Archive for the ‘More Christian Apocrypha’ Category

More Christian Apocrypha Updates 6: Dialogue of the Paralytic

Tuesday, 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

Monday, 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)

Friday, 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

Thursday, 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

Wednesday, 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

Tuesday, 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.

More Christian Apocrypha vol. 1: Update

Saturday, December 21st, 2013

As some of the readers of Apocryphicity are aware, Brent Landau (University of Texas) and I are working on assembling a new collection of Christian Apocrypha in English entitled New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures. The project is a mirror of the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha volumes under preparation by Jim Davila and Richard Bauckham (University of St. Andrews). These volumes collect material that is not included in the edition of Old Testament Pseudepigrapha assembled by James Charlesworth in the 1980s. Where Charlesworth’s volumes focused on early texts of Jewish provenance, the MOTP project seeks to include also medieval and Christian works, as well as new texts and new sources for texts that have surfaced since Charlesworth’s day. The first volume of the MOTP was released just a few months ago; it is available for purchase from Eerdmans. To read more about the project, visit THIS PAGE and see this previous POST.

The MCA project (which has been initiated with Davila and Bauckham’s consent) similarly seeks to collect neglected apocryphal texts. Where MOTP is conceptualized as a supplement to Charlesworth, MCA is an enlargement of the most recent English-language CA collection (but now almost two decades old): J. K. Elliott’s The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford 1991). There is no need to duplicate Elliott’s work, nor is there utility in presenting texts that have been published in other collections (e.g., the Nag Hammadi Library) or recent editions (e.g., Abraham Terrian’s 2008 edition of the Armenian Gospel of the Infancy). However, several of the texts in Elliott do need to be updated (e.g., the Dormition of Mary, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas) and there are numerous texts that are simply not included, primarily because they hail from a more recent time than those texts typically included in such collections. Many of these have scarcely been examined in over a century and are in dire need of new editions and translations.

The MCA volumes are to be similar in arrangement as the MOTP volumes. The selection of texts is limited to those in evidence before the scholarly publication of Christian Apocrypha in the Enlightenment and are to be grouped together by subject matter (e.g., texts dealing with Jesus’ infancy, texts dealing with particular apostles) rather than genre (gospels, letters, acts). For each text, contributors will provide an introduction detailing such matters as the text’s origins (date, language, and provenance), its sources, and its literary and theological importance. The English translation will incorporate the latest scholarship on the text and will be based on the full range of available manuscripts (rather than simply a new translation of an antiquated edition). For more information on the project see my article in the Bulletin for the Study of Religion (41.3).

Brent and I have been slowly editing the contributions over the past several months and now have a clear idea of the shape of the first volume. Here are the texts that will be included:

A. Gospels and Related Traditions of New Testament Figures

A Latin Life of Mary, Mary Dzon (University of Tennessee)
Coptic Life of Mary, Brice Jones (Concordia University, Montréal)
The Legend of Aphroditianus, or The Narrative of Events Happening in Persia on the Birth of Christ, falsely attributed to Julius Africanus, by Katharina Heyden (University of Göttingen)
Pseudo-Eusebius, On the Star, Brent Landau (University of Texas)
The Revelation of the Magi (summary), Brent Landau (University of Texas)
The Story of the Good Thief, by Mark Bilby (University of Virginia)
Armenian Infancy Gospel (summary), by Abraham Terian (St. Nersess Armenian Seminary, New Rochelle, New York)
The Syriac Version of the Childhood of Jesus (aka Infancy Gospel of Thomas), by Tony Burke (York University, Toronto)
The Priesthood of Jesus, by Bill Adler (North Carolina State University)
Gospel of the Savior (New translation) and related texts, by Alin Suciu (Universität Hamburg) and Paul Dilley (Pennsylvania State University)
Dialogue of the Paralytic with Christ, by Brad Rice (McGill University, Montréal)
Toldoth Yeshua (update), by F. Stanley Jones (California State University)
History of the Thirty Silver Pieces, by Tony Burke (York University, Toronto) and Slavomír ?éplö (Comenius University, Slovakia)
The Death of Judas according to Papias, by Geoff Smith (Princeton University)
Life of John the Baptist by Serapion, by Slavomír ?éplö (Comenius University, Slovakia)
Life and Martyrdom of John the Baptist by Mark the Evangelist, Andrew Bernhard (University of Oxford)
The Invention of John the Baptist’s Head, by Paul Dilley (Pennsylvania State University)
Encomium of Mary Magdalene, by Christine Luckritz Marquis (Duke University)

B. Apocryphal Acts and Related Traditions
Teaching of the Apostles, by Witold Witakowski (University of Uppsala)
Acts of Barnabas, Glenn Snyder (Harvard Divinity School)
Acts of Cornelius the Centurion, by Tony Burke (York University, Toronto) and Witold Witakowski (University of Uppsala)
Acts of Peter (Epitome), by F. Stanley Jones (California State University)
Acts of Timothy, by Cavan Concannon (Duke University)
Acts of Titus, by Richard Pervo (Independent Scholar)
Acts of Xanthippe and Polyxena, by David Eastman (Ohio Wesleyan University)

C. Epistles
Epistle of Christ from Heaven, by Calogero A. Miceli (Université Laval, Quebec City)
Letter of Ps.-Dionysius the Areopagite to Timothy on the Death of Peter and Paul, by David Eastman (Ohio Wesleyan University) Catechesis of Ps.-Basil of Caesarea/Letter of Luke, by Paul Dilley (Pennsylvania State University)

D. Apocalypses
Latin Apocalypse of John, by Charles Wright (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
Apocalypse of the Virgin, by Stephen Shoemaker (University of Oregon)
The Testament of Our Savior, by Maria Doerfler (Duke University)The Tiburtine Sibyl by Stephen Shoemaker (University of Oregon)
Enthronement of Abbaton, by Alin Suciu (Universität Hamburg) and Ibrahim Saweros (Leiden University)

Thought the first volume is still some distance away from completion, we are beginning to get a sense of what texts may be included in a second volume. Here is what we are considering so far:

A. Gospels and Related Traditions of New Testament Figures

Selected stories from Solomon of Basra, the Book of the Bee
Syriac Infancy Gospel
Six-Books Transitus of Mary
Vision of Theophilus
Homily on the Life of Jesus (and other Coptic fragments)
Apocryphal Gospel of John
Book of the Cock
Life of Mary Magdalene
The Beheading of John the Baptist by Euriptus, the Disciple of John
Encomium of John the Baptist
The Rood-Tree Legend

B. Apocryphal Acts and Related Traditions
Acts of James
Ascents of James (Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions 1.27–71) 
Martyrdom of Mark
History of Philip in the City of Carthage (Syriac)

C. Apocalypses
Questions of James (3 Apocalypse John)
4 Apocalypse of John
Mysteries of John (aka Coptic Apocalypse of John)

We have made every effort to contact scholars in the field with the expertise to contribute to the project, but if we have somehow left you out of this process, don't hesitate to contact us and let us know what text you would be interested in working with. For a list of possible candidates, visit my More Christian Apocrypha page.

More Secret Scriptures 6: The Preaching of Simon Cephas in the City of Rome

Monday, July 29th, 2013

(The latest in a series of posts about little-known Christian Apocrypha that could not be included in my recent book, Secret Scriptures Revealed: A New Introduction to the the Christian Apocrypha, now available in Europe and to be released in North America in November, 2013.)

I have added to the More Christian Apocrypha page a little information on a seldom-read text known as the Preaching of Simon Cephas in the City of Rome. The text was published in 1864 by William Cureton from two manuscripts, but four more have become available since his day. Hopefully we will include the text in a future volume of the More Christian Apocrypha series. You can read the entire text HERE.

More Secret Scriptures 4: The Martyrdom of Pilate and the Lament of the Virgin

Friday, July 12th, 2013

(The latest in a series of posts about little-known Christian Apocrypha that could not be included in my recent book, Secret Scriptures Revealed: A New Introduction to the the Christian Apocrypha, now available in Europe and to be released in North America in November, 2013)

Many readers of the Christian Apocrypha are aware of the large corpus of texts known as the Pilate Cycle—most prominent among these is the Acts of Pilate (also known as the Gospel of Nicodemus). There is one other text that describes Pilate's involvement in Jesus’ death, though this one is not discussed in connection to the Pilate Cycle, likely because so few scholars are aware of it. The text is the Martyrdom of Pilate, and it forms the second of two interrelated homilies ascribed to a certain Cyriacus, bishop of Behnesa (known earlier as Oxyrhynchus), though we have no other records of such a bishop.The two homilies—today available only in Ethiopic, Garshuni, Arabic, and Coptic fragments—seem to draw upon an apocryphal text in which Gamiliel, the first-century rabbi featured in Acts 5:34–40, is the narrator. Some scholars have called this source the Gospel of Gamiliel.

In the first homily, called the Lament of the Virgin, Jesus’ mother is stricken by grief at the suffering of her son. She weeps for him, first at the foot of the cross as in John 19:25–27, and then at the tomb, where she sees Jesus raised. The Virgin Mary thus replaces Mary Magdalene as the witness to the risen Jesus in the garden from John 20:11–18. Pilate then comes to the tomb, having been directed there by a dream. He sees the tomb empty save for the discarded shroud. This is used to heal a one-eyed centurion. The Jewish leaders arrive and claim Jesus’ followers came and took the body, which has been dropped into a well in the garden. The body is placed in Jesus’ shroud and placed back in the tomb. Pilate prays and the man, revealed to be the good thief of Luke 23:39-43, rises from the tomb. The Jewish leaders flee for their lives.

The story resumes in the Martyrdom of Pilate with the Jewish leaders recruiting Barabbas, here said to be the brother-in-law of Judas, to kill Pilate. Barabbas is caught and Pilate orders him to be crucified upside-down. In retaliation, the Jewish leaders conspire to crucify Pilate on Jesus’ cross—they cry out “O Pilate, your life is like His life, and your lot is similar to His lot” (p. 255). He is rescued from the cross only to meet his end at the hand of Tiberius. As in the Handing Over of Pilate, the Prefect is beheaded (though here after a second crucifixion), Procla dies on the spot, and Tiberius orders the destruction of the Jews.

To read more on these texts see the translation of the Garshuni version of the homilies of Cyriacus in Alphonse Mingana, “Lament of the Virgin” and “Martyrdom of Pilate,” in Woodbrooke Studies: Christian Documents in Syriac, Arabic, and Garshuni, vol. 2 Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1928), 163-332.

More Secret Scriptures 3: The Apocryphal Apocalypses of John

Monday, June 24th, 2013

(The latest in a series of posts about little-known Christian Apocrypha that could not be included in my recent book, Secret Scriptures Revealed: A New Introduction to the the Christian Apocrypha, to be released later this month)

The earliest Christian apocalypse is the canonical Book of Revelation ascribed to John. The focus of this text is the end-time battle between cosmic powers of good and evil, with Jesus leading the heavenly host against the forces of Satan and the Beast. With the victory of Jesus, Satan and his minions are thrown into a lake of fire, and the faithful are raised from death to live forever in a new heaven and earth ruled by God. But the story does not end there for John; he is called on again to receive new visions in several other apocalypses in his name.

The Apocalypse of Saint John the Theologian (commonly known as 2 Apocalypse of John), available in Greek and Arabic and perhaps composed in Syria in the fourth century, is written as a supplement to the canonical text with John asking Jesus for additional information, such as a more detailed physical description of the Beast and details about the conditions of life after the second coming. The righteous dead, whether children or senior citizens, will “rise as thirty-year-olds” (10), Jesus says, and physical divisions will be no more: “Just as the bees do not differ one from another, but are all of the same appearance and size, so every human-being will be at the resurrection. Not fair-skinned, nor red-skin, nor black, not Ethiopian not different facial features, but all rise with the same appearance and size” (11).

A second text, without a title but attributed to John Chrysostom, is found in Greek from around the sixth or the eighth century. It features a dialogue between John and Jesus on practical concerns of church life, such as sinning, Sunday observance, fasting, and the proper length of hair (“the person whose hair comes below the eyes is not worthy of communion” [46]; “the woman who cuts the hair of her head is accursed” [47]).

Jesus does not appear at all in Question and Answer to Saint John the Theologian from James the Lord’s Brother (or 3 Apocalypse of John) in Greek from the eighth or ninth century. Instead James asks John about the future judgement of souls and the need for sinners to repent. In the course of the discussion, John mentions several Hebrew Bible and Christian figures who committed terrible sins but received forgiveness after repenting (23-27). These include Simon Peter, for his threefold denial of Jesus, the Good Thief crucified with Jesus, and Mary Magdalene, who “sinned with 1703 men, and did not know whether they were strangers or family, yet faint of heart she expunged all her sins through her tears” (24).

Another Apocalypse of John exists (perhaps we should call it 4 Apocalypse of John) in two Greek manuscripts. Unfortunately, this text has not yet been published.

And last, there is a Coptic text from around the eleventh century called The Mysteries of Saint John the Apostle and Holy Virgin. Here John is with the apostles on the Mount of Olives after the resurrection and he asks Jesus to take him to heaven to see the mysteries there. At one point the Cherubim reveal to John some interesting information about the body of Adam: "On the day wherein God created Adam, Adam was twelve cubits in height, and six cubits in width, and his neck was three cubits long. And he was like unto an alabaster stone wherein there is no blemish whatsoever. But when he had eaten [of the fruit] of the tree, his body diminished in size, and he became small, and the righteousness wherein he was arrayed departed and left him naked, even to the tips of his fingers, that is to say, to his very nails. If he was not cold in winter, he was not hot in the summer.”

For a full discussion of the apocryphal Apocalypses of John see John M. Court, The Book of Revelation and the Johannine Apocalyptic Tradition (Journal for the Study of the New testament Supplement Series 190. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000).