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My Early Christian Apocrypha Seminar

I am teaching a PhD seminar this semester on the early Christian apocrypha; it’s a little hard to define what those are, though hundreds of people have tried!.  The way I define them are as non-canonical books that are similar in genre and contents to those that did make it into the canon.  Or something like that.  They comprise Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Apocalypses, they can be “orthodox” or “non-orthodox” (= ” heretical”); most of them claim to be written by apostles (but not all); the ones I’m most interested in date from the second to the fifth centuries.

It’s a fairly but not crazily heavy-hitting class.   It meets once a week for three hours.  Here, for your amusement and reading pleasure (especially if you do the assignments!) is the syllabus:

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My Faux Pop Quiz this Semester
Jesus in Scholarship and Film



  1. Lev
    Lev  August 24, 2020

    Interesting list. Have you ever studied the Acts of Timothy? I believe it’s from the 5th century but seems to use sources from much earlier and devotes a great deal of space to the Apostle John, and his time in Ephesus.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 26, 2020

      Yes, it’s not one of the most famous/prominent of the apocryphal Acts but it’s very interesting. I have a graduate student who wants to do a term paper on it this semester.

      • Lev
        Lev  August 26, 2020

        I would love to read that paper if your student is willing to share it? I’m on lev.eakins@gmail.com

        • Bart
          Bart  August 27, 2020

          Yeah, not likely. Students tend to be pretty guarded about these things, either becuaase they don’t think their paper is any good or because they’re planning to publish it. funny how most are one of those or the other, instead of in between….

          • Lev
            Lev  August 28, 2020

            Yes, I’ve noticed the same reluctance with my fellow post-grad students. I find it odd as I’m the other way round and happy to share my work with them as I want the feedback – positive or negative!

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    bamurray  August 24, 2020

    Looks like lots of work for you, too! How many students?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 26, 2020

      Most of my seminars are four or five students, and usually an auditor or two.

  3. Avatar
    bamurray  August 24, 2020

    Do the students have to buy all the books? Or are they available in the library or Department for borrowing and/or reading?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 26, 2020

      I don’t ask them how they get access to the books, as long as they do. The articles I make available to them electronically; the books I expect them to have access to, and strongly suggest that if they are important books (which, at this level, most are) they get their own copy somehow. Used books can be a good option. The library, in any event, has them all.

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    GeoffClifton  August 24, 2020

    Very demanding seminar and the masochistic side of me would love to be a part of it. It certainly looks scintillating as well as very hard work. I am just curious to know whether the translation element would require students to translate Greek text word for word in front of colleagues (with suitable preparation) or is it a group discussion of how a text has been (or should be) translated? Many thanks- great post, as always.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 26, 2020

      Yup, I call on each student and ask him/her to translate for all of us, then I ask them questions on the grammar. They need to know the material pretty well.

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    fishician  August 24, 2020

    Whew, I’m glad I can read and study such things for fun, without any pressure! Would you say this is a typical PhD seminar in your field, or would you say you are more, or less, demanding than most?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 26, 2020

      Probably a bit more demanding. Two of the NT students at Duke saw the syllabus and decided they didn’t want to do all that work!

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    JeffreyFavot  August 24, 2020

    Do people have children and are able to do this?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 26, 2020

      Yup, all the time. Not easy. When I was taking my PhD seminars in my program in the mid 1980s I had two children. It got even harder when I moved into writing the dissertation.

  7. Avatar
    fishician  August 24, 2020

    Unrelated question: In Mark there is a story of Jesus calming a storm (ch. 4), then Jesus feeds the 5,000, then there is another storm that Jesus calms, this time walking on water out to the boat (both in ch. 6), then another feeding, this time 4,000 (ch.8). I assume some scholars take these stories to be variations passed down through the oral tradition(s)? Now, in the 2nd storm story “Mark” says “they were greatly astonished, for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves…,” referring to the feeding of the 5,000, just before. It seems to ignore the previous storm story; one would think they should have gained insight from the 1st storm incident more so than an unrelated miracle. It makes me think Mark was copying from a written source which had the feeding of the 5000 and the walking on water version of calming the storm together in sequence. Is Mark thought to have used written sources, or just oral histories, or is there any way to make an intelligent guess about this?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 26, 2020

      Yes, this is called a “doublet,” and it’s usually thought that Mark had heard the same story in two forms and recorded them both, even though they are redundant and, given what else happens after the first one, a bit nonsensical. It’s almost impossible to tell, thoguh, whether the stories he had access to were written or oral.

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    Jokerman  August 25, 2020

    Wow, this is really fun. I still remember reading “The Coptic Gospel of Thomas” for the first time. It was an almost hair-raising experience–one of those Biblical (or near Biblical, I suppose) texts that feels truly occult and alien. It’s evident why it’s been held so sacred–then you add the provenance/context, and the NT feels incomplete without it. Leviticus felt the same way–I know it’s OT/not Bart’s speciality, but you can almost smell the incense coming off the pages.

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    adamske20  August 25, 2020

    Yikes, it looks brutal! How many credits is this?

  10. Avatar
    janmaru  August 26, 2020

    Have you ever read Donna Tart’s book, The God of Illusions?
    What do you think of Julian Morrow’s character?

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    rwhershey  August 26, 2020

    Bart, you have no idea how much I wish I was twenty years younger and just getting started in my graduate studies. To study with either you or Dale Martin would have been my ultimate goal. But it wasn’t until I was forty years old that my passion for the history of early Christianity began, and now it’s too late. I’ve already invested a decade in university training and degrees, but in esotericism and modernity. At least I can read your and Dale’s books, but man oh man how I’d love to spend a PhD’s worth of time under your tutelage.

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    PeymanSalar  August 30, 2020

    Greetings Dr. Ehrman from Turkey. My name is Peyman Salar; I am one of your fans. I like your ideas and your writings, debate, lecture in NT studies. ( I have pretty much most of your books even ones you share with “Great courses.” I would say I got more influenced by your scholarship than any Evangelical scholar I follow. Dr. Ehrman, I know you are so busy to answer questions, but a question I got asked from my Muslim friends almost all the time has to do with the Accuracy and the Reliability of the so-called Gospel of “Barnabas,” and I tried to show them that none of NT scholars even mention such a document as a reliable source, would you mind, enlighten us with a few sentences. I really appreciate your time.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 31, 2020

      Yes, it is widely recognized as a forgery, probably from the early modern period (i.e., *after* the Middle Ages). THere aren’t any credible scholars of Early Christianity who take it seriously as a genuine document.

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