19. Why Just Four – Part 1

Did you know that according to Biblical scholars, during the first few centuries of Christianity there were more than thirty different ‘Gospels’ used by various Christian congregations reaching from Jerusalem to Rome.

All but four are known today as apocryphal—an ecclesiastical, Latin word meaning ‘hidden’, itself from the Greek apokruptein, ‘to hide away’—which the Christian establishment claims is only because they weren’t considered genuine by the early Church Fathers who actually assessed them.

Granted, that can’t have been an easy job, with so many floating about—and in fact, it wasn’t until Christianity was almost four hundred years old that it finally got around to finishing it, when a council of Church Fathers held in the North African city of Hippo in 397 formally recognized a list of twenty-seven books and other documents as Christianity’s own, ‘New Testament’ canon of sacred literature, a canon ratified for use in the Catholic Church by Pope Innocent I soon afterward; while here we might note that the council’s handling of the matter may or may not have been influenced by a letter written some thirty years before by Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria, Egypt suggesting the adoption of that very list by all Christian communities as hopefully an important step toward unifying them into a single entity.

So now let’s take a look at the Gospels that didn’t make it into the New Testament. Scholars customarily list them in groups: viz. the ‘Gnostic Gospels’, ‘Jewish-Christian Gospels’, ‘Infancy Gospels’, and so on; and we shall more or less follow that system.

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The Gnostic Gospels

Mostly written during the second century, the ‘Gnostic’ Gospels—from the ancient Greek gnōstikós, ‘having knowledge’—emphasised personal, spiritual knowledge (gnosis) over mere teachings, traditions, and bows to claims of authority; mainly focused on the idea that personal salvation was to be obtained only by a direct, indeed mystical experiencing of the Divine; chiefly dealt with overcoming illusion to reach that enlightened state, rather than worrying at all about sin and repentance; held that Jesus wasn’t born of human parents, but simply descended in human form from heaven; that Jesus was actually sent here to lead people to the Light; that the body wouldn’t be resurrected in the end, but only the soul; and other such claims that caused ‘Gnosticism’ to be declared a heresy by the orthodox community toward the end of the third century—though in some places, it persists to this day as a perfectly acceptable form of Christianity.

Probably the Gnostics’ foremost sympathizer within the ancient orthodox community was Clement of Alexandria, a highly educated Greek convert from that country’s pre-Christian paganism who subsequently became a priest and wrote of the Gnostic theologians in complimentary terms—typically referring to them as intellectual, learned people. On the other hand, while orthodox Christianity taught that matter wasn’t eternal, but had to have been created by some eternal, uncaused cause, or God, he himself held that both matter and intelligence were eternal and thus did not originate with God; and while there was nothing in orthodox teaching, i.e., the Bible, to suggest that the world went in cycles, with at least some of these pre-dating the creation of the current world, he was more of a mind to side with the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, whose own writings suggested otherwise.

He also believed that Eve was created from Adam’s sperm after he ejaculated during the night; that angels indulged in coitus with sleeping humans, though the orthodox line was that angels were sexless; and that humans were reincarnated after death. And so while at first he was considered one of the Church Fathers and eventually even sainted, he too was ultimately declared a heretic, and in the seventeenth century stripped of his Church calendar day by Pope Benedict VIII.

None of the Gnostic Gospels remain intact, since they were largely hunted down and destroyed by the orthodox clergy and their agents after ‘Gnosticism’ was declared heretical; however, several important, lengthy fragments have been discovered, while modern scholars seeking to learn more about them are also helped by the fact that they’re often found mentioned by name—thereby at minimum revealing their existence—in the writings of ancient historians and others, which sometimes even contain a few direct quotations from them; while as you may imagine, there are also ample comments about them—if inevitably contemptuous and belittling—found among the writings of such early Defenders of the Faith as Tertullian of Carthage (the founder of Latin theology), Origen of Alexandria (an important early theologian and prolific writer, today considered the greatest of all the Church Fathers), Irenaeus of Lyons (a Greek bishop noted for his role in expanding the Christian community into southern France and especially for helping to develop Christian theology by defining orthodoxy and combating heresy; subsequently sainted), Hippolytus of Rome (a second and third century theologian venerated in the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Anglican Churches; martyred and sainted), and Justin Martyr (a second century theologian regarded as the foremost exponent of the Divine Word, also martyred and sainted); all of whom we shall have occasion to mention at various points in what follows.

May we introduce, then, the

  • Gospel of Thomas: Believed to have been written around 120, most scholars consider this the first Gnostic Gospel to have been produced. What we know about it today mainly comes from three fragmentary papyri found among some five thousand personal and civic records during the early twentieth century near the modern city of Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, and a buried, sealed jar containing thirteen leather-bound papyri codices (ancient manuscripts in book form, sing. codex), including the Gospel of Thomas and nine others—a lot now known in scholarly circles as the ‘Nag Hammadi library’. Discovered by a farmer in 1945 near the modern city of Nag Hammadi in the dry Egyptian desert, they were probably buried for safekeeping following that letter from the Alexandrian bishop suggesting that there be an official canon of Christian scripture. This particular Gospel is a collection of Jesus’ sayings—rather than a narration of his life—including several dealing with sexuality. As with some other early Christians, most Gnostics believed that men shouldn’t marry, but remain celibate all the way to the grave since women, as the child-bearing sex, were seen as the source of humanity’s suffering, and then of course, ‘wicked temptresses’ in the mold of Eve. Thus in Saying 114, when Simon Peter says to Jesus, “Let Mary [Magdalene?] go away from us, for women are not worthy of life,” Jesus responds, “[Don’t worry], I shall draw her in so as to make her male in spirit, similar to you. For every female who would make herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
  • Gospel of Marcion: The son of an Anatolian bishop who traveled to Rome early in life, Marcion joined a Gnostic congregation there and eventually founded a church and religious sect of his own called Marcionism, which rejected the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament and its God who was in fact held to be a wrathful, inferior entity compared to Christianity’s all-forgiving God. And then given this dualistic reasoning, with its two-God theological system evidently requiring another wholly new, second religion, he decided that Christianity should have its own sacred Scripture, and accordingly compiled a crude canon consisting of eleven books: his own Gospel, which scholars find to be little more than an edited version of St. Luke’s with all of its Old Testament references removed (granted some once argued that Marcion’s was written first, that Luke actually added those references), along with ten Pauline letters, since he also claimed that St. Paul was Christ’s only true disciple.
  • Gospel of Appeles. A 2nd-century Christian thinker, Appeles began his ministry as a disciple of Marcion, one of those aforementioned theologians who believed that the followers of Christ shouldn’t marry, but remain celibate. A member of the Marcionite Church, he was either expelled or left of his own will following his affair with a woman who claimed to receive revelations from angels—which he proceeded to use as suitable sermon material. Subsequently turning up in Alexandria, he too denied that Jesus had been born of human parents, and also denied the resurrection of the body. None of his many writings have survived, but they’re frequently alluded to in those of his contemporaries.
  • Gospel of Basilides: A lost Gospel, the only indication that it once existed is a comment in the writings of Origen that, “Basilides too dared to write a Gospel . . .” Believed to have been composed around 120 while Basilides, a leading theologian of the time—albeit with pronounced Gnostic tendencies—was teaching in Alexandria, it appears to have been still circulating among his followers more than a century later, when despite a positive review by Clement of Alexandria, it was roundly condemned as heretical by Iranaeus and Hippolytus. In his own Against Heresies, written around 180, Iranaeus also claimed, without offering any proof, that among Basilides’ teachings was the common Gnostic idea that Jesus, as a wholly divine being, could not suffer bodily pain and didn’t actually die on the cross, that the human form of Jesus was but an illusion, and so the person crucified in the story had to have been someone else; or to quote the good bishop directly as he went on to milk this ‘report’ for all that he could, “. . . a certain Simon of Cyrene was compelled to carry [Jesus’] cross for him. It was he who was ignorantly and erroneously crucified, being transfigured by [Jesus] so that he might be thought to be him. Moreover, Jesus assumed the form of Simon, and then [during the crucifixion] stood by laughing.”
  • Gospel of Truth: This is one of the texts from the Nag Hammadi jar. Estimated to have been written sometime between 140 and 180, it bears no author, but is generally ascribed to Valentinus, a contemporary of Marcion, or one of his followers. Iranaeus, again in his book Against Heresies, had this to say about it: “. . . the followers of Valentinus, putting away all fear, bring forward their own compositions and boast that they have more Gospels than really exist. Indeed, their audacity has gone so far as to entitle their recent composition the Gospel of Truth, though it agrees in nothing with the Gospels of the apostles.” Little is known for sure about Valentinus, but it may safely be said that he was born along Egypt’s Mediterranean coast and received a Greek education in Alexandria; that according to Clement of Alexandria, while there he became a follower of Theudas, himself a follower of the Apostle Paul, and may also have become conversant with Gnostic Christianity though Basilides; that he himself appears to have first taught in Alexandria before moving to Rome about 136; and that there he came to know Marcion and learn the story of his upstart Marcionite Church before going on himself to become the best known and for a time most successful Gnostic Christian theologian of his day. Other than that, we have only the stories and comments of his detractors—most of which, modern scholars have found to be a mixture of scurrilous lies, half-truths, and at best, naked insults. For instance, Tertullian claims that he was once an orthodox priest who happened to start his own Gnostic sect, a la Marcion, in a fit of pique after being passed over for bishop; or to quote directly from his Against the Valentinians, “Valentinus had expected to become a bishop, because he was an able man both in genius and eloquence. Being indignant, however, to [learn that another had been given that post], he broke with the church of the true faith . . . and finding the clue of a certain old opinion, marked out a path for himself with the subtlety of a serpent.” Conversely, Epiphanius of Salamis explained Valentinus’ abandonment of orthodox Christianity by claiming that while he’d once adhered piously to its teachings, he’d gone insane after suffering a shipwreck. No one today which story—if either—is true, but for what it’s worth, Epipiphanius, at the time the Bishop of Salamis on Cyprus, has since been canonized, or elevated to sainthood by the Catholic Church; while Tertullian, despite his unyielding defense of the early Church and his fierce attacks on Gnosticism along with other known heresies, is still denied that honor by the Church precisely because in later life, he too fell into heretical teachings—although the Church has never formally declared him a heretic or excommunicated him.
  • Gospel of the Four Heavenly Realms: an apparent 2nd-century Gnostic cosmology in the form of a dialogue between Jesus and his disciples; author unknown.
  • Gospel of Mary: a 5th-century papyrus discovered in 1896 with its first six pages and four of the middle ones missing, it’s referred to by modern scholars as a Gospel only inasmuch as it’s a text primarily focused on recounting the teachings and activities of Jesus during his adult years. Written in an Egyptian Coptic dialect, it’s generally believed to be a copy of a 2nd-century Greek manuscript, though a few suppose that the original could date from the time of Christ. It’s name may refer to Jesus’ mother; one of Jesus’ sisters who’s mentioned in the apocryphal Gospel of Philip (see below); Mary Magdalene, inasmuch as she appears to be the central figure in this account; or someone else entirely. No one really knows.
  • Gospel of Judas: another Gnostic Gospel from the Egyptian desert, this leather-bound, 16-chapter book—discovered during the 1970s, and determined by radiocarbon testing to date from around 220 at the earliest—mainly consists of conversations between Jesus and Judas Iscariot, in which Judas is portrayed as simply following Jesus’ instructions when he delivers him into the hands of the authorities for crucifixion. Originally a papyrus of thirty-one leaves with writing on both sides, by the time that it came onto the antiquities market in 1999, poor handling and storage during the interim had left only thirteen intact; but these definitely contain a fair amount of novel material. Actually dismissed by Iranius in ancient times as but “fictitious history”, what remains asserts that Jesus taught the true story of his mission only to Judas; that God was essentially a luminous cloud who existed in an imperishable upper realm; that one Adamas, an androgynous spirit created in God’s own image, also dwelled in this realm, and that following God’s creation of the world, He tasked twelve angels with creating a physical body for Adamas so that he might descend to earth, where after the separation of his body into two distinct, male and female portions, he became simply ‘Adam’, the first man and ultimately the father of all humanity; that at first, things went so well on earth that people gradually lost their knowledge of God and his realm, until it happened that two of Adam’s sons became embroiled in the world’s first murder—causing many people to begin to worry that their imperfect world was all that there was to creation; that God subsequently sent his son Jesus to earth to show them that their salvation lay in connecting their individual souls with the bit of God that was within everyone, so that by embracing Him, they could eventually return to His divine realm; that the other eleven disciples whom Jesus had chosen to spread his message were so impressed with their physical being that they’d misunderstood Jesus’ message and erroneously taught people that those who lost theirs in Christ’s name would be bodily resurrected; that in fact people were divided into two groups: those who, like Judas, were furnished with an immortal soul that might come to know about the God within themselves and enter His realm when they died, and those who, like Jesus’ other eleven disciples, forsook their immortal soul and could never again return to God’s realm, but would die both physically and spiritually at the end of their lives; that the orthodox churches’ communion ceremony was actually abhorrent to God, since it was intertwined with the idea of not only animal sacrifice, but the practice of cannibalism (the ritualistic consumption of Jesus’ flesh and blood); and finally, that the orthodox churches’ teaching that Jesus had to die in order to atone for the sins of humanity was also abhorrent to the true God, who neither demanded the blood-sacrifice of any of his creations, nor would ever accept a substitutionary form of justice.
  • Greek Gospel of the Egyptians: reportedly used in Egyptian churches during the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Its few remaining fragments, along with several mentions of this Gospel in the writings of Clement of Alexandria, Epiphanius, Hippolytus, and others from this period, suggest that it took the form of a dialogue between Jesus and his female disciple Salome in which Jesus advocates celibacy as the means of breaking the lethal cycle of birth and thus overcoming the alleged sinful differences between male and female, ultimately enabling people to return to their primordial, androgynous state. For example, it’s in this Gospel that Salome is presented as asking Jesus, “How long will death prevail?”, to which he famously answers, “For as long as women would bear children.”, an exchange referenced in the writings of the Byzantine cleric Theodotus as though it were commonly known and accepted in the Christianity of that day—albeit his many writings too were eventually declared heretical.
  • Gospel of Philip: another of the 3rd-century Gnostic texts from the Nag Hammadi jar, in this case chiefly dealing with orthodox Christianity’s sacraments—in particular, that of marriage—while as in other texts associated with Gnosticism, such as the Gospels of Thomas and Mary, the Gospel of Philip gives Mary Magdalene a special relationship and insight into Jesus’ thinking and teaching. It also emphasizes the sacramental nature of the joining of man and woman in the nuptial chamber, which in this context may be taken as the ultimate attainment of spiritual unity. Much of the Gospel is comprised of a discussion of marriage as a sacred mystery, with one passage directly referring to the close relationship of Mary Magdalene with Jesus: “There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary his mother, Mary his sister, and the Magdalene—the one who’s called his constant companion.” Elsewhere in this Gospel, Mary Magdalene is also called Jesus’s partner and consort—terms that the writer actually covers, along with ‘companion’, with Coptic variations of the single Greek word koinônos or one of its cognates. In Greek translations of the Bible, koinônos is often used to refer to a wife, among other things; but in Philip, which uses a completely different word for wife as needed, it refers to both the literal joining of husband and wife in sexual intercourse, and metaphorically speaking, a spiritual partnership that reunites the Gnostic Christian with the divine realm; while here we should add that at one, unfortunately damaged point in the text, Jesus appears to be described as repeatedly kissing Mary Magdalene on some part of her head or body and claiming that he loved her more than he did all the rest of his disciples—prompting one of them to ask him, “Why do you love her more than all of us?” To which Jesus replies with a parable, “Why do I not love you like her? When a blind man and one who can see are together in the darkness, they’re no different from one another. But when the light comes, he who isn’t blind will be able to see the light, while he who is blind will remain in darkness.”
  • Pseudo-Gospel of the Twelve: a lost Syriac language Gospel mentioned in a few ancient writings; often confused with one of the other Apocryphal Gospels, also now lost.
  • Gospel of Perfection: a lost text known today only from comments in the anti-heretical writings of some of the early Church Fathers, this Gospel is thought to have originated with the Ophite Gnostics, who held that the serpent of Genesis was every bit as important and deserving of honor as Jesus—if not more so—since it taught humanity’s first parents about good and evil; mentioned in 2nd-century writings and again in the 6th. Believed by some ancient writers to be the same as the Gospel of Philip, by others, the Gospel of Eve (see below); however, as regards this last, Epiphanius believed that they were two separate works, stating, “Some of the Gnostics vaunt . . . a certain fictitious, far-fetched poem which they call the Gospel of Perfection, whereas [that] is not a Gospel, but the perfection of misery, [while] others without shame boast of their Gospel of Eve.”
  • Gospel of Eve: another lost text, save for a single quotation from it by Epiphanius in his Panarium—a treatise on heresies identifying some eighty heretical groups and philosophies from the time of Adam to the latter part of the fourth century—in which he claimed that the Borborites, an usually libertine Gnostic sect that avoided creating new life by simply practicing coitus interruptus and consuming semen as religious acts, used it to justify free love.
  • Gospel of Mani: a 3rd-century Gnostic Gospel attributed to Mani, the ancient Persian founder of Manichaeism—a distinct religion that eventually outgrew its Gnostic base and at its height, not only reached west to the Roman Empire and east to China, but until the rise of Islam in the 7th century, was Christianity’s main rival for converts from the old, classic paganism. Also called the ‘Great Gospel’ and claimed by Manichaeans to be the only true one, it basically taught that God wasn’t omnipotent, that in fact there were two supernatural powers: the Great Light and the opposing Prince of Darkness; the first of whom, representing goodness, couldn’t attack his adversary, but only defend, while the other, representing evil, eternally attacked him and all his realm—with people’s souls, which contained a bit of both from birth, caught in the middle of this divine battleground. Manichaeism also included a belief in reincarnation, with the result that following his eventual martyrdom, or execution at a Zoroastrian Persian prison in 274—some hold that he too was crucified, others that he was skinned alive and his corpse suspended over the city’s main gate, although there’s no historical basis for either account—his followers claimed him to have been the reincarnation of various religious figures including Zoroaster himself, Krishna, Buddha, and Jesus. All of which brought Eusibius to comment, “The madman Mani, as he was called, well agreeing with his name for all his demoniacal heresy, armed himself with a perversion of reason and at the instruction of Satan, brought about the destruction of many. He was a barbarian in his own life, both in speech and personal conduct, and then in his nature, as one possessed and insane. Accordingly, he attempted to form himself into a new Christ, and then proclaimed himself to be the Divine Counselor, or Holy Spirit itself, and for all this, was greatly puffed up by his madness. Then, as if he really were Christ, he selected twelve disciples as partners in his new religion, and after patching together several false doctrines collected from a thousand heresies long extinct, he swept them from Persia like a deadly poison into this part of the world.”
  • Coptic Gospel of the Egyptians: also called the ‘Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit’, it too comes to us from that buried jar of Gnostic writings found in Egypt back in 1945; while it’s mainly concerned with trying to convince Christians and Jews alike that Jesus was really a reincarnation of the Old Testament’s Seth, returned to earth in order to release people’s souls from the evil prison that was the lesser, Hebrew God’s creation.
  • Gospel of the Savior: also known as the ‘Unknown Berlin Gospel’, this is a highly fragmented 6th-century manuscript in the form of a dialogue centered on the basic Gnostic teaching that salvation is available only to those who would understand the gnosis, or ‘secret knowledge’ that can be attained only through personal, mystical immersion in the divine.
  • Gospel of the Encratites: a 2nd-century Gnostic sect that associated sex and women with the cunning intrigues of the Devil and accordingly forbade marriage, along with the consumption of alcohol and meat. In time, its Gospel—said by Eusibius to have been written by the Assyrian theologian Tatian, according to Iranius, a pupil of Justin Martyr who following Justin’s death was expelled from the orthodox Christian community for his ascetic views—also came to be identified as heretical.

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Jewish Christian Gospels

And then there are the Jewish-Christian Gospels—none of which survives today, even in part, although several attempts have been made to reconstruct them from a few direct quotations found in other writings from that period.

Some scholars count four such Gospels, others, but three; still others, only two; and yet others—including several of the early Church Fathers, not all of whom were aware that different Jewish-Christian communities with varying theologies even existed—just one, albeit by that time, no doubt found in different versions and languages.

Indeed, even these Gospels’ names are only hypothetical—given by modern scholars simply based on whatever known ancient Jewish-Christian community they appeared to serve most.

And so we come to the

  • Gospel of the Hebrews: believed to have contained stories of Christ’s pre-existence, incarnation, baptism, and temptation, along with a few of his sayings.
  • Gospel of the Nazarenes: purely deduced from ancient references; nothing really known about it.
  • Gospel of the Ebionites: a lost gospel thought to be the subject of several ancient references. Supposedly narrated by the twelve apostles, it began with the baptism of Jesus (presumably because the Ebionites denied the Virgin Birth) and also included a narrative of the Last Supper.
  • Gospel of the Twelve: also known as the ‘Gospel of the Apostles’, it may well be the same as the Ebionite Gospel.

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Infancy Gospels

Which brings us to the so-called Infancy Gospels—as you may have already guessed, a group that unlike all the others, mainly focus on Jesus’ infancy and childhood.

Witness, then, the

  • Gospel of James: generally attributed to Jesus’ brother of that name, it’s also known as the ‘Protoevangelium of James’. A Gospel well-known to Origen early in the third century, it’s extra-Biblical stories are many, yet it’s popularity in early Christendom is attested to by the fact that over one hundred fifty ancient Greek copies of it have survived, while it’s also known to have been translated into Syriac, Ethiopian, Coptic, Georgian, Old Church Slavonic, Armenian, Arabic, Gaelic, and Vulgar Latin. The first Gospel to claim that Mary the mother of Jesus was also born miraculously, inasmuch as her own mother was infertile, it also asserts that Mary remained a virgin in perpetuity after giving birth to Jesus; that her virginity was actually checked by one of the midwifes awaiting Jesus’ birth, and again years later by one of Jesus’ female followers, Salome, whose hand was burned by God as she reached to touch her body during her gynecological examination; that explicitly claimed Joseph to have been an old widower with children at the time that the Virgin was entusted to him, thus explaining Jesus’ brothers and sisters; and that Jesus was actually born in a cave, rather than an animal shelter outside some inn—a story that remained in popular imagination for many centuries, that’s almost universally found echoed in Byzantine, Greek, and Russian icons of the Nativity, and that eventually inspired many of the Sienese and Florentine painters of the early Italian Renaissance to depict the Nativity in just such a setting. Despite this Gospel’s huge popularity, it was condemned as heretical by Pope Innocent I in 405, also denied acceptance into the New Testament canon by Pope Galasius I toward the end of that century, and as late as the 13th century, was dismissed as “apocryphal ravings” by Thomas Aquinas on the grounds that there was nothing in the Bible about a midwife being present at Jesus’ birth.
  • Infancy Gospel of Thomas: a 2nd-century text thought to have been Gnostic in origin, this Gospel—which contains many stories about young Jesus, including some in which he performs miracles—was regarded by orthodox Christians as both inauthentic and heretical. At first presented as a pure brat who at age one, curses a boy who has displeased him, thereby turning the kid into a withering corpse; soon thereafter curses and kills another who happened to throw a stone at him; subsequently breathes life into a dead fish, and follows that up by fashioning a bird in the presence of a playmate, breathing life into it, and watching it fly away—only to have his jealous playmate run to Mary and tell her that Jesus is playing in the mud on the Sabbath, for which Jesus immediately turns him into stone—later strikes some neighbors blind for having complained about him to his mother; and otherwise terrorizes the neighborhood until he finally becomes old enough to receive a little instruction about how he might put his divine power to some better use. Except, at first he just amuses himself by arrogantly proposing to teach the teacher; but in the end, he relents and reverses all of his previous cruelties—restoring life to the dead boys and sight to the blinded neighbors, then resurrecting a friend who’d been killed falling off a roof, healing his own brother who’d been bitten by a snake, and another man who’d accidentally chopped his foot off with an axe, creating an entire feast from a single grain of wheat, helping his father by stretching a wooden beam so that he could finish constructing a bed, and so forth. Really, just routine Bible yarns.
  • Syriac Infancy Gospel: also known as the ‘Arabic Infancy Gospel’, this text too focuses on Jesus’ childhood miracles. For example, here, merely touching the diaper of the infant Jesus heals people, his sweat cures leprosy, and later as a toddler, he rescues his mother from a certain scolding by quickly restoring the original colors of a load of different colored garments that she’d accidentally knocked into a tub of indigo dye-water. (Much more about the ‘Arabic’ side of this Gospel in a few days!)

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Miscellaneous Apocryphal Gospels

Either existing only in part; in the form of some disconnected fragments difficult to make much sense of; or reconstructed from such fragments as best possible using other sources, these are the

  • Gospel of Peter: the first of the apocryphal Gospels to have been discovered in modern times, this one was found by archaeologists some sixty miles north of Nag Hammadi in the grave of an ancient Egyptian monk. Although it explicitly claims to have been written by the Apostle Peter, most scholars find that this can’t have been the case—believing instead that the Gospel of Peter is actually one of early Christianity’s pseudepigraphical writings (texts produced under the name of some exalted person who didn’t actually write them—a common enough practice in ancient times, including in the early Church as we shall see later.) However, while its true author remains a mystery, its extant contents are certainly of value to Church historians. Since it begins with Jesus already under trial before Pontius Pilate and the latter ultimately washing his hands of the whole affair, it seems obvious that whatever opening pages there once were are now missing; and two small papyri fragments that have turned up since its discovery offer no clue as to what those might have contained. However, its portrayal of Pilate is especially interesting—if a little startling—inasmuch as this Gospel claims that Herod Antipas (known in the New Testament as ‘King Herod’, although he never officially held that title), rather than Pilate, actually gave the order to have Jesus crucified. In fact, Pilate is exonerated of all responsibility for Jesus’ death—to the extent that he was later sainted by the Coptic Christian church in Egypt precisely for refusing to issue that order. Moreover in this Gospel, Roman soldiers play no part in the crucifixion until they’re finally sent by Pilate—at the request of the Jewish authorities—to guard Jesus’ tomb. The chief priests and scribes of the Jews, along with a mob of ordinary Jewish citizens that they’ve deliberately incited, are the ones who actually condemn Jesus to death, abuse him on the way to Cavalry, crucify him, and afterward divide his clothing among themselves. Ultimately rejected by the New Testament compilers after Eusebius pointed out that it contained a few vaguely heretical passages that might be expected to lead some people astray, the Gospel of Peter remained a bone of contention within the Christian community for more than a century.
  • Gospel of Matthias: a lost Gospel ascribed to Matthias, the Apostle chosen by lot to replace Judas Iscariot; referred to by Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Jerome, and Eusibius—who attributes it to heretics.
  • Gospel of Cerinthus: a lost Jewish-Christian Gospel identical to that of the Ebionites.
  • Gospel of Andrew: a lost Gospel known only by the fact that it’s mentioned in the extant writings of Augustine and Pope Innocent I, both of whom referred to it as apocryphal.
  • Gospel of Barnabas: a lost Gospel known today from but a single mention in early Christian writings, where it’s merely listed as apocryphal.
  • Gospel of Bartholomew: a lost Gospel that’s mentioned by only two, fifth-century sources, both of which list it as apocryphal.
  • Gospel of Hesychius: a lost Gospel mentioned only by Jerome and a papal decree regarding the New Testament canon, both of which refer to it as apocryphal.
  • Gospel of Lucius: same as above.
  • Gospel of Merinthus: a lost Gospel mentioned only by Epiphanius

This ends our coverage of the apocryphal Gospels.

(to be continued)


Sources: Gnostic Gospels

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Wikipedia, Gospel of Basilides https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Basilides

Wikipedia, The Gospel of Truth https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Truth

Wikipedia, Gospel of the Four Heavenly Realms https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_the_Four_Heavenly_Realms

Wikipedia, Gospel of Mary https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Mary

Wikipedia, Gospel of Judas) https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Judas

Wikipedia, Greek Gospel of the Egyptians https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_Gospel_of_the_Egyptians

Wikipedia, Gospel of Philip https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Philip

Wikipedia, List of Gospels https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Gospels#Gnostic_gospels

Wikipedia, Gospel of Eve https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Eve

Wikipedia, Gospel of Mani https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Mani

Wikipedia, Mani https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mani_(prophet)

Wikipedia, Manichaeism https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manichaeism

Wikipedia, Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holy_Book_of_the_Great_Invisible_Spirit

Wikipedia, Gospel of the Savior https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_the_Saviour

Wikipedia, Gospel of the Encratites https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Encratites

Wikipedia, Tatian https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tatian

Sources: Jewish-Christian Gospels

(Wikipedia, Jewish-Christian Gospels) https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish%E2%80%93Christian_gospels

Sources: Infancy Gospels

Wikipedia, Gospel of James https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_James

Wikipedia, Infancy Gospel of Thomas https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infancy_Gospel_of_Thomas

Wikipedia, Syriac Infancy Gospel https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syriac_Infancy_Gospel

Sources: Misc. Apocryphal Gospels

Wikipedia, Gospel of Peter https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Peter

Wikipedia, Gospel of Matthias https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Matthias

Wikipedia, Gospel of Cerinthus https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Cerinthus

Wikipedia, Gospel of Andrew https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Andrew

Wikipedia, Gospel of Barnabas https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Gospels

Wikipedia, Gospel of Bartholomew,https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Bartholomew

Wikipedia, Gospel of Hesychius https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Gospels

Wikipedia, Gospel of Lucius https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Gospels

Wikipedia, Gospel of Merinthus https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Gospels

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