Fox Special on “The Birth of Jesus”

Sigh. ‘Tis the season for TV specials on Jesus and now Fox has joined the fray with “The Birth of Jesus” to be broadcast Saturday December 23 at 3pm and December 25 at 11 am. According to the press release, the special features discussion of some apocryphal material:

For 2000 years, the world has celebrated the miraculous birth of Jesus Christ, inspiring people's lives, art, music and literature.But few actually know that the narratives — as told in the Gospels by Luke and Mathew — present significant questions for Biblical scholars, historians, archaeologists and the faithful. Host Jon Scott sets out to find the answers, taking viewers on a tour of New Testament sites including Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, and Nazareth, where he was raised. Along the way, this FNC special will examine life in the 1st century and archaeological "finds and fakes" from the world of Jesus. We'll also take a look at early Christian writings that were "banned" from the Bible, including the Apocryphal stories about Jesus' youth (in which he is portrayed as a "divine brat") and the Gnostic Gospels, used by Dan Brown as the basis for his best-selling book "The Da Vinci Code" — a book many consider an assault on Christianity.

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Secret Lives of Jesus (again)

The National Geographic Channel’s “Secret Lives of Jesus” will be re-broadcast December 21 at 9pm. The NGC web site now has a page devoted to the show (see it HERE) with a clip showing a re-enactment of two episodes from the Infancy Gospel of Thomas.

Allan Boyle, the Science Editor for MSNBC, discussed the show on his BLOG December 15 (read it HERE), providing a decent summary. His article prompted considerable feedback from both liberal and conservative readers. You can read their comments and Boyle’s response HERE.

Also, Tom Jennings, writer and producer of the show, posted on his own BLOG some comments about making the show (read it HERE). Appended are more of the same kind of comments from viewers. 

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Gospel of Judas opens old wounds

Special guest Pierluigi Piovanelli of the University of Ottawa offers the following discussion on the publishing of the Gospel of Judas:


These days I am completing a collective review of the first publications on the Gospel of Judas, i.e., (1) Herbert Krosney’s The Lost Gospel, (2) The Gospel of Judas from Codex Tchacos translated and explained by Rodolphe Kasser, Marvin Meyer and Gregor Wurst, and (3) James Robinson’s The Secret of Judas.  This is probably the case of many other colleagues around the world with one small but significant difference.  In my case, working in a bilingual institution (the University of Ottawa) and writing the review for a bilingual journal (Studies in Religion / Sciences Religieuses), I was lucky enough to have at my disposal both the original American editions (published on April 6 and 7, 2006) and their translations in French (released two months later, in June).  What was my surprise when I realized that there are some substantial differences between the two editions!

This is especially true for the French versions of Kasser’s chapter on “The Story of Codex Tchacos and the Gospel of Judas” and the final chapter of Robinsons’s book.  The polemic between the Swiss scholar and his American colleague, already present in the English texts, reaches peaks of unsuspected intensity in the French publications.  Apparently, old misunderstandings that go back to the controversy about the edition of the Nag Hammadi Codices, in the seventies, were not totally forgiven and/or forgotten.  Thus, in a long endnote totally lacking from the English text Kasser feels compelled to dismiss Robinson’s accusations of having unduly delayed the publication of Nag Hammadi Codex I (the Jung Codex) until 1975.  While in the main body of his chapter he gives a better idea of what he means by “the question of scientific morals, or deontology” and more details about the reasons he has to blame American specialists.

After the sentence, “Instead, scholars had to fly from the United States to Switzerland to buy a treasure that neither Swiss nor other European Coptologists had any idea existed” (on p. 55 of the American edition), the French text goes on as follows:  “It is easy to imagine: after their bold but unfortunate attempt in 1983, it seems that some scholars on the other side of the Ocean [i.e., in North America] judged that it was more appropriate to adopt a strategy of (semi-)confidentiality.  In doing so, they preserved what was of primary importance to them, that is, their chances of successfully achieving a little (or even more) later what they had not accomplished in 1983:  to be the successful ones instead of others.  In doing so, they took the risk of waiting for a longer time, with all the dangers that any significant postponement of the delays could occasion to a manuscript still in a precarious situation and out of any scientific control.  Among these dangers, there are inappropriate storing conditions under the responsibility of antiquities dealers or other owners not prepared to resolve the concrete problems that such an exceptional property requires.  They are neither prepared to manipulate without detectable damages these kind of objects that are extremely fragile and delicate (deciding if potential purchasers are allowed to touch them), nor to move and store them (in safe-deposit boxes? … in simple drawers? … without any control of the temperature and hygrometry conditions? … etc.)” (pp. 72-73 of the French edition, my translation).

The next four pages of the English text (pp. 55-59, devoted to the first contact, in 1982, between the Swiss antiquities dealer Frieda Tchacos Nussberger and Mr. Hanna, the Egyptian “owner” of the codex, and more significantly, to Stephen Emmel’s quick examination of it in Geneva, in 1983) are simply and purely omitted in the French edition.  One should note that in the English text these pages stress the fact that (1) the codex was already badly damaged “between its discovery and 1982” and that (2) Emmel’s report “reveals the respect with which he handled the papyrus text” and “shows his obvious concern to protect to the utmost extent possible the physical structure of the codex.”  On the other hand, in his French text Kasser sandwiches the sentence about the long and detrimental years that the manuscript spent in a safe of the Citibank in Hicksville, New York (p. 60 of the American edition), with the following bonus comments:  “Moreover we were not so surprised to learn that James M. Robinson did not renounce taking hold of the codex and that an appointment arranged with the antiquities dealer had been canceled only because the First Gulf War, in 1990-1991, had rid Hanna of any desire to go away from his family.  […]  ‘Cooptative deontology,’ for sure, but at what price?  Of dangerously protracting the sufferings of the codex” (p. 74 of the French edition, my translation).

If Kasser has a certain propensity, when he writes in French, to attribute the prolongation of “the sufferings of the codex” to Robinson’s obsession for “cooptative deontology,” the latter, not to be outdone, decided to add another chapter, previously unpublished, to the French version of his book on The Secret of Judas.  The title of this highly polemical new conclusion is “The spate of revelations of Easter 2006” (pp. 247-260 of the French edition).  Robinson begins by openly criticizing the National Geographic Society for giving a deliberately wrong image of the Gospel of Judas in order to take full advantage of its investment.  Then he reiterates his charges against Kasser for the old monopoly on the Nag Hammadi Codices and the new cartel (that includes Marvin Meyer) on the Gospel of Judas.  Finally, he frontally attacks Mrs. Tchacos Nussberger for her role in the (aborted) sale of the codex to Bruce Ferrini, the antiquities dealer of Akron, Ohio, whose incompetence and lack of precaution contributed so largely to the deterioration of the manuscript.  In this connection, Robinson’s final section – “Who has the shadiest past, Judas or Frieda Tchacos?” – is especially eloquent.  In his opinion, “There is no doubt that Frieda Tchacos’s hope was to attain glory thanks to the Gospel of Judas, but more infamous than famous, she very badly represents the Gnostic Judas, in spite of her claims that he would have been in touch with her in order to have her acting as his spokeswoman on earth with the mission of proving his innocence.  On the contrary, she calls to mind the biblical Judas, who betrayed his closest friends…” (p. 260 of the French edition, my translation).

Robinson is certainly right about the tendentious and scandalistic way the Gospel of Judas was presented to a popular audience.  At our last workshop on “Christian Apocryphal Texts for the New Millennium: Achievements, Prospects, and Challenges” (University of Ottawa, September 30 – October 1st 2006), Louis Painchaud (Université Laval) was the first to call to our attention a series of Coptic passages that clearly demonstrate that in the Gospel of Judas the character of the protagonist is not so positively depicted.  Actually, things are more complex than the members of the National Geographic editorial team would have us believe.  Nonetheless, the (re)discovery, restoration, and publication of not only the Gospel of Judas, but also the other three Gnostic texts copied in the same codex is going to be a major achievement for every person more or less interested in the history of Second Temple Judaism, the Jesus movement, and early Christianity.  We should be grateful to all the specialists that made it possible, and especially to Gregor Wurst and Florence Darbre, who modestly and patiently restored the dispersed fragments of the papyrus codex.

Last but not least, talking about deontology, I think that we should avoid any further association of this poor, martyred codex with the name of one of those responsible for its recent via crucis.  In the future, it would be preferable that scholars simply refer to this ancient manuscript as the Al Minya Codex, that is, the manuscript found in the Al Minya region.

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SBL Christian Apocrypha Section Call for Papers

Interested in presenting a paper for the Christian Apocrypha Section of the Society of Biblical Literature? The call for papers for the 2007 Annual Meeting in San Diego November 17-20, 2007 has been posted. Here are the details:

Call For Papers: This Section pursues the latest research on aspects of the Passion/Resurrection narratives in extracanonical texts as, e.g., the Gospel of Peter, the Acta Pilati (Gospel of Nicodemus), or the Gospel of the Savior. This focus includes interest in the genesis and development of passion traditions or themes, the communities that produced them, and their place on the map of Christian origins. Another session is open to all issues pertaining to the apocrypha and encourages submissions for the Seminar Papers.

Call For Papers Opens: 11/15/2006

Call For Papers Closes: 3/1/2007

Program Unit Chair:Ann Graham Brock (

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Carlson reviews Jeffery on Secret Mark

Stephen Carlson, author of the The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith’s Invention of Secret Mark, has posted a review of Peter Jeffery’s The Secret Gospel of Mark Unveiled: Imagined Rituals of Sex, Death, and Madness in a Biblical Forgery.

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“The Gospel Truth” from US N&WR

The US News and World Report recently published an extensive article on the CA titled: “The Gospel Truth: Why some old books are stirring up a new debate about the meaning of Jesus.” You can read it here. The article offers nothing new on the subject but it works well at balancing views held by the liberal scholars (e.g., Pagels, Robinson, and Meyer) and their conservative critics (e.g., Wright, Johnson, and Jenkins).

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Bruce Chilton writes on Secret Mark

Bruce Chilton contributed a length article to The New York Sun back in October focusing on the controversy over Secret Mark. The title is “Unmasking a False Gospel.” Here is an excerpt from the conclusion to the article: 

No literature has suffered more from this problem than that of the second century of Christianity. In the case of "the Secret Gospel," a modern researcher ( Morton Smith himself, or someone whose forgery duped Smith) has made up a Gnostic document up in the attempt to manipulate scholarly discussion and public perception. The fact that this attempt succeeded for so long stands as an indictment of American scholarship, which prides itself on skepticism in regard to the canonical Gospels, but then turns credulous, and even neo-Gnostic, when non-canonical texts are concerned.

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More on “The Secret Lives of Jesus”

Catholic On-line ( offers a brief review of the National Geographic Channel’s special “The Secret Lives of Jesus” to be aired December 7. Read the review here.

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The Lost Gospels on BBC4

Did anyone in the UK catch the program The Lost Gospels aired on BBC4 December 4? I have been trying in vain to find official information on the show but have only managed to find blog entries. Read one here criticizing the show.

UPDATE: Jason Shim passed on this link with additional reviews of the show. It will be re-broadcast December 20 at 8pm.

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Secret Lives of Jesus on National Geographic Channel

The National Geographic Channel will air a special on December 17 at 9 PM (Eastern) titled “The Secret Lives of Jesus”. A press release describes it as follows:

More than 1,500 years ago, ancient writings were buried that offered alternative narratives about Jesus of Nazareth. There were many of these alternative gospels that rendered very different versions of the story and were considered scandalous and deemed heretical. Rediscovered within the last century, these texts offer more questions than answers. Secret Lives of Jesus examines these mysterious lost stories of Christ, exploring the fundamental questions surrounding the texts. Who wrote them and why? How do they compare to the accepted New Testament gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? And why were the stories forgotten for so long? Secret Lives of Jesus deconstructs the forces at play during this time of radical religious ideals — and offers a tantalizing glimpse inside the logic behind some of the most bizarre stories ever told about Jesus Christ.

I heard about the special last month when a producer contacted me looking for images related to the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. I sent her some manuscript images, including an illumination from a fifteenth-century Ambrosian manuscript (L58) of the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew (several images from the manuscript are featured in Elliott and Cartlidge’s Art and the Christian Apocrypha book). The channel will also air an encore presentation of their special on the Gospel of Judas December 18.

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The Pope Reads Apocryphal Thomas Texts

Back in September Pope Benedict XVI delivered a speech in which he stated that Thomas evangelized Syria and Persia, and then went on to western India, "from where Christianity also reached southern India."The statement angered Christians of southern India who claim Thomas evangelized the south himself. The Pope attempted to make peace with the group by issuing a corrected statement that cites the Acts of Thomas: "Lastly, let us remember that an ancient tradition claims that Thomas first evangelized Syria and Persia (mentioned by Origen, according to Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History 3, 1) then went on to Western India (cf. Acts of Thomas 1-2 and 17ff.), from where also he finally reached Southern India." Pope Benedict's original talk acknowledged the validity of the apocryphal book as a source of knowledge. The Acts of Thomas and Gospel of Thomas are apocryphal books, he said, but "in any case important for the study of Christian origins." For more on the story visit here and here.

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Judas: Friend or Foe

Craig Evans of Acadia Divinity College in Nova Scotia is quoted in a recent article on the Gospel of Judas on the CBC web site. Evans here claims that the text was misinterprted by National Geographic’s editing and translation team. John Turner is quoted in support of Evans’ position: 

Judas did an evil deed by betraying Jesus to his enemies, Turner said.

"The decision was made that this is a truly shocking, revolutionary document that throws into question all of the traditional Christian claims about the figure of Judas, and the document simply doesn't support that," he said.

Terry Garcia, leader of the society's Judas project, dismisses the criticism, saying those who say the translation is incorrect are a minority


Evans may have been influenced by a paper presented at September’s Christian Apocrypha Workshop by Louis Painchaud. Painchaud’s team is working on a new translation of the text which, in their opinion, corrects erroneous views advanced by recent scholars that the text portrays Judas as Jesus’ most loyal follower. Here is the abstract of the paper: 


Since its publication by the National Geographic Society last April, the Gospel of Judas has been interpreted and presented by the scholars in charge of its edition and translation as rehabilitating the figure of the apostle, who would be the true disciple of Jesus, the only one who understood his mission, to whom the spiritual Saviour would have asked to deliver him from his carnal body. This Judas would be a model of the perfect (gnostic) Christian.

A close reading of the Gospel of Judas reveals a totally different picture. Judas is guilty of sacrificing the man who wore Jesus, he is a demon, misled by his star, and he will never make it to the place reserved for the Holy Generation.

He is both demonized, in the same way as he is demonized in the Gospel of John, and assimilated to Juda the patriarch eponym of Judaism through the question “What advantage…? (GosJud 46:16; Gen 37:26). Like his homonym, he will inherit the government over the lower world, over the other apostles and the generations who will curse him (GosJud 46:23; Gen 49:10). The Judas of the Gospel of Judas is the very symbol of the betrayal of the name of Jesus through the interpretation of his death as a sacrifice in a proto-orthodox Christianity perpetuating the sacrificial cult of Temple the of Jerusalem.Partly misled by the expectations raised by the reader of a Gnostic revelation dialogue concerning the main interlocutor of the Saviour, the scholars who presented the GosJud in such an erroneous way read into the text what we already knew from Ireneaus and Epiphanius instead of the text itself and saw in Judas the perfect disciple according to their opponents. This led to a reception of this new text perfectly in harmony with the expectations of the Western World in the second half of the 20th century, in need of a rehabilitated Judas in the context of the reappraisal of Jewish Christian relationships.


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Patristics Carnival

Phil S., administrator of the hyperekperisou blog has posted his “Patristics Carnival”—essentially a summary of recent blog entries relating to Patristics. Apocryphicity is mentioned as is Jim Davilla’s excellent Paleojudaica blog.

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Where Mary Rested (Protoevangelium of James 17)

The Nov/Dec 2007 issue of Biblical Archeological Review features an article on the discovery of a church commemorating a scene from the Protoevangelium of James (“Where Mary Rested,” pp. 44-51).

In chapter 17 of the text Joseph, Mary, and Joseph’s children journey to Bethlehem for the census. Three miles outside of the city Mary feels labour pains and stops to sit on a rock. According to Cyril of Scythopolis a church was built on the spot in 456. It is called the Kathisma, “seat” or “chair” in Greek. The church is described also in the account of the anonymous sixth-century Piacenza Pilgrim.

The church (more a martyrium actually) was rediscovered in 1993. The digs finished in 2000 and Dr. Rina Avner has written her doctoral dissertation at the University of Haifa on her excavations of the Kathisma.

The article includes photographs of the mosaics from the site and an image of the similarly structured house of St. Peter in Capernaum.

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Apocrypha Links Updated

The New Testament Apocrypha section of my main site has been updated–specifically, the Internet Resources section has been expanded to include more sites and features better descriptions of the sites' content. If you know of a worthy site that is not in the list, please pass the informaiton along. 

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