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Early Christian Apocrypha

Did Christ Save *Everyone* When He Descended to Hades?

In my previous post I started to discuss the famous doctrine of the “Harrowing of Hell,” where Christ is said to have descended to Hades after his death (since he was a human, after all, and when humans die, they go to Hades.  Part of the reason for the doctrine, then, is that if he didn’t go, he wouldn’t have had all the human experiences); but he did not go there forever obviously (in this way he was *unlike* everyone else!) but as the son of God he went to bring his salvation to those who had died previously (who could not be saved by his death because it hadn’t happened yet.) I pointed out in the previous post that some theologians said that Christ went to Hades to preach to those who were there to give them the chance to repent (who wouldn’t want to get outta there??  Apparently some or lots?) but others claimed that he went to assert his raw power over his enemies to show who was Lord and King. These [...]

2022-12-23T14:17:13-05:00December 18th, 2022|Afterlife, Christian Apocrypha, Early Christian Doctrine|

An Equally Strange View of the Crucifixion

Yesterday I posted about the Coptic Apocalypse of Peter, which clearly differentiated between the man Jesus and the spiritual being, the Christ, who inhabited him temporarily – leaving him at his suffering and death since the divine cannot suffer and die.  That understanding of Jesus Christ is sometimes called "docetic," but strictly speaking that's not quite right.   The term docetic comes from the Greek word DOKEO which means “to seem” or “to appear.”  It refers to Christologies in which Jesus was not a real flesh-and-blood human but only “seemed” to be. In reality, what they saw, heard, and touched was a phantasm. That is not what is going on in the Coptic Apocalypse of Peter.  Here there really is a man Jesus – flesh and blood like the rest of us.  But he is indwelt by a divine being who leaves him at his death, abandoneding him to die alone on the cross.  That is similar to a docetic view, but also strikingly different.  I call it a “separationist” Christology because it separates Jesus from [...]

The OTHER Apocalypse of Peter (Stranger still…)

In a previous post I discussed the Apocalypse of Peter that was considered by a number of early Christians to be an inspired book of Scripture.   There is another early Christian book with the same name, which is differentiated from the "proto-orthodox" one I've already discussed by being normally referred to as the "Coptic Apocalypse of Peter."   It is intriguing both because it has a view of Christ completely different from what became the orthodox view (here the man Jesus and the divine Christ are actually different beings who are temporarily united up to the point of Jesus' death), and because it claims those with a different view (e.g., the view that "Christ died for the sins of the world") are the heretics! Here is how I discuss it in my book Lost Christianities: ****************************** Among the gnostic attacks on the superficiality of proto-orthodox views, none is more riveting than the Coptic Apocalypse of Peter discovered at Nag Hammadi.  This is not to be confused with the proto-orthodox Apocalypse of Peter in which Peter is given a [...]

Another Book by “Peter” That Could Have Become Scripture

In this thread I’m discussing several Christian books that were considered by some early groups of believers and church leaders to be bona fide Scripture – written by apostles and inspired by God.  All of the books I’m discussing were written by authors who were claiming to be Jesus’ closest disciple, Peter.  But eventually church fathers became convinced otherwise, and the books were relegated to the trash heap of Christian curiosities. Here’s one that has become known only in modern times and that has intrigued readers – both scholars and lay folk.  What exactly did church leaders find objectionable about it?  It was an account of Jesus’ life, a Gospel.   ******************************   The Gospel of Peter:  A Book That Had Some Supporters One of the other books found in the small anthology discovered in Akhmim also claimed to be written by Peter, and it too was considered a book of Scripture by at least some Christians.  But, like the Apocalypse, it also lost favor and disappeared from sight.  This one, however, was a Gospel. [...]

2022-07-18T15:11:21-04:00July 31st, 2022|Book Discussions, Christian Apocrypha|

A Book That Nearly Became Scripture: The Apocalypse of Peter

As I indicated in my previous post, I’m planning to write a book (after the one on charity in early Christianity) explaining how we got the canon of the New Testament.  Who choose the books?  On what grounds?  And when? I continue the thoughts I’m laying out in my prospectus here, in the first of four case studies – a book that almost made it in.   ******************************     Four Vignettes to Explain the Issues To illustrate some of the major issues, to show how the process worked, to give a sense of the historical disputes, and to show their inherent interest, I here provide four vignettes, all involving books that explicitly claim to be written by the apostle Peter.  Peter is Jesus’ closest disciple and confident in the Gospels.  No one could carry more authority for explaining Jesus’ teachings and his plans for his followers after his death.  It comes as no surprise, then, to find a number of early Christian books that claim to be written by Peter.  Two of them are [...]

2022-07-18T14:52:55-04:00July 28th, 2022|Book Discussions, Christian Apocrypha, Public Forum|

And Then My NEXT Book Project: How Did We Get the Canon of the NT?

In my most recent thread I laid out my thoughts on my next book (what I *think* will be my next book) on how Christian views of charity helped revolutionize ancient (and as a consequence, modern) society. Now I will begin a series on my thoughts for my book after that.  Throughout the past ten or fifteen years I’ve always thought two books ahead; that way when I’m writing a book, in my down time I can be thinking a bit about the next one.  It’s kind of pleasant, actually, since there is no pressure on my thoughts – I haven’t even starting to work on it yet! As I may have mentioned already, I will probably propose a two-book deal to my publisher, that is to have a contract for two books instead of one.  That way my thinking can be even more serious about #2.   I’ve done that a couple of times before.  The first time, it happened (Triumph of Christianity and Heaven and Hell) and the second time, the publisher didn’t go [...]

2022-07-18T14:46:42-04:00July 27th, 2022|Book Discussions, Christian Apocrypha|

A Christian NDE and the Problem with Being Filthy Rich

I have begun to describe the Acts of Thomas, the account of the apostle Thomas’s missionary journey to take Christianity to India.  After the author describes the apostle’s adventures en route to his destination, he gets to the heart of his story – which involves, among other things, an emphasis about what rich folk are supposed to do with their money if they want to be pleasing to God and have eternal life.  Again, this description is taken from my book Journeys to Heaven and Hell (Yale University Press, 2022). ****************************** When Thomas arrives in India he is introduced to King Gundaphorus, his new master, who has acquired him for his carpentry skills, which obviously run in the holy family.  Gundaphorus wants a new palace in a remote site and Thomas is perfect for the job: he works in wood and stone and has experience constructing regal dwellings. This Act is all about the distinctive kind of building he can make. The apostle draws a design for the structure, the king approves, bestows a hefty [...]

Thomas’s Trip to India and the Problem of Wealth

Some Christian writers thought having lots of money was a very serious problem – both because it made rich folk focus on something other than spiritual realities and because it was not just or godly for some people to be loaded when others were starving. And so we have ancient Christian authors urging the wealthy to give away all their material possessions for a greater good and practice rigorous asceticism.  The “good” in this case was very different indeed from what was promoted in the broader Roman world -- where what mattered was helping with the city’s finances and assisting those of one’s own family or socio-economic class, in exchange for acquiring a higher personal status -- since for Christians involves helping the indigent.  But the personal motivation is roughly the same: it is a matter of “working out your salvation.”  That is, it is largely about one’s own well-being. Other writers, however, argued that wealth was not itself evil or necessarily a trap, an obstacle to the good and holy life.  Righteous people could [...]

An Eyewitness Account of Jesus’ Crucifixion!

Here is another modern Gospel forgery that has over the years won over readers who have thought it was authentic.  It's intriguing stuff: an eyewitness account of Jesus' death! Again, this is taken from my book Forged: Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are (HarperOne, 2010). ****************************** An equally interesting modern apocryphon, The Crucifixion of Jesus, by an Eye-Witness, deals not with the beginning of Jesus’ adult life, before his ministry, but with its ending and aftermath. [1] The account comes in the form of a letter written, in Latin, seven years after Jesus’ crucifixion, from a leader of the mysterious Jewish sect of the Essenes in Jerusalem to another Essene leader who lived in Alexandria, Egypt.  All elements of the supernatural are completely stripped away from the account’s description of Jesus’ life and death.  Jesus is shown to have led a completely human life and to have died a completely human death.  But not on the cross.  Jesus survived his own crucifixion and lived for another six months. The account [...]

2022-03-13T19:27:56-04:00March 16th, 2022|Christian Apocrypha, History of Biblical Scholarship|

Young Jesus with the Brahmins in India!

In my last post I talked about a humorous Gospel forgery by a modern scholar.  There are a number of other forgeries of Gospels done in (relatively) modern times -- especially in the nineteenth century -- which were not particularly risible but were far more successful.  I still get asked about them today, especially by people who don't know what to think about them or, even more, people who assure me they are true. I talk about them in the last chapter of my book Forged (HarperOne, 2011).   Here's one of the most successful, as I discuss there. ****************************** One of the most widely disseminated modern forgeries is called The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ.[1]  From this account we learn that Jesus went to India during his formative teen years, the “lost years” before his public ministry, and there learned the secrets of the East.  The book made a big splash when it appeared in English in 1926; but as it turns out, it had already been exposed as a fraud more than thirty years [...]

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 [...]

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