In the summer of 2016 I began a long series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. I made about 75 points from May 18 through September 6 (when my fall teaching responsibilities required most of my attention). As it turned out, I only managed to post on the Enoch literature, the Sibylline Oracles, Fourth Ezra and 2 Baruch, and short posts on Treatise of Shem, The Apocryphon of Ezekiel, and Apocalypse of Zephaniah.

My original motivation for the series was preparation for teaching an intertestamental literature class in Spring 2017. I enjoyed teaching the class and I think most of the students liked the class and learned a great deal about the literature of the Second Temple Period. Evangelicals tend to shy away from this material, but I think it is essential to have a firm grasp on what was in the air in the Second Temple period in order to understand the New Testament, especially as more scholars recognized the apocalyptic nature of both Jesus and Paul.

Another benefit of an open publication like this blog is the feedback I get from readers. There were a number of comments which interacted with what I had posted and often gave me new insights or links to other material to supplement my posts. Most of the posts in the original series still generate hits every day, so I hope people are finding some value in this series.

I plan to pick up this series again, beginning with 3 (Greek Apocalypse of) Baruch. I will finish off the apocalypses as they appear in Charlesworth and then move on the Testament literature. If you missed the series last summer, here is an index for the previous posts on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha.

Introduction

1 Enoch

 

2 Enoch

 

3 Enoch

 

Sibylline Oracles

 

The Treatise of Shem

The Apocryphon of Ezekiel, Fragment 1

The Apocryphon of Ezekiel, Fragments 2-5

What is the Apocalypse of Zephaniah?

 

Fourth Ezra

 

2 (Syriac Apocalypse of) Baruch

 

 

Bockmuehl, Markus. Ancient Apocryphal Gospels. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2017. 344 pp.; Hb.; $40.00  Link to Westminster

This new contribution to the Interpretation Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Early Church limits itself to apocryphal Gospels. Bockmuehl states in his introductory chapter his approach is both accessible and nonsensational (29), in contrast other recent books which describe this literature as suppressed by the establishment and containing secrets threatening the very fabric of institutionalized Christianity. As Bockmuehl states, it is remarkable that none of these Gospel-like texts provide an alternative narrative to the canonical Gospels. Nor were they suppressed from the canon, they were never part of any canon in the first place (228). In fact, he concludes that on a minority of the texts surveyed in this introduction intended to explicitly subvert or displace the fourfold canonical Gospels (233) and they do not appear to have been widely read (235). This is a reasonable and judicious assessment of the apocryphal gospels.

In the first chapter Bockmuehl provides some orientation to how Gospels were read in the early church. He acknowledges some plurality in the early church, but he asserts this did not detract “from the surprisingly early appearance of a widely acknowledged core of the fourfold gospel narrative in both the East and West” (14). Evidence for this early acceptance is the cross-referencing within the Gospels themselves (and I would add the many potential allusions to Jesus tradition in the epistles) as well as the early citation of the canonical gospels alongside the Old Testament as Scripture before A.D. 100.

Bockmuehl resists the temptation to label these documents as Gnostic since “Gnosticism is a potentially misleading modern analytic construct” (20). Nor does Bockmuehl think there was a widespread suppression of these documents by increasingly orthodox Christianity seeking to limit access to potentially heretical and secret writings. Certainly some church writers sought to blacklist non-canonical gospels, but Bockmuehl points out this did very little and it was not until well after the sixth century the church had power to make these apocryphal texts go away (27).

What is an apocryphal gospel? Some of these gospels were found among the many thousands of documents found at Oxyrhynchus, Egypt. This massive collection included the Gospel of Thomas and fragments of the gospels of Mary, Peter and James. Other apocryphal gospels were found as part of the Nag Hammadi collection. Thirteen leather bound books were discovered in Egypt in 1945 and were once considered to be examples of Gnostic texts from the library of the nearby St. Pachomius monastery and discarded in the graveyard as canonical boundaries were established in the fourth century. Bockmuehl points out there are several improbabilities with this popular theory and suggests the manuscripts were an “eclectic collection of privately commissioned copies buried as part of the owner’s grave goods” (17).

After cataloging the many texts which might be considered to be an apocryphal gospel (ie. having something to do with Jesus), Bockmuehl suggest four categories: infancy, ministry, passion, and resurrection.

Chapter two discusses the two infancy Gospels of James and Thomas, summarizing the content of each and offering a section on the influence of each of these sources on the Christmas story. The Infancy Gospel of James has had a great influence on how the church thinks about the first of Jesus, although few Protestants are aware of this. In addition to the two well-known infancy gospels, Bockmuehl catalogs another eight lesser-known texts known from translations (for example, the Arabic Infancy Gospel, known from two Arabic and three Syriac manuscripts). The existence of these infancy gospels indicates the church began to emphasize the role of Mary very early and fill-in some gaps in the canonical gospels.

In chapter three Bockmuehl covers what he calls “fragmentary ministry gospels.” Beginning with Q, he outlines the development of sayings gospels especially among early Jewish Christianity. Some of these narrative gospels are lost, such as the Gospel according to the Hebrews, the Gospel according to the Nazoreans, and the Gospel according to the Ebionites. Although these gospels were known to ancient writers, nothing has been preserved. This chapter also includes Marcion’s edited gospel (which he claimed to be a recovery of the true gospel) and Tatian’s Diatessaron, an early harmony of the four canonical Gospels.

More promising is the Papyrus Egerton 2. This manuscript dates to about A.D. 200 and was discovered in 1935. It contains five non-canonical episodes from the life of Jesus including encounters between Jesus and Jewish opponents. For some scholars, this gospel represents an early, more Jewish form of Christianity in the Johannine tradition, but Bockmuehl is more cautious based on the lack of evidence for the circulation of the fragments (108-09). After surveying the contents of a number of other papyri fragments, Bockmuehl briefly discusses the Secret Gospel of Mark (a highly questionable text which may in fact be a forgery) and the Abgar Legend.

Chapter four reviews several passion gospels, with pride of place going to the Gospel of Peter. Crossan and others have argued the Gospel of Peter predates the New Testament and contributed to the shape of the canonical gospels, but this view has fallen into disfavor (140). The book was originally discovered in 1887 as part of a parchment codex dated between the sixth and ninth century (the Akhmim Codex). Although photographed in 1981, the manuscript is not missing from the Cairo museum (138). The Gospel of Peter contains some striking imagery of the cross and resurrection, perhaps accounting for the popularity of the book in antiquity. After surveying some of the scholarly debate about the book, Bockmuehl suggestions the Gospel of Peter represents “an appropriation and relecture of protocanonical synoptic tradition, not necessarily in written form” (144), placed into the mouth of Peter perhaps as a stamp of authority (146).

The fifth chapter collects what Bockmuehl calls “post-resurrection discourse gospels,” including the gospels of Thomas, Philip, Mary, Judas, Bartholomew and the Epistle of the Apostles. Of these, the 114 sayings in the Gospel of Thomas are by far the most significant because many are similar to the canonical Gospels, although with significant differences. This has led to a “booming industry” for critical studies of the Gospel of Thomas (170). Bockmuehl discusses two important questions, first, “is it a gospel” (Bockmuehl says it is a gospel but not a bios) and second, is it Gnostic? Here Bockmuehl concludes the book is not “properly Gnostic” but it certainly went on to become so (178).

The Gospel of Philip is equal in importance to the Gospel of Thomas, but has received less attention. The document is sometimes described as a “tract about rituals” including baptism and anointing (188) even if it stands in contrast to emerging Christian orthodoxy. Bockmuehl suggests the Gospel of Philip represents the “excerpted summary of the teachings of a gnostic preacher or catechist” (189).

This chapter also includes sections on the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Judas, two texts which have been the subject of headlines in recent years. With respect to the first, Bockmuehl says “we can safely conclude the Gospel of Mary tells us nothing about the closeted sexual life of Jesus or about a primitive radical feminist message suppressed by the later catholic church” (203). With respect to the Gospel of Judas, Bockmuehl cites Foster approvingly: the book is a “bitter satire of apostolic Christianity” (209).

Conclusion. Bockmuehl contributes a useful introduction to apocryphal gospels which avoids the kind of sensationalism which often accompanies books on non-canonical documents. The glossary of technical terms and extensive bibliography makes this an excellent introduction to the apocryphal gospels.

The Westminster John Knox Press website has a 53 page sample PDF which includes the front matter and the entire first chapter of the

NB: Thanks to Westminster John Knox Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Connelly, Douglas. Seven Letters to Seven Churches. Lifeguide® Bible Studies. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2017. Pb; 64 pp; $9  Link to IVP

Seven Letters to Seven ChurchesInterVarsity Press sent me a copy of this short Bible Study for the Letters to the Seven Churches found in Revelation 2-3. There are eight chapters in all since the study includes the vision of Jesus in the first chapter of Revelation. This is important since each of the seven letters makes some allusion back to this vision. Connelly provides a short paragraph of orientation for each section before the student reads the biblical passage for the chapter. There are then a series of short questions on the content of the unit as well as reflective questions intended to guide either an individual or group to think about the meaning and application of the sections.

Following the workbook section of the study is a leader’s guide with a suggested lesson plan for guiding a small group discussion. Each chapter has additional notes with background content, parallel biblical texts and suggestions on presenting the material.

Like other Lifeguide® Bible Studies, Connelly’s Seven Letters can be used as a personal Bible Study tool or in a small group discussion. Since the emphasis is on personal application, the book avoids controversial points such as millennial positions and historic interpretations of these letters. The guide could have been improved with a list of books for further reading.

NB: Thanks to InterVarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

Petra, Jordan, Travel

Petra 2005

May 2005 was my first trip to Israel. I had only 14 students but we did just about everything on that trip. We stayed several days longer than any other trip and made day trips to Petra and St. Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt. Tourism was at a low point in 2005, so we were able to book nicer hotels for very competitive rates. We used an Israeli guide for the whole trip and I learned a great deal from him about how to design a tour.

There was no wifi in 2005, the only internet available was in internet cafes or a computer in the hotel lobby. It did not matter much since no one had wifi enabled devices yet (it was two years before the first iPhone and I was not blogging until 2007).

People ask me which trip was my favorite, but I avoid the question since I do not want to play favorites. Secretly, it was this first trip, when everything was new to me and we had an adventure together.

 

Arad, Israel, Travel

Tel Arad, 2005

 

Israel, Timna, Travel

At Timna, 2005

 

 

On the Temple Mount

May 2007 was only the second time I visited Israel. I only had a handful of students, so Dale DeWitt joined with three people from his church in South Dakota and one student brought a friend and another brought her brother. This was my first time guiding some sites myself, although in Jerusalem I used an Israeli guide. I was still learning about how to design the tour well, and there were some serious bumps on this one.

I was not blogging regularly yet and there was little access to the internet at the time. One of the students put this slideshow together from his own photographs.

Travel, Israel, Tel Dan

At Tel Dan 2007

The May 2009 Grace Bible College Israel trip (May 12-22) was my third trip and for the first time I was able to “live blog” several times from Israel. Free wireless internet was still a rarity in the hotels at that time, so I only made three posts on the trip. I guided most of the trip myself, with the exception of a single day in in Jerusalem for the Temple Tunnel tour. We skipped Jordan on this tour to save some money for the students and I have always regretted that.

Heading to Israel!

Israel Update #1 – Jerusalem

Israel Update #2 – We are in Galilee!

Israel Update #3 — with Picture Goodness!

Israel, Masada, Travel

Masada, 2009

Tel Arad, 2009

In May 2011 sixteen Grace Bible College students  traveled to Israel and Jordan. Unlike other Israel trips, this time we flew Royal Jordanian Airlines to Amman and spent a few days in Jordan before crossing into Israel. This trip was special because my thirteen year old daughter Amy went on the trip along with Ken and Diana Johnson, longtime friends from California. This was Professor Scott Shaw’s first of many trips to Israel with the Grace Bible College group.

This trip was unique because we spent a morning doing an archaeological project at Tamar. We had a nice cool morning (only 90 degrees) and we found nothing but two buckets of pottery fragments (no coins or Dead Sea Scrolls). This was a good experience and more or less cured everyone of any interest in being an archaeologist.

Heading to Israel! (2011 Version)

Day 1: Travel to Jordan

Day 2: Amman, Madaba, Mt. Nebo

Day 3: Petra (in the rain)

Day 4: Jeresh, Welcome to Israel!

Day 5: The Golan Heights

Day 6: The Jesus Sites

Day 7: Qumran, En-Gedi

Day 7 (part 2): Evening Devotional

Day 8: Arad, Masada, and “Do not lick the Dead Sea”

Day 9: Quick update – archaeology is happening

Day 10: Archaeology at tel Tamar

Day 11: Walking in Jerusalem

Day 12: Southern Temple and the City of David

Day 13: Rainy Days and Demonstrations Really Get Me Down

Days 14-15: Back in the USA

Petra, Jordan, Travel

Petra 2011

Mount Arbel Carob Tree Lookout, January 2012

In January 2012 I traveled with 22 adults and students to Israel and Jordan. This trip was a little different than a student trip since we had a wide range of ages (one in high school, two college students, and several older retired adults). I tried to plan the trip with a little less walking (and more frequent bathroom breaks).

Heading to Israel (2012 Version)

Day 1 – Travel and More Travel!

Day 2 – Rainy Days (and Mondays) in Jerusalem

Day 3 – Into the Wilderness

Day 4 – Ibex, Rock Badgers, and Crabs, Oh My!

Day 5 – Crossing the Red Sea

Day 6 – Everything Floats in the Dead Sea

Day 7 – Appealing Caeserea

Day 8 – Following Jesus in Galilee

Day 9 – On The Road to Petra

Day 10 – Hiking in Petra

Day 11 – The Final Day in Jerusalem

Petra, Jordan, Travel

Petra, 2012

Mount Arbel Carob Tree Lookout

In May 2013 I traveled with 15 students and friends to Israel and Jordan.

Thanks to Ben Rolff for this video!

GBC – Israel Tour 2013

Day 1 – We Have Left, On a Jet Plane

Day 2 – Walking around Jerusalem

Day 3 – The Garden Tomb vs. The Holy Sepulchre

Day 4 (Part 1) – Down The Mount of Olives and Up the Kidron

Day 4 (Part 2) – Around the Zion Gate

Day 5 – Heading to Galilee

Day 6 – The Jesus Sites

Day 7 – Crossing into Jordan

Day 8 – Hiking in Petra

Day 9 – Swimming in the Red Sea

Day 10 – The Negev

Day 11 – En Gedi, Qumran, and then Homeward Bound

In May 2015 I traveled with 24 students and friends to Israel and Jordan. Professor Scott Shaw was a co-leader, without his help it would have been very difficult. I wrote these posts while in Israel or Jordan on my iPad, so think of them as “live reports from the field.” I revisited them once I was home to add additional photographs when internet was bad and correct some typos.

Thanks to Aaron Wienss for this video!

Day 1 and 2 – Traveling to Jerusalem

Day 3 – Seven Miles in Jerusalem

Day 4 – Museum Day in Jerusalem

Day 5 – From the East of Jerusalem

Day 6 – Heading to Galilee

Day 7 – The Jesus Sites

Day 8 – Visiting Jordan

Day 9 – Petra

Day 10 – Crossing the Red Sea

Day 11 – Mamshit, Arad and Masada

Day 12 – En Gedi and Qumran

Day 13 – Back Home Again

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