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.