I just (now) flew into Washington D.C., to give four lectures tomorrow (count them, four) on “The Other Gospels” at the Smithsonian. Each lecture is about an hour, followed by 15 minutes of Q & A. It’ll be a grueling day.
I do these Smithsonian things once or twice a year on average. They’re great – 160 adults who have paid good money and devoted an entire day to hearing lectures on a topic important to them. It’s a terrific audience, wide-ranging, highly intelligent, educated, and curious — real a shift from teaching 19-year old college kids. I enjoy both kinds of audience very much – but (some) more things can be assumed in this setting and, well, the humor has to change. 🙂
I normally do these Smithsonian talks when a new book has come out, and so this is to be about the new edition of The Other Gospels that just appeared. I’ve decided that my lectures will be on four different Gospels/types of Gospels, and maybe I’ll blog a bit about them. The four topics are: Infancy Gospels (both Infancy Thomas – on which below – and the Proto-Gospel of James); the Coptic Gospel of Thomas; the Gospel of Peter; and the Pilate Gospels (Acts of Pilate; the Report of Pilate, and the Handing Over of Pilate). Many students of early Christianity are familiar with the first three on one level or another; very few know about the Pilate Gospels.
So, in the first lecture I start off with a crowd-favorite, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, an account of the (rather mischievous) (and totally miraculous) activities of Jesus starting as a five-year old, continuing up to the time that he was engaged in conversations with teachers of the Law in the Temple as a twelve-year old (the Gospel ends with this story which is simply borrowed from Luke 2).
There are all sorts of things about this book that scholars are interested in that I won’t be going into, principally because they are things that non-scholars, frankly, are *not* all that interested in, and it’s impossible, in my view, to *make* them interested in them because, well, they issues are detailed and scholarly and not at all sexy (such as the Greek manuscript tradition of the Gospel, the question of whether the Greek manuscripts or the Syriac or the Ethiopic represent the oldest form of the text, the question of whether the Gospel was known to Irenaeus and/or Origen, and, well, lots of other things).
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