In this volume, and its companion, Wilson's English language translation of Schneemelcher's magnum opus, is presented in a most scholarly, critical edition. This book is a must, not only for the serious student of sub-New Testament literature, but also for pastors who wish to be informed as to the highest scholarship in this field.
This volume, dealing with the apocryphal Gospel material, shows clearly Early Church thinking and beliefs concerning the life and ministry of Christ, as well as the views of certain heretical sects. It also provides an insight into early "popular piety" which has played such an important role in the development of the Christian Church.
This Revised Edition of the "New Testament Apocrypha, Volume 1: Gospels and Related Writings", published in English in 1991, is a translation by R. McL. Wilson of the 6th German edition edited by Wilhelm Scheemelcher. The introductory materials for each text and section were simply translated from the German, but the texts themselves were translated, then checked against the original Greek, Coptic, or Latin and revised if necessary, in order to avoid the pitfalls of twice-removed translations. There are about 70 texts covered in this first volume, depending upon how you count. These are non-canonical Christian or semi-Christian texts that were excluded from the canon (or did not yet exist) by the end of the 2nd century, by which time it is likely certain texts had been established as normative, though the canon was not definitively fixed until the 4th century. The texts range in date of origin from the early 2nd to 7th centuries, with most from the 2nd-4th centuries.
The 65-page General Introduction addresses both volumes of the "New Testament Apocrypha". It discusses the history of the terms "canon" and "apocrypha" as they were applied to Christian texts, the evidence and conflicting theories of when and how the Christian canon was formed, the influences of heterodox sects on the orthodox canon, and provides translations of ancient and medieval canon catalogs. It also discusses the relation of the apocrypha to the canon, its role, and the history of apocryphal research. It should be noted that this introduction and those for the texts sometimes do not reflect the latest scholarship, as they were written nearly 20 years ago.
Most of the texts are incomplete or fragmentary. The only complete texts are: Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Phillip (some missing words), Book of Thomas, Epistula Apostolorum, Apocryphon of James, Letter of Peter to Phillip, Protevangelian of James, Infancy Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Nicodemus, Questions of Bartholomew. There are 15 texts that do not appear at all, but are simply described. In most cases, this is because they are not extant but are witnessed by some other document. In a handful of cases, however, the text is extant but not included. This occurs primarily in the section entitled "Other Gnostic Gospels and Related Writings", which had some difficulties with documents not being available for the original edition; the author of the section died before the revision was completed; and some texts were judged by the editor not to belong in this volume except in parts that are excerpted.
The last two sections, which concern themselves with "The Relatives of Jesus" and "The Work and Sufferings of Jesus", include quotations from works that reference these topics, such as Josephus and Eusebius, as well as self-contained texts. There are obviously a lot of texts that refer to the work and sufferings of Jesus. These are the ones that didn't fit into the previous sections. I found "The Relatives of Jesus" lacking in insight and missing some references to Jesus' family, but these are not the book's strongest sections.
The biggest shortcoming of this "New Testament Apocrypha", and the first thing that readers will notice, is the format. It's not user-friendly. (I have the hardback, so I cannot say if the paperback is the same.) The book is divided into sections, some of which are divided into documents or types of documents, which may be subdivided, and so on. Each section has an introduction as does each text. The first item in the introduction is the bibliography, followed by topics like attestation, extant remains, relation to canonical gospels, place and time of origin, contents, languages, theology. That sounds good, except that Wilson's translation is stiff, and I get the impression that readability may not have been a priority in the original German either. The introductions vary in depth and quality. I would have liked more discussion of theology.
The introductions, the notes, and the texts tend to run together. Distinguishing one from the next requires effort if you are reading straight through. If you're looking for a particular text using the table of contents, it is probably easier. Since section titles never appear at the top of the page, you are forced to use the table of contents anyway. The texts themselves are always in a larger font, so that is the way to pick them out. The translators often include Greek words in parentheses after the English equivalent for clarity's sake. That's fine, but when Greek is used in the Introductions or Notes, it is sometimes not translated, and references are made to particulars of the Greek when we can't see the Greek text. Presumably the intended market is scholars who read Greek and have the Greek text at hand. The "New Testament Apocrypha, Volume 1" is the best single collection of gospel-themed materials, but it leaves something to be desired as to readability.
on May 24, 2007
I was very dissappointed with Schneemelcher's two volume; "New Testament Apocrypha". I ordered both volumes from amazon. First, it is exactly what I thought it wasn't. That is, it is filled with extracts, and sometimes very brief ones. For example, the Infancy Gospels, and the "Sybilline Oracles". Maybe I am wrong, but it seemed to me you could count on two hands how many complete texts it contained. I do not believe it even contained; "Nicodemus". Unless it was under an alternate title. Moreover, perhaps some will not agree, but it reminded me, in an offhand way, of a volume of Pre-Socratic philosophy. Or to take that even further, it seemed more a book -about- apocryphal literature; than the literature itself. Is that what it is? Or even a bibliography. Why is everyone calling this the ultimate edition? At nearly $100.00 I will probably return them. If it was half the cost, I might keep them for reference volumes. Thank You Nicandemus
on September 23, 2004
This is the definitive reference on the Aprocrypha. There is a 2 volume set.
...here is my review of books that build on these those who are looking for better information on the "lost" books of the New Testament Bible and the concepts of Gnosticism.
Nearly all knowledgeable Biblical scholars realize there have been a wide range of writings attributed to Jesus and his Apostles..... and that some of these were selected for compilation into the book that became known as the Bible.....and that some books have been removed from some versions of the Bible and others have been re-discovered in modern times.
The attention focused on Gnosticism by Dan Brown's DaVinci Code may be debatable, but the fact is that increased attention on academics tends to be predominately positive, so I welcome those with first-time or renewed interest. At least first-timers to Gnosticism are not pursuing the oh-so-popular legends of the Holy Grail, Bloodline of Christ, and Mary Magdalene.
This is great......I seldom quote other reviewers, but there is one reviewer of Pagels' books who confided that he had been a Jesuit candidate and had been required to study a wide range of texts but was never was told about the Nag Hamadi texts. He said:
"Now I know why. The Gospel of Thomas lays waste to the notion that Jesus was `the only begotten Son of God' and obviates the need for a formalized church when he says, `When your leaders tell you that God is in heaven, say rather, God is within you, and without you.' No wonder they suppressed this stuff! The Roman Catholic Church hasn't maintained itself as the oldest institution in the world by allowing individuals to have a clear channel to see the divinity within all of us: they need to put God in a bottle, label the bottle, put that bottle on an altar, build a church around that altar, put a sign over the door, and create rubricks and rituals to keep out the dis-believing riff-raff. Real `Us' versus `them' stuff, the polar opposite from `God is within You.' `My God is bigger than your God' the church(s)seem to say. And you can only get there through "my" door/denomination. But Jesus according to Thomas had it right: just keep it simple, and discover the indwelling Divinity `within you and without you.'"
Here are quickie reviews of what is being bought these days on the Gnostic Gospels and the lost books of the Bible in general:
The Lost Books of the Bible (0517277956) includes 26 apocryphal books from the first 400 years that were not included in the New Testament.
Marvin Meyers' The Secret Teachings of Jesus : Four Gnostic Gospels (0394744330 ) is a new translation without commentary of The Secret Book of James, The Gospel of Thomas, The Book of Thomas, and The Secret Book of John.
James M. Robinson's The Nag Hammadi Library in English : Revised Edition (0060669357) has been around 25 years now and is in 2nd edition. It has introductions to each of the 13 Nag Hammadi Codices and the Papyrus Berioinensis 8502.
The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English (0140278079) by Geza Vermes has selected works....a complete work is more difficult to achieve than the publisher's marketing concept indicates. His commentary generates strong reactions.
Elaine Pagels has 2 books (The Gnostic Gospels 0679724532 and Beyond Belief : The Secret Gospel of Thomas 0375501568) that have received considerable attention lately. For many, her work is controversial in that it is written for popular consumption and there is a strong modern interpretation. She does attempt to reinterpret ancient gender relationships in the light of modern feminist thinking. While this is a useful (and entertaining) aspect of college women's studies programs, it is not as unethical as some critics claim. As hard as they may try, all historians interpret the past in the context of the present. Obviously there is value in our attempts to re-interpret the past in the light of our own time.
Also, to understand the Cathars......try Barbara Tuckman's Distant Mirror for an incredible historical commentary on how the Christian Church has handled other points of view