Archive for the ‘York Christian Apocrypha’ Category

Call for Papers: 2015 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium

Friday, 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)

Has Philip Jenkins found a “new source” for Secret Mark?

Saturday, April 19th, 2014

Philip Jenkins, author of The Hidden Gospels: How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way (2001) and frequent contributor to the Patheos blog, has published a short article in Books and Culture magazine with the tantalizing title “Alexandrian Attitudes: A new source for the ‘Secret Gospel of Mark.’” Unfortunately, Jenkins is not talking about a manuscript source, but a source of inspiration.

Jenkins’ previous contribution to the debate on the authenticity of Secret Mark was the claim that Morton Smith was inspired to forge the gospel after reading James Hogg Hunter’s 1940 novel The Mystery of Mar Saba, in which a character discovers a controversial noncanonical text at the Mar Saba monastery. Indeed, as Jenkins says in this new article, Smith expected scholars to pick up on this connection: “As I have noted elsewhere, the fact that Smith’s alleged find occurred at Mar Saba is either strong proof of the text’s authenticity, in that nobody would have dared invent such a thing, or else it is a tribute to the unabashed chutzpah of a forger.” Jenkins’ theory has been repeated a number of times since—notably by Robert M. Price, Francis Watson, and Craig Evans—and challenged by Allan Pantuck.

Now Jenkins has attributed another literary inspiration to Smith: Angus Wilson’s 1956 novel Anglo-Saxon Attitudes. The plot of the novel involves the discovery of a phallic fertility symbol in the grave of a seventh-century celebrated missionary bishop named Eorpwald, a disciple of the great English Archbishop Theodore. The reader discovers that the artifact was planted by an archeologist, Gilbert Stokesay, to discredit and disgrace his father, the chief excavator of the site, as well as other scholars. Jenkins says also that the novel’s author, Wilson, was openly gay and that “much of the book depicts English gay subculture. This theme also shapes the Eorpwald hoax. By faking the discovery, Gilbert was subverting the heroic image that the modern-day church has of its founders, to make them confront the possibility that those early predecessors themselves were open to unrestrained ‘pagan’ sexuality. To a large degree, he succeeded, as scholars so uniformly accepted these bizarre claims and integrated them into their understanding of medieval faith.”

Jenkins sees a number of parallels between Wilson’s novel and Smith’s discovery: a forgery planted in an early Christian site, the association with the name Theodore, underground controversial clandestine practices, and accusations of sorcery (against Eorpwald in the novel, and against Jesus in Smith’s monograph Jesus the Magician). Jenkins also points out that it is rumored that Smith was gay. Jenkins concludes: “At some point, surely, Occam's Razor requires us to seek the simplest explanation for the whole Mar Saba affair. There’s no mystery here. The Mystery of Mar Saba + Anglo-Saxon Attitudes = Secret Mark.”

Those who claim Secret Mark is a forgery or a hoax will seize on Jenkins’ theory here as additional proof for their position. More careful readers, I hope, will see that the parallels are as tenuous (indeed, more so) as those for Hunter’s novel. Allan Pantuck eviscerated this theory in his article “Solving the Mysterion of Morton Smith and the Secret Gospel of Mark” posted on the Biblical Archeology Review Scholar’s Study Page for Secret Mark. Challenging Francis Watson’s restatement of Jenkins’ theory, Pantuck asks, “if we were to take any event in modern history and tried to find a novel written before that event with a content that resembles it in various more specific details, what are the odds we could come up with a parallel? To what extent does real life ever imitate art, and if it does, how closely?” (12-13). Pantuck provides five examples, one of the more amusing is the sinking of the Mignonette in 1884. Only four people survived and after being adrift in an open boat for many days, three of them killed and ate the cabin boy, Richard Parker. Forty years earlier, Edgar Allan Poe wrote The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, in which four survivors of a shipwreck kill and eat a cabin boy named Richard Parker.

For both novels, Hunter’s and Wilson’s, what we have are nothing more than coincidences of names and isolated disconnected topoi—specifically, in Anglo-Saxon Attitudes a fake artifact, found in a grave of a follower of someone named Theodore, indicates that the occupant of the grave was involved in clandestine, pagan sexual practices; in Secret Mark we have a manuscript, found in a monastery and written to someone named Theodore, that mentions a version of a text that was corrupted by some early Christians known for their licentiousness (the Carpocratians). As for sorcery, Smith’s Jesus the Magician is an entirely separate work that does not even use Secret Mark to argue its case. And arguably, the alleged homoeroticism of Secret Mark is in the eye of the beholder.

What is disappointing to me about Jenkins’ recent article is its apparent disregard for those, like Pantuck, who have made significant challenges to the forgery/hoax hypotheses. Gratefully, Jenkins acknowledges the contribution of the collection of papers from the 2011 York Symposium on Secret Mark. He says of the collection:

Recently, Tony Burke has edited an impressive collection of scholarly essays under the title Ancient Gospel or Modern Forgery? The Secret Gospel of Mark in Debate (Cascade Books, 2013). Whichever side you take in the controversy, this book is eminently worth reading as a model of how first-class critical scholars go about forming their conclusions and debating disputed points. In these pages, admirably, their fundamental disagreements remain firmly within the boundaries of civility and mutual respect.

Yet Jenkins’ new article does not take into account anything written within it, save perhaps Pierluigi Piovanelli’s piece on Smith’s interest in occult and antinomian traditions. Brown and Pantuck’s critique of Craig Evans’ articulation of the Hunter-novel parallels is ignored, as is Pantuck’s carefully-documented claim that Smith lacked the capabilities required to compose the text and write the manuscript (an argument that is supported by the experts commissioned by Biblical Archeology Review who concluded that Smith himself could not have created the manuscript). The parallels between the discovery and the two novels are curious (amusing?) in-and-of themselves, but they are not compelling if evidence indicates that the manuscript could not have been manufactured by Smith (and I believe that is what the evidence indicates).

The goal of the symposium on Secret Mark was to gather together scholars of the text and work through the evidence for the authenticity of Secret Mark, set aside arguments that were weak (for either side of the debate), and focus on what was strong. Unfortunately, those who maintain that the text is a forgery continue to cite the same theories without acknowledgement of contrary arguments. It’s disappointing too that, more than a year after the  publication of the proceedings of the symposium, few reviews of the book have yet appeared, and none in an academic journal. Is this simply the typical time lag that occurs in the discipline? Or are the supporters of the forgery hypotheses hoping that, by ignoring the book, their critics’ voices will go unheard?

[My thanks to Philip Jenkins for sending me a copy of the complete article].

Loren Rosson III: “Secret Mark Still Fools People”

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

In a post on the Secret Gospel of Mark (HERE), Nashua librarian Loren Rosson III, administrator of The Busybody blog, offers some comments on Ancient Gospel or Modern Forgery?, the collection of papers from the 2011 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium. I appreciate the attention paid to the book and, though I try to resist responding to reviews (I don't want to be perceived as having thin skin), I wanted to correct a few misstatements in the post.

Rosson obviously supports the theory that Secret Mark is a forgery perpetrated by Morton Smith, the scholar who discovered the manuscript of the text in the Mar Saba monastery. To support his position, Rosson repeats many of the arguments offered by previous scholars–including, the text's apparent "seal of authenticity"; it promotes a "gay Jesus," which reflects Smith's own (unconfirmed) homosexuality; it supports theories Smith had about Jesus before the text's discovery; the so-called "Morton Salt Company" clue; and the connections between Smith's discovery and the James Hunter's 1940 novel, The Mystery of Mar Saba. Given the weight of these arguments, Rosson is surprised that people remain "fooled" by Smith's hoax; indeed, he concludes this section of the post with the comment, "only fools and the willfully obtuse maintain Smith's innocence."

Rosson then turns to his discussion of Ancient Gospel or Modern Forgery? He focuses most of his attention on Scott Brown's and Allan Pantuck's response to Craig Evans's overview of the theory of forgery, and picks out two rather minor points advanced by Brown and Pantuck against one aspect of the theory. Unfortunately, Rosson does not discuss the more salient points raised by the authors in the collection against the forgery theory, including the dismantling of most of the arguments mentioned above and the recent document analyses commissioned by Biblical Archeology Review which demonstrate that Smith could not have written the manuscript himself. Also, Rosson states the common fallacy that "no one has ever seen this 'discovery', aside from Smith himself," which is untrue–Quentin Quesnell saw it in 1983 and Father Kallistos Dourvas, the Greek Patriarchate librarian, took colour photographs of the manuscript (these were published in 2000). The Symposium on Secret Mark was created as an effort to finetune the debate on the text, to dispense with arguments that were no longer viable (including that no-one but Smith had seen the manuscript), and focus on those that continued to hold weight. Though the assembled scholars did not achieve any consensus on the text (which was unlikely to happen), it was apparent that most of the standard arguments had to be dispensed with–indeed, they were barely even mentioned over the course of the event.

Secret Mark is the most maligned text in biblical scholarship, and its discoverer has been unfairly indicted with a "crime" unforgivable by his peers. I doubt that we will ever have unequivocal evidence that Smith did or did not create the text, but I hope we can at least raise the level of discourse on Secret Mark and examine it with appropriate academic rigour.

The 2013 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium in Retrospect: Part Three

Friday, October 11th, 2013

Day two of the symposium was intended as a look to the future. The first session featured several of the participants in the More Christian Apocrypha Project (MCAP), which is producing collections of apocryphal texts in English translation (some for the first time), primarily by North American scholars. These papers examined some little-known or under-appreciated texts and traditions. In the first presentation, F. Stanley Jones (California State University) examined “The Distinctive Sayings of Jesus Shared by Justin and the Pseudo-Clementines.” Jones is contributing two pieces for the first More Christian Apocrypha volume: the Syriac epitome of the Acts of Peter, and the Aramaic fragments of the Toledot Yeshu (which have not yet appeared in English translation). We have talked also of including some or all of the Ps.-Clementine corpus in a future volume, since the material has not appeared in English translation for almost 150 years. Jones noted in his talk that he has constructed a synopsis of the witnesses to the text but has not found a publisher for it; this is unfortunate because it would be an important resource for studying the text. As for Jones’s paper, it presents an argument against the view that the shared sayings derive from a gospel harmony; instead Ps. Clem. seems to have pulled them from Justin’s lost work Syntagma, which Justin wrote to refute Marcion. The sayings thus have a distinct Marcionite or anti-Marcionite flavour.

Stephen ShoemakerJones was followed by Stephen Shoemaker (University of Oregon), presenting on “The Tiburtine Sibyl, the Last Emperor, and the Byzantine Apocalyptic Tradition.” Shoemaker is contributing a piece on the Tiburtine Sibyl, along with a new translation of the Apocalypse of the Virgin, to the MCA volume. For many people in the room, this paper was their first exposure to this text, though it was widely popular in the Middle Ages, has a healthy manuscript base, and deeply influenced medieval culture (Shoemaker says it was “more influential on medieval eschatology than the canonical Apocalypse”). Nevertheless, it is rarely included in collections of Christian Apocrypha (Erbetta’s expansive collection is the exception), chiefly because it is a relatively late composition (late fourth century). Shoemaker thus called the text an example of “non-canonical apocrypha,” and cautioned us to be careful of allowing the CA collections to limit our studies to the standard texts (indeed, MCAP is designed specifically to expand scholars’ awareness of the range of apocryphal literature). An important feature of the Tiburtine Sibyl is its description of the Last Emperor, a figure identified with Constantine who, the Sibyl says, will “devastate all the islands and cities of the pagans and destroy all the temples of idols.” Shoemaker argues that the Sibyl’s description of this figure may have influenced early Islamic eschatology.

Mark BilbyThe final two papers of the session were “Backstories of the Bandits: The Emergence, Submersion and Re-emergence of the Cult of Dysmas” by Mark Bilby (University of San Diego) and David Eastman’s (Ohio Wesleyan University) “Confused Traditions? Peter and Paul in the Apocryphal Acts.” Bilby, like Shoemaker, brought attention to a little-studied apocryphon—though this one is an “orphan story” with versions appearing in a variety of sources, including manuscripts of Pseudo-Matthew and the Gospel of Nicodemus. Orphan stories tend to be neglected because they are considered late additions to the texts; if we’re lucky, these additions appear in notes to editions or translations, but are otherwise rarely given much attention (though this may change with Bilby’s contribution on the traditions to MCAP). Bilby demonstrated how widespread were these stories of the Good Thief and how important they are to medieval piety. David Eastman similarly juggled a wide assortment of texts to show how depictions of Peter and Paul tend to blend in later apocryphal acts, as well as in the Toledot Yeshu and iconography. Eastman is working on his own collection of these texts, none of which have been translated into English. For MCAP, Eastman is contributing a new translation of the Epistle of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite to Timothy, which features a story of Peter and Paul’s martyrdoms, and a new translation of the Acts of Xanthippe and Polyxena. Among the interesting features of the blended stories of Paul and Peter is the tendency to place words of Paul in Peter’s mouth; Eastman finds no case in the texts of Peter where Peter quotes 1 or 2 Peter. I realize the texts are relatively late, but I wonder if this phenomenon is a reflection of the church’s reticence to accept the Petrine epistles (well, 2 Peter at least) into the canon.

The afternoon session considered new approaches to studying apocryphal texts. We asked Kristian Heal (Brigham Young University) to discuss insights from his work on digitizing manuscripts. His presentation, “Digital Humanities and the Textual Critic: Resources, Prospects and Problems,” focused on tools for studying Syriac texts, but his handout provided a wider list of resources. It struck me that what scholars need is a handbook for working with these tools (something like what François Bovon’s article “Editing the Apocryphal Acts” did for print resources); Heal’s final paper for the volume should fill that need. Heal was followed by Mary Dzon (University of Tennessee) who discussed incunabula for her paper “‘All the (Good) News That’s Fit to Print?’ Early Printings of Apocryphal Texts.” Incunabula are rarely brought into research on the transmission of CA, yet several important texts (including the Protoevangelium of James and the Gospel of Nicodemus) were first published as incunabula and, in some cases, they were made from manuscripts that are no longer available. Dzon focused on early printings of the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew and, to my delight, mentioned some stories of Jesus’ childhood that I have not heard of before.

mary DzonGlenn Snyder (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis) was a late addition to the program, replacing André Gagné. His paper, “The Conversion of Paul: The Production of a Model,” reconsiders the direction of dependence of the Acts of Paul and the canonical Acts by focusing on one specific tradition: Paul’s conversion. The Acts of Paul is particularly suited for such an approach as it is much debated whether Acts of Paul ever truly existed as a complete text rather than as several separate stories. It was eye-opening to read the conversion stories this way, particularly if one considers Acts 9:10b-11, 17-18a (the story of Ananias) as a story separate from Acts 9:1-10a. The audience raised objections to some of Snyder’s conclusions, however; and there was an audible gasp when Snyder declared Galatians (or did he mean simply the verses [1:11-17] dealing with Paul’s conversion?) un-Pauline.

Finally, the session came to a close with “Ordinary or Extraordinary? The Reception of the Protevangelium of James in the History of the Blessed Virgin Mary” by Lily Vuong (Valdosta State University). What makes this paper a “new approach” is Vuong’s interest in the History of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a late reworking of the Protevangelium of James and other infancy traditions in Syriac that is related to the more well-known Arabic Infancy Gospel. To her surprise (and everyone else’s) Vuong found that the BVM tends to diminish Mary’s special qualities, not enhance them as one might expect. Audience reaction to Vuong’s paper was mixed; there was praise for bringing this development in Marian piety to our attention, but criticism of the early dating of the BVM (fourth century, but eighth century is more likely) and confusion of the manuscript evidence (which is quite complicated), and also encouragement to look further into placing the text within the history of debates about Mary.

After a short break, the symposium finished with a session entitled “Christian Apocrypha in North America: Where Do We Go From Here?” The goal of this session was to consider new collaborative endeavours, including the possibility of creating a formal association for the study of the Christian Apocrypha in North America, outreach  projects, future gatherings, publishing ventures, etc. While the York Christian Apocrypha Symposium Series does much to bring scholars together, we hope it is only a beginning for growing the field in North America.

Rob Laughton shares a lagh with Jean-Michel Roessli.From my perspective, the 2013 Symposium was a great success. The papers were strong, the discussion fruitful, and everyone seemed happy with the pragmatic aspects of the event (accommodations, dinners, refreshments, etc.). As a conference planner, I found it difficult to focus on the papers when my attention was diverted by worrying about organizational matters (not to mention trying to document the event on Twitter); thankfully, I was assisted by Brent Landau, Jean-Michel Roessli, and Nicola Denzey Lewis (all of whom chaired sessions), and my students Sarah Veale (who also tweeted), Robert Laughton, and Joe Oryshak. I enjoyed socializing with the participants, some of whom I met for the first time (McDonald, Eastman, Bilby, Snyder, and Patterson). Everyone was a pleasure to work with. My thanks go out also to all those who attended the event. As for the future, look for the publication of the papers (hopefully) late in 2014 and for announcements of the next Symposium in 2015.

The 2013 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium in Retrospect: Part Two

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

In the first afternoon session, “New Frontiers in Christian Apocrypha Studies,” we looked to bridging gaps between CA and related disciplines. In “Jesus at School among Christians, Jews, and Muslims,” Cornelia Horn (Catholic University of America) built on her previous work on Christian and Muslim use of Jesus and Mary infancy traditions. This time her discussion featured the story of Jesus in school from the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and looked at its transformations in the Armenian Infancy Gospel, the Toledot Yeshu, and the story of Imam al-Baquir in Umm al-kitab (an eighth-century Shi’ite text). In her conclusion, Horn asked us to consider the status of texts like Umm al-kitab—does its connection to apocryphal Jesus stories make it a Christian apocryphal text, or an Islamic apocryphal text, or something else?

Nicola Denzey Lewis (Brown University) followed with dynamic presentation, “Nag Hammadi, Gnosticism, Apocrypha: Bridging Disciplinary Divides.” The paper points out how scholars have divided Gnostic texts from other apocrypha—“high” vs. “low” literature, the CA are folkloric but Gnostic texts are “the ugly, wicked stepsisters in the fairytale of NT studies.” The divide is most apparent at conferences like the SBL Annual Meeting, which separates Nag Hammadi or Gnostic Studies from Christian Apocrypha, despite the fact that some Nag Hammadi texts are not Gnostic (e.g., the Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles) and some Gnostic texts are not from Nag Hammadi (e.g., the Pistis Sophia, the Gospel of Mary); one text in particular, the Gospel of Thomas, seems to transcend all boundaries we try to put on it. Denzey Lewis echoes the call by other scholars to redraw these boundaries, to classify all the texts as “early Christian literature” and then focus on sub-genres such as apocalypse, romance, or gospel.

The final paper of the session was “Debating Canon Formation: Why and Where Scholars Disagree” by Lee Martin McDonald (Institute for Biblical Research). McDonald has written extensively on the canon, and seems to show no signs of slowing down; but his work has not been effectively brought into discussions of the CA, despite the fact that canon is very important for studying non-canonical texts. His paper touches on several aspects of his previous work that I see as vitally important, including his position that the Muratorian Canon is a product of the early fourth, not second, century, his view of the development of the western canon (it clearly was not settled in the fourth-century), and his distinction between the “Canon 1” stage (a trial run when church writers were trying to establish authoritative texts) and “Canon 2” (a fixed or limited collection of sacred writings). He states (rightly) also, that “a fixed text of the New Testament was never physically possible until the invention of the printing press,” and makes the provocative point that, thanks to electronic media, we are living in a time much like the first few centuries when we can pick and choose the texts we value, and without any sense of having to limit a corpus to the mechanics of book production.

Left to right: Cornelia Horn, Lee Martin McDonald, Lorenzo DiTommaso, and Nicola Denzey Lewis.

The session concluded with a response by Lorenzo DiTommaso (Concordia University) to the two papers available in draft (Denzey and McDonald). In an early stage of the planning process, we invited DiTommaso to present on Christian Old Testament Pseudepigrapha—another category of texts rarely discussed in connection with Christian Apocrypha. His schedule did not allow him time to write a paper, but we were pleased to have him attend the Symposium and offer his thoughts on the other papers of the session.

Stephen Patterson presents, with respondents John Kloppenborg and Mark Goodacre.After a short break, the Symposium resumed with a session focused specifically on North American scholarship’s interest in the Christian Apocrypha for studying the Historical Jesus. Stephen Patterson, known for his work on the Gospel of Thomas and his position that the text is an early repository of teachings of Jesus, provided a re-evaluation of work in this area—indeed it was a re-evaluation of his own previous positions. He began his discussion on a surprisingly skeptical note declaring “the apocryphal gospels have had virtually no impact on the historical study of Jesus in North America,” and adding later, “or on any other continent for that matter.” The synoptic Jesus, he said, is still the focus of historical Jesus work. Nevertheless, Patterson spent the rest of his time making a case for a cluster of sayings of Jesus from the Gospel of Thomas that were not accepted by the Jesus Seminar—the group having to do with primordial androgyny (e.g., log. 22, “When you make the two one…”). He remarked that scholars tend to dismiss the apocryphal gospels as “more speculative, mystical, ascetical, enigmatic, or just downright confusing” and asks “should this necessarily disqualify them completely from the discussion?” Patterson then made a case for a Jesus interested in androgyny via an unconventional route: reconstructing the teaching of John the Baptist through Apollos, Paul’s rival in Corinth who “knew only the baptism of John” (Acts 18:25; cf. 1 Cor 1: 10-31). Along the way Patterson also considered the baptizing, secretive Jesus of Secret Mark, and the Jesus who supports castration in Matt 19:12. In the end, Patterson advocated casting our nets wide when examining the historical Jesus, stating, “The question is not, after all, which of the gospels best represents the historical Jesus. The question for critical scholarship is how to imagine an historical figure from which could emanate all of the various traditions and interpretations that appear in the first century or so of nascent Christian development.” Patterson’s paper was followed by two responses, one from John Kloppenborg (University of Toronto), known particularly for his work on Q, and Mark Goodacre (Duke University), who has recently joined CA scholarship with his book Thomas and the Gospels: The Case for Thomas’s Familiarity with the Synoptics (reviewed HERE).

Day one came to a close with a keynote address from Annette Yoshiko Reed (University of Pennsylvania). She titled her presentation, “The Afterlives of Christian Apocrypha.” It touched on a range of topics, spanning from early scholarship on the texts to modern use of CA imagery in popular culture, particularly Manga (with examples from Neon Genesis Evangelion and others). Reed noted that the creators of Manga know little about Christianity and simply pluck whatever ideas they think useful for their stories. Only when western distributors take issue with the content do the creators realize that they are using controversial apocryphal imagery. After a spirited discussion, the presenters and audience members broke for the night, to rest up for day two of the Symposium.

To be continued…

The 2013 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium in Retrospect: Part One

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

This year’s York Christian Apocrypha Symposium is now fading into memory. I have stopped waking at night thinking that David Eastman is stranded in an airport, or Jean-Michel Roessli is endlessly circling Toronto Island on a boat. Other bloggers (Sarah Veale and Mark Bilby) have offered their thoughts on the event. So, I think it’s time I presented by own post mortem analysis. 

(Front row, left to right: Lily Vuong, Stephen Shoemaker, Charles Hedrick, Mary Dzon, Stanley Jones, Mark Bilby. Second row: Pierluigi Piovanelli, Lee Martin McDonald, Annette Yoshiko Reed, Jean-Michel Roessli, Cornelia Horn, Stephen Patterson, Tony Burke, David Eastman. Back: Kristian Heal, Mark Goodacre, Glenn Snyder, Lorenzo DiTommaso, Brent Landau, Nicola Denzey Lewis, John Kloppenborg)

The York Christian Apocrypha Symposium series began in 2011 with a one-day event focusing on a single text: the Secret Gospel of Mark. We gathered together eight North American scholars and one editor of Biblical Archeology Review to discuss the text in front of an audience of about 60 people. The papers were published in early 2013 as Ancient Gospel or Modern Forgery? The Secret Gospel of Mark in Debate. The budget for this first Symposium was small but it was a seminal event, a beginning to the forming of an association (if informal) of North American scholars of the Christian Apocrypha.

Mark Goodacre, Stephen Patterson, and Brent Landau chat at the reception.The success of the first Symposium enabled us to aim higher for the second. This time we gathered 19 scholars for presentations taking place over two days. Everything was improved: a swanky reception, better accommodations, decent meals, and more coffee and snacks. The planning for the event began about a year ago. I brainstormed with my frequent collaborator Brent Landau (University of Texas) over possible topics and presenters. We settled on a “state-of-the-art” for CA studies in North America, calling it “Forbidden Texts on the Western Frontier: The Christian Apocrypha in North American Perspectives.” Admittedly, the topic was less sexy than focusing on a single controversial text like Secret Mark, but it turned our attention to the primary goal of the Symposium series: to strengthen and expand the field of CA studies in North America. We were pleased that virtually everyone we asked was willing to participate and we put together a well-balanced lineup of Canadian and US scholars at various stages of their careers (junior, mid-career, and senior). Two had to pull out of the event, Janet Spittler and Phil Tite, but Glenn Snyder and John Kloppenborg graciously stepped in as replacements.

Stephen Shoemaker and Kristian Heal share a laugh.The months of planning reached their fruition Wednesday and Thursday (September 25 and 26) with the arrival of the participants to the campus. Two students (Sarah Veale and Joe Oryshak) and I shared the chauffeuring duties, but several rescheduled flights meant that a few of the participants had to procure taxis. A few others arrived by train, car, even boat. By 7 pm most everyone had made it to campus and we gathered for a reception. Drinks and hors d’oeuvres helped the conversation flow and everyone had a chance to catch up with old friends and make  new ones.
The true work of the Symposium began Friday morning with our first session, “Christian Apocrypha in the 21st Century.” The presenters were asked to provide a draft of their papers to all those who attended; unfortunately, many were unable to do so, which meant that the precise contents of many of the papers were a mystery, even to me, though Brent and I did guide the presenters toward certain topics. Jean-Michel Roessli (Concordia University) was asked to discuss “North American Approaches to the Study of the Christian Apocrypha on the World Stage.” He discussed the origins and scholarship of l’ AELAC, an organization with which many of the scholars in the room are involved, and the impact of the group’s work on North American scholarship, particularly via François Bovon at Harvard. Roessli took a bit of a detour at the end of the paper, urging us to examine the origins of the discipline in the Enlightenment, which began a discussion of the “apocryphal canon” (that is, how apocryphal texts are selected for inclusion into scholarly collections) that many touched upon over the weekend. Pierluigi Piovanelli (University of Ottawa) followed with “Trajectories through Early Christianity and Late Antiquity: The longue durée of Christian Memorial Traditions in American Scholarship,” another informal discussion that focused on recovering early traditions from late apocrypha. Pierluigi used the example of his work on the Book of the Rooster (wisely renamed from its former title, “Book of the Cock,” a move which elicited giggles from the audience). Then he surprised everyone with an announcement of a new apocryphal text in Ethiopic. This text is a brief summary of a vision of the flogging and crucifixion of Jesus (in grisly Mel Gibson-like detail) to the three women at the tomb. As it turns out, however, the text is actually a medieval devotional text which originally featured three medieval female saints as the visionaries. Though it did not begin as an apocryphon, it was transformed into one by a later scribe.

Tony Burke and Brent Landau open the Symposium.Brent Landau then presented on “The ‘Harvard School’ of the Christian Apocrypha,” which has become well-known (and much-criticized) for its resistance to favouring canonical over non-canonical texts for their historical and literary qualities. Though Harvard is most well-known through the works of Koester, Bovon, and Karen King, Landau mentioned some important events of the Harvard school’s prehistory in an 1838 address by Ralph Waldo Emerson and a collection of agrapha made by James Hardy Ropes in 1896. Landau noted the impact of the Harvard school on the field in North America, particularly through those who, like himself, graduated from the program. But he lamented also that the future of the school is uncertain—Koester is still teaching (in his 55th year at Harvard!), but Bovon and King have had very serious illnesses in recent years and none of the present junior faculty have the CA as a chief research interest.

Charlie Hedrick.The final paper of the first session, Charles Hedrick’s “Excavating Museums: From Bible Thumping to Fishing in the Stream of Western Civilization,” was circulated in draft form, so Hedrick was able to briefly summarize the paper thereby allowing more time for discussion. The paper is a scholarly autobiography, touching on several major discoveries in which Hedrick played a part, including the publication of the Gospel of Judas and the Gospel of the Saviour. Hedrick also mentions in the paper the conflict he had with studying apocryphal texts while being much involved in the Southern Baptist Church (he even served as pastor at several points in his early professional career). He concluded as a graduate student that, “in historical scholarship it is not possible to be a servant of the church and the discipline at the same time” particularly because “non-canonical literature presents a threat to the church.” Not everyone in attendance agreed that a decision has to be made between church and scholarly study, but even today there have been some nightmare stories out of the US of biblical scholars losing their positions because their work conflicts with the mandate of their institutions. The interplay between faith and historical investigation was another topic that we returned to over the course of the weekend.

To be continued…

A Student Assistant’s Perspective on the 2013 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

My net-savvy student assistant, Sarah Veale, has posted some comments on the 2013 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium on her blog Invocatio. Sarah was of great help during the planning and the execution of the event. She humbly minimizes her contributions in her blog post.

Mark Bilby on the 2013 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium

Saturday, October 5th, 2013

Mark Bilby, administrator of the Voces anticae blog, offers his thoughts on the 2013 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium. Mark attended the event and contributed an excellent paper (“Backstories of the Bandits: The Emergence, Submersion and Re-emergence of the Cult of Dysmas”) on apocryphal traditions of the bandits crucified with Jesus. I hope to provide my own summary of the symposium some time in the next week.

2013 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium Profiles: Lily Vuong

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

This year's York Christian Apocrypha Symposium, “Forbidden Texts on the Western Frontier: The Christian Apocrypha in North American Perspectives,” is mere days away (September 26–28, 2013). If you are interested in attending, please register BY E-MAIL as soon as possible (remember, it's free for students, but you should register if you want to receive the papers ahead of time). For more information, see the Symposium's web page (HERE).

Lily Vuong, "Ordinary or Extraordinary? The Reception of the Protevangelium of James in the History of the Blessed Virgin Mary"

Lily Vuong is Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Valdosta State University. She completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Toronto (H.B.A.) and graduate studies at Wilfrid Laurier University (M.A.) and McMaster University (Ph.D.). Before joining the faculty at VSU, she spent time as a Visiting Scholar at Claremont Graduate University’s School of Religion, Institute for Antiquity and Christianity and the Women’s Studies in Religion Program and served as a Visiting Assistant Professor at UCLA's Center for the Study of Religion. Her area of study is in Early Christianity with a special interest in New Testament Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphal writings. Gender studies have also played an important role in her research, especially in terms of its construction and interpretation in early Christian literature.

Other topics of interest include the relationships between Judaism, Christianity, and Greco-Roman culture, the formation of Jewish and Christian identities in Late Antiquity, religious competition in the third century, the place of non-canonical literature in biblical interpretation, and the representation of women in the ancient world. Her book, Gender and Purity in the Protevangelium of James is forthcoming with Mohr Sibeck (2013), and she is editor of a collected volume, Religious Competition in the Third Century C.E.: Jews, Christians, and the Greco-Roman World, forthcoming with Ruprecht and Vandenhoeck Press (2014).  

Keynote Address for 2013 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium: Annette Yoshiko Reed

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

The keynote address for this year's York Christian Apocrypha Symposium takes place Friday, September 27 from 8 to 9:30pm. As with all other sessions at the Symposium, the address will take place in the Renaissance Room at Vanier College. There is no charge to attend the keynote address and all are welcome to attend. If you wish to participate further in the Symposium, there is still time to register (by email only). For information see the Symposium's web page (HERE).

Annette Yoshiko Reed, "The Afterlives of Christian Apocrypha”

Annette Yoshiko Reed (BA McGill; MTS Harvard; MA, PhD Princeton University) is M. Mark and Esther K. Watkins Assistant Professor in the Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania, where she teaches in the Department of Religious Studies, Program in Jewish Studies, and Graduate Group in Ancient History. Her research crosses and connects Second Temple Judaism, early Christianity, and Late Antiquity. Her publications include Fallen Angels and the History of Judaism and Christianity (2005) and over forty articles, as well as four edited volumes—most recently, Jews, Christians, and the Roman Empire (2013).

At the center of Reed's research are so-called “Old Testament Pseudepigrapha” and “Christian Apocrypha”—writings which are non-canonical in the modern West but which were often influential in premodern cultures, especially in shaping ideas about the biblical past. She has attempted to understand these texts both by analyzing their redacted forms and by tracing their reception, translation, and reinterpretation by later readers. Her studies of 1 Enoch and Jubilees, for instance, shed light upon Judaism in the late Second Temple period (ca. 332 BCE to 70 CE), while also revealing the rich afterlives of Second Temple texts and traditions within and between Christian and Jewish communities in Late Antiquity. Likewise, her studies of the Testament of Abraham and Pseudo-Clementine Homilies and Recognitions follow the interests of the redacted forms of these texts, taking seriously their resistance to tidy categorization as either “Jewish” or “Christian,” as well as their resultant potential to reveal overlooked dynamics of identity-formation in the Roman Near East.

In the process, her research has sought to illumine pivotal moments in the re-imagining of the biblical past—from the dawn of parabiblical literary production among Jews in the early Hellenistic age (third to second centuries BCE), to the reorganization of Jewish and Christian knowledge about the past after the failures of the Jewish revolts against Rome (late first to second centuries CE), to the competing consolidations of histories and counter-histories concurrent with the Christianization of the Roman Empire and the increasing Rabbinization of Palestinian Jewish society (fourth century CE and following). Most recently, she has shown how attention to these premodern processes helps to historicize the contestation over the past in modern times as well—not least due to the pivotal place of “pseudepigrapha” and “apocrypha” in the construction of current notions of “the Bible.”

Presentation Abstract

“Do ancient Christian Apocrypha have any contemporary relevance? Most debate on this question has centered on the possibility that noncanonical gospels might preserve early or suppressed traditions about Jesus, his apostles, and the very origins of Christianity. This talk approaches the issue from a different direction, considering how apocryphal texts and tropes live on in contemporary fiction, television, and film in North America and beyond. Attention to the unexpected afterlives of ancient apocrypha, in turn, leads to notice new elements of their influence on art and literature in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages as well, revealing elements of their significance for Western culture beyond their value for the historical questions of Christian Origins.”