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.
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.