The History of Joseph the Carpenter
J. K. Elliott
Like many apocryphal infancy gospels this book is likely to have been inspired by the Protevangelium of James. As a counterpart to the many legends that developed around the name of Mary, it tells of Joseph's death. The whole narrative is put into the mouth of Jesus (although there are lapses in chapters 30 and 32). An Egyptian provenance would readily account for much of the teaching on death, for which there are parallels in the Coptic accounts of the death of the Virgin. The work is known in Sahidic (from which a Bohairic version has been translated, according to Robinson, p. xvi), and in Arabic that has been based on the Coptic or possibly even on a Syriac version. According to Morenz, the original language is likely to have been Greek—from which the Coptic seems to have been translated.
The existence of the book in both main Coptic dialects is one of the arguments that have been put forward in favour of a fourth‐fifth century date for its composition. Other arguments for this early date include the millenarian teaching of ch. 26: other eschatological teaching elsewhere is said by Tischendorf to support such a date. Others have opted for a later date on the ground that the book must belong to a period when saints' days were observed, since its purpose is clearly to glorify Joseph's feast day. As such it is another instance of a character in the canonical Gospels gaining greater significance in his or her own right in the apocryphal literature.
The extracts translated below are from the Bohairic version.
The Arabic text was edited and translated into Latin by Wallin; his Latin text was reproduced by Fabricius. The Arabic was revised by E. Rödiger for Thilo's edition, which also has a Latin translation. Tischendorf reproduced the Latin text as revised for him by H. Fleischer.
Joseph the Carpenter in Coptic is in the following manuscripts and editions:
Bohairic. The complete text in Borgia XXV is in Revillout, pp. 43–71, and described by Zoega (p. 33). 1 G. Zoega, Catalogus codicum copticorum manuscriptorum qui in Museo Borgiano Velitris adservantur (Rome, 1810; repr. Hildesheim, 1973). De Lagarde (pp. 1–37) published the text of Vat LXVI 11 (from which Borgia XXV was copied); Robinson's translation (pp. 130–47) relies on de Lagarde's text. A fragment in Bohairic (Crawford 39 = Rylands 440) is given by Robinson (pp. 221–9).
Sahidic. These are all fragments.
(a) Borgia 109 no. 116, formerly Zoega CXVI. One leaf containing chs. 4–8. Described by Zoega (p. 223). Written and lithographed by Revillout (pp. 28–9), and printed with a translation by Robinson (pp. 146–9).
(b) Borgia 109, no. 121, formerly Zoega CXXI. Eight leaves containing chs. 14–24. Described by Zoega (p. 225), with selections from chapters 14–15, 21–23. These selections were translated into French by Dulaurier. Written and lithographed by Revillout (pp. 30–42). Printed by de Lagarde, from a transcript by Guidi 2 I. Guidi, ‘Frammenti Copti’, Rendiconti della R. Accademia dei Lincei (Classe di scienze morali, storiche e filologiche) ser. 4, vol. 3,2. (1887) (pp. 9–29). Translated by Robinson (pp. 152–9). Given in the footnotes to Tischendorf's Latin text which translates the Arabic.
(c) BL Or 3581 B. One leaf containing chapters 13–15. Translated by Robinson (pp. 148–51).
(d) Paris fragments. Bibliothèque Nationale 12717 fos. 13–16 (chs. 17. 17b–23. 2a) and 12917 fo. 12 (chs. 7. 1b–9. 1). Published by Lefort, Sahidic with French translation.
1 G. Zoega, Catalogus codicum copticorum manuscriptorum qui in Museo Borgiano Velitris adservantur (Rome, 1810; repr. Hildesheim, 1973).
2 I. Guidi, ‘Frammenti Copti’, Rendiconti della R. Accademia dei Lincei (Classe di scienze morali, storiche e filologiche) ser. 4, vol. 3,2. (1887)