Tony Burke, ed. New Testament Apocrypha, Vol. 3: More Noncanonical Scriptures

Burke, Tony, ed. New Testament Apocrypha, Vol. 3: More Noncanonical Scriptures. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2023. 683 pp. Hb; $85.   Link to Eerdmans

In the introduction to the second volume of New Testament Apocrypha, Tony Burke observed that the number of documents called “Christian Apocrypha” is quite high. In 1992 Clavis apocryphorum Novi Testameni listed 346 texts, but there were omissions, and recent discoveries increased that number. This volume includes twenty-nine translations of non-canonical Christian writings with introductions and notes. This series aims to make available overlooked in previous English language collections.

Before the first volume in this series, the standard collection of Christian noncanonical Christian literature was The New Testament Apocrypha (edited by M. R. James in 1924) and updated by Wilhelm Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha (Vol. 1: Gospels and Related Writings; Vol. 2: Writings Relating to the Apostles Apocalypses). J. K. Elliot’s New Testament Apocrypha (Oxford, 1993) expanded the collection of Christian Apocrypha. New Testament Apocrypha Volume 3 continues this tradition by collecting texts not already found in these earlier works.

New Testament Apocrypha Volume 3

A few of the texts from the projected list at the end of Volume 2 are not included (The Book of the Rooster, The Discovery of John the Baptist’s Head, Dream of Nero, On the Star, and the Vision of Theophilus). In addition, a few of the titles have changed since the projected list was published.

The introduction for each document in the collection begins with a summary of the contents followed by a list of available manuscripts, versions, and editions. Most introductions have a few paragraphs on the literary and theological importance of the work and comments on the genre, structure, original language, date, and provenance. Some introductions place the document into a historical context or comment on potential literary sources. Finally, each introduction includes translation notes and a bibliography. Marginal notes suggest references to canonical scripture or other Christian Apocrypha.

Burke suggests the “crown jewel in volume 3 is Janet E. Spittler’s translation of Acts of John by Prochorus.” This sixty-page text is presented in English for the first time and is known from 150 Greek manuscripts and translations in Coptic, Arabic, Ethiopic, Armenian and Old French. Some stories from this text appear in paintings in the Church of John on Patmos, indicating the importance of this apocryphal book to some early Christians. Even though the book was popular and well-attested, it has received far less attention than the Proto-Evangelium of James (for example). Spittler’s thirty-four-page introduction suggests the book was written before AD 630, likely from Antioch rather than Patmos (“the author hasn’t the faintest idea of the size and character of the island”) or Ephesus.

The narrator of Acts of John is Prochorus, one of the deacons (Acts 6:5). When the apostles and deacons cast lots to decide where they will go to evangelize, Prochorus’s lot indicates he will follow John to Ephesus. The text narrates a series of miracles and exorcisms, usually ending in the conversion of a pagan. John wrote the Gospel of John while in exile on the island of Patmos, dictating the book to Prochorus. What is remarkable is the book does not engage current theological debates. Spittler points out there is no emphasis on celibacy or sexual asceticism. In fact, John helps a couple conceive. There is an allusion to Dormition in the first paragraph, “the mother of us all departing from this life” before John left for Ephesus.  This would imply Mary’s Dormition in Jerusalem rather than Ephesus.

The story of the Hospitality and Perfume of the Bandit illustrates how some early Christians connected canonical texts. On their flight to Egypt, Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus are attacked by a bandit who had sworn to rob and kill the next people he encountered. After seeing the blessed Mary and child Jesus, he decides instead to lead them to his own home and offer them hospitality. The bandit’s child is leprous, but after bathing in the same bathwater as Jesus, is completely healed. Later, Mary washes out baby Jesus’s clothing and rings the water into an alabaster vessel. The water became a precious and fragrant perfume. She gives this perfume to the bandit, who then sells it for a great price to Mary Magdalene. Mary Magdalene was still “making a living from sin,” but when she used the perfume on herself, all her bodily pollution and desire for sin left her. She keeps the rest of the perfume and uses it to anoint the Lord’s feet. This reflects the tradition that the woman in Mark 14:3-9 was Mary Magdalene, a detail absent from Mark. In John 12, the woman is Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus (not Magdalene). The woman is not identified in Luke 7:37-39, but because Luke 8:2 introduces Mary Magdalene for the first time, the tradition reflected by this apocryphal story first developed.  The bandit is the one crucified alongside Jesus who asked to be remembered when the Kingdom comes.

The first Revelation of Matthew about the End Times is known from only two late medieval manuscripts. This short text is notable because it describes the Antichrist physically. Just before the Triumphal Entry, Jesus tells Matthew the coming Antichrist will be tall and thin, with long hair and a long nose. He will have eyes like a cat and large ears. He has leprous spots on his head, which remain even when he changes his appearance. The elect will wait for Christ’s arrival in caves, eating only vegetables and water, and will not touch women.  The Antichrist and Gog and Magog will be defeated by Michael the archangel on the Mount of Olives. Translator Stephen Pelle suggests some similarities with the Apocalypse of Elijah, especially in its description of the Antichrist.

The second Revelation of Matthew about the End Times was composed in sometime in the twelfth or early thirteenth century and is unrelated to the first Revelation. The short text is an expansion on Matthew 24, combined with elements of canonical Revelation. Charles Wright and Stephen Pelle place three recensions in parallel columns. Several details in this text are interesting, I will mention only a few. First, the Antichrist is from the tribe of Dan (a tribe missing from Revelation 7) and raised in Chorazin and Bethsaida (two towns condemned by Jesus for their unbelief, Matthew 11:20-24). Second, Enoch and Elijah are the two unnamed witnesses in Revelation 11. Third, the second Revelation of Matthew gives a series of fifteen signs of the end, possibly influenced by 4 Ezra. Finally, the book’s last section refers to humanity’s resurrection: “They will advance into the air toward the Lord when he comes to the judgment of the world” (Recensions 2A and 2B). This is a clear allusion to 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17. Although not a rescue before the great tribulation, it is certainly rapture-like.

Conclusion.  In his introduction to this volume, Burke says there are still more Christian Apocrypha awaiting publications, and he hints that a fourth volume may follow in the future. A fourth volume would enhance this already important three-volume contribution to the study of early Christian Apocrypha.


Contents of New Testament Apocrypha, Volume 3

Part One: Gospels and Related Traditions of New Testament Figures

  • The Hospitality and Perfume of the Bandit—Mark G. Bilby
  • The Gospel of the Twelve—James Toma
  • The Dialogue of Jesus and the Devil—Chance E. Bonar and Slavomír Čéplö
  • The Story of the Image of Edessa—Nathan J. Hardy
  • The Dream of the Rood—Alexander D’Alisera and Samuel Osborn
  • The Eremitic Life of Mary Magdalene—Brandon W. Hawk
  • The Martyrdom of Zechariah—Tony Burke and Sarah Veale
  • The Decapitation of John the Forerunner—Tony Burke

Part Two: Apocryphal Acts and Related Traditions

  • The Acts of Andrew and Paul—Christian H. Bull and Alexander Kocar
  • The Acts of Andrew and Philemon—Ivan Miroshnikov
  • The Story of John Meeting Cerinthus—Lorne R. Zelyck
  • The Acts of John in Rome—Janet E. Spittler
  • The Acts of John by Prochorus—Janet E. Spittler
  • The Memorial of John—Rick Brannan
  • The Martyrdom of Mark—Tobias Nicklas
  • The History of Paul—Jacob A. Lollar
  • The Preaching of Simon Cephas in the City of Rome—J. Edward Walters
  • The Disputation of Peter and Nero—J. Edward Walters
  • The Acts of Christ and Peter in Rome—Julia A. Snyder and Slavomír Čéplö
  • The Passion of Peter and Paul—Carson Bay
  • The Preaching of Philip—Ivan Miroshnikov

Part Three: Epistles

  • The Epistles of Ignatius, John, and Mary—Gregory Given
  • The Epistle of James to Quadratus—Brent Landau, Bradley Rice, and J. Edward Walters
  • The Epistles of Longinus, Augustus, Ursinus, and Patrophilus—Tony Burke

Part Four: Apocalypses

  • The Revelation about the Lord’s Prayer—Peter Tóth
  • The Dialogue of Mary and Christ on the Departure of the Soul—Christine Luckritz Marquis
  • The Questions of John (Interrogatio Iohannis)—Stephen C. E. Hopkins
  • 1 Revelation of Matthew about the End Times—Stephen Pelle
  • 2 Revelation of Matthew about the End Times—Charles D. Wright and Stephen Pelle



NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work. I purchased this volume for Logos Bible Software.


Michael Wittmer, Urban Legends of Theology

Wittmer, Michael. Urban Legends of Theology: 40 Common Misconceptions. Brentwood, Tenn.: B&H Academic, 2023. 258 pp. Pb; $19.99.   Link to B&H Academic

Part of B&H Academic’s Urban Legends series, Michael Wittmer takes on forty common misconceptions about Christian theology. Wittmer is a professor of systematic and historical theology and director of the Center for Christian Worldview at Cornerstone University. In addition to Heaven is a Place on Earth (Zondervan, 2004) and Don’t Stop Believing: Why Living Like Jesus Is Not Enough (Zondervan, 2009), he recently published The Bible Explainer: Questions and Answers on Origins, the Old Testament, Jesus, the End Times, and More (Barbour, 2020).

 Urban Legends of Theology

The Urban Legends series defines an urban legend as an untrue popular belief in church or culture. Some of these urban legends are more wrong than others. In his introduction, Whitmer observes that some “will damn you to hell” (ix). He points out that even though dismantling myths is fun, replacing the myth with the truth is far better. This is the book’s goal, to clarify popular theological and replace them with accurate theological teaching.

A book like this runs the risk of theological arrogance, or the author comes off looking like a real jerk. Whitmer avoids both extremes. He answers these myths with good-natured humor: the book is fun to read! His goal is to point the readers to the truth. Notice that the truth is defined within a conservative and evangelical framework.

The book covers forty urban legends in four categories (“in theological order”): God and theological method, humanity and sin, Jesus and salvation, and church and last things. He also includes ten mini-myths, slight variations on the theme of the chapter. Unlike other books in this series, Wittmer includes six “suburban legends.” These are updated versions of the classic urban legend covered in the chapter.

The urban legends covered in the book are usually the kind of trite sayings that describe Christian belief used by outsiders. They are often cliches, like “theology puts God in a box” or “faith begins when knowledge ends.” Sometimes these legends seem like “bad Facebook memes from grandma.” Others deal with serious theological errors. For example, everyone has likely heard the common saying defining justification as “just as if I never sinned.” Not only does this little phrase only rhyme in English, but it is also terrible theology!

Perhaps my favorite in the book is entitled “Grandpa went to Heaven and plays outfield with the Angels.” The chapter deals with the perception that humans go to heaven and get to do whatever they like doing on earth for eternity. Although vaguely comforting, they don’t stand up to a biblical description of heaven. Sometimes the urban legend is derived from a classic hymn, such as “I’ll Fly Away,” which appears to teach that we will live forever in heaven. In this chapter, he deals with what scripture says about the new heaven and earth and the consummation of the age. Wittmer concludes the chapter by changing the lyrics of “I’ll Fly Away” to correct this urban legend. Although theologically correct, I can’t imagine this is catching on at the bluegrass festival.

Each chapter begins with a short description of the legendary belief, often illustrated with some popular culture reference. Wittmer then deals with the legend in a section entitled “Unraveling the Belief.” He deals with what is wrong with the commonly assumed belief and what is actually taught in Christian theology. Remember, his goal is to present theological truth rather than simply tear down a trite cliche. These sections are well documented, with footnotes pointing interested readers to additional literature so that they can go deeper. Each chapter concludes with a short section entitled “Application.”  Here we are often treated to Wittmer’s pastoral heart As he attempts to help readers to understand the importance of good theology in living out their Christian life.

Urban Legends of Theology is an entertaining book that presents traditional (conservative) theology as an antidote to popular assumptions about what Christians believe. I’ve often observed that good theology or good exegesis ruins popular preaching. This book might challenge a pastor who has made an emotional point like “Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship,” or “the safest place to be is in the center of God’s will,” or “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Undoubtedly, everyone has heard sermons (or worse, preached sermons) where these urban legends were met with vigorous amens and nodding heads. But as Wittmer says, it is better to have good theology and pass on these kinds of false (and sometimes dangerous) ideas about Christian theology.


Thanks to B&H Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.


Published on Reading Acts, May 26, 2023


Day Ten: En-Gedi, Qumran, and Qasr al Yahud, Jaffa

The last day of the 2023 Israel tour began at En-Gedi, where David hid from King Saul in a cave (1 Samuel 24). This is one of the more beautiful hikes on the trip since the Israeli Parks service has developed Wadi David as a nature preserve. The mile and a half walk is relatively easy since there are cut stairs and handrails, but there are a few steep flights and one passage through dark tunnel made of river reed. The walk also has several waterfalls and pools, the highlight being the final one at the end of the canyon. We saw a few hyrax and a few ibex on the way into of the park, and more ibex on the way out. Since we arrived at En-Gedi early (right at 8AM), we missed the huge crowds of tourists and school groups. I recommend visiting En-Gedi early!


From En-Gedi we drove north to Qumran, the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. The last time I was at Qumran, the new visitor’s center was under construction. It is now complete and has a very nice reception area, but the video and small museum is the same. The film was not working, which is good (in my opinion) because it is a bit strange.

The archaeology of the site is relatively simple, although the water system collects far more water that the site might need to survive. The reason for this is large number of ritual baths used by the community for purification. Almost everything at Qumran is controversial and the Dead Sea Scrolls have encouraged a wide variety of fringe ideas about the nature of both early Judaism and Christianity. The video at the beginning of the tour suggests a relationship between John the Baptist and the Qumran community. This provided an opportunity to talk about these theories with the students. At the viewpoint overlooking Cave 4 we had a good discussion about the contents of the Scrolls and their value for biblical studies.

Qumran, Cave 4

Since it is on the way to Tel Aviv, we stopped  at Qasr al Yahud, the more likely of the traditional sites for Jesus’s baptism. This site has been open since 2011 and is now on the Israel National Parks card, so it is an easy add-on for for groups using the park pass (see this Times of Israel story on the re-opeing of the site for tourist groups).

Qasr means castle, and Greek Orthodox Monastery of St John the Baptist does indeed look at bit like a castle. Unlike the site at Yardenit in Galilee, this is a far more authentic location since it is in the general area John the Baptist was active (although it is still not certain this is the place). Another clear difference is the lack of commercialism compared to Yardenit. The majority of the crowds queuing to be baptized in the muddy stream of the Jordan were Orthodox, although there appeared to be a handful of Protestants. The site on the other side of the Jordan is only a matter of feet from this location in Israel. The Jordanian site is called Al-Maghtas, “immersion” in Arabic. UNESCO listed the Jordanian side as a world heritage site, but not the western side.  They are renovating and expanding the visitor’s center (and the parking lot is in need of re-paving).

Qasr al Yahud

When we arrived at Jaffa, the traffic was even crazier than expected for a Friday afternoon. Getting in to the old city was difficult, and getting nearly impossible. Our guide walked us through several points of interest in Jaffa, although there is little that is authentic. There is a traditional site for the home of Cornelius and a Franciscan church commemorating Peter’s departure from Jaffa to Rome (although that is not in the Bible, but if he left for Rome by ship Jaffa is the likely port). There are several spectacular views if the Mediterranean Sea and Tel Aviv.

We stopped in a jewelry shop in Jaffa, Adina Plastelina. The owner gave us a nice overview of some the artifacts discovered when they renovated their apartment into a shop. They have a short video on their webpage describing their jewelry, it is a fascinating process (but I was really interested in the archaeilogy under the shop).


In Tel Aviv we stayed at the Metropolitan Hotel in Tel Aviv, just a block from the Mediterranean. Most of the group plans on watching the sun set on the Mediterranean (I am faithfully finishing up the blog posts in my room). I have stayed in this nice hotel before, but it is always too short: our wake up call was for 4:30 AM to get to the airport for our 8:30AM flight back to Chicago.

Day Nine: Masada, Arad, Mamshit, and the Dead Sea

Since we are staying at the En Gedi Hotel, we are not far from the entrance to Masada. I have visited Masada at the end of a day when it is very hot, but this morning it was pleasant and breezy. Masada is a highlight of any Israel tour, although I am surprised some Christian groups day-trip from Jerusalem or skip it altogether. This is unfortunate for both biblical and modern history.

Dead Sea from the Top of Masada

Like the Herodium, Masada was Herod the Great’s monumental fortress-palace on the top of a flat mountain some 1500 feet above the Dead Sea. To get to the top we ride a cable car (which claims to hold 80 people, and they put about 120 in the car I rode up). We spent most of our time on the north end of the mountain, where we had several really good conversations about what “really happened” here and how Josephus knew (or did not know) the speech of Eliezer. Several students walked down the 180 steps to the rooms on the front of the mountain. This is something you should do when you visit Masada.

Unlike most groups, we walked down the siege ramp. This is practical, since we drove to Arad next. While we were on top of Masada, our driver drove around to the back side of the mountain to meet us. The ramp is a relatively easy walk with steps (most of the way) and a sturdy hand rail. There is water and toilets in the small parking lot, although only a small kiosk for those who need an ice cream after the long walk down the mountain (you know who you are).

Masada Seige Ramp

After Masada, we drove to Arad. There are two parts to this hike, a lower city excavated to the Canaanite period and an Israelite upper citadel excavated and restored to the eighth or ninth century. I take my group through the Canaanite section first, but many groups skip it entirely in order to get to the “good stuff” more quickly. I want my group to see the differences and similarities between Canaanite culture and Israelite. One example is the Arad House, a reconstructed Canaanite house. At Tamar there is a partially reconstructed Israelite four-room house. The contrast between the two is one of the indicators of when Israelite culture enters The Negev.

For me, the real highlight of Arad is the Citadel. There is a large Solomonic gate and a number of smaller rooms, but the main thing to see here is a Israelite high place. It is similar to the Solomon’s temple, but much smaller. There is an altar for sacrifice, a holy place and a Holy of Holies. Inside the Holy of Holies is a Canaanite standing stone, which may indicate the site allowed for both the worship of the Lord and the local Baal. In 2 Kings 18:4 Hezekiah removed all the high places, perhaps shutting down this particular Temple. Josiah will do the same thing in 2 Kings 23.

Arad Temple

After finishing at Arad, we drove to Dimona for lunch at a mall food court (options and choice are popular).

Not far from Dimona is Mamshit, a Nabatean trading village which was active from the first century. Aside from the excavated city, there are two churches at the top of the site. For Christian groups, these are important to visit. These early Byzantine churches have a few Greek mosaics and a most interesting baptismal in a side room. The size and shape both strike me as odd, since it seems to have been used for immersion (there are steps), it it is so small it would have to be a self-immersion at best. Mamshit also has a large Nabatean mansion with several nicely reconstructed rooms. Since we saw the Nabatean tombs at Petra, it is good to see how the wealthy lived.

Finally, we visited the Dead Sea for the traditional swim in the salt water. We went to a public area in Ein Bokek, which was not at all crowded The swimming was good and the beach is well maintained. Our guide bought two bags of Dead Sea mud so people could have the full Dead Sea experience.

Dead Sea Gang

Tomorrow is En-Gedi, Qumran, a stop at Jesus’s baptism site near the Dead Sea, then a final few hours in Jaffa.

Day Eight: The Red Sea (and the place with the cows)

Every tour has a necessary travel day. In this case we left Petra about 7:50 and drove to the Arava Border crossing to return to Israel. The drive was uneventful and we did not even make a rest stop. I think everyone was looking forward to swimming in the Red Sea,

The passage through the Jordanian is quick and easy (you pay the money they let you through). But the Israeli side involved a lengthy bag inspection. Several members of our group had to open their bags and the search was thorough. It might be frustrating but I appreciate the extreme care for safety and security, as well as the generally friendly people digging through our filthy clothes to check out water bottles filled with Sea of Galilee water.

Red Sea

The only event on the agenda today was a swim in the Red Sea at Coral Beach. This is on the National Park Pass so entrance was already paid. Snorkeling gear cost about $10 to rent. Some of the group snorkeled, the rest waded into the water in the one or two open swim areas. Several sat in the shade and read a book (my favors option at the beach). Despite a steady breeze it was very hot.

I usually stay with the group’s bags while they enjoy the Red Sea swim (and eat ice cream). This allowed me to have several conversations about the location of the Red Sea in the book of Exodus. The place we were at is not the Red Sea, it is the Gulf of Aqaba, which connects to the Red Sea. But the Hebrew Bible does not say Israel crossed the Red Sea, but rather then Sea of Reeds, only three days after being allowed to leave Egypt. It is not possible for the Red Sea on modern maps to be the Reed Sea from Exodus (and there are several possible locations for the Reed Sea in Egypt).

After a stop at Yotvata (the one with the cows) for lunch and a few supplies (I bought a package of dried figs), we drove straight to En Gedi. The En Gedi Kibbutz Hotel is a beautiful kibbutz turned hotel. The location is right next to the En Gedi Nature Park and the grounds of the hotel are a wild garden of plants and trees. Many in our group enjoyed the pool, and dinner was exceptional, and our second night they had a live jazz concert.

Tomorrow we will will visit several Negev desert sites, including at Masada and Arad, along with the traditional swim in the Dead Sea