Library of the Deir al-Surian in the News

February 18th, 2014

VIA Paleojudaica: Egypt's Mysterious Monastery Hides Ancient Secrets by Teresa Levonian Cole in Spear's Magazine (made available here via AINA. Among the many finds at Deir al-Surian (the Monastery of the Syrians) is the earliest manuscript witness to the Infancy Gospel of Thomas (purchased by the British Library; catalogued as Add. 14484). The manuscript also contains portions of the Infancy Gospel of James and the Assumption of the Virgin.

2014 Réunion de l’AELAC

February 12th, 2014

The 2014 réunion de l'AELAC will take place August 29-31 at the Centre culturel Saint Thomas in Strasbourg. Traditionally (indeed for over 25 years) the réunion has taken place at Mont Roland in Dole. But the centre has closed its doors, so AELAC has found a new home for their annual gathering. Visit the AELAC site for news on the programme as it develops (www.aelac.org).

News on the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife

February 12th, 2014

VIA LARRY HURTADO: "Jesus' Wife" Fragment: Latest Developments

Rumour has it that the ink is not modern. Of course, this won't silence those who want it to be a forgery.

Rethinking Canon: Michael J. Kruger’s “Self-Authenticating Canon”

February 6th, 2014

As mentioned in my previous post, I will be appearing at University of Toronto on Monday as part of a series led by their Seminar for Culture and Religion in Antiquity. The title of the paper is, "What Do We Mean by ‘The Bible’? Re-imagining Canon for the Twenty-first Century." My interest in the canon has been developing over the last year through writing Secret Scriptures Revealed, reading several of Lee Martin McDonald’s books on canon (and working with Lee for last year’s York Christian Apocrypha Symposium), and in the development of the latest iteration of my class The History of the Bible.

This year the students were required to read two books on canon, McDonald’s The Origin of the Bible: A Guide for the Perplexed (London/New York: T & T Clark, 2011) and Michael J. Kruger’s Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2011), and prepare a paper comparing the authors’ positions on the formation of the Bible. I wanted the students to be acquainted with two perspectives on canon formation: one historical-critical, one theological. This is a strategy I often use in my courses, so that students come away from the classes with more than just the general scholarly consensus found in their textbooks. Using Kruger also reflects my work on apologetic responses to the recent increase of interest in Christian Apocrypha (see, e.g., “Heresy Hunting in the New Millennium,” SBL Forum, 2008 and a number of Apocryphicity posts under the category "Anti-CA Apologetic"). In surveying that material, I was concerned about how the writers try to discourage others from reading apocryphal texts and, in the course of their work, often obscure the texts contents, in part because of deficiencies in their knowledge of the field. Reading apologetics can be frustrating, but there is much to be learned from exposure to other perspectives.

McDonald’s approach in The Origin of the Bible is typically historical-critical. Drawing on his previous work in the field, he surveys all of the evidence on canon formation—both for the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and the New Testament—and carefully determines what we can learn from this evidence. What is surprising at times is how many of the components of the narrative of canon formation have been challenged in recent scholarship—including, that Marcion valued only the Gospel of Luke and 10 of Paul’s letters (apparently he valued more, including the Gospel of Matthew), that the Jewish canon was settled at the “Synod of Yavneh” in 90 CE (there was no “synod” and several texts continued to be debated for a few more centuries), that the Muratorian Fragment is a witness to the developing New Testament canon in late-second-century Rome (more likely it is from fourth-century), and that the canon was essentially closed with Athanasius’ 39th Festal Letter in 367 (it wasn’t; much variety continued). Though scholarly rigorous, McDonald is not entirely dispassionate in his presentation. As a former pastor he is very interested in how Christians put scholarly discussion on canon into operation; it is encouraging to read his calls for open discussion of the canon, even if this means removing problematic texts (Ephesians, due to its support of slavery) and adding others (the Gospel of Thomas, for its witness to authentic teachings of Jesus).

Kruger’s Canon Revisited begins as a direct challenge to the suggestion of opening the canon. In response to arguments from historical-critical scholarship that certain texts of the New Testament are pseudepigraphical and that some apocryphal texts should be included in the canon, Kruger writes with the express goal of showing that, “the Christian religion provides sufficient grounds for thinking that Christians can know which books belong in the canon and which do not” (p. 21). After surveying a variety of scholarly and theological approaches to canon formation, he discounts all theories that allow for human agency in the selection of texts. Instead, he believes the New Testament texts contain divine qualities—beauty, efficacy, harmony—that ensured their selection by the church, helped of course by the activity of the Holy Spirit (God, he says, “not the church, determined what would be inspired and what would not,” p.46). He calls this the “self-authenticating canon” (p. 58).

As a historical-critical scholar myself, I find Kruger’s perspective problematic. My training prevents me from considering supernatural explanations for historical events. But even if I try to put myself in the believer’s shoes, I find it difficult to imagine that the Holy Spirit would act so capriciously. If God wanted humans to have an unambiguous, closed 27-book canon, then why do we have such variety? Greek churches did not include Revelation until the tenth century, Armenian Bible manuscripts include the Repose of John (a section from the apocryphal Acts of John), and the Ethiopic Bible today also includes additional texts. Kruger does have an explanation for this, but one that I find quite troubling. Kruger believes any divergences from the 27-book canon result from “spiritual forces" that oppose the church, adding that “people often resist the Spirit by their sin and disobedience," and "not all groups who claim to be the ''church' are really part of it” (p. 199). To drive the point home, Kruger cites the modern example of Mormonism: “The distinction between the true  church and the false church reminds us that not every community’s reception of books holds the same weight. For instance, even though Mormons claim to be followers of Christ, we would not accept their canon (composed of the twenty-seven New Testament books plus the Book of Mormon) because they are not part of the true church” (p. 104 n. 49). This viewpoint spills over into the reception of the Apocrypha of the Old Testament. Along with his belief that New Testament writers did not consider any of the Apocrypha as scripture (though it seems they did) and that Jews did not adopt the Apocrypha as scripture (but some did! He calls these “minority opinions”), he says that the Roman Catholic Church include the Apocrypha in their Old Testament because “the Spirit’s witness was widely obscured by the church’s sin and rebellion” (p. 200-201 n. 11). Essentially, if your canon is different from Kruger’s canon, then you are not a member of the “true church.”

Granted Kruger is writing for a particular audience, an audience of Christians who want the validation of the canon that he promises to deliver. He uses scholarship, but he is not working as a scholar, writing for scholars. Nevertheless, I am interested in his views because they enter into public consciousness. If theologians like Kruger are going to interact with scholarship (even if only to denigrate it), then scholars should interact with theologians. As critics of the recent Han On Nye debate on Creation have pointed out, Kruger and McDonald (or similar-minded writers) are not going to change their positions, but at least providing one forum for both perspectives allows readers to learn from their juxtaposition.

For more on Michael J. Kruger, go HERE to watch four lectures on canon delivered in 2012, and HERE for a discussion of Kruger’s views on Roman Catholic approaches to canon formation. Kruger has published a second book on canon: The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2013)

Re-imagining Canon in the Twenty-first Century: SRCA Talk February 10

January 19th, 2014

I have been invited to speak at the University of Toronto at their Seminar for Culture and Religion in Antiquity. My current research interest is the formation of the New Testament and the resulting categorization of Christian writings as either canonical or non-canonical. I will use the opportunity of the presentation to solidify some of my thoughts on the topic. For more information, visit the SRCA web site. Here is the abstract for the presentation:

Monday, February 10, 4–6pm
Tony Burke, York University
"What Do We Mean by “The Bible”? Re-imagining Canon for the Twenty-first Century"

Recent discussion of the formation of the New Testament canon ranges from the liberal leanings of historical-critical scholarship—typified by the view that political and pragmatic  motivations contributed to the selection of texts—and the conservative standpoints of theologians—who see the hand of the Holy Spirit at work, guiding the processes of both composition and canonization. Neither of these opposing poles fully take into account the fluidity of the NT canon. Over the centuries Christians have ignored the boundary line between canonical and non-canonical texts. And the contents of the NT varies both temporally and geographically. So, the very terms “canonical” and “non-canonical” are inadequate for categorizing Christian literature. This talk will outline the complexities involved in the study of the NT canon and considers new approaches for understanding interactions among different forms of Christian literature, throughout history and into the future. 

Call for Contributors: AncientThought.com

January 19th, 2014

The web site AncientThought.com has a call out for contributors. From their home page: 

AncientThought aims to establish itself as one of the leading online resources for exploring the world of ancient thought by integrating the best of current scholarship with innovative digital learning tools. To achieve this we have two timeline projects that are currently active: one exploring ancient philosophy and the other the history of early Christianity. Timelines that consider other areas of ancient thought might be added at a later date.

As far as Christian Apocrypha are concerned, there are several non-canonical texts listed in their call for contributors, and certainly others can be suggested to the editors.

Book Note: Thomas Wayment, The Text of the New Testament Apocrypha

January 18th, 2014

One of the titles I mentioned in my SBL Diary back in November (and deserving of more attention) is Thomas A. Wayment’s The Text of the New Testament Apocrypha (100-400 CE) (London: T&T Clark, 2013). Wayment, an Associate Professor of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University, has assembled here a collection of the earliest Christian Apocrypha extant on papyrus and parchment from the first five centuries. Note, however, that only Greek manuscripts are featured in the volume.

Each chapter of the book focuses on a single text (e.g., the Didache, the Gospel of Mary) or a group of texts (Acts of the Apostles, Sayings Gospels) and provides a bibliography, orthographic notes, and critical editions (not merely transcriptions) of each manuscript. The back half of the volume contains photographs of each manuscript, the majority in colour. The images vary in quality—P. Bodmer V and X, for example, are clear and gorgeous to look at, but P. Oxy 840 is reproduced too small and the reverse side of each page bleeds through the papyrus, making the text difficult to read.

The full list of texts included in the volume is: Acts of the Apostles (John, Paul, Peter), the Epistle of Barnabas, the Didache, the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Peter, the Infancy Gospel of James (including a complete edition of  P. Bodmer 5 and two recently published manuscripts: P. Ashmolean inv. 9 and Cairo Greek Papyrus JE 85643), the Shepherd of Hermas (with complete editions of P. Bodmer 38 and P. Mich. 129), the Gospel of Thomas, a selection of fragmentary narrative gospels (such as P. Egerton 2 /Köln 255), and other  unidentified fragments (P. Oxy XVII 2069). It’s unfortunate that some texts had to be left out due to the temporal limits of the collection, including the Ahkmim codex with the Gospel and Apocalypse of Peter; but perhaps these texts could be included in a volume covering the next five centuries.

Though all of the texts and their manuscript images are available elsewhere (in some cases images are available online), Wayment has provided a great service by making them all available in one attractive volume.

Secret Scriptures Revealed Book Launch

January 17th, 2014

Last night we celebrated the North American release of my new book Secret Scriptures Revealed: A New Introduction to the Christian Apocrypha with a small gathering at a local book store, Words Worth Books, in Waterloo, Ontario. I have a long history with the store; I worked there throughout grad school. I couldn't resist the idea of holding my first book launch there, and the staff were very accommodating.

Snow began to fall early in the evening and I worried that turnout would be dismal. I was pleasantly surprised, however, to see so many faces, including family, friends, and colleagues—some of whom traveled far just to celebrate with me—and a handful of new faces, there simply to find out more about the book. Also in attendance were retired professor Harold Remus, to whom I dedicated the book, and not-yet-retired professor Michel Desjardins, who served on the committee for my doctorate. Everyone listened intently as I read portions of the book, then we had a thought-provoking discussion, I signed some books, and thanked everyone profusely for coming. I think the bookstore was  surprised at the turnout and happy that they sold all of their copies of the book.

Once again, an enormous thank you to everyone who came to the event, and to those who wanted to come but were unable. 

More Christian Apocrypha vol. 1: Update

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.

Bible Secrets Revealed Episode 3: The Forbidden Scriptures

December 18th, 2013

The third and fourth episodes of Bible Secrets Revealed finally saw broadcast in Canada over the weekend. I am particularly interested in these episodes as they focus their attention on non-canonical texts, including 1 Enoch, the Life of Adam and Eve, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, and a few others. Though often the discussion of CA in television documentaries leaves much to be desired, BSR deserves credit for their informative and evocative presentation of the material. Of course, it wasn’t perfect.

Episode three, “Forbidden Texts” (a summary from Robert Cargill available HERE), concentrates on two interrelated themes: the political motivation for the selection of texts for the canon (both HB/OT and NT), and the suppression of feminine imagery and figures in early Christianity and Second Temple Judaism. The show opens with mention of the variety of canons (e.g., the 81 books of the Ethiopic church, the expanded OT of Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christianity); this is a favourite topic of mine and I am pleased to see it discussed. However, there was some imprecision in the delineation of “Apocrypha” (as the term for the Deutero-canonical texts but the narration and accompanying images roughly seguéd into Christian Apocrypha), and the repeated statement that texts were “removed” from the Bible, rather than not selected, was misleading (though perhaps the topic is even more nuanced than that—if a group valued 1 Enoch and then is told that it is not authorized Scripture, then I suppose they would feel that their text was “removed”).

The “forbidden texts” of the Hebrew Bible featured in the episode are 1 Enoch and the Life of Adam and Eve (though the latter is likely a Christian composition). The discussion about these texts focused on why they were “removed”; so, there is much speculation that 1 Enoch presented a God that was too compassionate and that the Life of Adam and Eve gave too much attention to Eve. As support for these views, BSR gives much screen time to Kathleen McGowan, author of The Magdalene Line series of novels. McGowan’s comments tend to be rather provocative (texts which prominently feature women are said to “threaten the church” or are “absolutely terrifying to the church”) and sometimes even just plain wrong (there are “many many references” in gnostic texts to Mary Magdalene as Jesus’ “beloved” and their relationship is “referred to in a sexual manner in the gnostic gospels; so not only was Jesus married, he was married to Mary Magdalene”). Given that BSR opens with a declaration that the series aims to present the views of scholarship on the Bible, McGowan is an odd choice for its panel of “experts.”

The panel also features Elaine Pagels and Bart Ehrman, whose expertise on (some of) these texts goes without question. But why not other North American scholars of the Christian Apocrypha? Stephen Shoemaker could discuss Mary, Brent Landau works with infancy traditions, Lee Martin McDonald with canon formation, and I could go on. I realize the filmmakers want to keep their panel an efficient size, but is Kathleen McGowan really a better choice than these scholars? The lack of scholarly expertise on the CA is particularly apparent in the discussion of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas from episode four, “The Real Jesus.” In a discussion about the lost years of Jesus, Infancy Thomas is brought forward as a fanciful effort to reveal what Jesus was like as a child. Bart Ehrman, who should really know better, says the text “claims to be written by Thomas, who was Jesus’ own brother” (in fact, the text was anonymous until around the tenth century) and that it was “excluded” (the narrator’s choice of words) from the Bible because “the church fathers thought some of the stories in it were somewhat scandalous” (there is no evidence they did so; the only commentary we have objects to the text because it contradicts John’s claim that Jesus’ first miracle was at the wedding in Cana). I know that they have to keep the discussion relatively brief and simple, but far more interesting, I think, about Infancy Thomas’ portrayal of a cursing Jesus is that likely it would have been considered an acceptable depiction of a holy man in antiquity. Oh, and by-the-way, I supplied the producers with the image of the manuscript of Infancy Thomas. Just sayin'.

My criticism about the first episode of BSR—that scholars’ comments are sometimes edited to fit the filmmaker’s narrative—is less apparent in these two episodes. However, there are a few occasions when editing obscures some of the facts. For example, Robert Cargill mentions that Mary is portrayed in the New Testament as a prostitute, which is patently untrue, but I can imagine that a preceding statement of “many people think” ended up on the cutting room floor; also, the discussion of the Peter-related texts is edited in such a way as to suggest that the Apocalypse of Peter (the one with the gruesome tour of hell) was found at Nag Hammadi; and splicing McGowan’s comments in with those of Ehrman and Pagels makes it look like the three are in agreement on the portrayal of Mary Magdalene in the Gospel of Mary (including that "Mary emerges as a successor of Jesus").

All told, these two episodes of BSR are useful and entertaining entry points for the exploration of apocryphal texts. The visuals are captivating, the issues discussed are topical, and the scholars’ commentary (for the most part) is reflective of the variety of perspectives in scholarship and popular thought on the texts. I particularly liked Robert Cargill’s discussion of the famous “Yahweh and his Asherah” potsherd from Kuntillet Ajrud; it was an effective way of relating the texts to artifacts and to practice (for fun, go see Michael Kruger's poorly-informed RESPONSE on this point). I will certainly use BSR in my classes relating to these texts and add it to my resource page on CA-related documentaries (HERE, but desperately in need of an update).