Monday, June 12, 2017

Review of Burke and Landau (eds.), New Testament Apocrypha (part 3)

Tony Burke and Brent Landau, New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, volume 1 (Eerdmans, 2016).
Part One is here.
Part Two is here.
Part Four is here.

The Remaining Texts

I discuss the remaining texts in the order that they appear in the volume.

Apocryphal Acts and Related Traditions

The Acts of Barnabas (pp. 317-336, ed. Glenn E. Snyder) was composed in Greek by the late fifth century. It survives in two Greek recensions and a Latin translation. It is a collection of stories about the ministry and travels of Barnabas and John Mark, narrated by the latter. It concludes with an account of the martyrdom of Barnabas, after which John Mark and his companions appropriate and bury Barnabas’s remains and then escape to Alexandria.

The Acts of Cornelius the Centurion (pp. 337-361, ed. Tony Burke and Witold Witakowski) was composed in Greek sometime between the fourth and tenth centuries and survives in a long and a short version. This work expands the story of the conversion of the Cornelius of Acts 10-11 and recounts his elevation to sainthood after his death. This chapter translates a Greek manuscript and an Ethiopic translation, both representing the long version.

John and the Robber (pp. 362-370, Rick Brannan) is a story told at the conclusion of a homily by Clement of Alexandria and thus dates to the late second or early third century at latest. Some later authors, including Eusebius, repeat Clement’s account. The story tells of a young protégé of John the Apostle who goes bad and takes up with a group of robbers. John finds it necessary to round him up and bring him to repentance.

The History of Simon Cephas, the Chief of the Apostles (pp. 371-394, ed. F. Stanley Jones) was composed in the second half of the fourth century. It has never before been translated from Syriac into any modern language. Mostly it summarizes material from the canonical Book of Acts and other sources to give an account of the ministry of Peter. It includes his interactions with Simon Magus and a toned-down version of the famous episode in which Christ meets Peter and tells him he has returned to be crucified again because Peter is too weak to accept martyrdom.

The Acts of Timothy (pp. 395-405, ed. Cavan W. Concannon) survive in Greek and Latin manuscripts, but the work seems to have been composed in Greek in the late fourth or (more likely) early fifth century. It is of mixed genre, combining features of acts with features of martyrdoms. It presents Timothy as the bishop of Ephesus until his martyrdom.

The Acts of Titus (pp. 406-415, ed. Richard I. Pervo) survives and was composed in Greek. Its current form seems to date from the early seventh century, but this is probably an abbreviation of a longer life of Titus composed in the late fifth century. Pervo regards this work to be more a “hagiographical biography” than an apocryphal acts. It draws on traditions about Titus in the New Testament and the Acts of Paul. It also traces Titus’ lineage to Minos, King of Crete. Showing unusual sympathy for Jews for an early Christian document, it has an influential relative of Titus protect those in Crete from any consequences arising from the Judean revolt against Rome.

The Life and Conduct of the Holy Women Xanthipple, Polyxena, and Rebecca (pp. 416-452, ed. David L. Eastman) was composed in Greek in the fifth or sixth century. It has features of apocryphal acts and hagiography, but also reads like an unlikely (ancient) romance novel aimed at female monastics and devoted to promoting sexual abstinence. Three very different women undergo various adventures, some of them harrowing, but they survive unscathed and embrace a profoundly ascetic Christianity. The Apostle Paul is a central supporting character and other New Testament figures appear from time to time.


The Epistle of Christ from Heaven (pp. 455-463, ed. Calogero A. Miceli) survives in manuscripts in a vast number of languages, but it likely originated in Greek. The first surviving mention of it was by the bishop of Ibiza in the late sixth century. (That’s right: Ibiza!) This remarkable work amounts to a chain letter from Jesus (who has been theologically homogenized with God). It survives in countless variations, the common core of which is to promote observation of Sunday as the Lord’s Day. This volume translates a comparatively early (fifteenth century) Greek manuscript of the epistle.

The Epistle of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite to Timothy concerning the Deaths of the Apostles Peter and Paul (pp. 464-480, ed. David L. Eastman) survives in versions in multiple languages. The lost Greek original was probably composed in the late sixth or early seventh century. Dionysius the Areopagite is mentioned in Acts 17:34 and is best known as the pseudonym of a fifth-sixth-century writer whose philosophical-theological works laid the foundation for subsequent Christian mysticism. This epistle is unrelated. It gives a fictional eyewitness account of the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul.


The (Latin) Revelation of John about Antichrist (pp. 483-491, ed. Charles D. Wright) survives in two Latin recensions as well as in medieval English and Irish versions. It was composed in Latin, probably in the mid-twelfth century. In it, Christ reveals information to John about the Antichrist and other eschatological matters.

The Apocalypse of the Virgin (pp. 492-509, Charles D. Wright) was composed in Greek between the sixth and ninth centuries, probably earlier rather than later in that range. Hundreds of manuscripts survive with an enormous amount of textual variation. It tells the story of the visit of Mary to various parts of Hell, after which she enlists all the angels and saints to badger God into providing the damned Christian sinners with an annual period of respite from the lake of fire. It was a vastly popular work in Eastern Christianity.

The Tiburtine Sibyl (pp. 510-525, Stephen J. Shoemaker) was composed in Greek in the fourth century. This Greek version is lost, but is preserved substantially in a Latin translation. The surviving Greek text is of an expanded recension produced in the early sixth century. Shoemaker translates the Latin version. The work is an apocalyse set in the mouth of an early pagan Roman prophetess and is a late example of a Jewish and Christian tradition of writing oracles in the names of various Sibyls. We published a translation of the Greek version by Rieuwerd Buitenwerf in MOTP1, pp. 176-188. That translation includes detailed notes on the historical allusions in the work. It is unclear to Shoemaker why we regarded it as an Old Testament pseudepigraphon. (MNTA1, p. 512 n. 9), presumably because the oracles refer to events in the Christian era. But as he also noted (p. 515), the Sibylline literature has traditionally been included among Jewish and Christian apocryphal literature. The pagan Sibyls, like Ahiqar and Zoroaster, were adopted into the biblical tradition as prophets or sages. But they traditionally lived in the Old Testament period and so, at least in the case of the Sibyls and Ahiqar, have been treated as Old Testament pseudepigrapha in past collections. We continued that tradition (cf. MOTP1, xxviii) but have no objection to classing the Tiburtine Sibyl as a New Testament apocryphon as well. It is good to have the complementary translations in both volumes.

The Investiture of Abbaton, the Angel of Death (pp. 526-554, Alin Suciu with Ibrahim Saweros) is another example of the genre pseudo-apostolic memoir. It survives in a single tenth-century Sahidic Coptic manuscript, but it was probably composed in the fifth or sixth century. This work is a book within a book: the (probably pseudonymous) author Timothy of Alexandria describes how he obtained a revelatory book from an old man in Jerusalem and then transcribes the supposed content of the book. It narrates how the angel Muriel was transformed into Abatton (i.e., Abaddon, Hebrew for “destruction”) the Angel of Death. This work may be based on a Muslim source, but it is also possible that the Investiture and parallel Islamic traditions draw on an earlier common source. An Arabic Christian source offers a refutation of the story of Abatton and this chapter translates the relevant passage in an appendix.

In the next post I will give an overall evaluation of MNTA1 and make some general comments about it. Spoiler: I like it.

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