We concluded the posts this month with a look at a few “apocryphal” Gospels. The word connotes writings that are “secret” or “hidden”, but there is no reason why these texts should be hidden from the person in the pews any longer. As I work from within a particular Christian framework, none of these writings hold any theological authority on par with the canonical Jewish and Christian Scriptures for me. However, they are invaluable historical documents that fill out the historical and social contexts and the kind of traditions, beliefs, and practices that various groups across the Judeo-Christian spectrum were engaging, often in dialogue and debate with each other and with other groups in the larger Graeco-Roman world. Christian writers in the first few centuries did not yet know what would ultimately be decided as canonical and continued to write to either learn more about Jesus (e.g. the circumstances of his heavenly pre-existence, birth, childhood, ministry, passion, or post-ascension existence) or to interpret the person and message of Jesus through a particular theological lens, only some of which were finally judged to be theologically “orthodox” (e.g., the debate between the Gospels that presented Jesus as a dying Saviour versus as a dispenser of esoteric and revelatory knowledge). If you go to the tab “Academic Resources (External),” you can look up “primary sources” and read up some of the unofficial translations of them online. Official editions of texts may be found in the nearest academic library.
A long time ago, there was a meme circulating among the biblioblogs about lost ancient sources that we wish we could recover, but I could not find some of these older posts when I typed this into a google search. I wonder what would be on your list (also note that I am not presuming any of these hypothetical sources exist but it would certainly shed some light if we discovered some source like them):
- J, E, D, and P or whatever lost sources underlie the Pentateuch?
- Q, M, L, other collections (sayings, pronouncement stories, miracles), signs source, passion narrative, the Logos hymn, proto-Gospels, or whatever sources underlie our New Testament Gospels?
- Lost Gospels such as the Gospel according to the Hebrews.
- Lost Epistles such as Paul’s “letter of tears” to the Corinthians or his letter to the Laodiceans.
- Lost Patristic sources such as the Exposition of the Oracles of the Lord by Papias of Hierapolis.
If we were to discover these sources, I wonder what scholarly theories they would disprove or force us to heavily revise? And what new scholarly theories would they encourage us to develop?
I offered an overview of the major theories surrounding the Patristic and Medieval Christian comments on the so-called Gospel according to the Hebrews. In the debate over whether there was one, two, three, or more Jewish Christian Gospels, I support the two Gospel hypothesis (i.e. the Gospel according to the Hebrews and a Gospel known to Epiphanius). On the other hand, David B. Sloan has a website dedicating to reconstructing Q, a hypothetical common source to Matthew and Luke, and argues for the identification of Q with the Gospel according to the Hebrews (see especially his conference paper). Thus, he not only argues that there was only one Gospel that was known to our various Patristic authors (Clement, Origen, Didymus, Eusebius, Epiphanius, Jerome, etc.), but also that it was a very early source that informed the Synoptic tradition. Check out his arguments and see what you think.
I have been speaking about the Jewish Christian Gospels outside of the New Testament, but you may be interested in the surviving quotations or allusions to them in the sources. If you go to Peter Kirby’s website http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/, you can read about the contents that have been assigned to the so-called Gospel of the Hebrews, Gospel of the Ebionites, and Gospel of the Nazoraeans. Of course, this is presuming the three Gospel hypothesis. Those who argue for a single Jewish Gospel would include all these traditions in the Gospel according to the Hebrews, since the latter two Gospels are hypothetical constructs of modern scholars. Those who argue for two Gospels would accept that all the traditions of Epiphanius go back to a distinct Gospel that modern scholars have dubbed the Gospel of the Ebionites, while they would reject the existence of the Gospel of the Nazoraeans and assign Jeromes’ fragments either to the Gospel according to the Hebrews, to Jewish Christian traditions that were contemporary with Jerome, or to an Aramaic translation of Matthew composed by the Christian Nazoraeans.
I mentioned that the story of the allegedly sinful woman was interpolated into Codex Bezae and later manuscripts of the Gospel of John. Yet the fourth century church historian Eusebius did not find it in his manuscript of John’s Gospel, nor did he identify it with the account in Luke 7:36-50, but he inferred that his source Papias had located it in the so-called Gospel according to the Hebrews (cf. Ecclesiastical History 3.39.17). Didymus the Blind was more vague when he mentions that he found it in “certain Gospels” in his commentary on Ecclesiastes. Didymus, however, cites a tradition from the Gospel according to the Hebrews in his Commentary on the Psalms 184.9-10 and it is plausible that this was one of his sources for the story. I do not think the Gospel according to the Hebrews dates back as early as Papias, but I do accept that the oral tradition known to Papias developed over time and was eventually included in this text.
This raises another issue. While there are some scholars who continue to argue for the Patristic view that there was a single Gospel according to the Hebrews that was a significant source for the early Jesus tradition (e.g., Pritz, Edwards, Sloan), the majority position is that there were three different Gospels that the church authorities mistakenly lumped together (e.g., Vielhauer, Strecker, Klijn, Klauck, Frey). The three reconstructed Gospels are an eclectic Greek text cited by the Alexandrian Fathers (i.e. the Gospel according to the Hebrews), a Greek harmony of the Synoptic Gospels cited by the fourth century Epiphanius of Salamis (i.e. the Gospel according to the Ebionites), and an Aramaic Gospel that Jerome (mistakenly?) thought to resemble Matthew’s Gospel (i.e. the Gospel according to the Nazoraeans). The last approach that has found some recent champions (Luomanen, Gregory) accepts the existence of the first two reconstructed Gospels, but argues against the existence of the so-called Gospel according to the Nazoraeans by proposing that Jerome just knew an Aramaic translation of Matthew’s Gospel circulating among Christians known as the Nazoraeans and confused it with the source cited by earlier Greek Christian commentators as the Gospel according to the Hebrews. Here is a brief bibliography:
- Edwards, James R. The Hebrew Gospel and the Development of the Synoptic Tradition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009.
- Evans, Craig. “The Jewish Christian Gospel Tradition” in Jewish Believers in Jesus: The Early Centuries. Edited by Oskar Skarsaune and Reider Hvalvik. Peabody: Hendrikson, 2007.
- Frey, Jörg. “Die Fragmente judenchristlicher Evangelien” in Antike christliche Apokryphen in deutscher Übersetzung. I. Band: Evangelien und Verwandtes. Teilband 1. Edited by Christoph Markschies and Jens Schroter. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2012.
- Gregory, Andrew. “Jewish Christian Gospels” in The Non-Canonical Gospels, 54-67. Edited by Paul Foster. London: T&T Clark, 2008.
- Klijn, A. F. J. Jewish-Christian Gospel Tradition. Leiden: Brill, 1992.
- Klauck, Hans Josef. Apocryphal Gospels: An Introduction. Translated by Brian McNeil. London: T&T Clark, 2003.
- Kok, Michael J. “Did Papias of Hierapolis Use the Gospel according to the Hebrews as a Source?” Journal of Early Christian Studies 25.1 (2017): 29-53.
- Luomanen, Petri. Recovering Jewish-Christian Sects and Gospels. Leiden: Brill, 2012.
- Pritz, Ray A. Nazarene Jewish Christianity: From the End of the New Testament Period until its Disappearance in the Fourth Century. Jerusalem: Magnes, 1988.
- Vielhauer, Philipp and Strecker, Georg. “Jewish Christian Gospels” in New Testament Apocrypha I: Gospels and Related Writings, 560-660. Edited by Wilhelm Schneemelcher. Translated by R. McL. Wilson. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1991.
For readers who are interested in the manuscript evidence for the “pericope adulterae” in John 7:53-8:11 and in other locations in the Gospels of John and Luke, see the excellent article by Chris Keith entitled “The Initial Location of the Pericope Adulterae in Fourfold Tradition” Novum Testamentum 51.3 (2009): 209-231. As Chris Keith is one of the foremost experts on this text, there are quite a number of helpful posts on the subject over at The Jesus Blog where he is a co-contributor. There are also many great posts on the subject over at the blog Evangelical Textual Criticism.
We have looked at the episode of the purportedly sinful woman who sought out Jesus while he was dining at the house of a Pharisee in Luke 7:36-50 and how Luke may have transferred to it a few elements from the different account of another woman who anointed Jesus in Bethany in the other three New Testament Gospels. We also saw the Patristic reports (i.e. Papias, the Didascalia Apostolorum, Didymus the Blind) describe how Jesus pardoned a woman accused of plural sins or a single sin, though the sin was not identified as “adultery” until the “pericope adulterae” and Rufinus’s Latin translation (ca. 402 CE) of Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History.
It is possible that these are two completely separate incidences. In one account, Jesus shows compassion towards an unnamed woman in a Pharisee’s house; in the other account, Jesus intervenes when an unnamed woman was accused of some transgressions that could have severe consequences. On the other hand, it may be possible that Luke and Papias were referring to the same basic story about a single woman, though Luke has edited the story to fit in to its new literary context, and that this story continued to be developed over the centuries into the accounts attested in the Didascalia Apostolorum, in the commentary of Didymus the Blind, and in John 7:53-8:11.
What was the original version of this story? I can think of three possibilities. First, it may have always been an account about how the scribes and Pharisees sought to test Jesus by bringing a woman before him who had been unofficially (but not legally under Roman law) charged with a capital offense against the Torah; all the sources selectively rehearsed or altered details (e.g. the setting, the challenge, the climatic pronouncement of Jesus) based on each author’s theological concerns. Second, there may have originally been two separate stories – in one story the scribes and Pharisees left the accused woman for Jesus to make a judgment against her in a private setting or in the temple courts and in the other story Jesus actively rescued a woman about to be lynched by a mob – and both were combined in the “pericope adulterae” in John 7:53-8:11. Third, the original version was a simple pronouncement story in which Jesus evaded the trap that the scribes and Pharisees set for him by absolving a maligned woman with a witty response (e.g. Luke, Papias, Didascalia) but, as this oral anecdote was retold over the centuries, new details were created including the charge of adultery and the threat of a public stoning that Jesus stopped. I favour this third option. For an alternative reconstruction, see the following blog posts from Kyle R. Hughes and this blog response from Chris Keith. I will also provide a brief bibliography of sources if you want to research this question in more detail, though I could add further sources on each of the texts listed (e.g. Luke, Papias, Didascalia, Eusebius, Didymus the Blind, the Jewish Christian Gospels labelled as “the Gospel according to the Hebrews”).
- Black, David Alan and Cerone, Jacob N. The Pericope of the Adulteress in Contemporary Research. New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016.
- Ehrman, Bart D. “Jesus and the Adulteress. New Testament Studies 34 (1988): 24-44.
- Hughes, Kyle R. “The Lukan Special Material and the Tradition History of the Pericope Adulterae.” Novum Testamentum 55.3 (2013): 232-251.
- Keith, Chris. “Recent and Previous Research on the Pericope Adulterae (John 7:53-8:11).” Currents in Biblical Research 6 (2008); 377-404.
- Knust, Jennifer Wright. “Early Christian Re-writing and the History of the Pericope Adulterae.” Journal of Early Christian Studies 14 (2006): 485-536.
- Kok, Michael J. “Did Papias of Hierapolis Use the Gospel according to the Hebrews as a Source?” Journal of Early Christian Studies 25.1 (2017): 29-53.
- Lührmann, Dieter. “Die Geschichte von einer Sünderin und andere Apokryphe Jesusüberlieferungen bei Didymos von Alexandrien.” Novum Testamentum 32 (1990): 289-316.
- MacDonald, Dennis. Two Shipwrecked Gospels: The Logoi of Jesus and Papias’s Exposition of Logia about the Lord. Atlanta: SBL, 2012.
An account of how Jesus pardoned a woman accused of many sins continued to be passed down orally for centuries. I have quickly re-copied the following texts from readily accessible online translations, but it should be noted that these are not translations from the official editions of these ancient texts:
Papias of Hierapolis, in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39.17
“And he [Papias] relates another story of a woman, who was accused of many sins before the Lord, which is contained in the Gospel according to the Hebrews.”
Didascalia Apostolorum [Teaching of the Apostles] 7
“But if thou receive not him who repents, because thou art without mercy, thou shalt sin against the Lord God; for thou obeyest not our Saviour and our God, to do as He also did with her that had sinned, whom the elders set before Him, and leaving the judgement in His hands, departed. But He, the Searcher of hearts, asked her and said to her: Have the elders condemned thee, my daughter? She saith to him: Nay, Lord. And he said unto her: Go thy way: neither do I condemn thee.”
[*note: I omitted some textual notes in the translation at the website]
Didymus the Blind, Commentary on Ecclesiastes 223.6-13
“We find then in certain gospels a woman, it says, was condemned by the Jews for a sin and was being sent to be stoned in the place where that was customary to be done. The saviour, it says, when he saw her and observed that they were prepared to stone her, to those intending to cast the stones upon her he said, ‘Whoever has not sinned, let him lift up a stone and cast it.’ … ‘If anyone thinks himself not to have sinned, let him take a stone and smite her.’ And no one dared, since they understood among themselves and knew that they themselves were also guilty in some things: so they did not dare to strike her.”
The accounts in the Didascalia Apostolorum and Didymus’s commentary share some affinities with the famous and much-loved story of Jesus rescuing an adulteress about to stoned by a mob known that was interpolated in many manuscripts of John’s Gospel in 7:53-8:11. You can read different translations of the pericope adulterae at the website Bible Gateway. We have a real puzzle on our hands about how these traditions relate to each other and I will explore this further in the next post.
In the last post, I covered the similarities and differences in Mark’s, Matthew’s, and John’s renditions of the story of the woman who anointed Jesus. However, the common core of the story remained the same. However, in Luke 7:36-50, the only details that seem to be the same are the name of the host as “Simon”, though it is Simon the Pharisee rather than Simon the Leper, and the act of anointing Jesus with perfume. There is a striking agreement between Luke and John that she anointed Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair. This latter action, however, seems to make more sense in Luke as she was crying over his feet and wiping the tears away with her hair. Was John dependent on Luke in conflating the Lukan and Markan stories, was Luke dependent on John in correcting an odd detail in the latter, or were both Luke and John familiar with an oral variant where the woman anointed Jesus’ feet? This parallel cannot be discussed apart from the other parallels between Luke and John such as the miraculous catch of fish (Luke 5:1-11; John 21:1-14), the names Lazarus and the sisters Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38–42; 16:19–31; John 11:1–44), the visit of Peter to the sepulcher (Luke 24:12; John 20:2–9), and the resurrection appearances localized in Jerusalem (Luke 24:1–11, 33–53; John 20:1–29).
Otherwise, Luke 7:36-50 looks like a completely different story: the woman is described as a sinner from the city, the Pharisee with whom Jesus was dining casts judgment on her and on Jesus for letting her touch him, Jesus corrects the Pharisee with a parable about a moneylender who cancels debt and about how the affections she has lavished on Jesus were due to her receiving forgiveness to such a great extent. Has Luke relocated Mark’s story and completely re-written it to serve the author’s own editorial and theological interests? The theory that I prefer is that Luke actually knew another story about how Jesus pardoned a woman accused of some transgressions earlier in the ministry; it was Luke who omitted the Markan story of the woman who anointed Jesus yet transferred a few of its details over to what was originally a completely independent story of an encounter between Jesus and a different woman. To see what this account might have looked like before it was incorporated into Luke 7:36-50, we must turn to data from outside the New Testament next.
You can read the story of the woman who anointed Jesus from Mark 14:1-9, Matthew 26:2-12, Luke 7:36-50, and John 12:1-8 in four parallel columns here. You can also find out where there is verbatim agreement between the Greek texts of two or more of the Gospels here. There is a common core to the story in three of the four Gospels: a woman anoints Jesus (as the royal Messiah?) in Bethany shortly before the Passover, an objection is lodged that the act was an extravagant waste as it would have been better to sell the perfume and give the money to the poor, and Jesus responds by reminding the disciples that the poor will always be among them before commending the woman’s action as preparing for his burial.
In Mark and Matthew, Jesus was at the house of Simon the Leper. Matthew largely follows Mark’s account, except that he puts the chronological information (i.e. two days before the Passover) directly into a passion prediction of Jesus, omits Mark’s seemingly superfluous details about the type and cost of the perfume, and has the demonstrative pronoun “this” before the statement about how the woman will be commemorated wherever this gospel (oral proclamation or written text?) is preached.
There may be more debate about whether John is dependent on or independent of Mark. On the one hand, Jesus came to Bethany six days before Passover and was served by Lazarus’s sister Martha “where Lazarus was”, though the details are still vague about when and where he exactly was when the woman anointed him. The woman is identified as Lazarus’s sister Mary, the one who raised the objection is identified as Judas and his motives are impugned as a thief, and the line about the proclamation of the gospel is dropped. On the other hand, John strikingly agrees with Mark about how the perfume consisted of a vial of pure nard and how it cost over three hundred denarii.
It is Luke 7:36-50 where the chronology, characters, details, and moral of the story seem to be drastically different. We will take up some possible reasons for the difference in the next post.