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.


Tony Burke, ed. New Testament Apocrypha, Vol. 2: More Noncanonical Scriptures

Burke, Tony, ed. New Testament Apocrypha, Vol. 2: More Noncanonical Scriptures. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2020. 655 pp. Hb; $75.   Link to Eerdmans

In the introduction to the second volume of New Testament Apocrypha, Tony Burke observes the number of documents that can be called “Christian Apocrypha” is quite high. In 1992 Clavis apocryphorum Novi Testameni listed 346 texts, but there were omissions and new discoveries increase that number. This volume includes twenty-nine translations of non-canonical Christian writings with introductions and notes.

More New Testament ApocryphaPrior to 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, updated as Wilhelm Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha (Vol. 1: Gospels and Related Writings; Vol. 2: Writings Relating to the Apostles Apocalypses). This volume collected many the major noncanonical works, including some Gnostic literature. New Testament Apocrypha volume 2 continues the project of collecting texts not already found in Schneemelcher.

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 genre and structure as well as 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 bibliography.

Part one gathers gospels and related traditions of New Testament figures. Traditionally any document concerning Jesus, or the plot of the gospels is called a “gospel.” The titles given to these new apocryphal stories resist that temptation. Thankfully, The Adoration of the Magi is not given the title, “The Gospel of the Magi.”

  • The Adoration of the Magi, Adam Carter Bremer-McCollum
  • The Rebellion of Dimas, Mark G. Bilby
  • A Homily on the Life of Jesus and His Love for the Apostles, Timothy Pettipiece
  • A Homily on the Passion and Resurrection, by Pseudo-Evodius, Dylan M. Burns
  • The Book of Bartholomew, Christian H. Bull and Alexandros Tsakos
  • The Healing of Tiberius, Zbigniew Izydorczyk
  • The Legend of the Holy Rood Tree, Stephen C. E. Hopkins
  • The Story of Joseph of Arimathea, Bradley N. Rice
  • A Homily on the Building of the First Church of the Virgin, Paul C. Dilley
  • The Life of Judas, Brandon W. Hawk and Mari Mamyan
  • The Life of Mary Magdalene, Christine Luckritz-Marquis

There are several highlights here. The Adoration of the Magi is only extant in a form of Old Turkic known as Old Uyghur, discovered in Turfan, brought to Berlin, moved to Moscow after World War II and subsequently lost. A clear copy was made of the four pages which make up this short story. The infant Jesus speaks to the magi when they offer their gifts and breaks off a chunk of stone from his cradle “like breaking off bread” and gives it to them. The stone is too heavy for them to carry, and their horse is unable to carried either. The manage to throw the stone in a well, and a great sign appeared in the sky. They realize the stone was a jewel. but they were not worthy. At this point, an angel appears, and they do not return to King Herod. The text breaks off after Herod kills the priest Zechariah (cf. Prot. James 23-24) and realizes the Magi have left.

There are two accounts of intriguing persons in the Gospels, The Life of Judas and The Life of Mary Magdalene. The Life of Judas is a medieval Latin text, although also extant in Greek and Armenian. Translations of the Latin and Armenian texts appear in this volume. Judas’s father was warned in a dream his son would eventually kill him, so when Judas was born, his father pierced the child’s legs and threw him in some bushes. He was rescued by some shepherds and raised by a woman named Scariot. As an adult Judas served king Herod, and when to a field to gather fruit for the king. Judas kills owner of the field in order to take his fruit, naturally this is Judas’s father. Herod protects him from revenge and the king counsels him to marry the dead man’s wife. So Judas killed his father and marries his mother. His mother sees the scars on his legs and realizes Judas is her son, both realize they have committed a great wickedness.

The Life of Mary Magdalene is a Byzantine text which describes Mary as a beautiful, wealthy woman prior to meeting Jesus rather than a prostitute. According to this tale, she is the woman was troubled by seven demons until Jesus cast them out. She is the woman who anointed Jesus’s feet in Luke 7:38 and the first witness to the resurrection (John 20). After the ascension, Mary travels to Rome and accuses Pilate before the Emperor. Pilate is summoned to Rome, interrogated and jailed. While in jail outside of Rome, the emperor was hunting. He shot an arrow at a deer, missed, and struck Pilate in the heart. Mary then makes an evangelistic trip to Marseille, converts the town of idolaters and establishes a church there. She died in Ephesus, but her remains were transferred by Leo VI to Constantinople to the Monastery of Holy Lazarus.

Part two collects apocryphal Acts and related traditions. Traditionally Apocryphal Acts books are stories about the apostles or the apostolic circle.

  • The Acts of Nereus and Achilleus, Richard I. Pervo
  • The Act of Peter in Azotus, Cambry G. Pardee
  • The Exhortation of Peter, J. Edward Walters
  • The Travels of Peter, J. Edward Walters
  • The History of Philip, Robert A. Kitchen
  • The Acts of Thomas and His Wonderworking Skin, Jonathan Holste and Janet E. Spittler

The Acts of Peter in Azotus describes Peter’s encounter with the devil and a group of demons in Azotus, a location mentioned in Acts 8:40 in association with Philip the Evangelist. The devil appears as an archangel, but Peter sees through the disguise. The devil makes the sign of the cross and cries of to Christ. The devil confess is who he is in each of the seven demons introduce themselves. They are the demons of deception, sexual immorality, falsehood, adultery, avarice, and slander. The seventh is not associated with the vice, Syracuse is Peter and humans in general of sin. Peter binds the devil in the demons for seven days, during which time there was no sin on earth.

The most unusual story is The Acts of Thomas and His Wonderworking Skin. The story concerns the apostle Thomas is missionary work in India and provides two stories that are not found in the longer Acts of Thomas. The Greek text was originally edited by M. R. James in 1897 from a single British library manuscript.  In1903 three additional manuscripts were discovered. The text is also extended Coptic, Arabic, Ethiopic, and church Slavonic. The translation published in this volume is from Tamilia, first appearing in 1903. Peter and Matthew accompany Thomas to India, where they speak to a man named Olbanus who is looking to buy a slave. Jesus suddenly appears and sells Thomas as a slave and he is eventually put to work building a palace for the king of India. He preaches the gospel to his master’s wife Arsinoë and she becomes a believer and destroys her idols. The devil enters the heart of husband Leucius and he tortures Thomas and flays him. Arsinoë is so upset by this she dies, but Thomas takes his skin, lays it over her dead body and she rises from the dead. His skin is involved in several other miracles before the Lord glues the skin back on Thomas’s body and he ascends to heaven to be gathered to the other apostles, Mary and Paul.

There is only one example of an epistle in part three of the volume, The Epistle of Pelagia, translated by Slavomír Čéplö. As Burke comments in the introduction to the volume, this is an epistle in name only since it was associated with the Acts of Paul when it was first published in 1904. The Epistle of Pelagia alludes to Thecla and includes the story of Paul baptizing a lion (ch. 2). This lion appears in chapter 6 when Paul is sent to the arena. After Paul and the lion pray and worship together, they are released. Pelagia is a daughter of a king who converts after hearing Paul’s preaching, divorces her husband and narrowly avoids martyrdom.

Part four follows the traditional practice of calling anything with Revelation-like visions an “apocalypse.”

  • The Dialogue of the Revealer and John, Philip Tite
  • 1 Apocryphal Apocalypse of John, Rick Brannan
  • 2 Apocryphal Apocalypse of John, Rebecca Draughon, Jeannie Sellick, and Janet E. Spittler
  • 3 Apocryphal Apocalypse of John, Chance Bonar, Tony Burke, and Slavomír Čéplö
  • The Questions of James to John, Katherine Gibbons
  • The Mysteries of John, Hugo Lundhaug and Lloyd Abercrombie
  • The Investiture of the Archangel Michael, Hugo Lundhaug
  • Appendix: John of Parallos, Homily Against Heretical Books, Christian H. Bull and Lance Jenott
  • The Investiture of the Archangel Gabriel, Lance Jenott
  • The Apocalypse of Thomas, Matthias Geigenfeind

Some of these are very brief: The Dialogue of the Revealer and John is barely two pages with extensive notes (but with twenty pages of introduction). Both second and third Apocryphal Apocalypse of John are presented to parallel columns comparing two often divergent traditions. For the third Apocryphal Apocalypse of John a third translation of the Church Slavonic version is included. In all three Apocryphal Apocalypse of John there is less apocalyptic that expected, they are mostly questions and answers on church life and practice.

In The Mysteries of John, John is taken from the Mount of Olives on a heavenly journey hosted by a cherub. John asks questions about what he sees *(the Garden of Eden, etc.) and the cherub gives an explanation. The book covers such diverse topics as agriculture and stars, to why humans have fingernails.

The Apocalypse of Thomas is known from Latin texts in three forms (long, short and abbreviated). Matthias Geigenfeind suggests the text may have developed in the context of Priscillian, an ascetic bishop from Avila (380-385). The longer form of the book includes thinly veiled predictions such as “Suddenly, near the last time a king will arise, a lover of the law. He will not rule for long. He will leave two sons. The first is named after the first letter, the second after the eighth. And the first will die before the second.” A footnote suggestions “Likely the king and his two sons are Theodosius I and the princes Arcadius and Honorius.” The text has a series of apocalyptic signs over eight days, culminating in the rapture-like deliverance of the elect: “Then that angel will be revealed who has power over the holy angels, and all the angels will go forth with him, sitting upon chariots of the clouds of my holy Father, rejoicing and flying in the air under heaven to deliver the elect who have believed in me.”

Finally, part five is entitled “Apostolic Orders,” a new category of New Testament Apocrypha. In his introduction to his new translation of The Teaching of the Apostles, Witold Witakowski suggests the work is apocryphal since it has a narrative framework based on biblical characters. The apostles gather in the upper room and lay out twenty-seven disciplinary and liturgical rules. Following these rules is a sketch of the spread of the Gospel and a list of locations the apostles and others traveled to preach. This list includes non-biblical characters like Addai who evangelized Edessa as well as biblical names such as Priscilla and Aquila, who received the writings of Luke the evangelist and followed Luke until his death. The twenty-seven canons decree Sunday worship as well as Wednesday services and prayers at the ninth hour on Friday. Presbyters are like Aaron’s priesthood and deacons are like the Levites. They declare the birth of Jesus should be celebrated on January 6, a forty day fast before the passion, and a feast for the ascension fifty days after the resurrection.

Conclusion.  As Burke observes in his introduction to the volume, Christian apocrypha provides an insight into the diversity of early Christian beliefs. Some of this literature is Christian interpretation of canonical documents, some seek to associate current practice with the earliest apostolic community. This second volume of “More Noncanonical Scriptures” is a window into how the early church developed both in practice and in theology. New Testament Apocrypha series will continue to serve scholarship for years to come. I look forward to volume 3!

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

The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew by Brandon W. Hawk and The Protevangelium of James, by Lily C. Vuong

Tony Burke announced the first two volumes of the North American Society for the Study of Christian Apocryphal Literature series are now available. Along with Brent Landau, Burke edited New Testament Apocrypha, vol. 1: More Noncanonical Scriptures (Eerdmans, 2016, reviewed here). The two serve along with Janet Spittler as the editors of this new series. As Burke points out, these two new volumes are numbered volumes 7 and 8 because NASSCAL is continuing a series, the first six volumes of texts for Polebridge Press. Burke explains the relationship of NASSCAL and the More New Testament Apocrypha series on his blog if you are interested. For a short readable introduction to the New Testament Apocrypha, see Burke’s Secret Scriptures Revealed: A New Introduction to the Christian Apocrypha (Eerdmans, 2014).

Now available are The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew and the Nativity of Mary, by Brandon W. Hawk, and The Protevangelium of James, by Lily C. Vuong. Pseudo-Matthew was ” a bestseller of mainstream medieval Christianity, this Latin apocryphon is a keystone in the explosion of apocryphal literature in the Middle Ages.” Matthew Hawk discusses some of the details of the document on his blog.  The Protevangelium of James is perhaps more well-known; it collects legends and stories in life of the Virgin Mary.

The new volumes are now published by Wipf & Stock and are available as inexpensive paperbacks. Forthcoming Volumes in the Series include:

  • The Infancy Gospel of Thomas, by Tony Burke
  • The Ascension of Isaiah, by Catherine Playoust
  • The Apocryphal Epistles of Paul, by Philip L. Tite
  • The Gospel of Peter and the Preaching of Peter, by Ruben Dupertuis
  • Legends of the Holy Rood Tree, by Stephen C. E. Hopkins

Earlier volumes published by Polebridge Press:

  1. The Acts of Andrew, by Dennis R. MacDonald
  2. The Epistle of the Apostles, by Julian V. Hill
  3. The Acts of Thomas, by Harold W. Attridge
  4. The Acts of Peter, by Robert F. Stoops Jr.
  5. Didache: The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, by Clayton N. Jefford
  6. The Acts of John, by Richard I. Pervo with Julian V. Hills


Book Review: Tony Burke and Brent Landau, New Testament Apocrypha, vol. 1

Burke, Tony and Brent Landau eds. New Testament Apocrypha, vol. 1: More Noncanonical Scriptures. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2016. 635 pp. Hb; $75.   Link to Eerdmans

In his forward to this new collection of Christian apocrypha, J. K. Elliott asks “When is enough, enough?” Well he may ask, since he edited the seven hundred page The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford, 1994). To quote Jordan Belfort from Martin Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street, “More is never enough.” This new collection edited by Burke and Landau is the first volume of a new series of non-canonical writings which promises to greatly expand the number of apocryphal texts available to students of the early church. Volume one collects thirty texts newly translated with introductions by experts in this literature. A second volume is planned and Burke hopes the project can be expanded to include a third and fourth volume.

Students of Christian noncanonical Christian literature know this material from the venerable The New Testament Apocrypha edited by M. R. James in 1924, updated as Wilhelm Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha (Vol. 1: Gospels and Related Writings; Vol. 2: Writings Relating to the Apostles Apocalypses). The revised edition was edited by R. Mcl. Wilson and published 1991 by Westminster John Knox based on the sixth German edition. This standard volume collected many the major noncanonical works, including some Gnostic literature.

As implied by the sub-title of the book, “More Noncanonical Scriptures” this new volume attempts to collect texts not already found in Schneemelcher or Elliott. There are a few, but they are included because additional ancient texts have been discovered since the initial publication. For example The Infancy Gospel of Thomas published in Elliot did not take into account the Syriac version. Several texts in this collection were only recently published (P.Oxy 5072, for example). Previous collections focused on the first three centuries of Christian history. Following the lead of More Canonical Old Testament Texts (edited by Bauckham, Davila and Panayotov, Eerdmans 2013), this new volume looks at texts before the age of Islam.

Christian apocrypha is usually divided into three categories. Texts dealing with Jesus are called “gospels” whether they have the features of a New Testament gospel or not. Texts which concern the apostles are called “Acts” and texts which are prophetic are usually labeled “Apocalypses.” This collection includes two Epistles, although they are not quite like the New Testament epistles. For an overview of New Testament apocrypha, see Markus Bockmuehl, Ancient Apocryphal Gospels (Westminster John Knox, 2017) and Tony Burke, Secret Scriptures Revealed: A New Introduction to the Christian Apocrypha (Eerdmans, 2014). This volume had loosened the definition of Christian apocrypha to include martyr texts and Coptic pseudo-apostolic memoirs, or even Jewish satire (Tolodot Yeshu).

Gospels and Related Traditions

  • The Legend of Aphroditanus (Katharina Heyden)
  • The Revelation of the Magi (Summary only, Brent Landau)
  • The Hospitality of Dysmas (Mark Bilby)
  • The Infancy Gospel of Thomas (Syriac) (Tony Burke)
  • On the Priesthood of Jesus (Bill Adler)
  • Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 210 (Brent Landau)
  • Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 5072 (Ross P. Ponder)
  • The Dialogue of the Paralytic with Christ (Bradley N. Rice)
  • The Toledot Yeshu (Stanley Jones)
  • The Berlin-Strasbourg Apocryphon (Alin Suciu)
  • The Discourse of the Savior and the Dance of the Savior (Paul C. Dilley)
  • An Encomium on Mary Magdalene (Christine Luckritz Marquis)
  • An Encomium on John the Baptist (Philip L. Tite)
  • The Life of John the Baptist by Serapion (Slavomír Céplö)
  • Life and Martyrdom of John the Baptist (Andrew Bernhard)
  • The Legend of the Thirty Silver Pieces (Tony Burke and Slavomír Céplö)
  • The Death of Judas according to Papias (Geoffrey S. Smith)

These texts are not gospels in the canonical sense, but works which are about Jesus. A few “filling the gaps” of canonical stories. In The Legend of Aphroditanus, for example, explains how Persian wise men interpreted the star and came to worship Jesus. The Hospitality of Dysmas concerns a bandit (Dysmas) who invites Mary and Joseph to stay in his home. After washing Jesus, Mary washes the leprous son of Dysmas who is not only healed, but ceases from crying. Other material in this section is extremely fragmentary (P.Oxy 210 and 5072, The Berlin-Strasbourg Apocryphon). The three texts on John the Baptist are slight expansions on the biblical text (including more teaching from John, for example). The whereabouts of John’s head seems to be a main concern for The Life of John the Baptist by Serapion. The brief The Death of Judas according to Papias is a disturbing and graphic depiction of the torture Judas endured because of his impiety.

Apocryphal Acts and Related Traditions

  • The Acts of Barnabas (Glenn E. Snyder)
  • The Acts of Cornelius the Centurion (Tony Burke and Witold Witakowski)
  • John and the Robber (Rick Brannan)
  • The History of Simon Cephas, the Chief of the Apostles (Stanley Jones)
  • The Acts of Timothy (Cavan Concannon)
  • The Acts of Titus (Richard Pervo)
  • The Acts of Xanthippe and Polyxena (David Eastman)

These works pick up on several characters in Acts (Barnabas, Cornelius, Timothy and Titus) as well as several expansions on Acts. A converted pagan priest named John remembers his encounter with Barnabas on Cyprus. Although a companion of Paul and Barnabas, Paul was upset with him because he left parchments behind in Pamphylia. This short book contains the martyrdom of Barnabas and his ascension to heaven. The Acts of Cornelius expands the canonical story by introduction a governor Demetrius, “a philosopher and fearful in heathen matters” who interrogates Cornelius and tries to force him to sacrifice to a god. Cornelius survives this persecution and Demetrius eventually converts.

In The Acts of Xanthippe and Polyxena is much like a Greek romance novel describing the Paul’s conversion of Xanthippe in Spain and the adventures of Polyxena, a young woman who meets several apostles and is eventually baptized by Andrew. Typical of Greek romances, Polyxena is abducted, thrown to the lions, but eventually preserved (and her tormentors are converted). In The Acts of Titus, Titus is descended from Minos the Cretan and came to faith after reading the Book of Hebrews and Isaiah. He became Paul’s companion in Antioch and eventually did ministry in the island of Crete. After his death, his tomb was able to help those with unclear spirits.


  • The Epistle of Christ from Heaven (Calogero A. Miceli)
  • The Letter of Ps.-Dionysius the Areopagite to Timothy on the Death of Peter and Paul (David Eastman)

The first of these two epistles claims to be a letter written by Christ and sent to Rome where it was discovered suspended in the air about the altar in the basilica. The letter itself encourages Sunday worship. The Letter of Ps.-Dionysius the Areopagite is an apocryphal account of the deaths of Peter and Paul.


  • The (Latin) Revelation of John about Antichrist (Charles Wright)
  • The Apocalypse of the Virgin (Stephen Shoemaker)
  • The Tiburtine Sibyl (Stephen Shoemaker)
  • The Investiture of Abbaton (Alin Suciu and Ibrahim Saweros)

In The (Latin) Revelation of John, Christ describes the antichrist:

He will be born to a woman, a harlot from the tribe of Dan in Israel, having 600 cubits in the length of his body and 400 in width. And he will have one eye in his forehead, one ear in his head, (and his) lip hanging down to his chest. He will have no upper teeth or knees; the soles of his feet (will be) round like the wheels of a cart. One rib will be visible in his left side without others. The hairs of his head will be black and terrible. A threefold fume will go out through his nose like a sulfurous flame reaching up to heaven. He will be raised in Chorazin; after that he will dwell in the city of Bethsaida, but only for a few days.

The rest of this apocalypse concerns the tribulation which characterizes the time of the antichrist, much of which is drawn on the Olivet Discourse and Revelation.

In The Apocalypse of the Virgin Michael appears to Mary while praying in the Mount of Olives and they travel through Hades. When Mary prays for the souls in torment, the Lord grants this a yearly break from Easter until Pentecost.  According to Shoemaker, The Tiburtine Sibyl had a greater influence on western eschatology than canonical Apocalypse (515). The sibyl comes to Rome to interpret a senator’s dream of a series of nine suns. Like many historicist approaches to Revelation, the series culminates in Constantine.

Conclusion. What is the value of studying this literature? As Burke observes in his introduction to the volume, Christian apocrypha provides an insight into the diversity of early Christian beliefs. In fact, much of this literature could be describe as Christian interpretation of canonical documents. For example, the Revelation of the Magi reflects an early Christian interest in the Jesus’s first visitors in Matthew Gospel. It is likely a book such as the Acts of Titus was produced by Christians on Crete and reflects their traditions on the origin of their community. The Acts of Cornelius in part explains the presence of a painting of Cornelius in Caesarea.

This collection of “More Noncanonical Scriptures” offers students of the early church a rich collection of texts. New Testament Apocrypha series will continue to serve scholarship for years to come.


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


Book Review: Markus Bockmuehl, Ancient Apocryphal Gospels

Bockmuehl, Markus. Ancient Apocryphal Gospels. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2017. 344 pp.; Hb.; $50.00  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 to 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). He concludes that 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.

Apocryphal GospelsIn the first chapter, Bockmuehl explains how the Gospels were read in the early church. He acknowledges some plurality in the early church. Still, 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) and 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 the 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 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. They were once considered examples of Gnostic texts from the nearby St. Pachomius monastery library and discarded in the graveyard as canonical boundaries were established in the fourth century. Bockmuehl points out several improbabilities of 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 that might be considered an apocryphal gospel (i.e., having something to do with Jesus), Bockmuehl suggests 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 birth 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 in the gospels, especially in 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. Still, Bockmuehl is more cautious based on the lack of evidence for the circulation of the fragments (108-09). After surveying the contents of several 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 initially discovered in 1887 as part of a parchment codex dated between the sixth and ninth centuries (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 book’s popularity in antiquity. After surveying some of the scholarly debate about the book, Bockmuehl suggests the Gospel of Peter represents “an appropriation and relecture of the 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 indeed went on to become so (178).

The Gospel of Philip is equally important 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 contrasts 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 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 valuable introduction to apocryphal gospels, which avoids the sensationalism often accompanying books on non-canonical documents. The glossary of technical terms and extensive bibliography make 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 book.

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. Updated March 9, 2023