Archive for December, 2009

A Very Small Book on the Christian Apocrypha

Monday, December 28th, 2009

It just came to my attention that Paul Foster (editor and contributor to the fine volume The Non-Canonical Gospels, mentioned HERE) has published a volume in the Very Short Introduction series on The Apocryphal Gospels. More information can be found on Amazon.

New Apocrypha Collection from Oxford

Sunday, December 20th, 2009

Oxford University Press is releasing in June a new collection of Christian Apocrypha, The Apocryphal Gospels: Texts and Translations, compiled by Bart Ehrman and Zlatko Plese. It is touted as a multi-lingual collection–i.e., it features the texts in their original languages as well as in English. The table of contents shows that it features the typical texts one finds in such collections, though the Acts of Pilate material is unusually extensive. The contents also lists the curious item of "Infancy Gospel of Thomas C." You can read more about it HERE.

More Christian Apocrypha

Monday, December 14th, 2009

I mentioned in a previous post several texts that tend to be omitted from "New Testament Apocrypha" collections and thus have been neglected in scholarship. Typically this is because they are relatively late texts and thus fall outside of the temporal parameters of the formation of the New Testament. As a means of attracting attention to these texts I have added a new page (More Christian Apocrypha) to my site focusing on the texts. At the moment it is little more than a list of the material but I will add more information to the page when time permits. Any suggestions for additions and general improvement would be appreciated.

Christian Apocrypha at 2010 SBL

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

[Since I was not able to attend this year's SBL in New Orleans, I asked Harvard alum and CA scholar Brent Landau to provide this summary for us. Thanks Brent.]

I was only able to attend two of the three Christian Apocrypha sessions at the SBL this year, having missed the session that focused on “Animals as Symbols and Metaphors in Apocryphal Texts.” But the sections I attended had a range of very interesting topics.

The first session (22-210, Sunday 1:00-3:30) was an open session, with papers on the Pseudo-Clementines, the figure of Joseph, and the Protevangelium of James.

Dominique Côté from the University of Ottawa presented a paper entitled “Prophecy in the Pseudo-Clementines.” His basic argument was that the Ps-C are engaged in a conflict with Neoplatonic philosophy, its conception of “the True Prophet” being set over against Greek philosophical thought. Specifically, Côté contends that the Ps-C are responding to Porphyry of Tyre, the student of Plotinus who may also have advised Diocletian during his early fourth-century persecution of Christians. Nicole Kelley of Florida State University was Côté’s respondent, and was generally persuaded by his thesis. She observed that Côté’s work was part of a recent trend in Ps-C scholarship that attempts to understand the Ps-C as late antique (3rd-4th c.) documents rather than seeking after a 1st or 2nd c. primitive core (the so-called Grundschrift or “Basic Writing”).

Reidar Aasgaard from the University of Oslo, with a copy in hand of his brand-new book The Childhood of Jesus: Decoding the Apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Thomas, gave a paper entitled “Father and Child Reunion: The Story of Joseph.” Aasgaard began first with a short overview of the portrayal of Joseph in the canonical infancy narratives and a very brief consideration of what can be known about the historical Joseph (not much). Most of the paper discussed the similarities and differences in the figure of Joseph as found in the Protevangelium of James, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, and the little-studied History of Joseph the Carpenter, a fourth-century Egyptian composition narrated by Jesus upon the Mount of Olives at the end of Joseph’s life (at the ripe old age of 111!). The response was given by Richard Pervo, professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota, consisting mostly of “reinforcement” (Pervo’s word) of Aasgaard’s paper. One especially interesting point made by Pervo was that the PJ doesn’t seem to regard the canonical gospels as sacred and unalterable: it utilizes them when they suit its purpose, and departs from them when deemed necessary.

Being a specialist in infancy gospels myself, I found Aasgaard’s paper on the neglected figure of Joseph very interesting. After his presentation, I asked one question and made one suggestion for a further avenue of research. My question concerned Joseph in the canonical infancy narratives: it is remarkable that Matthew and Luke agree on his name, given that they don’t agree on much of anything else. So where did they get this information from? Apart from the infancy narratives, Joseph is only referred to in John 1:45 and 6:42. Would both Matthew and Luke have gotten his name from John? This goes against the dating that most scholars would posit for John. Reidar agreed that this was an interesting problem, but didn’t have a solution to it (so there might be an article out there for him, me, or someone else!). The suggestion I made was to consider the portrayal of Joseph found in the Latin infancy gospels of M.R. James and the closely connected Irish materials (found in CCSA 13-14). In this corpus, Joseph is, arguably, the star of the show: he has a soliloquy about his ancestral home of Bethlehem, he aggressively interrogates all visitors who come to the cave about their intentions, and he possesses the puzzling nickname “Moab.” I have believed for some time that this collection of materials needs further investigation, and it would certainly pay off for its portrayal of Joseph, if nothing else.

The final paper of the Sunday afternoon session was “Mary as Temple Sacrifice in the Protevangelium of James,” presented by Lily Vuong, a Ph.D candidate at McMaster University. Vuong observed that while scholars have frequently noted the concern of the PJ for Mary’s purity, there has been little or no consideration of Mary functioning as a Temple sacrifice. Vuong contends that the sacrificial theme is present throughout the PJ, which begins with childless Joachim’s ineligibility to offer a sacrifice. Using the theoretical insights of Jonathan Klawans and Jon Levenson, Vuong argues that the author of the PJ deemphasizes the humanness of Mary in order to shape her as a sacrificial offering, indeed as a “new biological form” (Vuong’s words). Mary thus has deep intertextual connections to both Jesus and Isaac as sacrificial offerings. Unfortunately, Vuong’s respondent, Esther de Boer, was unable to attend the SBL as she had planned (a very common and unfortunate occurrence among many scholars at this year’s meeting), but Vuong’s paper was followed by a very lively discussion.


The second session I attended had fewer papers presented, but was highly rewarding nonetheless. The stated theme of this session was “Discussion of Corpus Christianorum Series Apocryphorum and Apocalypses.” Two papers were presented, both by scholars who have been highly influential in the field of Christian apocrypha: François Bovon of Harvard University, and Enrico Norelli, Professor Bovon’s successor at the University of Geneva.

François Bovon provided a fascinating overview of how the Association pour l'étude de la littérature apocryphe chrétienne (AELAC) came into being under his leadership, and how AELAC then convinced the Belgian publisher Brepols to create a new series of the Corpus Christianorum, namely the Series Apocryphorum. Bovon noted that they had to fight quite hard to convince Brepols to publish translations in modern languages. He also related the story of how the CCSA emblem of the ill-fated flight of Simon Magus came to be. Bovon then gave a history of CCSA volumes, starting with the edition of the Acts of Andrew by J.-D. Kaestli and Éric Junod (1983); he observed how vital collaboration has proven to be in this series. He mentioned both Tony and me as some of the North American scholars who have participated in the annual meetings of AELAC; he also kindly promoted our forthcoming volumes in the CCSA (Tony’s on the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and mine on the Syriac Revelation of the Magi).

Enrico Norelli, attending his first North American SBL annual meeting, presented a paper on the dating of the Apocalypse of Peter. Against the criticism of Tobias Nicklas (another scholar who regrettably was not able to attend), Norelli reiterated his support for the theory of Richard Bauckham that the text was composed during the Bar Kokhba revolt (132-135 CE). A response was given by Pierluigi Piovanelli of the University of Ottawa. It was a rare English presentation from Norelli; in addition to numerous articles, he prepared the CCSA edition of the Ascension of Isaiah and is also slated to write a commentary on AscIsa for the Hermeneia series.

After these papers, this final session of the Christian Apocrypha unit concluded with a “business meeting” hosted by Ann Graham Brock at her spacious Marriott suite (with free-flowing wine, as any good business meeting should be!). In addition to socialization with old friends, this provided a wonderful opportunity for younger scholars (like me) to connect with many of the most important contributors to this field.


A Debate on Secret Mark?

Friday, December 4th, 2009

Peter Jeffery, author of The Secret Gospel of Mark Unveiled, added a comment to my post from a few weeks ago on the Secret Mark articles in Biblical Archeological Review. He wrote:

I did not write for BAR because I was never asked to. I didn't know there would be a special issue on the Secret Gospel until it was actually out. If I had been asked and given a reasonable deadline I would have written something. Koester was not on the 2008 SBL panel but spoke from the floor. I was not on that panel either because I wasn't asked to be. Nor was I permitted to publish a response to Brown's RBL review. "When is a real scholarly debate about Secret Mark going to happen?" you ask. When people start including me.

First, my mistake, Koester was not on the panel; he’s just such a big presence, I guess, that my memory elevated him to featured speaker (heh). More to the point, Jeffery’s comment has led me to thinking about what would be an appropriate forum for a full debate on the text. One of the problems with the SBL panel is that the panelists did not adequately respond to one another’s evidence for forgery/hoax—Brown and Pantuck did respond to points previously made by Carlson, but Carlson and the other panelists did not respond to Brown and Pantuck. But to be fair, Carlson et al should be granted opportunity to prepare a cogent rebuttal. Another problem with the panel is that some panelists were not experts on the text nor aware of Brown’s and Pantuck’s published articles that argued against Carlson’s (and Jeffery’s) position.

What is needed is a forum in which the true experts on the text—Brown, Pantuck, Carlson, Jeffery, Charles Hedrick, Guy Stroumsa, Marvin Meyer, and perhaps newcomer Jeff Jay—can communicate with each other effectively. Specifically, a workshop environment with papers prepared and disseminated to participants beforehand, so that time is spent more in fruitful dialogue than in inflammatory attacks. Perhaps then some clarity can be found regarding the arguments for or against the forgery/hoax hypothesis and scholarship on the text can progress in some meaningful direction.

Would this scenario be amenable to the Secret Mark scholars? Would this get the debate started?

Review of Tim Newton’s The Forgotten Gospels

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

The new Review of Biblical Literature has a review of a new CA collection/commentary by Tim Newton: The Forgotten Gospels: Life and Teachings of Jesus Supplementary to the New Testament: A New Translation (Berkley, Calif.: Counterpoint, 2009).