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The Other Gospels: The Trade Book Version

The edition of the non-canonical Gospels that I’ve been discussing in previous posts (The Apocryphal Gospels: Texts and Translations), which I published with my colleague Zlatko Plese, was meant for academics – professors of New Testament and early Christianity and their graduate students.   Most other people, of course, have no need or desire to see the original Greek, Latin, or Coptic of a text along with a translation.  People generally just want an English translation.

But having a facing-page translation is a great thing for scholars and budding scholars.   The only way really to understand a foreign language text in its many nuances is to read it in its own language.  And since these are texts that deserve to be studied carefully, minutely, with full attention to all the fullness of their meaning, they really need to be read in the Greek, Latin, and Coptic languages in which that they have come down to us.

For some scholars, the book would be useful because it provides the original language text for all these writings, and gives all these documents in one volume.  Otherwise, having access to all the texts is time consuming and difficult – one needs different books to have the text of the Coptic Gospel of Thomas, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Peter, Papyrus Egerton 2, and so on.  Now they are all in one volume.

For other scholars, it is enough to be able to read a decent, fresh translation of these texts, and occasionally to be able to check to see what the original language actually says at any point of particular interest.  (That’s usually how I use multi-language editions such as the Loebs, when I use them).   The multi-language edition is brilliant for that.  You don’t need two books for the Proto-Gospel of James, one with the English and the other with the Greek; you have it all in one book, on facing pages.  Much, much easier.   And when you have virtually all the known non-canonical Gospels in one volume like that – it’s terrific.

I should point out something I didn’t say in my previous post.  We did have to make one hard decision about excluding certain texts.   The Nag Hammadi Library contains several Gospels, but with one exception (Thomas) we decided not to include them in our collection.  These others are such interesting writings as the Gospel of Truth and the Gospel of Philip.   But we decided that since the Nag Hammadi Library itself is so easily accessible, in both Coptic and English translations, that it would be rather redundant to produce another edition of these texts.   So we left them out.  But we really thought we could not leave the Gospel of Thomas out of the collection, because anyone who would want to use our book for classroom use – e.g., on the early Christian apocrypha – would certainly want to teach Thomas, and so we really had to make an exception in that case.

In any event, the book was meant for scholars who already have some facility (or a great deal of facility) with the original languages.

But then in occurred to me, after it had been published for about a year, that it would make a lot of sense to publish a popular version of the same text – without the Greek, Latin, and Coptic – for people who did not have facility with the language, who didn’t want to buy a big thick book half of which they could not read, but who wanted to have a full collection of (virtually) all our non-canonical Gospels from the first centuries of the church all in one place.

So I thought – why not do a popular, trade book on the same topic?   As it turns out, even though there are several other books out there kind of like that, they are not really the sort of thing I had in mind.  It is possible to get very large books containing most of the apocryphal Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Apocalypses (e.g., the two-volume New Testament Apocrypha by W. Schneemelcher, a vade mecum for all graduate students since my own time in grad school and long before; or the one-volume Apocryphal New Testament  by Keith Elliott).   But these are directed toward scholars and do not have wide popular appeal.  Most people, outside the rank of scholars, of course, have never heard of them.

There are also books that give selections from among the most popular of the apocrypha.  I would include in that group my own earlier anthology, meant for broader audiences, Lost Scriptures.    That book did include about seventeen Gospels, but it had nearly forty other non-Gospel texts as well.  So it wasn’t what I had in mind for the a popular one-volume book of the apocryphal Gospels – which would be new translations of just about all the Gospels from outside the New Testament that anyone had ever heard of, with brief and informative introductions.

Once again I approached Oxford, and they were willing to publish it as a trade book.   It again was a lot more work than Zlatko and I intended or imagined.   Zlatko decided to add one Gospel that we had for very definite and technical reasons left out of the larger book (a Coptic work, The Gospel of the Savior), and that required some very difficult textual and translational work.   And for me, I had to rewrite all of the introductions to all of the texts to limit the technical discussions of interest to scholars and to make them accessible to non-specialists.

In any event, we pulled it off, and the book was published this year, as The Other Gospels: Accounts of Jesus from Outside the New Testament.  It, then, is the final instance in which I have tried to publish both a scholarly and a popular version of the same work.


Scholarly vs. Trade Books
Apocryphal Gospels: The Scholarly Version

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    nichael  August 26, 2014

    OK, you do realize, I assume, that it’s almost impossible now not to ask this question: So why _was_ “The Gospel of the Savior” excluded from the first book?

    (Of course I have no idea what the issues were; but (just off the cuff) one would guess if a text we’re going to be omitted it would be from the “popular” –not the “scholarly”– version.)

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 27, 2014

      Ah! A bit complicated. A colleague in Germany is producing a major critical edition of the text, and we didn’t want to present the text in an inadequate state only to be pre-empted when the best form of the text appeared. But for the popular edition we decided that people should at least get a decent translation that is basically on target.

  2. Avatar
    silvertime  August 26, 2014

    Dr Ehrman: Thanks for your comphrehensive work via your schorlarship, books, lectures, and blog in educationing both students and the inquiring public. Your continuing work is some of the best efforts since the Enlightment in explaining and correcting the popular concepts of revealed biblical religion

  3. Avatar
    shakespeare66  August 27, 2014

    While I have read several of the gospels in other books you have written, I will have to see the table of contents to determine if there are any I have not read. I will probably be able to see the table of contents on Amazon.com. Just got your Great Courses version of When Jesus Became God, and am already at Lecture 4. Very nice setting for the lectures and excellent presentation so far. Your explanations of the role of Gods in Antiquity is quite helpful in seeing your argument about the elevation of Jesus as a matter of historical consequence. I think that makes sense. Also included in the package I got were the lectures on Lost Christianities. I was wondering if you remembered to search for the writing process discussion you may have had on the blog at one time? No hurry. I know you are busy as usual.

  4. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  August 28, 2014

    couple of quick questions.

    1. Why did Christians come and erect a church dedicated to healing saints right where the ” 1st western hospital ” and sanctuary stood
    With Asclepius being sometimes refered to jesus anyways due to his documented healings etc and jesus was powerful and he spoke of moses not knowing him and who’s to say that jesus came from no where maybe right out of heaven like sometimes stated in the bible and knew of dionysos,

    gospel of thomas line 30 the same year that jesus came into existence lol to 33 ? anyways ” (30) Jesus said, “Where there are three gods, they are gods. Where there are two or one, I am with him.” Zeus, Poseidon, Hades?
    seriously the daughter higia is where the word ” HYGIENE ” comes from lol i mean come on !!

    2. What kingdom did John the Baptist and jesus speak of before they met? was it the same one ??

    been reading the gospel of thomas and has led me back to jesus speaking of moses identified with egypt and greek and dionysos identified to osiris and egypt hmm
    jesus christ / greek gods such as dionysos and asclepius and moses are related some how ? well historical writtings suggest acts 14:!2 this is not me I’m just putting together best as can ? have you have been taught this in your early years of learning ? or has any of this being connected ever been mentioned ?

    and sure you have seen my interpretations of this gospels which if not you can see the full interpretations on the VATICAN.COM prayers ( ” I HOPE THE POPE READS THIS ,) FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND FREEDOM OF RELIGION for the record

    3. funny how theatre, doctors ” 1st hospital ( asclepius which was thought to raise the dead until zeus found out and made him a star ” analogy ?” ) all come from gaia,and ouranos why is that ?

    Pseudo- Apollodorus, bibliotheca 2. 37:

    Herodotus, Histories 2. 49 :
    “Melampos [a mythical seer] was the one who taught the Greeks the name of Dionysos and the way of sacrificing to him . . . besides many other things which he learned from Egypt, he also taught the Greeks things concerning Dionysos,

    ALTERING A FEW OF THEM ?) now who knows what was left out ?!!

    for I will not say that what is done in Egypt in connection with the god

    [Osiris identified with Dionysos]

    and what is done among the Greeks originated independently:
    for they would then be of an Hellenic character and not recently introduced. NOR again will I say that the Egyptians took either this or any other custom from the Greeks.”

    ( question what is being said here that the author will not discuss what really was done to the alterations of the truth and our understanding of the gods of olympus? olympus could be a analogy for heaven who’s to say not HERODOTUS words himself that a guy JUST 400 years later is still using analogies along with interpretations)

    !! I expect that these women were called “doves” by the people of Dodona because they spoke a strange language, and the people thought it like the cries of birds; !!! women that are black birds prob because from egypt ?

    Hdt. 2.53.2

    400-500 years after homer
    And 400-500 years before jesus
    Right off the top

    And Herodotus speaks of him being a historian just like modern day but 400 years after ?
    is just another example of interpretations is very important from the beginning of your understanding.
    Herodotus speaks of him interpreting previous authors divine writings

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 29, 2014

      1. I don’t know; 2. Yes, the same; 3. I don’t know.

    • Josephsluna
      Josephsluna  August 30, 2014

      Question bart
      Me being. 24
      You think I have potential to be a TEACHER one day ?

  5. Avatar
    NW  August 29, 2014

    I read somewhere recently how there were up to 50 gospel portrayals about the life of Jesus in circulation in the early church. Is that claim correct?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 30, 2014

      We today have over 40 fragmentary, or complete, non-canonical Gospels (they are all collected in my book The Other Gospels). But we don’t know how many were in circulation in the early church.

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