 600, then 700, and finally they arrived at 800. So, clearly some materials had to be cut. As for determining which letters were Christian, he discussed P. Oxy. 3057 from the late first/early second century, which some scholars have identified as Christian because of its use of fictive kinship language (“brother”), but this letter was not included in the volume because “it did not seem Christian enough.” In this connection Blumell mentioned also the use of nomina sacra as a marker for Christian composition—he acceded that there is some evidence for nomina sacra in Jewish texts, but very little, and Thomas Wayment later noted that we must consider that producers of manuscripts are not necessarily their users (thinking particularly in this regard of the scribes hired to writer letters or the copyists of Septuagint manuscripts).


Thomas Wayment

Thomas Wayment responded more directly to my comments on the Christian Apocrypha section of the book. His statements about some texts having or not having connections to Gnosticism, he said, were a result of his efforts to draw out the discussions of previous studies on these papyri. The division of the literary texts into canonical and extracanonical categories, he said, was because these are commonly used terms; they may be anachronistic, but they are recognizable to readers (and here he cheekily projected an image of the cover of MNTA which also uses the category “noncanonical”). As for the choice to translate or not translate the texts, this was again due to space issues, and if readers could be expected to follow along with an easily-accessible edition, then the text was left untranslated. Wayment also speculated on the absence of certain NT texts in the papyri, suggesting that some texts on the outer limits of the codices (say, Revelation) may have decomposed (of course this assumes that the codices bear a shape similar to the standard canon but complete Bible codices are rare even after the upper time limit of the materials covered in the volume).

Wayment and Lincoln hinted that there may be a sequel to Christian Oxyrhynchus, incorporating perhaps the Septuagint manuscripts, fifth/sixth-century Hebrew manuscripts (suggesting a “Hebrew revival” of sorts at Oxyrhynchus), and the as-yet-unpublished Coptic manuscripts. Finally, Wayment expressed surprise at the near absence of Mark among the materials; given the roughness of the language apparent in the Christian letters, he thought that Mark in particular would be popular there.

Some group discussion followed, essentially continuing the discussion of Blumell and Wayment’s responses. It was a pleasure serving on the panel and taking part in the conversation. It gave me an opportunity to read the book (and for free!) and to meet Thomas Wayment, whose previous work, The Text of the New Testament Apocrypha (100-400 CE), I heartily recommend (short review HERE).

Posted in CSBS/CSPS Christian Apocrypha | Leave a comment

NASSCAL Publication Series: Studies in Christian Apocrypha

Polebridge Press logoThe North American Society for the Study of Christian Apocryphal Literature (NASSCAL) is pleased to announce Studies in Christian Apocrypha, a book series produced in collaboration with Polebridge Press. Christian Apocrypha is a term encompassing Christian texts—such as the Gospel of Thomas, the Acts of John, and the Apocalypse of Peter—that are not included among, but nevertheless bear some relation (in form, content or otherwise) to the texts of the New Testament. Apocrypha have been part of the Christian tradition almost from the beginning. Indeed, so ubiquitous is apocryphal literature that it must be embraced as a fundamental aspect of Christian thought and expression.

The Studies in Christian Apocrypha series will feature work on the Christian Apocrypha from any time period and in any of its myriad forms—from early “lost gospel” papyri, through medieval hagiography and sermons incorporating apocryphal traditions, up to modern apocryphal “forgeries.” We welcome submissions in the form of monographs, critical editions, collected essays, and multi-author works. The series is also the venue for the proceedings of the bi-annual NASSCAL meetings.

Series Editors

Tony Burke, York University

Janet Spittler, University of Virginia

Pierluigi Piovanelli, University of Ottawa

Stephen Patterson, Willamette University

How to Submit Proposals 

Initial inquiries should take the form of a 3–5 page proposal outlining the intent of the project, its scope, its relation to other work on the topic, and the audience(s) you have in mind. Please include a current CV and 1–2 sample chapters, if available. Send proposals and inquiries to Tony Burke at tburke@yorku.ca.

Posted in Studies in Christian Apocrypha | Leave a comment