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Apocryphal Gospels: The Scholarly Version

In my last couple of posts I began to describe how my edition of the Apocryphal Gospels came about.   After having done the Apostolic Fathers in two volumes for the Loeb, I had decided never to do another translation project again.  Too hard!  But then, forgetting my decision, I thought it would be useful to have a Greek/Latin – English version of the early Christian non-canonical Gospels.  And at the urging of the editor at Harvard, submitted a proposal also for the Loeb Classical Library.  But the editorial board decided that they did not want to start publishing new editions of Christian texts in the series, since that would detract from its typical focus on Greek and Roman classics.   And so I was now interested in a project without an publisher.

I should say – this may not be widely known – that most of the time a scholar writes a book, s/he does not know who will be publishing it, or even if *anyone* will be.  This can be a source of real anxiety, especially for younger scholars who desperately need to get a book published in order to get a good teaching job or, if they have a job, in order to get tenure.    But for a big project like this, I was not about to put in all the work – I knew it would be an enormous amount of work – without being assured of a publisher.   So before beginning the project, I decided to secure a contract on the book.

Years, ago, Oxford University Press had told me that they would be willing to publish just about anything I write.   At the time, they wanted to be my sole publisher – for scholarly monographs, textbooks, anthologies, and trade books.   And for a number of years, we had that kind of relationship.   But I eventually decided to try a different publisher for my trade books, and ended up with HarperOne (my first book with them was Misquoting Jesus).   Oxford is a fantastic press – by far and away the largest university press in the world, more than four times as large as the next larges (Cambridge) and many times larger than others (Princeton, Harvard, UPenn, Chicago, and so on).   They have a lot of muscle and publish and enormous range of books.   But trade books are not their particular specialty.  HarperOne publishes one kind of book: trade books.  And so I decided years ago to publish my trade books with HarperOne – I’ve done six with them now – and all my other books with Oxford.

And so I approached Oxford with the idea of a bi-lingual edition (well, tri-lingual) edition of the “Apocryphal Gospels” and they were eager to do it.  So I was set to go.

But then a thought occurred.


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The Other Gospels: The Trade Book Version
How I Decided to Publish the Apocryphal Gospels



  1. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  August 26, 2014

    What a huge undertaking and the writing/publishing process you describe is quite interesting.

  2. Avatar
    timber84  August 26, 2014

    How big is the Department of Religious Studies at UNC? I thought you mentioned in an earlier post that you have a top-notch archaeologist at UNC. Does the university offer courses in religions other than Christianity?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 26, 2014

      We have 17 full time faculty, teaching courses on Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity; religion and cultural studies, medieval religion, Greek and Roman religions and philosophy, religions in the Americas, and lots of other things. Check out our website: https://religion.unc.edu/

  3. Avatar
    shakespeare66  August 26, 2014

    Good story. It is great to be able to see how things are accomplished by scholars.

  4. Christopher
    Christopher  September 24, 2015

    I enjoyed speaking to you at your debate with Justin Bass last weekend 🙂 I thought you did a great job showing how much skepticism is warranted in consideration of the claim that Jesus claimed to be divine, and even “The Son of Man”. Anyway, I have a question;

    In the “Orthodox” tradition, we have the letters of Papias, and Irenaeous (*spelling?), providing the framework for the traditional claims of apostolic succession, and for modern conservative scholars to argue that the gospels may contain, in some way or another, contributions by eyewitnesses. My question is, “Do we have anything like that in the writings of Apocryphal works?”. Obviously, we don’t have the writings of many “heretical” writers, today, since the proto-orthodox church had no motivation to maintain them, but it seems likely that, if we did, we might see some claims among the “Christian Heretical Fathers” for apostolic authorship, since they obviously did believe the named disciples had something to do with their alleged writings (Gospel of Thomas, Mary Magdalene, Judas, Philip, Apocalypse of Peter, ect). Has anything survived the centuries from the pens of these heresy founders?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 25, 2015

      No, just about the only thing we have are the literary texts: other gospels, mystical tractates, and so on. But in some of them there is direct polemic against proto-orthodox church fathers (e.g, in the Coptic Apocalypse of Peter). And they *claim* to be eyewitness texts! (By Peter!)

      • Christopher
        Christopher  September 25, 2015

        Very interesting! I figured we wouldn’t have anything like a hertic’s version of Papias’ apostilic testimony claims.. On a similar note, how much do we really have from the fathers of heretical factions? Do we have anything written by the “Church Fathers” of any heretical sects?

        • Bart
          Bart  September 26, 2015

          None that has left us any writings. Wish we did!!! What we’d give for some essays on select themes by Marcion, or Valentinus, or any of the others….

      • Lev
        Lev  November 1, 2017

        I understand Irenaeus and Clement noted that the followers of Valentinus claimed that he wrote the Gospel of Truth, and Valentinus was a disciple of Theudas who in turn was a disciple of Paul.

        Wouldn’t this be an example of a heretic claiming apostolic succession?

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