Archive for November, 2009

Christian Apocrypha Site of the Week 3

Thursday, November 26th, 2009

I have been thinking this past week about the typical contents of CA collections and what texts tend to be included and what get left out. The parameters are usually temporal—i.e., most collections include only material that is pre-Constantinian (the Pleiades collection is an exception)—though earlier studies of CA did include some later texts because there were not that many texts yet available. This led me on a search for some of these forgotten texts; many of which are found on the Church Fathers page of the New Advent site (scroll down to “Apocrypha”).

The English translations of the texts offered here are quite old and often unacknowledged. But they do offer the reader a glimpse at the texts as they were known to scholars at the end of the nineteenth century (or thereabouts). For some, more work has been done in the interim, but many have yet to be examined in sufficient detail. Here are a few of the more interesting texts:

Avenging of the Saviour

Narrative of Joseph of Arimathaea

Apocalypse of the Virgin

Acts of Barnabas

Acts of Xanthippe and Polyxena

On-Line Books on the Christian Apocrypha

Friday, November 20th, 2009

I have just added a new page to the "New Testament Apocrypha" section of my web site. It is a list, with links, of On-line Books Related to the Study of the Christian Apocrypha. The list is fairly extensive, though covers only up to the turn of the twentieth century. Included are such CA classics as Tischendorf's Evangelia Apocrypha and M. R. James' The Apocryphal New Testament, and also some lesser-known early studies of the CA by Variot, Nicholas, and others. I will add additional texts when I become aware of them; suggestions are welcome.

The Sisters of Sinai

Monday, November 16th, 2009

I have just finished reading Janet Soskice’s popularization of the discovery of the famous Sinai palimpsest by Agnes Smith Lewis and Margaret Smith Gibson (The Sisters of Sinai: How Two lady Adventurers Discovered the Hidden Gospels. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009). The “Hidden Gospels” alluded to in the title refers not to non-canonical texts (as it often does) but to a fourth-century Syriac translation of the canonical gospels hidden under a seventh-century collection of tales of women saints. The palimpsest represents our earliest complete witness to the gospels, albeit in translation, and caused quite a stir upon its publication in the late nineteenth-century.

The Smith twins found the manuscript on a trip to St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai. Soskice documents the struggles of their various trips to the monastery to work on this and other manuscripts, and their struggles to be taken seriously as scholars in nineteenth-century England, a time when women were not allowed to obtain university degrees. Along for one of the trips to the Sinai were other famous scholars from Cambridge: Rendel Harris, Francis Burkitt, and Robert Bensly. One of the book’s most interesting stories is the infighting that took place among the expedition over the division of labour transcribing the palimpsest and over who would take the glory for the find.

Soskice also discusses the discovery of Codex Sinaiticus by Constantin von Tischendorf, who preceded the twins in his own well-known trip to Sinai and whose suspicious activities in securing Sinaiticus made it difficult for other scholars to gain access to the monastery library. But the twins were involved in other discoveries beyond the Sinai palimpsest. They were instrumental also in recovering and publishing thousands of Syriac manuscripts from Sinai and other locations, and were involved in the discovery of the Hebrew manuscripts from the Cairo genizah.

The book is an enjoyable and recommended read but admittedly has little to do with Christian Apocrypha, though it gives the reader a sense of what tribulations other scholars of the time had to endure to find and publish biblical and non-biblical manuscripts. As it happens, too, among the manuscripts published by the Smiths was another palimpsest, purchased in the Suez but originally hailing from St. Catherine’s, that contains the Protoevangelium of James and the Transitus Mariae (their edition of this manuscript is available HERE).

CA Web Site of the Week 2

Friday, November 13th, 2009

The Christian Apocrypha Web Site of this week is the home page of the Association pour l’étude de la littérature apocryphe chrétienne (AELAC). AELAC is an academic association based in Switzerland and France dedicated to the publication of finely-crafted critical editions of Old and New Testament Apocrypha in a series called Corpus Christianorum Series Apocryphorum. To date, editions have appeared on various Apocryphal Acts, the Ascension of Isaiah, Irish Apocrypha, and most recently the Kerygma Petri; the next volume to be published will likely be my edition of the Greek tradition of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas.

The site contains an overview of all of the society’s publications, including the CCSA volumes, their related Instrumenta (concordances), the popular-market translations of the Collection de poche, the journal Apocrypha, the yearly Bulletin de l’AELAC, and the wonderful two-volume CA collection Écrits apocryphes chrétiens published in the Pléiades series. You can also find here information on the annual Réunion that takes place in Dole, France.

Another useful feature of the site is a bibliography of work by the members of the association. It is arranged both by author’s names and by text. The only shortcoming of the site is that it is woefully out of date (the last Bulletin posted is from 2007, and the last table of contents of Apocrypha is vol. 16 from 2004).

Secret Mark in Biblical Archeology Review

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

The latest issue of Biblical Archeological Review (Nov/Dec 2009) features a series of articles on Secret Mark. This is the second time in recent memory (Scott Brown contributed a piece back in 2005) that BAR has looked at the text. Presumably the topic is attractive to BAR editor Hershel Shanks, who is a vociferous supporter of the authenticity of certain artifacts such as the James Ossuary. Several other bloggers have commented on the articles (including James Tabor at Taborblog, and Timo Paananen at Salainen evankelista; note also Mark Goodacre at NTblog has recently posted a clip of an interview by Morton Smith from 1984); I’d like to offer a few comments on them also.

The first article, available for free on the BAR web site, is an overview written by Charles Hedrick of the discovery of the manuscript. Hedrick has been one of the most vocal supporters of the manuscript’s authenticity but his task here was to provide a neutral discussion of the basic facts of the discovery, Smith’s early work on the text, the scholarly reaction to this work, and the three recent monographs on Secret Mark written by Scott Brown, Stephen Carlson, and Peter Jeffery.

The second article presents the case for the forgery of the text. It is written not by Carlson nor by Jeffery nor by any other supporter of the forgery hypothesis (such as Birger Pearson or Bart Ehrman) but by Hershel Shanks. Shanks’ requests to such scholars were turned down for various reasons, so he was forced to write the piece himself. It is particularly unfortunate that Carlson refused the request; according to Shanks, Carlson “declined because he understandably felt it would be unfair to put him up against two giants like Helmut Koester and Charles Hedrick” (p. 52). But Carlson has “put himself up” against such giants simply by publishing his book on the text (The Gospel Hoax). Perhaps Carlson’s reluctance is more due to his general shying away from defending his position against criticism. At the Secret Mark panel at last year’s SBL, Carlson seemed unable or unwilling to answer Scott Brown’s and Allan Pantuck’s concerns about the case for forgery (or better, in Carlson’s argument, “hoax”). Carlson also rarely discusses the text on his own blog, Hypotyposeis; one rare Secret Mark post summarizing the  SBL panel led Pantuck to add numerous comments challenging Carlson, but Carlson barely acknowledged them, leading Pantuck to write, “Steve C. seems to have disappeared–should we send out a search party for him?”

Pearson declined the offer because he, “was reluctant to write in opposition to the conclusion of his Doktorvater, Helmut Koester, for whom Pearson has enormous respect” (p. 52). Shanks doesn’t buy Pearson’s excuse, particularly since Pearson appeared opposite Koester at the SBL panel (as did Carlson). Why such hesitation? Is it because these scholars are starting to rethink their positions? Or could it simply be because they don’t want to write for BAR? Whatever the reason, the forgery position is not served well by Shanks’ presentation, as he consistently argues against each of the arguments as he discusses them.

The third piece, “Was Morton Smith a Great Thespian and I a Great Fool?” is by Helmut Koester. It is essentially a summary of his presentation at the SBL panel, which itself was a statement of his long-held theory about the development of Markan traditions (a Proto-Mark lacking certain details including the naked young man of Mark 14:51-52 was used by Matthew and Luke, this was expanded into an Intermediate-Mark as we find it in Secret Mark, and then truncated with the removal of the Secret Mark material to form Canonical Mark). It is an interesting hypothesis, and one that accounts well for the minor and major agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark. But it is not an argument for the authenticity of Smith’s text, just a compelling use for it if indeed it is legitimate.

The final article, “Restoring a Dead Scholar’s Reputation,” is a conclusion to the debate written, again, by Shanks. As the title suggests, Shanks places his support behind the case for authenticity, citing among his evidence Scott Brown’s response to Carlson’s argument that the text’s reference to adulterated salt is an anachronism and a joke planted by Smith and casting doubt on Carlson’s claim that the manuscript shows signs of a “forger’s tremor.” BAR has gone so far as to enlist the services of two Greek handwriting experts to examine the manuscript and determine if it is a forgery; the magazine is hoping to raise money for the examination through donations. Of course, they are limited in their efforts by having to work only with photographs of the manuscript; so their results may not be conclusive.

The BAR articles succeed at bringing the text to a wide audience and at keeping the debate in the attention of academics who read the magazine, but it fails in advancing the discussion beyond the impasse that has gripped it for decades, even despite the important works in the last decade by Brown, Carlson, and Jeffery. The real debate should involve the principle writers on the text—including the aforementioned scholars, Allan Pantuck, and a few others—but they either refused or were not asked to participate. Last year’s SBL panel was a well-meaning effort to get the scholars in a room to discuss the text, but Carlson largely refused to answer Brown’s and Pantuck’s criticisms, and most of the others who spoke (including Pearson and Ehrman) were not aware of the current arguments about the text. When is a real scholarly debate about Secret Mark going to happen?

CA Web Site of the Week

Friday, November 6th, 2009

As I work through my web site ( and update various materials (including my links to sites focusing on the Christian Apocrypha), I thought it would be useful to offer more expansive descriptions of sites of interest in a series of “CA Web Site[s] of the Week” (cue applause). The first is Andrew Bernhard’s

Bernhard, an Oxford Graduate, is the author of Other Early Christian Gospels (London: T & T Clark, 2006) a study of the CA texts preserved in early papyri (e.g., P.Oxy. 840, The Egerton Gospel, the Greek manuscripts of the Gospel of Thomas, and others). These particular texts were the focus of the previous incarnation of this site, Jesus of Nazareth in Early Christian Gospels.

The current site contains resources for the study of twelve texts: the Gospels of Thomas (which receives the most attention), Judas, Mary, Peter, Egerton, P. Oxy. 840, the Jewish-Christian gospels, Secret Mark, and the Infancy Gospels of James and Thomas. For each gospel, Bernhard provides a list (and sometimes images) of the extant manuscripts, a select bibliography, scans of secondary sources (where available), and links to on-line resources.  The site features also a blog (which has been quite active of late with discussions of Secret Mark and the Gospel of Thomas) and a page of supplementary resources (e.g., links to texts from the Church Fathers, lexicons, etc.).’s greatest contribution is the images of the manuscripts which, though available from host institutions, sites, and print resources, are found here in a useful, one-stop location. Bernhard’s blog, one of few dedicated to the CA, also promises to be a valuable new voice in online discussions of the CA.

New Secret Mark Blog

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

Timo S. Paananen, a doctoral student at the University of Helsinki, recently began a blog, Salainen evankelista, dedicated to the Secret Gospel of Mark.  Over the summer he posted excerpts from his Master’s thesis (also focusing on Secret Mark) and has a new post summarizing recent blog activity about the text.

Work in Progress

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

Apocryphicity has suffered from considerable neglect lately. There are several reasons for this. For one, I am under review for Tenure, and the file preparation has taken some of my time. Also, I have a heavy course load this semester. And, there has been an illness (and subsequent death) in the family, leading to the abandonment of my SBL paper (see further below) and a curtailing of other projects.

Nevertheless, it’s probably time to put some work into my languishing Blog. I thought I’d begin with some updates on a variety of projects.

1.  I look forward very soon to seeing the proofs for my critical edition of the Greek tradition of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas.  The edition is based on my 2001 doctoral dissertation (available HERE) and is to be published in the Corpus Christianorum Series Apocryphorum. The editing process has taken a considerable amount of time, but the end product will be much superior to the dissertation. We should see the edition some time in 2010 (hopefully by the l’AELAC Réunion in June).

2. I am following up my Greek edition of IGT with work on the Syriac tradition of the text (for more information see HERE). This was the focus of two presentations last year (at the l’AELAC Réunion and at SBL). The first of these, focusing specifically on the Ms Vat. Syr. 159, is currently under revision. I am supplementing the paper with readings from a second, similar Ms (Mingana 105).

3. This past summer Slavomir Ceplo and I presented a paper on the Syriac tradition of the Legend of the Thirty Silver Pieces (for more, see HERE). We will revise the paper for publication once we finally obtain the last remaining Ms of the text.

4. My paper on Christian Apocrypha in Ancient Libraries (mentioned HERE) for this year’s SBL Annual Meeting has been canceled (due to illness/death in the family). I will continue work on the topic, perhaps resubmitting the paper for next year’s meeting.

5. Much of my time over the summer was spent translating a well-known text from the OT pseudepigrapha from Syriac into English for a top-secret publication that should appear in the Spring or Summer of 2010. It is a lengthy text, and it has never been translated into English (or any modern language) before, so it was a big challenge that strained by still-developing skills in Syriac.

So, you see I am not dead, merely busy and distracted. But I promise that Apocryphicity will be more active for the foreseeable future.