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A Readable Edition of the “Lost” (i.e. non-canonical) Gospels

As I have pointed out before on the blog, the topic of the last post, the edition of the non-canonical Gospels (The Apocryphal Gospels: Texts and Translations), which I published with my colleague Zlatko Plese, was meant for academics – professors of New Testament and early Christianity and their graduate students.   Most other people, of course, have no need or desire to see the original Greek, Latin, or Coptic of a text along with a translation.  People generally just want an English translation.

But having a facing-page translation is a great thing for scholars and budding scholars.   The only way really to understand a foreign language text in its many nuances is to read it in its own language.  And since these are texts that deserve to be studied carefully, minutely, with full attention to all the fullness of their meaning, they really need to be read in the Greek, Latin, and Coptic languages in which that they have come down to us.

For some scholars, the book would be useful because it provides the original language text for all these writings, and gives all these documents in one volume.  Otherwise, having access to all the texts is time consuming and difficult – one needs different books to have the text of the Coptic Gospel of Thomas, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Peter, Papyrus Egerton 2, and so on.  Now they are all in one volume.

For other scholars…

To see why any of this matters for you, the general reader (not just scholars) — you will need to see the rest of this post.  The membership fee for the blog is extremely reasonable — about two bucks a month.  For that you get tons of information, day after day. So why not join?  All the money goes to help those in need.

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Some Pitfalls of Writing for a General Audience
The Scholarly Edition of the Apocryphal Gospels



  1. Avatar
    VaulDogWarrior  September 4, 2019

    Does reading a text in its original language help that much? I know so many Bible teachers who say “this word means something different in Greek than is translated.” The problem still remains for the scholar that the language is not spoken in that dialect anymore and he has no way of verifying. Only suggesting.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 8, 2019

      Oh boy does it. It’s a bit hard to explain, but reading an English translation is a bit like kissing through a screen door. I’m seeing this vividly just now as I’m reading Virgil’s Aeneid in Latin for the first time. There are nuances that you would simply never ever get reading it in English. Maybe I’ll post on this. (And by the way, yes, indeed, linguists understand full well how hte language has changed over the centuries, and take that fully into account. Very fully indeed. There *are* ways of verifying, as it turns out.)

      • Avatar
        anvikshiki  September 9, 2019

        I agree completely that reading texts in their original languages is importantly different from reading translations in many, many ways. But this phrase is new to me; “like kissing through a screen door.” I would have never thought of that metaphor. I think it forces me to admit that it seems you love texts even more than I do! 🙂

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    mombird903  September 4, 2019

    Great idea. The information needs to get out to people who are not scholars but are interested in expanding their knowledge. It’s like Brian Green’s books on physics and Dawkin’s books on evolution. We reap the benefit of complex stuff thankfully put in terms the average person can comprehend. More scholars need to consider the “popular” version of their works so ideas are able to spread and we become a less superstitious and more enlightened species. I’m a few books behind but this will be on my list. Thanks for doing this.

  3. epicurus
    epicurus  September 4, 2019

    Great Idea, I’ll definitely have to pick up a copy! Amazon page says it’s from 2013, though, not this year. ( I’m talking about The Other Gospels: Accounts of Jesus from Outside the New Testament) Or maybe this is an old post?

  4. Avatar
    Bewilderbeast  September 4, 2019

    “We did have to make . . hard decision(s) about (including and) excluding certain texts. The Nag Hammadi Library contains several Gospels, but with one exception (Thomas) we decided . . . ”
    I have always wondered about the men (only men!) who decided “this one’s in . . . that one’s out!” back in 325 (was it 325?) at Trullan, Rome, Trent and where else? Nicea?
    And now I have (sort of) met one! The power! Changing history! Tongue in cheek, of course, but I must say I have really enjoyed – and feel privileged to have been shown – the insights we gain here. I have a real feeling of suddenly being more aware that these were ordinary men doing extraordinary things which DID change history. I wish all evangelists would come to learn, realise and feel the very HUMAN nature of religion.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 8, 2019

      Not sure if I’ve posted on the process of canonization directly. I’ll look, and maybe do a couple of posts on it. (But no, decidedly not Nicea)

  5. Avatar
    fishician  September 4, 2019

    I enjoy reading the non-canonical gospels and other early writings, even though I don’t take any of them as authentic, i.e., coming from the original disciples or representing true events. But still very interesting. Sadly, I have never been in a church that even acknowledged writings outside the Bible, let alone actually taught about them. If nothing else they are useful to understand how some early Christians thought and how doctrines and practices evolved. Have you encountered any churches that encouraged its members to read early Christian writings outside the Bible?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 8, 2019

      Rarely, but on occasion! Pretty open-minded churches….

  6. Avatar
    anvikshiki  September 4, 2019

    Both great contributions! So, out of curiosity, I’ll ask this. All who are familiar with your work know that Mark is your favourite of the canonical gospels. Which is your favourite of the non-canonical gospels? And why?

  7. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  September 4, 2019

    You have had quite a career.

  8. Avatar
    Miles  September 4, 2019

    Bart, what’s current opinion of 19th century versions of apocryphal gospels, such as the translations by B. Harris Cowper and Alexander Walker. Does any one volume stand out above the others?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 8, 2019

      No one uses them any more, since so many more Gospels and better translations have appeared.

  9. Avatar
    forthfading  September 4, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    I have been reading some of Dr. Metzger’s work on the NT canon. He makes a statement that I found interesting. He said “The canon did not come to be an authoritative list of gospels, letters, or similar writings but a list of authoritative gospels, letters, and similar writings “. He said “nothing could stop them from being orthodox “. I feels this is an over simplification of a much larger history and canonical battle, but what are your thoughts about his conclusions? Am I reading Metzger the theologian or the historian?

    Thanks, Jay

    • Bart
      Bart  September 8, 2019

      At that point he’s claims to be making a historical view, I’m afraid it’s theological. (In terms of nothing could stop them….) As to authoritative list vs. list of authoritative — he said that a lot, and it’s an interesting distinction. But in some ways it also is simply stating a preference for a certain theological view.

  10. Avatar
    Iskander Robertson  September 5, 2019

    Deuteronomy 6:5 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
    5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

    Leviticus 19:18 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
    18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.

    Dr Ehrman, i am having difficulty understanding these verses. modern day evangelists say that these are the laws which should be followed, the laws about stoning to death for adultery , apostasy, idolatry etc etc are no longer to be followed. from the hebrew bible perspective, was “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” controlled /balanced out by the other laws? so for example, love your neighbor as long as he does not cause you to apostatize. love your neighbor as long as he does not cause you to have adulterous relationship?
    so are all these “love commandments” based on a conditional “if” ? or, while the hebrew is stoning to death apostate, adulterer , idolater, he is still loving him, but the law MUST be carried out, for example :

    If anyone secretly entices you—even if it is your brother, your father’s son or[b] your mother’s son, or your own son or daughter, or the wife you embrace, or your most intimate friend—saying, “Let us go worship other gods,” whom neither you nor your ancestors have known, 7 any of the gods of the peoples that are around you, whether near you or far away from you, from one end of the earth to the other, 8 you must not yield to or heed any such persons. Show them no pity or compassion and do not shield them. 9 But you shall surely kill them; your own hand shall be first against them to execute them, and afterwards the hand of all the people.


    clearly then , law beats love, right?

    since jesus was rabbi and torah observant, then it logically entails he shared the same view of the author of leviticus, that love , no matter how strong, cannot beat the laws of God?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 8, 2019

      I’m afraid we don’t know what Jesus himself would have said about keeping laws that seem to us today to violate the law of love; the only truly relevant passage is the Woman Taken in Adultery in John 8, which, however, was not originally part of the Gospel. If Jesus ever appears to me as he did to Paul, this will be one of the questions I will ask him.

  11. Avatar
    godspell  September 5, 2019

    The work is appreciated, Bart. I purchased the ebook yesterday.

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    quadell  September 5, 2019

    Ah yes, the Gospel of the Savior, a fragmentary mid-2nd-century gnostic text in Coptic that’s more of a dialog than a gospel… not to be confused with the Dialog of the Savior, a different fragmentary mid-2nd-century gnostic text in Coptic that’s more of a gospel than a dialog. Who names these things?! 🙂

    By the way, when I looked up Hedrick and Mirecki’s Gospel of the Savior book on Amazon, I was a bit amused to see one of its only two reviews complaining that it is “fragmentary” and giving it one star. I mean, that’s factually true, but…

  13. Avatar
    Jerry  September 5, 2019

    I bought the scholarly version in hardcover for $31.96 at amazon prime, since the non-scholarly version in hardcover form was $95.98. Quite a savings along with the more technical introductions.

  14. Avatar
    hankgillette  September 6, 2019

    Final instance, as in “I’ll never do that again!”, or the final instance so far?

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