Book Review: Rick Brannan, Greek Apocryphal Gospels, Fragments, and Agrapha

Brannan, Rick.  Greek Apocryphal Gospels, Fragments, and Agrapha. Lexham Classics; Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2017. 193 pp.; Pb.  $14.99  Link to Lexham Press

Rick Brannan, Greek Apocryphal Gospels, Fragments, and Agrapha, Lexham PressIn his short introduction to this volume, Brannan says the origins of this book came out of his work on the Greek texts behind these works, Greek Apocryphal Gospels, Fragments, and Agrapha: Texts and Transcriptions. While working on that project he began to modernize the translations of the apocryphal gospels which were included in M. R. James’s collection of New Testament apocrypha. Both books have been part of the Logos Library since 2013. The Greek texts are only published electronically at this time. The Greek texts in Logos version are tagged so words are identified and clicking a word will open as appropriate lexicon (BDAG for example). The texts and translations can be synced to appear in parallel columns.

Perhaps the most useful aspect of this book is Brannan’s “reading translation” section. For each item in the collection he includes a typical line-by-line translation with lacunae (gaps in the text) and suggested words in brackets. For his reading translations he smooths out the line-by-line translation into a format which looks like a translation of a complete text. For example, compare the two types of translations for the Greek Gospel of Thomas, saying 3 (p.Oxy 654):

Saying 3: Jesus said, “If those who lead you say to you, ‘Behold, the kingdom is in the sky,’ the birds of the sky will come ahead of you. But if they say that it is under the earth … the fish of the sea … you. And the kingdom of God is inside of you and outside, whoever knows himself will find this. And when you know yourselves you will see that you are the children of the living father. But if you do not know yourselves, you are in poverty and you are poverty.”

9    rest.” § Said J[esus, “If]

10  those who lead you [say to you, ‘Behold,]

11  the kingdom is in the sk[y,’ of you will come ahead]

12  the birds of the sk[y. But if they say t-]

13  hat under the earth it i[s …]

14  the fish of the se[a …]

15  … you. And the king[dom of God]

16  inside of you [i]s [and outside, whoever himself]

17  knows this will fi[nd. And when you]

18  yourselves know [you will see that the children]

19  you are of the father of the liv[ing. But if not]

20  you know yourselves, in [poverty you are]

21  and you are pov[erty.” § Jesus says]

The first word of line 9 is the final word of saying two and the reader can see the places where Grenfell and Hunt (the original editors of this fragment) or the updated and revised edition edited by Bhrman and Pleše have suggested words to fill gaps. In every example in this book Brannan has used the most recent edition available.

The first section of the book collects various agrapha, or sayings of Jesus which do not appear in the canonical Gospels. Six of these sayings appear in the New Testament (Acts 20:35; 1 Cor 7:10-11; 9:14; 11:23-25; 2 Cor 12:8-9; 1 Thess 4.15-17). Another six agrapha appear in textual variations. Five of these additional sayings appear in Codex Bezae (Matt 20:28; Mark 9:49; Luke 6:4; 10:16; John 8:7; 10–11) and the sixth is known as “Freer Logion,” Mk 16:14 in Codex Washingtonianus. There are number of sayings drawn from the Apostolic Fathers including Barnabas 7:11; 1 Clement 13:2; 2 Clement 3.2; 4.2; 4.5; 5.2–4; 8.5; 12.2–6; 13.2; 13.4) and two from Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho (35.3; 47.5). For each of the agrapha Brannan offers a short introduction and a few suggested parallel texts (if any).

The bulk of this book are apocryphal gospels (about half the total pages in the printed edition). Any non-canonical text which has something to do with Jesus is called a gospel. In the examples offered in this collection two are considered infancy gospels (The Protevangelium of James and The Infancy Gospel of Thomas), four are passion gospels (The Gospel of Peter (P.Cair 10759, P.Oxy 4009, and P.Oxy 2949); The Gospel of Thomas (Greek Fragments, P.Oxy 654, P.Oxy 655, and P.Oxy 1), and The Gospel of Nicodemus (also known as the Acts of Pilate), including the Descent of Christ to Hell. The collection contains one example of a “post-resurrection gospel,” The Gospel of Mary (P.Ryl 3.463 and P.Oxy 3525). For each of his texts, Brannan has a short introduction and summary of contents and distinctive contributions of the apocryphal gospel. Where possible, he offers a list of potential parallels to the canonical gospels.

The final section of the book collects a number of odds and ends. For each of the fragments included in this section, Brannan provides a description of the text, content highlights and relevance for exegesis. Following this introduction, he offers a “reading translation” and a “line translation” (corresponding to the lines of the papyri fragment). While the latter style is common in this kind of work, the “reading translation” is helpful for understanding the gist of the text.

Fragments included in this volume are:

  • Dura Parchment 24
  • Berol. 11710
  • Cairo 10735
  • Egerton 2 (+ P.Köln 255)
  • Merton 51
  • Oxy 210
  • Oxy 840
  • Oxy. 1224
  • Oxy 5072
  • Vindobonensis G. 2325 (Fayum Gospel Fragment)

The book concludes with a helpful seventeen pages bibliography divided into the categories used in the book.

Conclusion. Brannan’s book gives readers access to a wide range of fragmentary texts which appear in various sources. His reading translations and introductions make this collection a valuable tool for the study of early Christian texts.

One problem: the print copy I reviewed has a 2017 copyright, the electronic version in the Logos Library has a 2013 copyright. The Logos version does not include page numbers. I would like to see Lexham and/or Logos merge these editions so Brannan’s book can be accurately cited.


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