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Early Christian Apocrypha

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 book [...]

By |2020-10-17T07:11:18-04:00October 8th, 2020|Christian Apocrypha|14 Comments

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 [...]

By |2020-10-17T07:15:43-04:00October 1st, 2020|Christian Apocrypha|8 Comments

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 [...]

By |2020-10-17T07:17:17-04:00September 30th, 2020|Christian Apocrypha|16 Comments

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 [...]

By |2020-09-26T22:44:49-04:00September 25th, 2020|Christian Apocrypha, Historical Jesus|7 Comments

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 [...]

By |2020-09-24T18:44:36-04:00September 24th, 2020|Christian Apocrypha, Historical Jesus|35 Comments

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 [...]

By |2020-09-23T17:52:44-04:00September 23rd, 2020|Christian Apocrypha|31 Comments

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 [...]

By |2020-09-21T16:15:47-04:00September 21st, 2020|Christian Apocrypha, Historical Jesus|44 Comments

The Secret Message of the Gospel of Thomas

This will be my last post for now on the Coptic Gospel of Thomas.  Here I try to unpack its overarching meaning.  It delivers a surprising method, quite different from that found in the Gospels of the New Testament.  Its author, of course, thought he was delivering the ultimate truth.  It's interesting to think about what would have happened if people found him more convincing than the authors of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Again, this is taken from my textbook on the NT.   ************************************************************************************** The Overarching Message of the Book.      The meanings of many of Thomas's sayings are in no way obvious. If they were, they would not be called secret! Even though the book contains nothing like the Sethian or Valentian myths, some of the sayings do seem to reflect roughly analogous understandings of the world and the human’s place in it (see earlier posts on Gnosticism). Within the hearer is an element of the divine—a soul—that had a heavenly origin (it originated “in the place where the light came into being”). [...]

By |2020-09-17T16:35:41-04:00September 17th, 2020|Christian Apocrypha|37 Comments

The Gospel of Thomas: Some Basic Information

In my previous post I cited the first eighteen sayings of the Gospel of Thomas.  There are 114 altogether, but those first ones give the sense of the whole.  I'll spend a couple of posts explaining a bit further what this Gospel is all about, first with a basic overview of its most important aspects.  This is taken from my textbook on the New Testament: ***************************************************************************** The Gospel of Thomas The Gospel of Thomas is without question the most significant book discovered in the Nag Hammadi library. Unlike the Gospel of Peter, discovered sixty years earlier, this book is completely preserved. It has no narrative at all, no stories about anything that Jesus did, no references to his death and resurrection. The Gospel of Thomas is a collection of 114 sayings of Jesus. The Sayings of the Collection. The sayings are not arranged in any recognizable order. Nor are they set within any context, except in a few instances in which Jesus is said to reply to a direct question of his disciples. Most of [...]

By |2020-09-16T16:43:59-04:00September 16th, 2020|Christian Apocrypha|34 Comments

Our Most Important Gospel from Outside the NT: The Gospel of Thomas

This week in my graduate seminar we will be discussing the Coptic Gospel of Thomas, not to be confused with the Infancy Gospel of Thomas that I mentioned in a post last week, with which this one has no relation, apart from the fact that both claim to be written by Thomas, a.k.a. Didymus Judas Thomas, i.e., Jesus’ brother Jude. By far this Gospel of Thomas is the best known, most read, and most significant Gospel from outside the New Testament.  It was accidentally discovered in 1945 near Nag Hammadi Egypt as one of the 52 documents contained in a set of twelve books, with part of a thirteenth, now widely known as the Nag Hammadi Library.  Most of these documents are Gnostic. Like all the others, this one is written in Coptic and is a Coptic translation of a Greek original.  The book that contains it was produce in the mid-fourth century CE.  But the Gospel itself was originally composed in the early second century CE.  It is hard to say when after this [...]

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