More Christian Apocrypha Updates 7: The Death of Judas

August 29th, 2014

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

The fourth book of Papias's lost Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord contains a tradition about the death of Judas that is different from what we find in both Matt 27:3-10 and Acts 1:18-20. This tradition, preserved in a long version and a short version in Greek catenae (collections of extracts from biblical commentators), states that Judas was punished for his betrayal of Jesus by becoming "inflamed in the flesh"—so large that he could not through narrow streets, his eyes swollen shut, his genitals enlarged and filled with pus and worms. Death came to him "in his own land" and no one can pass through there without holding their nose.

Papias's account of the death of Judas, prepared for us by Geoffrey Smith, is one of two contributions in the MNTA collection that derive from non-biblical traditions transmitted by patristic writers. This material blurs the definition of "apocrypha"—does the fact that Papias knows this story make it more valued, perhaps more historical, more "orthodox," than if it were contained in an apocryphal text? A similar situation exists with sayings of Jesus contained in the Apostolic Fathers—the presence of a saying in, say, 1 Clement makes the saying orthodox and many would count it among authentic sayings of Jesus, but at the same time that saying as it is found in the Gospel of Thomas is thus "apocryphal." The Papias account has been brought to wider attention recently in collections of Judas-related texts, but it is never included in Christian apocrypha collections—that is, until now.

New in Print: Two books on Jewish Pseudepigrapha

August 28th, 2014

Susan Docherty, The Jewish Pseudepigrapha: An introduction to the literature of the Second Temple period (London: SPCK, 2014).This looks like a nice counterpart to my Secret Scriptures Revealed book (also from SPCK). Here is the publisher's blurb:

An understanding of the Jewish Pseudepigrapha forms an integral part of all courses on New Testament background and Christian origins This will be the first student introduction to appear for over thirty years Highlights the key theological themes and significance of each text Reviews the texts on their own merits as examples of early Jewish religious literature as well as looking at the light they shed on NT theology and scriptural interpretation This is a concise yet comprehensive guide to the Pseudepigrapha: the Jewish texts of the late Second Temple Period (circa 250BCE – 100CE) that are not included in the Hebrew Bible or standard collections of the Apocrypha. Each chapter deals with a specific literary genre (e.g. apocalyptic, testaments, rewritten Bible), encouraging readers to appreciate the texts as literature as well as furthering their understanding of the content and significance of the texts themselves. As well as providing helpful introductions to the different genres, the book surveys key issues such as: date, authorship, original language; purpose; overview of contents; key theological themes and significance.

Joel M. Hoffman, The Bible's Cutting Room Floor: The Holy Scriptures Missing From Your Bible (Macmillan, 2014). The book was recently reviewed on Patheos by James McGrath. Here is the publisher's blur:

The Bible you usually read is not the complete story. Some holy writings were left out for political or theological reasons, others simply because of the physical restrictions of ancient bookmaking technology. At times, the compilers of the Bible skipped information that they assumed everyone knew. Some passages were even omitted by accident.

In The Bible’s Cutting Room Floor, acclaimed author and translator Dr. Joel M. Hoffman gives us the stories and other texts that didn’t make it into the Bible even though they offer penetrating insight into the Bible and its teachings.

The Book of Genesis tells us about Adam and Eve’s time in the Garden of Eden, but not their saga after they get kicked out or the lessons they have for us about good and evil. The Bible introduces us to Abraham, but it doesn’t include the troubling story of his early life, which explains how he came to reject idolatry to become the father of monotheism. And while there are only 150 Psalms in today’s Bible, there used to be many more.

Dr. Hoffman deftly brings these and other ancient scriptural texts to life, exploring how they offer new answers to some of the most fundamental and universal questions people ask about their lives. An impressive blend of history, linguistics, and religious scholarship, The Bible’s Cutting Room Floor reveals what’s missing from your Bible, who left it out, and why it is so important.

More Christian Apocrypha Updates 6: Dialogue of the Paralytic

August 26th, 2014

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

Dial. Paralytic is an elaboration of the story of Jesus and the paralytic from John 5:1–15, though here the encounter is situated after the resurrection, perhaps as late as the fourth century if the paralytic's mention of Arius (d. 336) is original to the text. Christ descends to earth and sees the paralytic. His situation is grave: “disabled and helpless, paralyzed and deprived of the use of all his limbs; he was indeed blind, without strength in his hands, disabled of the two feet and covered with wounds.” He asks Jesus who he is, but Jesus is evasive about his identity. He says, “I am a man who walks a lot, a traveler.” At one point he says he has traveled from India. The two begin to discuss Christ, who was famed as a healer. The paralytic had heard of Christ but no one could carry him to the healer to be cured. Jesus then questions why the man is afflicted: “Whereas you have hopes at this point in Christ, why did he not cure you? Would you not be unbelieving and guilty of very serious sins?” Then follows a series of exchanges recalling the protests of Job to his friends who sought some explanation for the evils he was suffering. Finally, Jesus stops playing with the poor man and says to him “Stand up, take your palate and walk!” (16). The man rises fully healed and Jesus vanishes.

Dial. Paralytic is extant in a number of Armenian and Georgian manuscripts of the 13th to 19th centuries. There are three recensions in Georgian, five in Armenian. A translation of the Armenian appears in Écrits apocryphes chrétiens (2:63-74) by the scholar most associated with the text, Bernard Outtier. For MNTA, Brad Rice has given a translation of the Armenian from an unedited manuscript and a translation of the shorter Georgian version.

Brad's introduction to the text includes an exhaustive list of the known manuscripts (more detailed than most of the contributions to the volume, but the list is a valuable resource for future work on this neglected text), a thoughtful discussion of the text's origins (likely both versions, Georgian and Armenian, derive from a tenth-century translation of an Arabic exemplar), and some thoughts on parallels to the text in the Armenian Infancy Gospel. In both the Dialogue and the Infancy Gospel (chs. 24 and 27) Jesus has encounters with sick people unaware of his divine identity; in both Jesus questions his interlocutor about his situation and requests payment for healing before finally revealing his identity and effecting the healing. In the Dialogue, however, Jesus makes a number of statements contrary to Christian orthodoxy (e.g., that Jesus' disciples stole his body, and that the apostles are "stupid and lazy men, who wrote whatever they wished") though the statements are made in order to allow the paralytic to refute them and be rewarded for his faith. Nevertheless, it is jarring to see Jesus portrayed as a mouthpiece for heresy and blasphemy.


More Christian Apocrypha Updates 5: On the Priesthood of Jesus

August 25th, 2014

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

On the Priesthood of Jesus (aka, Confession of Theodosius, Apology of Theodosius) is an example of an embedded apocryphon—meaning, the text comes with a framing story, in this case a dispute between Jews and Christians in the reign of the emperor Justinian I (527–565) during which an account is brought forward that is said to have come from an old codex in Tiberius saved from the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. It is unlikely, however, that this old account actually existed apart from the larger work. It reveals that, early in the career of Jesus, a position became vacant in the 22-member priesthood. Jesus is put forward as a candidate but the priests must establish that he is a descendant of one of the priestly families. Since Joseph is deceased, they summon his mother, who reveals that Joseph was not Jesus’ earthly father but Jesus is still a suitable candidate because she is descended from the families of Aaron and Judah. As proof of her claim, the priests summon midwives to see if she is still a virgin. Her post partum virginity is established and Jesus is considered worthy of the priesthood. This makes it possible for Jesus to be the priestly messiah mentioned in Psalm 110:4 and provides background to the episode in Luke 4:16–22 where Jesus preaches in the synagogue.

The text was composed in Greek and is extant in several forms, including both longer and shorter Greek recensions, and a shortened telling of the story in the Suda (a 10th-century Byzantine encyclopedia). Other forms exist in Arabic, Slavic, and Georgian. The MNTA entry by Bill Adler features four translations: the longer Greek version, the Suda portion in parallel with a similar Greek manuscript of the text by itself, another short version from a Vatican manuscript, and a précis of the story by John of Euboea in his In conceptionem Deiparae 18 (comp. mid-8th cent.). This is the first time many of these texts have been translated into English.

Bill has given us quite a lengthy introduction to the text, with plenty of discussion of first-century qualifications for the priesthood, the narrative context for the story (the anxieties of crypto-Christians in Jewish communities), the text's popularity (and notoriety) in the medieval period, and the transformations undergone by the text over the course of its transmission. Of particular interest to me is Priest. Jes.' use of infancy traditions. Like other late-antique apocryphal texts, Priest. Jes. freely borrows form both canonical and noncanonical traditions (several motifs are taken from the Protevangelium of James) without any sense that one is more valid than the other.

More Christian Apocrypha Updates 4: The Infancy Gospel of Thomas (Syriac)

August 22nd, 2014

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

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas is well-known; it's sometimes shocking portrayal of the young Jesus cursing the townspeople of Nazareth has contributed to its popularity. The text is featured prominently also in the various Christian Apocrypha collections and commentaries. So why include it in MNTA? One of our guiding principles in selecting texts for inclusion is to consider texts that need significant updating due to new manuscript discoveries and new determinations of the text's original form. Inf. Gos. Thom. is seen most often in its Greek and Latin forms, both of which are relatively late. The Syriac form, on the other hand, has very early material evidence (two MSS are from the 5th/6th centuries) and is believed to reflect well the original form of the text—most notably, it lacks ch. 1, with the text's attribution to Thomas, and the beneficent miracles of chs. 10, 17, and 18; ch. six is also lengthier, with a dialogue between Jesus and his teacher that is absent in many of the Greek MSS. Despite the obvious value of the Syriac tradition, there has been little effort to update the text since its initial publication in 1865.

The Syriac tradition is divided into three forms: Sa (comprising the two early MSS—British Library, Add. 14484 (5th c.) and Göttingen Universitätsbibliothek, Syr. 10 [5th/6th c.]—and another two—Vatican, Biblioteca apostolica, syr. 159 [1622/1623] and Mingana, Syr. 105 [1832/1833]—that supply sections missing in the earlier MSS), Sw (14 MSS, and another four in Garshuni, of a West Syriac Life of Mary collection containing Inf. Gos. Thom., Prot. Jas., and other texts), and Se (three MSS of the East Syriac History of the Virgin incorporating much of Inf. Gos. Thom.). An initial discussion of these sources can be found in my article in Hugoye (“The Infancy Gospel of Thomas from an Unpublished Syriac Manuscript. Introduction, Text, Translation, and Notes,” Hugoye 16.2 [2013]: 225-99), which contains also an edition of Vatican, Biblioteca apostolica, syr. 159. A critical edition of all three recensions is in progress (hopefully I will have that at the press early in 2015).

Of particular interest about the Syriac Inf. Gos. Thom. is that it illustrates much better than the Greek text that the author does not regard Jesus' curses as a defect in his behavior that is in need of rehabilitation. Many previous commentators have observed in the gospel a progression in Jesus' personality—i.e., over the course of the text he transforms from a miracleworker who curses to one who blesses. With the absence of chs. 10, 17, and 18, however, this progression is much less observable. Indeed, rehabilitating Jesus seems to be a preoccupation of copyists and translators of the text, not its original author and audience.

There are other versions of Inf. Gos. Thom. that need to be given more attention—including a Georgian MS that has never been translated into English and an Ethiopic tradition that has appeared in an edition and French translation but needs updating (the edition draws on four MSS but there are over 20 additional MSS that should be examined). Perhaps we will include these in a future volume of MNTA.

More Christian Apocrypha Updates 3: The Hospitality of Dysmas

August 21st, 2014

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

Some of the texts included in the MNTA volume are free-floating stories incorporated into variations of previously-published texts. The tales of the "Good Thief" are prime examples of this phenomenon. This "Good Thief" is the bandit promised salvation by Jesus on the cross in Luke 23:40-43. Christian imagination provided additional information about this bandit in a number of stories in which the bandit meets Jesus and his family during their sojourn in Egypt. The most well-known of these tales is found in the Birth of the Savior 111-25 (M.R. James's Latin Infancy Gospel), re-published recently in the Ehrman-Pleše Apocrypal Gospels collection (p. 146-55). The story included in MNTA vol. 1 is a variant of this tale incorporated in certain manuscripts of the Acts of Pilate.

The story takes place during the Holy Family's journey to Egypt. There they meet a bandit named Dysmas. Taken by Mary's beauty and proclaiming her the Mother of God, Dysmas brings the family to his home. The bandit leaves to hunt wild game. In the meantime, his wife draws a bath for Jesus. Dysmas's child, leprous and colicky, is cured by bathing in the same water. When Dysmas returns, the miracle is revealed to him and he pledges himself to be Mary's protector during her stay in Egypt. After guiding the family safely through the land, he is rewarded with a blessing, which the author reveals to be his martyrdom with Christ on the cross and his subsequent entry into Paradise.

Mark Glen Bilby has done extensive work on the various traditions about the "Good Thief." This work includes his monograph—As the Bandit Will I Confess You: Luke 23:39-43 in Early Christian Interpretation (Cahiers de Biblia Patristica 13; Strasbourg: University of Strasbourg; Turnhout: Brepols, 2013), an essay in the forthcoming proceedings from the 2013 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium, and, of course, his introduction and translation of Hosp. Dysmas for MNTA. This introduction describes and carefully differentiates between all of the "Good Thief" tales—all nine of them! Of particular interest in the story is the motif of the healing qualities of the bathwater of Jesus, a motif used throughout the Egypt tales in the Arabic Infancy Gospel (known in Syriac as the History of the Virgin). It's surprising to see such sharing of motifs in relatively late Eastern and Western traditions.

The isolated tales found in manuscripts of apocryphal texts (and sometimes canonical texts!) tend to get lost in the process of establishing the earliest possible form of the text in which they are contained. But these transformations and expansions of the texts tell us much about medieval piety and should be given the attention that is their due.

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)