More Christian Apocrypha Updates 2: Revelation of the Magi

August 20th, 2014

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

The Revelation of the Magi has appeared recently in an English translation: Brent Landau, Revelation of the Magi: The Lost Tale of the Wise Men’s Journey to Bethlehem (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2010), based on his dissertation (to be published in CCSA) “The Sages and the Star-Child: An Introduction to the Revelation of the Magi, An Ancient Christian Apocryphon” (Ph. D. diss.., Harvard Divinity School, 2008 [available HERE]). Brent and I did not feel it was necessary to include another translation of the text in the MNTA volume, but did want to expose a wider audience to the text. So, we decided to include an introduction and a summary. The same strategy was going to be employed for the Armenian Infancy Gospel (recently translated into English by Abraham Terian) and the apocryphal Apocalypses of John, but those contributions have not materialized.

The text is available in a single Syriac manuscript (Vatican, Biblioteca apostolica, syr. 162) of a larger text known as the Chronicle of Zuqnin. There are a number of apocryphal Jewish and Christian texts that have been preserved in such chronicles and compendia (e.g., Joseph and Aseneth, material in the Book of the Bee and the Cave of Treasures). The story is told from the perspective of the Magi, who are described much differently than in the canonical account of their journey. Here there are twelve Magi (perhaps more), they hail from a mythological eastern land named Shir, and the name “Magi,” it is said, derives etymologically from their practice of praying in silence. They knew to follow the star to Bethlehem because they are descendants of Seth, the third child of Adam and Eve, who passed on to them a prophecy told to him by his father Adam. The star appears to the Magi in the Cave of Treasures on the Mountain of Victories. There it transforms into a small, luminous being (clearly Christ, but his precise identity is never explicitly revealed) and instructs them about its origins and their mission. The Magi follow the star to Bethlehem, where it transforms into the infant Jesus. Upon returning to their land, the Magi instruct their people about the star-child. In an epilogue likely secondary to the text, Judas Thomas arrives in Shir, baptizes the Magi and commissions them to preach throughout the world.

Rev. Magi contains several interesting parallels with other texts from antiquity, indicating that its traditions about the Magi were wide-spread. The “Cave of Treasures” is mentioned also in the Syriac version of the Testament of Adam (a Christian work from the fifth or sixth century) and from there is taken up in the Cave of Treasures (dated to the sixth century) and the Book of the Bee (from the thirteenth century). Several elements of Rev. Magi's story are found also in the Liber de nativitate salvatoris, an expansion of the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew with curious features that may have originated in a very early infancy gospel. Some aspects of Rev. Magi were also passed on in summary by the anonymous author of a fifth-century commentary on the Gospel of Matthew known as the Opus Imperfectum in Matthaeum. From here some elements found their way into the Golden Legend (ch. 6). The Rev. Magi traditions are surprisingly widespread for a text that, were it not for that one manuscript, would have been lost to history.

More Christian Apocrypha Updates 1: Legend of Aphroditianus

August 19th, 2014

Over the next few weeks I will be doing final edits of the contributions to the collection I am editing with Brent Landau called New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures. At the same time, I have to prepare a bibliography on Christian Apocrypha for the Oxford Online Bibliographies project. I thought I could combine those efforts with updates to my More Christian Apocrypha page and, to top it all off, throw in some blog posts on the texts as a preview to the volume.

The first text in the collection is the Legend of Aphroditianus (aka “The Narrative of Events Happening in Persia on the Birth of Christ,” erroneously attributed to Julius Africanus) prepared for us by Katharina Heyden who has worked previously on the text for her monograph, Die “Erzählung des Aphroditian.” Thema und Variationen einer Legende im Spannungsfeld von Christentum und Heidentum (Studien und Texte zu Antike und Christentum 53; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009). A previous English translation of the text is available in ANF 6:127-30 (online text).

The sources for the Legend are quite extensive. It is embedded in multiple Greek manuscripts of De gestis in Perside, an anonymous 5th/6th-century fictional account of a dispute between Pagans, Christians, and Jews set in Persia. In addition, it is incorporated in John Damas­cene’s Homily on the Incarnation of Christ (also Greek; 8th cent.), and available in two Slavonic recensions translated from Greek (one of these has been translated into Romanian), and an Armenian version (unedited).

The Legend is as follows: at the moment of Christ’s birth, the statues in the temple of Hera in Persia dance and sing, announcing that Hera (meaning Mary) has become pregnant by Zeus (God) and will give birth to a child. A star appears above the statue of Hera and all the other statues bow down in worship to her. The wise men of the land interpret this as a sign of the birth of the Messiah. So the Magi follow the star to Judah with gifts for the child. The Magi return to Persia and inscribe on golden plates what they encountered (incorporating as in Matthew 2:1-12). They tell of their meeting with leaders in Jerusalem and their arrival in Bethlehem. They describe Mary and Jesus and child and reveal that one of their number painted an image of mother and child which they deposited in Hera’s temple. Their story finishes with a report of an angel warning the Magi to return home.

Two aspects of the tale I find particularly interesting are the description of Mary ("For she was small in stature even when she stood upright, and had a delicate body, wheat-colored; and she had her hair bound with a simple, very beautiful hair-style," 8:4), the only one in early Christian literature, and that the text seems to be intended to compete with the Doctrine of Addai, which also features the removal to Syria of an image of Christ. Noteworthy also is that the text is one of several examples of pseudo-pagan literature validating Christianity.

2014 New Testament Apocrypha Course

August 15th, 2014

I have posted my syllabus for this Fall's course on the New Testament Apocrypha (yes, yes, I know "NTA" is not the term I should be using anymore, but prospective students understand it better than "Christian Apocrypha"). This is my fourth time teaching the course. The syllabus is posted on my parent site (HERE).

New this year is the adoption of my book Secret Scriptures Revealed as the course's primary text. I previously used Klauck's Apocryphal Gospels: An Introduction, which is an excellent book, but it is somewhat expensive and in the past the York bookstore has had difficulty ordering enough copies for the class. I have also used Ehrman's Lost Christianities and Lost Scriptures; I am retaining Lost Scriptures for the primary literature, but there are plenty of other texts read in the course not included in Ehrman. The students will also read and review The Heresy of Orthodoxy by Andreas J. Köstenberger and Michael J. Kruger. Since my approach and the approach of most Christian Apocrypha scholars is rather "liberal," I like to balance the course with a look at the "conservative" perspective on the material and scholarship in the field. In previous years I have used Darrell Bock's The Missing Gospels.

I will blog every week on the progress of the class. Perhaps some of the students will make their presence known too.

Call for Papers: 2015 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium

August 15th, 2014


York University Christian Apocrypha Symposium Series 2015

“Fakes, Forgeries, and Fictions” Writing Ancient and Modern Christian Apocrypha

September 24-26, 2015

We are pleased to announce the third of a series of symposia on the Christian Apocrypha hosted by the Department of the Humanities at York University in Toronto, Canada and taking place September 24 to 26, 2015.

The 2015 symposium will examine the possible motivations behind the production of Christian apocrypha from antiquity until the present day. Have authors of the Christian apocrypha intended to deceive others about the true origins of their writings? Have they done so in a way that is distinctly different from NT scriptural writings? What would phrases like “intended to deceive” or “true origins” even mean in various historical and cultural contexts? This symposium has been inspired by the recent publication and analysis of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife, and it will, among other topics, examine what the reactions to this particular text—primarily in popular media, including biblioblogs— can tell us about the creation, transmission, and reception of apocryphal Christian literature.

We encourage scholars from across North America to join us and share their research on topics that include but are not limited to: pseudepigraphy, modern apocrypha, authorship as canon criterion, possible motives for composition of “apocryphal” texts, the reception of Christian apocrypha in scholarship and/or popular media, and the recycling of non-Christian texts into Christian apocrypha. The program will include a panel focusing on the reception of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. We welcome proposals from both established scholars and graduate students.

Email abstracts for papers or panel proposals to Tony Burke ( or Brent Landau ( by September 30, 2014. Abstracts for papers should be approximately 300 words.

Travel and accommodation for all presenters is fully-funded by the Symposium. Presenters must be prepared to circulate drafts of their papers to registered Symposium participants two weeks prior to the event.

Previous symposia in the series:

2013: “Forbidden Texts on the Western Frontier: The Christian Apocrypha in North American Perspectives” (papers to be published by Cascade books in 2015).

2011: “Ancient Gospel of Modern Forgery? The Secret Gospel of Mark in Debate” (papers published by Cascade Books, 2013)

New in Print: Infancy Gospel of Thomas Reader

August 7th, 2014

Hadavas, Constantine T. The Infancy Gospel of Thomas: An Intermediate Ancient Greek Reader (Beloit, WI: CreateSpace, 2014). Hadavas is Chair of the Department of Classics at Beloit College. I'm interested in seeing what Greek text he is using (likely it is Tischendorf's Greek A with variants from Greek B and D). Here is the abstract:

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas (c. 150 CE) is an excellent text for students who have completed the first year of college-level Ancient Greek. Its length is short, its syntax is generally straightforward, and its narrative is inherently interesting, for it is the only account from the period of early Christianity that tells of the childhood of Jesus. This student edition includes grammatical, syntactical, literary, historical, and cultural notes. Complete vocabulary is provided for each section of the text, with special attention paid to the differences between Koine Greek and Classical Greek meanings and usage. Since the Infancy Gospel of Thomas possesses an unusually rich textual history, this edition also includes a selection of the most interesting variant readings.

(Via Mark Bilby)

Robert Conner on the Secret Gospel of Mark

July 28th, 2014

Robert Connor graciously passed along to me a draft of his forthcoming book, The "Secret" Gospel of Mark: Morton Smith, Clement of Alexandria, and Four Decades of Academic Burlesque, to be published by Mandrake of Oxford. Mandrake's web page provides the following abstract:

While cataloging material in the library of the monastery of Mar Saba in 1958, Morton Smith discovered a quotation from a letter of Clement of Alexandria copied in the end pages of a 17th century collection of the letters of Ignatius. After more than a decade of collaborative analysis of the find, Smith published his conclusions in 1973, setting off a firestorm of controversy in the New Testament studies guild.

In 1975, a Jesuit scholar, Quentin Quesnell, claimed the letter had been forged and implied that Smith was the forger, moving the focus of debate off the text itself and onto Smith. Since then the pages containing the letter have been removed from the book and possibly destroyed, while Catholic and evangelical writers, none of whom have ever seen the pages in question, continue to claim that Smith forged the letter.

Following his death in 1991, accusations against Smith took on a considerably more personal tone, highlighting his alleged homosexuality and by implication his dishonesty and moral perversity. Although the question of authenticity remains unresolved, the controversy has opened a window on the intellectually corrupt nature of apologetic New Testament studies, a subject of greater importance than the authenticity of early Christian texts.

Connor's small book spends more time criticizing hoax/forgery theorists (particularly Peter Jeffery) than analyzing the text; however, he does present a theory for why the Secret Mark pericopae were removed from the text to form what is now canonical Mark. I won't spoil the book here but if you want to get a good sense of Connor's arguments, listen to an interview with the author on the internet radio show Aeon Byte (on Youtube HERE), hosted by Miguel Connor (no relation). The interview begins around the 15 minute mark. 

Christian Apocrypha Sessions at 2014 SBL

July 21st, 2014

The program for the 2014 Annual Meeting of the SBL is now available. This year the Christian Apocrypha Section is offering four sessions (up from one last year!). One of these is a panel on presenting Christian Apocrypha to popular audiences, and another is a joint session with the Gospel of Luke Section honoring François Bovon. We had a large number of proposals this year and, while we would like to accept every paper, alas we cannot. Our thanks to all those who sent in proposals. We hope to see you in San Diego.

S22-118: Christian Apocrypha
11/22/2014 ~ 9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Theme: "Canonical/Apocryphal" and Other Troublesome Binaries
Tony Burke, York University, Presiding
Matthew R Crawford, University of Durham: "The Diatessaron, Canonical or Non-canonical? Rereading the Dura Fragment"
Cornelia Horn, Catholic University of America: "Christian Apocrypha in Georgian on Jesus and Mary: Questions of Canonicity, Liturgical Usage, and Social Settings"
Richard I. Pervo, Saint Paul, Minnesota: "Canonical Apocrypha" 
Shaily Shashikant Patel, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: "Magical Miracles and Miraculous Magic: Discourse of the Supernatural in the Acts of Peter"
Brad F. King, University of Texas at Austin: "Reframing the Apocryphon of John: 'Christianizing' Revisions in the Long Recension"

S22-210: Christian Apocrypha
11/22/2014 ~1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Theme: Presenting the Christian Apocrypha to Non-Scholarly Audiences
Brent Landau, University of Texas at Austin, Presiding
Bart Ehrman, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Author of Lost Christianities and The Other Gospels
Nicola Denzey, Brown University, Author of Introduction to 'Gnosticism': Ancient Voices, Christian Worlds
Robert Cargill, University of Iowa, Consulting Producer on History Channel's Bible Secrets Revealed
Roger Freet, HarperOne, Panelist, Executive Editor at HarperOneBreak
Hal Taussig, Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, Editor of A New New Testament
Tony Burke, York University, Author of Secret Scriptures Revealed: A New Introduction to the Christian Apocrypha

S23-123: Gospel of Luke
Joint Session With: Gospel of Luke, Christian Apocrypha
11/23/2014 ~ 9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Theme: In memory of François Bovon
Mikeal Parsons, Baylor University, Presiding
David Warren, Faulkner University: "A Biographical Sketch of François Bovon"
Brent Landau, University of Texas at Austin: "Blurred Lines: Apocryphal Additions to New Testament Manuscripts"
Claire Clivaz, Université de Lausanne: "NT manuscripts as «beyond categories» objects : thinking about the death of Jesus as object of reprobation"
Andrew Gregory, University of Oxford: "Useful for the soul? In dialogue with François Bovon on the early reception of Luke"
Michal Beth Dinkler, Yale Divinity School: "'The Thoughts of Many Hearts Shall Be Revealed': Listening in on Lucan Interior Monologues"

S24-111: Christian Apocrypha
11/24/2014 ~ 9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Theme: The Cultural Context(s) of the Christian Apocrypha
J.K. Elliott, University of Leeds, Presiding
Petri Luomanen, University of Helsinki: "Judaism and anti-Judaism in the Protoevangelium of James, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew"
Eugenia Constantinou, University of San Diego: "Holy of Holies! The Amazing and Impossible Life of Mary as told in the Apocrypha of the Christian East"
Lorne R. Zelyck and Joseph Sanzo, University of Alberta: "What is P.Berol. 11710: Amulet, Apocryphal Gospel, Biblical Elaboration?"
Dominique Côté, Université d'Ottawa – University of Ottawa: "Magic, Necromancy, and Theurgy in the Pseudo-Clementines" Michael Zeddies, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor: "More Evidence Origen Wrote To Theodore"

Christopher Skinner reviews Secret Scriptures Revealed

June 9th, 2014

Christopher Skinner has published a review of my book Secret Scriptures Revealed on the Crux Sola blog (HERE). He concludes:

Several features of this book stand out in my mind. First, the material Burke covers is grouped by subject matter, an arrangement that will likely prove useful for non-specialists. Second, his writing style is clear, engaging, and at times, even humorous in places. Third, at the end of each major section there is a textbox providing information for further study. What I most appreciate about this book is that Burke writes with the skill of an expert and the communicative ability of a great teacher. He ably accomplishes the aim of writing an introductory text for the non-specialist. I definitely plan to require this textbook the next time I teach the non-canonical literature!

Thank you very much, Chris.

Christian Apocrypha at the 2014 CSBS/CSPS: A Report

May 29th, 2014

The Annual Meetings of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies and the Canadian Society of Patristic Studies took place last weekend (May 23-26) at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario. Both societies are modest-sized groups of scholars; their gatherings are nothing on the scale of SBL or NAPS—the CSBS meeting, the larger of the two, regularly features 60-70 papers. But the gatherings are no less valuable and, in my opinion, far more friendly and collegial (they’re full of Canadians after all). They provide a welcome opportunity for Canadians living near and far to reconnect with one another.

For the past three years I have been leading a session at the CSBS on Christian Apocrypha. So far, the session has progressed without a guiding theme; with such a small number of scholars, it is best to keep the focus of the session as broad as possible. There was one major change this year in that we partnered with CSPS for a joint session. The goal was to expand our pool of possible presenters. As a result, we ended up with a good balance of New Testament and Patristics scholars, examining and discussing the texts through the particular perspectives of their fields. Also for this year I relinquished my role as chair of the session to Tim Pettipiece of the CSPS.

The first paper was “The Dialogue of the Saviour and the Synoptic Gospels” by Anna Cwikla, a student at the University of Toronto. Cwikla offered an overview of early theories (by Pagels and Koester) about the Dialogue’s relationship to the Synoptics; these theories attempted to bring some order to the structure of the text and argued that the Dialogue demonstrated no certain dependence on NT writings. Cwikla favours moving away from the structure imposed on the text and, by doing so, she says, more Synoptic parallels become evident. Her discussion focused on three sections of the text: 139.8-11 (with a possible parallel to Matt 6:34b/Matt 10:10b/Matt 10:25a), 144.13-20 (with Luke 11:1-2//Matt 6:5-6), and 136.5-10,20-24 (with Matt 24:27,30-31). The latter example has not been proposed previously, and John Kloppenborg, in the discussion period, noted additional Matthean allusions in that section of the Dialogue.

The second paper was “Physiognomy as a component of characterization in the Acts of Peter” by Callie Callon (another University of Toronto student). Callon was unable to attend the conference, so her paper was read by Michelle Christian (you guessed it: also from the University of Toronto). The paper examines the portrayals of Simon Magus and the apostle Peter in the Acts of Peter with an eye to contemporary physiognomic manuals. In the Acts, Peter is portrayed positively, speaking with a strong voice. But Simon speaks in a high voice, which is associated with femininity, androgyny, and poor oratorical skills. At one point in the narrative, Simon runs, which reveals “a disordered state of mind” and is associated with both femininity and with the actions of slaves. Also, Simon has a highly-sexualized vision of a female slave; visions reflect on their recipient, thus adding to the shameful portrayal of Peter’s opponent.

The reading of Callon’s paper was followed by Bradley Rice’s (McGill University) “Jesus the Gadfly: Introducing the Dialogue of the Paralytic with Christ.” Rice’s presentation drew from his work on the text for the More Christian Apocrypha volume that I am editing with Brent Landau. The Dialogue is extent in two forms: a shorter Georgian text from the 13th century and the longer Armenian from the 14th century. Few other scholars have worked on this text, leaving Rice with plenty of questions to address. Most interesting is the text’s connection to the Armenian Infancy Gospel. Both texts tell structurally-similar stories, with Jesus approaching someone in need of healing and entering into a dialogue about the nature of the illness and the afflicted’s attempts at relief before Jesus reveals that he has the power to heal his dialogue partner. The Dialogue also functions to communicate points of orthodox christology, though strangely in response to comments and questions from Jesus that are not orthodox.

After a short break, John Horman (an independent scholar living in Waterloo) presented his paper on “Translation Matters.” Horman presents regularly at CSBS on the Gospel of Thomas. His previous work finally saw publication a few years ago in his monograph A Common Written Greek Source for Mark and Thomas (WLU Press, 2011). This year he focused on the proclivities of the Coptic translator of Thomas and how the translation has obscured the original contents of the text. Horman pointed out that there are some inherent deficiencies in the Coptic language—it has no participles, no passive, no verb for “to have”—which contribute to difficulties understanding Thomas in its Coptic form. Horman’s paper was difficult to follow (it was somewhat technical, but there was no handout, and the structure of Horman’s argument was not always clear); nevertheless, he made it apparent that scholars must approach the Coptic Thomas with caution and resist thinking it represents well the Greek original. On occasion, Horman referenced a paper from another session delivered by Ian Brown (a student at—well, you know) called “You want answers, go to school! What Graeco-Roman schooling practices can tell us about early Jesus people.” Brown endeavoured to demonstrate that the Gospel of Thomas functions like texts used in philosophical schools—that is, collections of chreia composed on similar topics that do not reflect a systematic doctrine but are meant to evoke discussion on a wider corpus of materials. The implication of this connection is that Thomas is the tip of the iceberg for the writings and traditions used by the “Jesus school” who valued the text.

Finally, the session came to a close with Robert Kitchen’s (Knox-Metropolitan United Church) overview of the “Syriac History of Philip.” Kitchen is preparing an introduction and translation of the text for a future volume of the More Christian Apocrypha project. The text is extant in eight Syriac manuscripts, one of which was published by William Wright (Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles [1871], vol. 2: 69-92; online text), and in an Arabic form. Kitchen emphasized the text’s kinship with the Greek Acts of Philip, which contains 15 self-contained episodes of Philip’s missionary travels and the story of his martyrdom. The Syriac text is also a self-contained story which could fit easily within the Greek Acts, and the Syriac text features an antagonist named Ananias, who appears also in Acts of Philip 2. It is unlikely that the Syriac story was originally part of the Greek Acts, but the parallels suggest that the Syriac author was writing his text as a sequel of sorts to the earlier work.

Following the papers, I led a brief discussion on where we might take the Christian Apocrypha session next year. Likely, the informal nature of the gathering will continue, again to elicit as much involvement from CSBS/CSPS members as possible, particularly because so many of the presenters are students, who have less opportunity to depart from their thesis work to examine other topics. I mentioned also in my remarks that there is an observable tension between the CSBS members who, for the most part, examine the apocryphal texts for what they can tell us about New Testament texts or the origins of Christianity, and the CSPS members who advocate appreciating the material in its present form and setting. Both approaches are valid and lead to interesting results. The pairing of the two groups of scholars is helpful, then, for exposing the presenters and their audience to different methodological options.

Syriac Perspectives on Late Antiquity and Early Islam, University of Toronto

May 29th, 2014

I will be presenting a paper on Syriac Apocrypha at the University of Toronto conference "Hidden Treasures of the Eastern Church: Syriac Perspectives on Late Antiquity and Early Islam" November 15, 2014. The one-day event also features papers by Adam Lehto, Kyle Smith, Amir Harrak and others. I will post further details when the program is finalized.