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Early Christian Apocrypha

God’s Mercy and Justice: The Opening of a Chapter in Journeys to Heaven and Hell

Do the early Christians think God is more just and determined to punish or more merciful and determined to forgive? I deal with the matter in one of the chapters in my next scholarly book,  Journeys to Heaven and Hell: Tours of the Afterlife in the Early Christian Tradition, coming out in April with Yale University Press.  The book has been done for months now, and I am right now reading through the final page proofs sent to me by the press – making final corrections of typos before it heads into production.  (It’s a very long process: usually a book doesn’t get published for about a year after the author has finished writing it and sent it to the publisher.  This always reminds me of the famous poem of John Donne, “Hymn to God the Father,” with its celebrated refrain (about God forgiving sin):  “When thou has done, thou hast not done, for I have more.”). The book is written for scholars, but with a few helps non-scholars will be able to get the [...]

2021-11-01T10:35:42-04:00November 10th, 2021|Afterlife, Book Discussions, Christian Apocrypha|

Was Peter Crucified Upside Down?

I few days ago I started answering a question about Peter that came to me in two parts:  was Peter the first pope and how did Peter actually die (crucified upside down)?   I've taken two posts to deal with the first question and will deal with the second -- more of a human interest story, I suppose -- here in this one.  The oldest account of Peter's death by martyrdom is certainly odd, but is not widely known.  Here is what I say about it in my book Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene. ****************************** Peter as Martyr The death of Peter by execution is already alluded to in the Gospel of John – which evidently, then, had been written after the event occurred.  As Jesus tells Peter after the resurrection: When you were younger, you girded yourself and walked wherever you wanted; but when you grow old, you will reach out your hands and another will bind you, and lead you where you do not want to go. (21:18) The author concludes this quotation by [...]

2021-09-06T20:13:42-04:00September 21st, 2021|Christian Apocrypha, Early Christian Writings (100-400 CE)|

Blog Zoom Lecture This Saturday: Jesus as a Young Boy!

This Saturday at 3:00 I will be giving a fund-raising lecture for the blog on Gospel stories about Jesus as a boy, both as found in the New Testament (there's not much said about it there) and from outside in the terrifically interesting "Infancy Gospels."  Now here are accounts you didn't hear in Sunday School. This is the second in a three-part series on Jesus according to the Christians.  You do not have to have been at the first one either to come or to understand this one -- it is a stand alone lecture, with a good ole Aristotelian beginning, middle, and end. All the funds we bring in will go to help pay for blog expenses, so we can continue to give every dime of membership fees and regular donations to the charities we support.  The fee for the lecture, if you have not already paid for it, is $10; or if you are paying for both this one and the one the following week,  the fee is $19 total.  We accept more [...]

Was Paul Peter’s Enemy?

In a lecture I gave recently, I was talking about "forgeries" in the name of Peter, Jesus' disciple -- that is, books that *claimed* to be written by Peter but certainly were not.  They were written by Christians living later who *said* they were Peter -- possibly in order to get more readers for their books! There is a big question about the canonical books of 1 and 2 Peter.  The vast majority of critical scholars (i.e. those who make their historical judgments apart from questions of what they would personally like to believe about the Bible religiously) agree that 2 Peter was not written by Peter; whoever wrote it, it certainly was not the author of 1 Peter.  A lot of scholars, including me, somewhat forcefully, also argue that Peter could not have written 1 Peter either.  But that's a topic for other posts (which I've made in the past). In my lecture I mentioned three others, that no one disagrees about: the Gospel of Peter, the Apocalypse of Peter, and the Letter of [...]

The Letter Jesus Wrote from the Cross (!)

Here is some more of the intriguing (later) Gospel, allegedly written by none other than Joseph of Arimathea, the figure who, in the New Testament Gospels, buried Jesus.  It is entirely apocryphal, of course, based on some information from the Gospels, later legends, and an extremely vivid imagination.  The point of these posts has been to talk about whether Jesus ever wrote anything.  Here he does, kind of.  While hanging on the cross.  You don’t find stories like *this* every day... This is my own translation, taken from the book The Other Gospels, co-edited/translated with my colleague Zlatko Plese. *********************************************************** Jesus Put on Trial (1) At three o’clock on the next day, the fourth day of the week, they brought him into the courtyard of Caiaphas.   Annas and Caiaphas said to him, “Tell us, why did you carry off our law?  And why have you preached against the promises of Moses and the prophets?”  But Jesus made no answer.  Again a second time, when the multitude was also present, they said to him, “Why do [...]

2021-04-16T11:51:21-04:00April 28th, 2021|Christian Apocrypha, Historical Jesus|

Another Letter Written By Jesus? Stranger and Stranger…

In a previous post I discussed a letter forged in Jesus’ name, written to the king of Edessa, Abgar. Of course we don't have anything *actually* written by Jesus (I myself don't think he could write); but there is another writing that  he is alleged to have written.  This one is even stranger.  Far stranger.  It is a letter he writes from the cross to the cherubim in heaven.  It’s in a (much) later gospel called the Narrative of Joseph of Arimathea, an account of Jesus’ Passion allegedly written by the obscure figure in the NT Gospels who buried him.  Among other things, it gives us “information” on the two robbers who were crucified with him. Here I explain what the text is and then give the opening scenes.  In my next post I will give the rest of it (it’s a short gospel).  All of this comes from the book I co-produced with my colleague Zlatko Plese, The Other Gospels, a book you might be interested in getting!  It gives about 40 Gospel texts [...]

2021-05-01T09:26:57-04:00April 27th, 2021|Christian Apocrypha, Historical Jesus|

Do We Have Any of Jesus’ Writings? (The Answer May Surprise You!)

In my previous post I talked about whether Jesus could read.  I came out with a definitely answer: Maybe.   And that brought to mind a related question I often get asked: could Jesus write? I posted on this a few years ago, and thought it'd be relevant to do it again.  This will take a couple of posts.  I had been asked about ancient "forgeries" -- when authors would write claiming to be someone famous.  Do we have any ancient works that claim to be written by Jesus? Answer this time: Yes indeed, there is a one-time famous correspondence between Jesus and a king who lived in Edessa in Syria named Abgar.  I translated it for the book I published (on all earliest Christian Gospels) with my colleague Zlatko Plese, called The Other Gospels. Here is what I say there about the letters (the one from Abgar to Jesus, then his response); at the end of the post I give my new translations of the two letters. ****************************************************************************************************** Jesus’ Correspondence with Abgar The apocryphal correspondence [...]

2021-04-12T14:39:44-04:00April 21st, 2021|Christian Apocrypha, Historical Jesus|

Were Jesus and Christ Two Different Beings?

As we have seen, the New Testament in places seems to indicate that of Christ was a human being who, in some sense, had been adopted by God and so made into the Son of God, a divine being.  There were groups of Christians who continued to believe that for centuries.  (Some still do!)  Others had an opposite view, that Christ was completely God, so much so that he was not actually ever a full flesh-and-blood human being.  There were lots of variations within these views, and there were other views as well, including one I call “separationism.” A separationist view is especially prominent among certain groups of early Christian Gnostics.  (For a basic introduction to what Gnostics were all about, check out the lecture in the previous post OR do a word search for “Gnosticism” on the blog).  Here is what I say about separationist Christologies view in my book How Jesus Became God, using as an example one of the most fascinating Gnostic writings to come down to us from antiquity, The Coptic [...]

Jesus, Mary Magadalene, and … Sexual Innuendos?

I was browsing through old posts and ran across this one from almost exactly seven years ago, a question about whether one of the non-canonical Gospels (the Gospel of Philip) really could be right that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a sexual relationship. I get asked about this still on occasion, and it's on one of the more titillating topics of early Christian studies, so I thought I would repost it today. QUESTION: I know that the “Gospel of Philip does not have much if any real historical veracity to it about Jesus’ life, but do the references about Jesus and Mary Magdalene being lovers and the holes in the papyrus ‘kissing’ verse (verses 32 and 55 in your “Lost Scriptures” book), help support the view that this most likely Gnostic Christian sect truly believed and taught that Jesus and Mary M were married? RESPONSE: Yes, this is one of those questions I get asked about on occasion. I have a reasonably full discussion of the relevant issues in my book Peter, Paul, and Mary [...]

2021-01-21T00:48:14-05:00January 31st, 2021|Christian Apocrypha, Historical Jesus|

An Apocryphal Story of Mary’s Conception of Jesus

In my previous post I introduced the seventh-century Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, one of the most popular Christian writings of the Middle Ages.  It tells an expanded version of the events leading up to Jesus’ birth, and then yet more legendary tales of what happened afterward.   I continue here with another intriguing portion of the account: the events surrounding Mary conceiving Jesus, even though she was a virgin, and the reactions of Joseph when he realizes she is pregnant, and then – something completely missing from the New Testament – the religious “test” inflicted on her by others to see if she was telling the truth. Again, this is taken from the translation in my book The Other Gospels, produced with my colleague Zlatko Pleše.   The Annunciation 9 1 On the next day while Mary was standing beside the fountain to fill her small pitcher, an angel appeared to her and said, “You are blessed, Mary, for you have prepared a dwelling place for God in your spirit.   Behold, a light will come from heaven [...]

A Different Account of Joseph and Mary!

As we move to the Christmas season, I thought it would be interesting to post some extracts on one of the most popular Gospels in the Middle Ages, an account of Jesus’ birth – and before that, his mother Mary’s birth – and what happened in the aftermath.   It is called the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, because modern scholars once thought that it had claimed to be written by Matthew (the author of the first canonical Gospel); but in fact, as you will see, it claims to be written by Jesus’ brother James. The Gospel comes to us in Latin and was probably produced in the early 7th century.   Some of you may know, from the blog or elsewhere, a Greek Gospel of this description from the 2nd century, the Proto-Gospel of James.   This later Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew is a kind of reworking and expansion of the Proto-Gospel, with some parts removed, lots more added, and others simply altered.  It may be that its unknown author wanted to propagate the stories of the Proto-Gospel in the [...]

Peter and Mary Magdalene in Competition

I began this short thread with a discussion of the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, where she seems to be Jesus’ preferred follower; I then talked about the idea that there were women apostles in the earliest period of the church – according to Paul himself – and pointed out an old tradition that in fact Mary was the very first apostle. I want to pick up there, and show how not just in the Gospel of Mary but in other parts of the early Christian tradition Mary and Peter were sometimes portrayed in controversy over who was Number One! Here is how I discuss it in my book Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene. ******************************** As I’ve intimated, this view that Mary was the original apostle – the one commissioned to tell the good news of Christ’s resurrection –  is found already in the books of the New Testament.  In the Gospel of Mark, it is Mary Magdalene along with Mary the mother of James and Salome who come to the tomb on the third day, [...]

2021-02-24T11:48:45-05:00November 18th, 2020|Christian Apocrypha, Women in Early Christianity|

The Gospel of Mary Magdalene

In my undergraduate class on ancient Gospels and modern Jesus films this semester we looked at one of the truly intriguing but little known early Gospels, “The Gospel of Mary.”  This second century does not claim to be written by Mary Magdalene, but she is the main figure in it – the one to whom Jesus gave a secret revelation about ultimate reality, much to the chagrin of the male disciples who can’t believe that Jesus would reveal the secrets of the world to a *woman* instead of them. It is a Gnostic Gospel – by which I mean that it is based on “gnostic” myths about how humans are trapped here in their material bodies and need to learn the secrets about themselves, about the world, and about how to escape their physical prisons – all this through the secret “knowledge” (Greek = gnosis) that Jesus can provide. We have no record of a Gospel according to Mary (Magdalene) from the early church, The book was, in fact, unknown until its discovery at the [...]

2020-11-05T23:25:54-05:00November 13th, 2020|Christian Apocrypha, Women in Early Christianity|

John, the Bedbugs, and Miracles that Convert

This week in my graduate seminar we discussed the Apocryphal Acts of John, one of the five surviving (lengthy) accounts of an apostle engaged in missionary activities after the resurrection of Jesus. These accounts are highly legendary, with almost no historical information in them, but they are fantastic books – entertaining early Christian fiction, even though, probably, the people who read them assumed they were descriptions of what really happened. The five surviving accounts are the Acts of John, Thomas, Peter, Paul, and Andrew. Among the legendary information we find in these books are stories that people still today often simply assume are true, for example, that Thomas was the missionary to India, that Peter was crucified upside down in Rome, and that Paul had his head chopped off. The Acts of John probably comes from the end of the second century, and so a hundred years or so after John the disciple of Jesus would have died. Like the others, it was written in Greek. I talk about it a bit in my [...]

2020-10-23T23:32:45-04:00October 8th, 2020|Christian Apocrypha|

The Roman Standards Worship Jesus? From the Gospel of Nicodemus

Yesterday I said a few things about the Gospel of Nicodemus; here is the opening section of it.  As you’ll see the author does his best to convince his readers that this is an authentic account (even though it was written over three centuries after Nicodemus would have been dead).  And then comes one of its intriguing passages: despite everyone’s best efforts, the Roman standards (bearing the emblem of the emperor himself – thought, of course, to be a god) bow down to Jesus during his trial.   Terrific account! This is my translation from the Greek version of the book, found in The Other Gospels. The Gospel of Nicodemus Public Records about our Lord Jesus Christ, Composed Under Pontius Pilate I, Ananias, a member of the procurator’s bodyguard, well versed in the law, came to know our Lord Jesus Christ from the divine Scriptures, coming to him by faith and being deemed worthy of holy baptism.  I searched out the public records composed at that time, in the days of our master Jesus Christ, which [...]

2020-10-23T23:40:48-04:00October 1st, 2020|Christian Apocrypha|

A Gospel of Nicodemus?

This week in my graduate seminar we discussed one of my favorite-of-all-time-non-canonical Gospels, the Gospel of Nicodemus.  I am devoting an entire chapter to one of its episodes in the book I’m working on now (on “otherworldly journeys” in early Christianity), which describes Jesus’ “descent into Hades” between his death and resurrection, the most famous “Harrowing of Hell” narrative in the early Christian tradition (Jesus descends in order to save people who had died before his crucifixion). I haven’t said much about the Gospel on the blog before.  This is how I discuss and explain it in the book I co-produced with my colleague Zlatko Pleše, The Other Gospels.  In later posts, I’ll give some excerpts from the account itself. *************************************** Scholars have long debated whether any of the earliest Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and death were devoted exclusively to his passion.  Source critics in the nineteenth century argued that there were (no longer surviving) written accounts behind the passion narratives of Mark and of John.  More recently, some scholars have seen a distinctive [...]

2020-10-23T23:44:01-04:00September 30th, 2020|Christian Apocrypha|

Some Intriguing Selections from the Gospel of Peter

Now that I’ve said a few things about the Gospel of Peter, I thought it would be interesting to give you a bit of it.  It is a fascinating account, with lots of intriguing differences from the Passion narratives of the New Testament.  As I said in my previous post, its most striking passage involves Jesus’ resurrection. It may come as a surprise to some of you to hear that the resurrection of Jesus is never narrated, or even described, in the New Testament.  But that’s true.  The NT Gospels explain how Jesus was crucified and buried; they then pick up the action on the third day after with the women finding the empty tomb.  But they don’t say a word about what actually *happened* between those two events, when Jesus came back to life and then emerged from the tomb.  The Gospel of Peter does provide an account. Below I’ve included the section of the Gospel on Jesus’ Burial, skipped the bit about the discovery of the tomb, and then given the section on [...]

2020-09-26T22:44:49-04:00September 25th, 2020|Christian Apocrypha, Historical Jesus|

A Very Odd Saying of Jesus

Now *here* is a recorded saying of Jesus I bet you haven't heard before.  Unless you've been reading the blog for years.  It's one of my favorites from outside the NT and it has an odd connection to a question I raised yesterday about the Gospel of Peter.  As I pointed out then, the "Gospel of Peter" that we have today, which was discovered in 1886, is, unfortunately, only a portion – the only surviving portion – of what was once a complete Gospel.  But was it a complete Gospel? Or was it a passion Gospel (like the later Gospel of Nicodemus) that gave an account only of the trial, death, and resurrection of Jesus?  That has long been debated. The weird saying of Jesus I'm talking about is NOT found in that fragment of the Gospel of Peter, but it may help decide whether Peter was a complete Gospel or not. In recent years a German scholar named Dieter Luhrmann has argued that other portions of the Gospel of Peter have shown up, in [...]

2020-09-24T18:44:36-04:00September 24th, 2020|Christian Apocrypha, Historical Jesus|

And Now: The Gospel of Peter!

Each week just now I'm talking about one of the apocryphal texts that I have assigned to my graduate seminar this semester on early Christian apocrypha.  This week we took on one of my all-time favorites, the Gospel of Peter.  I've mentioned it on the blog before, but it's been a while.  I've been writing about it in the book I'm working on, and I'm particularly struck by how enigmatic and fascinating it is. Unfortunately, we have only a fragment of the book, which begins smack dab in the middle of an episode and ends, literally, in the middle of a sentence.  To show why that in itself so tantalizing, let me first say a bit about what the Gospel is (at least that part of it we still have!). The Gospel of Peter comes from one of the most remarkable archaeological discoveries of Christian texts in the nineteenth century.  In the winter season of 1886-87, a French archaeological team headed by M. Grébant was digging in Akhmîm in Upper Egypt, in a portion of [...]

2020-09-23T17:52:44-04:00September 23rd, 2020|Christian Apocrypha|

Jesus’ Twin Brother? Really? Readers’ Mailbag

Here is a question I get with some fair regularity, and which I have addressed several times on the blog in the past.  Since I made a few posts on the Coptic Gospel of Thomas last week, I've received it again several times -- including this succinct way of asking. QUESTION: I’m perplexed by how Jesus could have had a twin brother. Jesus was miraculously conceived of the holy spirit so how did a twin get into Mary’s womb at the same time? RESPONSE: Here is what I've said before about the matter which, for what it's worth, is one of the most intriguing in early Christian traditions, from where I sit: ************************************************* I have mentioned in passing that there were some early Christians who thought that one of Jesus’ brothers, Jude (or Judas: both are translations of the same Greek word), was actually a twin.  Not just of anyone, but of Jesus himself.  Some readers have expressed surprise in the most succinct way possible, by asking: “Huh??” I talk about the matter in a [...]

2020-09-21T16:15:47-04:00September 21st, 2020|Christian Apocrypha, Historical Jesus|
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