Way of Essenic Studies
"There are also many things which Jesus did, which if they should be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain all the books that should be written." ~St. John (A.V.)
The texts of the New Testament Apocrypha reminds the modern seeker of the vast and prolific range of early works that were engendered in interpreting the message and teachings of Jesus the Nazarene during the first several centuries after his death and as Pauline Christianity began to emerged and struggled to define orthodoxy.
apoc·ry·phaMedieval Latin, from Late Latin, neuter plural of apocryphus secret, from Greek apokryphos obscure, from apokryptein to hide away, from apo- + kryptein to hide.1: books included in the Septuagint and Vulgate but excluded from the Jewish and Protestant canons of the Old Testament.2: early Christian writings not included in the New Testament.
There are many extant writings accredited to the Apostolic Fathers, Clement of Rome, Barnabas, Hermas, Ignatius, and Polycarp. These writings contain no mention of the Four Gospels. This also is admitted by Christian scholars. Dr. Dodwell says: "We have at this day certain most authentic ecclesiastical writers of the times, as Clemens Romanus, Barnabas, Hermas, Ignatius, and Polycarp, who wrote in the order wherein I have named them, and after all the writers of the New Testament. But in Hermas you will not find one passage or any mention of the New Testament, nor in all the rest is any one of the Evangelists named" (Dissertations upon Irenaeus).
Many believe that there is only one book that contains the life and teaching of Jesus the Nazarene- the Holy Bible's New Testament. But in fact, there are hundreds of important texts, scrolls, manuscripts and letters that exist, but were excluded from the later "authorized" version of the canon. The New Testament itself is actually made up of 27 different books, letters or portions of texts, all carefully selected and edited more than 300 years after Christ's death.
Justin Martyr, the most eminent of the early Fathers, wrote around the middle of the second century and makes more than three hundred quotations from the books of the Old Testament, and nearly one hundred from the Apocryphal books; but none from the Gospels. -- In the latter half of the second century, between the time of Justin and Papias, and the time of Theophilus and Irenaeus, the Four Gospels were most likely written or compiled.
St. Faustus, a fifth century bishop writes, "Many things have been inserted by our ancestors in the speeches of our Lord which, though put forth under his name, agree not with his faith; especially since--as already it has been often proved--these things were written not by Christ, nor [by] his apostles, but a long while after their assumption, by I know not what sort of lot, not even agreeing with themselves, who made up their tale out of reports and opinions merely, and yet, fathering the whole upon the names of the apostles of the Lord or on those who were supposed to follow the apostles, they maliciously pretended that they had written their lies and conceits according to them."The New Testament is composed of the 4 Gospels, the Book of Acts, 21 Epistles (letters), and the Book of Revelation. The four Gospels are actually anonymously written. They do not purport to have been written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and their titles do not affirm it. They do however, imply that they are "according" to the supposed teachings of these Evangelists. As Renan says, "They merely signify that these were the traditions proceeding from each of these Apostles, and claiming their authority." Concerning their authorship the Rev. Dr. Hooykaas says: "They appeared anonymously. The titles placed above them in our Bibles owe their origin to a later ecclesiastical tradition which deserves no confidence whatever" (Bible for Learners, Vol. III, p. 24). Their order, relative size, and implied authors are:
The 4 Gospels (43% of the New Testament)
- Matthew - 28 chapters, Matthew
- Mark - 16 chapters, Mark
- Luke - 24 chapters, Luke
- John - 21 chapters, John
The Book of Acts (12% of the New Testament)
- Acts - 28 chapters, probably LukeThe 21 Epistles (letters) (38% of the New Testament)
- Romans - 16 chapters, Paul
- 1 Corinthians - 16 chapters, Paul
- 2 Corinthians -13 chapters, Paul
- Galatians - 6 chapters, Paul
- Ephesians - 6 chapters, Paul
- Philippians - 4 chapters, Paul
- Colossians - 4 chapters, Paul
- 1 Thessalonians - 5 chapters, Paul
- 2 Thessalonians - 3 chapters, Paul
- 1 Timothy - 6 chapters, attributed to Paul but considered forgeries
- 2 Timothy - 4 chapters, attributed to Paul but considered forgeries
- Titus - 3 chapters, Paul
- Philemon - 1 chapter, Paul
- Hebrews - 13 chapters, probably Paul
- James - 5 chapters, James
- 1 Peter - 5 chapters, Peter
- 2 Peter - 3 chapters, Peter
- 1 John - 5 chapters, John
- 2 John - 1 chapter, John
- 3 John - 1 chapter, John
- Jude - 1 chapter, Jude
The Book of Revelation (7% of the New Testament)
- Revelation - 22 chapters, John
The Apocryphal Works
The major character which the works now termed apocryphal have in common is that Christians were warned away from these writings and many of these texts were vigorously suppressed, destroyed or survive today only as fragments.
In the process of determining the Biblical canon, a large number of works were excluded from the New Testament. These New Testament Apocrypha are generally not accepted by the Church, though the Ethiopian Orthodox Church recognizes the Shepherd of Hermas, 1 Clement, Acts of Paul, and several Old Testament books.
The ordinary stand of mainstream Christians in regard to the books deemed apocryphal was succinctly summed up by Robert M. Grant, claiming to speak not as a theologian but as a historian, in the introduction to A Historical Introduction to the New Testament (1963): Aside from the twenty-seven books "authorized" in the canon, Grant asserted, "No other literature has anything of value to say about Christian origins and the earliest Christian movement."
Books which are objectively known not to have existed in antiquity, such as the mediaeval Gospel of Barnabas, and the Book of Mormon, are usually not considered part of the Apocrypha.
The paucity of information about the childhood of Jesus in the canonical Gospels led to a hunger of early Christians for more detail about the early life of Jesus. This was supplied by a number of early texts, known as infancy gospels, none of the which were accepted into the Biblical canon:
- The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew (also called the Birth of Mary and Infancy of the Saviour)
- The Protevangelion of James (also called the Gospel of James)
- The Infancy Gospel of Thomas (not to be confused with the Gospel of Thomas)
- The Life of John the Baptist
- The History of Joseph the Carpenter
- The Arabic Infancy Gospel
- The Libellus de Nativitate Sanctae Mariae (also named as the Nativity of Mary)
- The Latin Infancy Gospel
(It should be noted that many of the infancy gospels are based on a combination of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and of the Protevangelium of James.)
The Nazarene sects within the early church retained a strong allegiance to upholding Essenic law and used Gospels specific to themselves:
- The Gospel of the Hebrews
- The Gospel of the Nazarenes (also called the Gospel of the Holy Twelve)
- The Gospel of the Ebionites
- The Essene Gospels of Peace
Aside from the Gospel of the Nazarenes, these texts mostly survive as quotes scattered amongst critical commentaries by catholic Christians, some modern theories suggest that these may be variations on one another, although the quotations from the Gospel of the Ebionites appear more distinct than the others. It has also been suggested that the Gospel of the Hebrews may have been an earlier version of the Greek Gospel of Matthew.
In the modern era, many Gnostic texts have been uncovered, especially from the Nag Hammadi library. Some texts take the form of an expounding of the esoteric cosmology and ethics held by the gnostics.
Often this was in the form of dialogue in which Jesus expounds esoteric knowledge while his disciples raise questions concerning it. There is also a text, known as the Epistula Apostolorum, which is a polemic against gnostic esoterica, but written in a similar style as the gnostic texts.
Sethian Gnostic Texts
The Sethians were a gnostic group who originally worshipped the biblical Seth as a messianic figure, later treating Jesus as a re-incarnation of Seth. They produced numerous texts expounding their esoteric cosmology, usually in the form of visions:
- The Apocalypse of Adam
- The Apocryphon of John (also called the "Secret Gospel of John")
- The Thought of Norea
- The Trimorphic Protennoia
- The Coptic Gospel of the Egyptians (wholly independent of its namesake, the Greek Gospel of the Egyptians)
- The Coptic Apocalypse of Paul (wholly independant of its namesake, the Apocalypse of Paul) Four of these texts, in the form of visions, are heavily platonistic.
- Three Steles of Seth
Rival Versions of Canonical Gospels
Many alternate edited versions of other gospels existed during the period of early Christianity. Sometimes, those attributed to the text state elsewhere that their text is the earlier version, or that their text excises all the additions and distortions made by their opponents to the more recognised version of the text.
Although the church fathers insist that these people are incorrect (and indeed heretical) in their assertions, modern scholarship is not so convinced. It remains to be seen whether any are earlier and more accurate versions of the canonical texts.
Details of their contents only survive in the attacks on them by their opponents, and so for the most part it is uncertain as to how extensively different they are, and whether any constitute entirely different works. These texts include:
- Gospel of Cerinthus (Cerinthus' version)
- Gospel of Basilides (Basilides' version)
- Gospel of Marcion (Marcion's version)
- Gospel of Appelles (Appelles' version)
- Gospel of Bardesanes (Bardesanes' version)
- Gospel of Mani (Mani's version)
Anti-Pauline Christian Texts
There are a few works written in order to attack Pauline Christian interpretations of the gospels and convert the meaning into support for the religion of the author. Mainly these are Jewish and Muslim works.
- The Toledoth Yeshu (in which Yeshu is the Jewish name for Jesus)
- The mediaeval Gospel of Barnabas (not to be confused with the earlier Epistle of Barnabas)
One or two texts take the form of sets of brief logia—sayings and very short parables—which are not embedded in a connected narrative:
- The Gospel of Thomas (not to be confused with the Infancy Gospel of Thomas)
- The Gospel of Philip
Recent scholarship is increasingly regarding the Gospel of Thomas as part of the tradition from which the canonical gospels eventually emerged; in any case both of these documents are important as showing us what the theoretical Q document, might have looked like.
Some texts take the form of discourses on morality, and in particular on sexual abstinence, usually taking the form of a discussion between Jesus and one or more disciples.
- Greek Gospel of the Egyptians (wholly independent of the Coptic Gospel of the Egyptians)
- Book of Thomas the Contender (also called the "Book of Thomas", "Epistle of the Contender", and "Letter of the contender")
A number of Gospels are concerned specifically with the Passion (i.e. Jesus' death, and Resurrection):
- The Gospel of Peter
- The Gospel of Nicodemus (also called the "Acts of Pilate")
- The Gospel of Bartholomew
- The Questions of Bartholomew
- The Resurrection of Jesus Christ (which claims to be according to Bartholomew)
Although there are three texts which take Bartholomew's name, it may be the case that one of the Questions of Bartholomew or the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is in fact the unknown Gospel of Bartholomew
General Gnostic Texts
- Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter (very different to its namesake, the Apocalypse of Peter)
- The Wisdom of Jesus Christ (also called the "Sophia of Jesus Christ" and the "Sophia Jesu Christi")
- The Epistle of Eugnostos (also called the "Letter of Eugnostos")
- The Dialogue of the Saviour
- The Gospel of Mary Magdalene (also called the "Gospel of Mary")
- Interpretation of Knowledge
- The Gospel of Truth
- Pistis Sophia
Whilst the Epistle of Eusegius does not make mention of Jesus, it is thought to be the basis of Sophia Jesu Christi, and therefore is listed amongst the apocrypha.
Cainite Gnostic Texts
The small Cainite sect of gnostics viewed significant biblical figures more usually considered arch-villains as heroes. They are so-named since they considered Cain to have been the first victim of Yahweh's evil. They also considered Judas to have been a hero, doing what had to be done to bring about salvation, and expounding wisdom. Amongst their literature is:
- The Gospel of Judas
Some of the Gnostic texts appear to consist of diagrams and instructions for use in religious rituals-
- The Ophite Diagrams
- The First and Second Books of Jeu
Fate of Mary
Several texts (over 50) consist of descriptions of the events surrounding the varied fate of Mary (the mother of Jesus).
- The Home Going of Mary
- The Falling asleep of the Mother of God
Acts of the Apostles
Several texts concern themselves with the subsequent lives of the apostles -Works said to be written by Leucius Charinus (known as the Leucian Acts, a companion of John the apostle.
- The Acts of John
- The Acts of Peter (the concluding part of which was sometimes separate and named Martyrdom of Peter)
- The Acts of Andrew (also called the Gospel of Andrew)
- The Acts of Thomas
- The Acts of Paul, which contained within it texts which were sometimes found separately including:
- The Third Epistle to the Corinthians
- The Acts of Paul and Thecla
Other accounts of apostolic lives
- The Acts of Peter and Andrew
- The Acts of Peter and the Twelve
- The Acts of Peter and Paul
- The Nine Books of Clement
- The Acts of Phillip
- The Acts of Xanthippe, Polyxena, and Rebecca featuring Paul, Peter, Philip, and Andrew
There are also non canonical epistles, some of which were regarded very highly by the early church -
- The Epistle of Barnabas (also called the "Gospel of Barnabas", not to be confused with the mediaeval Gospel of Barnabas)
- 1 and 2 Clement
- The Epistle of the Corinthians to Paul
- The Epistle to the Laodiceans (an epistle in the name of Paul) Found only in some manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate apocrypha
- The Third Epistle to the Thessalonians (an epistle in the name of Paul)
- The Epistle to the Ionians (an epistle in the name of Paul)
- The Epistle to Seneca the Younger (an epistle in the name of Paul)
- The Epistles of Jesus Christ and Abgarus King of Edessa (See Image of Edessa)
- The Third Epistle to the Corinthians - Accepted in the past by some in the Armenian Orthodox church.
Visions and Channeled Works
Several works frame themselves as visions, often discussing the future, afterlife, or both.
- Apocalypse of Peter (very different to the Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter)
- Apocalypse of Thomas (also called the Revelation of Thomas)
- Apocalypse of Stephen (also called the Revelation of Stephen')
- First Apocalypse of James (also called the First Revelation of James)
- Second Apocalypse of James (also called the Second Revelation of James)
- Apocalypse of Paul (with a change of visionary, this becomes the Apocalypse of the Virgin)
Other texts exist which concern rather more miscellaneous topics -
- The Physiologus of Ambrose
- The Foundation
- The Treasure
- The Didache
- The Apocryphon of James (also named Secret Gospel of James)
- The Prayer of Paul
- The Sermon of Paul
- The Preaching of Peter (also named Clementine Literature and Pseudo-Clementines)
- The Penitence of Origen
- The Sentences of Sextus
- The Book of Nepos
- The Canons of the Apostles
In addition to the known Apocryphal works, there are also small fragments of texts, parts of unknown, or uncertain, works.
Some of the more significant fragments are:
- The Unknown Berlin Gospel
- The Naassene Fragment
- The Fayum Fragment
- The Secret Gospel of Mark
- The Oxyrhynchus Gospels
- The Egerton Gospel
There also exist several texts which would be considered part of the apocrypha, which are mentioned in many ancient sources, but for which no known text has survived:
- The Gospel of Matthias (probably not to be confused with the Gospel of Matthew)
- The Gospel of the Four Heavenly Realms
- The Gospel of Perfection
- The Gospel of Eve
- The Gospel of the Holy
- Memoria Apostolorum
- The Gospel of the Seventy
- The Grave-plate of the Apostles
- The Book of spells of serpents
- The Portion of the Apostles
A note about orthodoxy:
It is important to note that while this list is lengthy, it is by no means final or complete. While many of the books listed here were considered heretical (especially those belonging to the gnostic tradition--as this sect was considered heretical by most Christians of the early centuries), others were not considered particularly heretical in content, but in fact were well accepted as significant spiritual works. They are however not considered canonical, as they belong to the category of works of the church fathers or apostolic fathers.
- 1 and 2 Clement
- Shepherd of Hermas
- Epistle of Barnabas
- Apocalypse of Peter
- The Protevangelium of James
- Third Epistle to the Corinthians
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