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The Apocryphal New Testament Easy to use collection of English translations of the New Testament Apocrypha.

The Acts of John

J. K. Elliott

In the East the earliest unambiguous patristic attestation to the Acts of John is in Eusebius (HE 3. 25. 6 (Schwartz GCS 9.2, pp. 252f.)) who condemns the Acts of John (and of Andrew) as heretical. Epiphanius (adv. Haer. 2. 47. 1 (Holl, GCS 31, p. 216)) notes that the Acts of John (and of Andrew and of Thomas) were used by encratite groups. The Manichaean Psalm Book used it as part of a Manichaean corpus of Acts 1 This also contained the Acts of Peter, Andrew, Thomas and Paul. about AD 340 (according to C. R. C. Allberry). Western attestation includes Augustine (Ep. 237 (253) to Ceretius, ed. A. Goldbacher, CSEL 57 (Vienna and Leipzig, 1911), pp. 526–32) who cites in Latin some ten lines of the Hymn of Christ, which Ceretius claims to have found circulating as an independent text among the Priscillianists. The Acts were also mentioned by Innocent I (Ep. 6. 7, PL 20, col. 502) and by Turribius of Astorga (Ep. ad Idacium et Ceponium 5, PL 54, cols. 693–5). The Acts in Latin were also obviously known to the editor of the Virtutes Johannis in the collection of Pseudo‐Abdias. The Acts were therefore known by the fourth century as a sectarian work and used by, among others, Priscillianists.

The Stichometry of Nicephorus calculates the Acts of John to have contained 2500 stichoi, making it comparable in length to the Gospel of Matthew. If Nicephorus' total represents the length of the original Acts (rather than a shortened version known in his day) then what we possess is likely to be only two‐thirds of the original. These contents need to be re‐established from several different manuscripts (with the help of later descriptions or allusions) as none of them contains the total remaining contents of the original Acts.

As may be seen in the bibliography below, Thilo, Tischendorf, Zahn, and James were responsible for publishing an increasing number of sections of the original Acts, but it was not until Bonnet's edition of 1898 that all the material then known was conveniently available. Only in recent years, thanks to the labours of Junod and Kaestli, has Bonnet's edition been significantly improved. Bonnet pieced together the various episodes in Greek that occur in different manuscripts, many of them containing the Acts of John of Prochorus, and published the Acts of John in 115 chapters. He was aware that there were gaps in the original story after his chs. 17, 55, 86, and 105 . Another gap has been identified after ch. 36 , although there is no break here in the manuscript tradition: this has been seen as relevant to the question of where chs. 87–105 belong. The Acts of John as published by Bonnet may thus be seen as consisting of separate sections:

  • (a) 1–17, now considered not to belong to the original Acts of John.

  • (b) 18–36 and 37–55.

  • (c) 56–7 (asterisked by Bonnet as not original).

  • (d) 58–86.

  • (e) 87–105.

  • (f) 106–115.

A certain reordering of these sections is now normal, especially the insertion of chs. 87–105 after 36. The story of the partridge in 56–7 may not be part of the original Acts, 2 It is a story known to John Cassian, Conlationes 24. 21 (ed. M. Petschenig, CSEL 13 (Vienna, 1886), pp. 697–8). This text is reproduced in a modified form in Jacob of Voragine's Golden Legend, and may be found in Slavonic (de Santos Otero, Altslav. Apok. i. 98, with reference to BHG ii. 906 and see under ‘de ansere’). and Junod and Kaestli replace it with an episode found in two manuscripts of the Acts of John according to Prochorus concerning the healing of Antipatros' sons as their chs. 56–7 . Both stories are included below.

The main sections are thus:

  • (i) Chs. 18–55, 58–86 , contained in a few Greek manuscripts of Prochorus, notably Patmos 188.

  • (ii) Chs. 87–105 , found in only one manuscript, published originally by M. R. James in Apoc. Anec. ii (with the Greek text and an English translation). Bonnet placed them immediately before the Metastasis (106–115). A better placing for them is after 36, and this is the position adopted here, following Hennecke–Schneemelcher and Junod and Kaestli.

  • (iii) The Metastasis (106–115), found in several Greek manuscripts and in Syriac, Armenian, Coptic (Sahidic), Ethiopic, Arabic, and Georgian. The Slavonic version, on which much work awaits to be done, also renders the Metastasis, but according to Hennecke5, ii. 151 (Eng. trans., ii. 163), the Slavonic Metastasis is taken from the Acts of John of Prochorus.

Three recensions of the Metastasis have been identified by Junod and Kaestli, who print them separately in CCA 1 and 2. Their chart on p. 62 shows that the Ethiopic is descended from the Coptic through one of the two Arabic versions published by A. Smith Lewis. The other Arabic version comes from the Greek. The Georgian represents another version from the Greek. The Armenian represents a different tradition, as does the Syriac.

In addition, certain other episodes known from other sources are sometimes considered for inclusion in the lacunae as part of the original Acts of John or for additional support in editing the text of chs. 18–115 :

  • (a) A sequence of stories found only in Latin (in Pseudo‐Abdias, Virtutes Iohannis V–VIII (sometimes numbered 14–21) and in Pseudo‐Melito, Passio Iohannis, is translated by James, pp. 257–64. The text of Pseudo‐Abdias is found in Nausea, or more conveniently in Fabricius, ii. 557–80, 3 Also in Junod and Kaestli, CCA, pp. 814–27, and see their discussion on pp. 782–90. Pseudo‐Melito in PG 5, cols. 1242B–1249B. One of these stories is that of the poison cup to be found in a different form in the Acts of John in Rome (i.e. Lipsius–Bonnet, chs. 1–14 , esp. 10). The relevant chapters are translated below (‘Allied Texts (a)’).

  • (b) P. Oxy. 850, a fourth‐century fragment, refers in its text to the character named Andronicus. As he is introduced in Acts of John 31, the events recorded in the fragment could have occurred between that point and the Metastasis. They take place in Ephesus; as the Acts refer to two periods in Ephesus (chs. 31–55 and 62–115 ), the fragment is likely to have been located in one of the gaps following 36, 86 or 105. It is translated below (‘Allied Texts (b)’).

  • (c) In the citations from the Acts of John found in the fifth‐century Epistle of Pseudo‐Titus one quotation is close to ch. 113, ll. 10–11. The other two are from episodes now lost. James included these as having possibly originated in the Acts of John, and they appear below (‘Allied Texts (c)’).

  • (d) Junod and Kaestli, CCA, pp. 122–36, consider the possibility that the episode of the hay turned to gold and two other stories found in the Irish fifteenth‐century Liber Flavus Fergusiorum 4 See M. Herbert and M. McNamara, Irish Biblical Apocrypha (Edinburgh, 1989), 91–4, esp. 93. The text is to be found in Hennecke5 (German), ii. 191–3; (Eng. trans.), ii. 210–12. (which they include in an English version in CCA, pp. 113–16) are from the original Acts. The Liber Flavus has links with P. Oxy. 850 and with Evodius of Uzala (see de fide contra Manichaeos 40, ed. J. Zycha, CSEL 25.2 (Vienna, Prague, Leipzig, 1892), pp. 970–1).

The story of the hay concerns John's dealings with criticism of his success in receiving alms. He plucks some hay, which is turned to one hundred rods of gold. These he throws into the river, claiming that he prefers poverty for himself and that any alms he receives he distributes to the needy. This story is not translated below.

  • (e) The proceedings of the Second Council of Nicaea (AD 787) are contained in several Greek and Latin manuscripts, and also in the Latin version by Anastasius. 5 J. C. Thilo, Colliguntur et commentariis illustrantur fragmenta actuum S. Johannis a Leucio Charino Conscriptum, i. in Universitatis Literariae Fridericianae Halis consociatae programma paschale (Halle, 1847), 14 f. Citations in them from the Acts of John 27–8, 93–5, and 97–8 are valuable for establishing the Greek text at these points (see Junod and Kaestli CCA, pp. 344–68).

The condemnation of the Acts of John by the Second Council of Nicaea meant that the ancient Acts could only survive in clandestine copies after 787. Parts survived in the rewritings of the story of John found in Pseudo‐Prochorus, and (in Latin) in Pseudo‐Abdias and Pseudo‐Melito. It is perhaps an oversimplification to suggest that these later works represent Catholic expurgated editions of the original Acts, because much in the original Acts was not heretical and thus not in need of censorship anyway. The rewritings more accurately represent retellings of popular stories that were already well‐known in the wider church. It may even be suggested that some rewriting was motivated by a desire to eliminate prolix passages.

Author

The name Leucius (Charinus) is often associated with the composition of the original Acts of John. From the fourth century onwards his name was added as the author of a large number of pious romances. Possibly he was the author of some early lives of apostles but whether he was the author of the Acts of John (and the Acts of Peter) or any of the other early Acts is not certain.

Date

This is normally given as late second‐century, but some scholars (e.g. Zahn) who argued that the work was known to Clement of Alexandria 6 ‘Fragments’, ed. O. Stählin, GCS 17 (Leipzig, 1909);2 rev. L. Früchtel and U. Treu (Berlin, 1970) 210, with reference perhaps to Acts of John 93. gave an earlier date. Modern scholars tend to agree that there is no firm evidence that the Acts of John was known before Eusebius.

Provenance

This is not clear, although a case could be made for an Egyptian origin.

Sources

The literary style is in general very simple, with ample borrowings from folklore and pagan literature. The canonical Acts of the Apostles seems not to have been a significant influence. The dislocated nature of the surviving scenes, the inclusion of some stories told in the first person, and the presence in various parts of the tradition of floating stories that might have belonged to an early Acts of John make it difficult to evaluate the character and intention of the original composition.

Orthodoxy

In the nineteenth century these Acts were considered to be Gnostic, but recent scholars (since Schmidt and Harnack) have been inclined to identify only docetic or modalist influences. In the most recent study by Junod and Kaestli the ‘unorthodox’ nature of the text has been identified as being restricted to only a few chapters, namely 94–102 and 109 , where a Valentinian Gnostic influence has resulted in a differing Christology from that seen in chs. 87–93 . They conclude that these chapters were added to the original Acts of John and were not composed by the same author. Also included in the section 87–105 is the Hymn of Christ (set to music by Gustav Holst), which many scholars have argued is also likely to have come from a separate source.

Translation

The translation below is based on Bonnet 18–115, with attention to the edition of the Acts by Junod and Kaestli, CCA, especially with regard to their new chapters 56–7 and to certain textual variants within sections 58–81 and elsewhere. Gaps in the texts are indicated by dots (  . . .) in the translation. Translations of P. Oxy. 850 and from Pseudo‐Abdias and Pseudo‐Titus are also included.

Editions

Greek

  • Lipsius–Bonnet ii. 1, 151–216.

  • James, Apoc. Anec. ii. 1–25, 144–53 (edition of Acts of John 87–105 MS C: Greek with Engl. trans.). [Cf. James's note in JTS 7 (1906), 566–8.]

  • P. Oxy. 850, ed. B. P. Grenfell and A. S. Hunt, OP 6 (London, 1908), 12–19.

  • E. Junod and J.‐D. Kaestli, Acta Iohannis (Turnhout, 1983), 2 vols. (= Corpus Christianorum; Series Apocryphorum 1 and 2) (with full discussion of text, and with commentary. The story of the Sons of Antipatros occurs as Acts of John, chs. 56–7 ; see id., ‘Un fragment inédit des Actes de Jean; la guérison des fils d'Antipatros á Smyrne’, Museum Helveticum 31 (1974), 102). 7 Review by W. Schneemelcher, Rivista di Storia e Letteratura Religiosa 22 (1980), 358–71. [Abbreviated as Junod and Kaestli, CCA.]

Versional Evidence for the Metastasis

Syriac

  • Wright, Apoc. Acts, i. 66–72; ii (Eng. trans.), 61–8. [Cf. Lipsius, i. 431–41.]

Coptic

  • E. A. Wallis Budge, ‘The Repose of Saint John the Evangelist and Apostle’ [British Museum MS Oriental 6782], in Coptic Apocrypha in the Dialect of Upper Egypt (London, 1913), 51–8; Eng. trans., 233–40.

  • Guidi, AAL. R 4, 3.2 (1887), 72–6, 251–70; Italian trans., Giornale, 38 ff., 56–66. [Cf. also AAL. R 5, 2.7 (1893), 513–30.]

  • W. E. Crum, Catalogue of Coptic Manuscripts in the British Library (London, 1905), 130. Junod and Kaestli, CCA 376–97.

Armenian

  • J. Katergian, Ecclesiae Ephesinae de obitu Ioannis Apostoli Narratio ex versione armeniaca saeculi V (Vienna, 1877), 32–51 (with Latin trans.).

  • Malan, 244–8 (Eng. trans. of an apocryphal text in an edition of the Armenian Bible).

Georgian

  • M. van Esbroeck, ‘Les formes géorgiennes des Acta Iohannis’, Anal. Boll. 93 (1975), 11–19 (Latin trans. of Kekelidze's text and Latin version of a different Georgian text). [Cf. M. Tarchnišvili, Geschichte der kirchlichen georgischen Literatur (Rome, 1955), 342 f. (= Studi e Testi 185).

Arabic

  • Smith Lewis, Acta Myth. 46–51 (based on a Coptic original; an Arabic text from Syriac, but close to the Greek, is given on 144–6); 8 This continues an Arabic text of The History of John, Son of Zebedee, an independent story of John based on a Syriac original. (Horae Semiticae 2, 134–44; Eng. trans. ibid 4, 157–67.) Myth. Acts, 54–9, 168–71. [Cf. Graf, i. 258–64.]

Slavonic

  • de Santos Otero, Altslav. Apok. i. 97–123; ii. 244–6.

  • The Slavonic Metastasis seems to be from the Acts of John of Pseudo‐Prochorus (see Hennecke5, ii. 151, 390; Eng. trans. ii. 163, 434–5).

Ethiopic

  • Malan, 137–45.

  • Wallis Budge, Contendings, i. 214–22; ii (Eng. trans.), 253–63.

Modern Translations

English

  • Pick, 123–99 (includes 1–17).

  • James, 228–70.

  • Hennecke3, ii. 188–259. Hennecke5, ii. 152–209.

French

  • Amiot, 157–84 (extracts).

  • A.‐J. Festugière, Les Actes apocryphes de Jean et de Thomas (Geneva, 1983), part I. Actes de Jean (= Cahiers d'orientalisme 6).

  • Junod and Kaestli, CCA 160–315. Éac, 975–1037.

German

  • Hennecke1, 423–59 (G. Schimmelpfeng); cf. id. Handbuch, 492–543.

  • Hennecke3, ii. 125–76 (K. Schäferdiek).

  • Hennecke5, ii. 138–93 (K. Schäferdiek).

  • Michaelis, 222–68.

Italian

  • Moraldi, ii. 1131–1212 (Lipsius–Bonnet, chs. 18–105, acts from Ps.‐Abdias and Ps.‐Melito (some summarized), chs. 106–115, various conclusions, Borgia Coptic fragment, P. Oxy. 850, Ps.‐Titus).

  • Erbetta, ii. 29–67 (34–9 = Lipsius–Bonnet, chs. 1–17; 40–67 = chs. 18–115).

Hymn of Christ (= Acts of John 94–7)

  • D. I. Pallas, “ὁ ὓυμνοζ τῶν πρáξɛων τοῦ Ιωάννου κɛφ. 94–7”, in Mélanges offerts à Octave et Melpo Merlier (Athens, 1956), ii. 221–64 (= Collection de l'Institut français d'Athènes 93).

  • J. S. MacArthur, ‘The Words of the “Hymn of Jesus” ’, Exp T 36 (1924–5), 186–8.

  • W. C. van Unnik, ‘A Note on the Dance of Jesus in the “Acts of John” ’, VC 18 (1964), 1–5.

  • J. J. Thierry, Christ in Early Christian Greek Poetry (Leiden, 1972), 32–7.

  • M. Brioso, ‘Sobre el “Tanzhymnus” de Acta Ioannis 94–6’, Emerita 40 (1972), 31–45.

  • A. J. Dewey, ‘The Hymn in The Acts of John: Dance as Hermeneutic’, in D. R. MacDonald (ed.), The Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles (Decatur, Ga., 1986), 67–80 (= Semeia 38) (with response by J.‐D. Kaestli, 81–8).

General

  • P. Corssen, Monarchianische Prologe zu den vier Evangelien: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des Kanons (Leipzig, 1896), esp. 73–102 (= TU 15.1).

  • T. Zahn, ‘Die Wanderungen des Apostels Johannes’, NKZ 10 (Erlangen, 1899), 191–218.

  • Harnack, i. 124–7; ii. 1, 541–9.

  • Lipsius, i. 2, 348–542.

  • R. H. Connolly, ‘The Original Language of the Syriac Acts of John’, JTS 8 (1907), 249–61.

  • Findlay, 208–37.

  • W. von Loewenich, Das Johannes‐Verständnis im zweiten Jahrhundert (Giessen, 1932) (= BZNW 13).

  • C. R. C. Allberry, A Manichaean Psalm‐Book (Stuttgart, 1938) (= Manichaean Manuscripts in the Chester Beatty Collection 2).

  • S. G. Hall, ‘Melito's Paschal Homily and the Acts of John’, JTS 17 (1960), 95–8.

  • F. Corsaro, Le Praxeis di Giovanni (Catania, 1968) (= Centro Studi sull'antico cristianismo: Miscellanea di studi di letteratura cristiana antica 18).

  • J. D. Breckenridge, ‘Apocrypha of Early Christian Portraiture’, ByzZ 67 (1974), 101–9.

  • Vielhauer, 706–10.

  • E. Junod and J.‐D. Kaestli, ‘Les traits caractéristiques de la théologie des Actes de Jean’, Revue de Théologie et de Philosophie 26 (1976), 125–45.

  • Plümacher, cols. 14–19.

  • E. Junod and J.‐D. Kaestli, L'Histoire des Actes apocryphes des apôtres du IIIe au IXe siècle: Le cas des Actes de Jean (Geneva, Lausanne, Neuchâtel, 1982) (= Cahiers de la Revue de Théologie et de Philosophie 7).

  • K. Schäferdiek, ‘Herkunft und Interesse der alten Johannesakten’, ZNW 74 (1983), 247–67.

  • E. Junod and J.‐D. Kaestli, ‘Le Dossier des Actes de Jean: État de la question et perspectives nouvelles’, ANRW 2.25.6, 4293–4362.

  • J.‐D. Kaestli, ‘Le mystère de la croix de lumière et le johannisme, Actes de Jean ch. 94–102’, Foi et Vie 86: Cahier Biblique 26 (Paris, 1987), 35–46.

  • G. Sirker‐Wicklaus, Untersuchungen zu den Johannes‐Akten (Bonn, 1988).

  • J. Bremmer (ed.), The Apocryphal Acts of John (Kampen, 1995).

  • P. Lalleman, The Acts of John (Leuven, 1998).

Notes:

1 This also contained the Acts of Peter, Andrew, Thomas and Paul.

2 It is a story known to John Cassian, Conlationes 24. 21 (ed. M. Petschenig, CSEL 13 (Vienna, 1886), pp. 697–8). This text is reproduced in a modified form in Jacob of Voragine's Golden Legend, and may be found in Slavonic (de Santos Otero, Altslav. Apok. i. 98, with reference to BHG ii. 906 and see under ‘de ansere’).

3 Also in Junod and Kaestli, CCA, pp. 814–27, and see their discussion on pp. 782–90.

4 See M. Herbert and M. McNamara, Irish Biblical Apocrypha (Edinburgh, 1989), 91–4, esp. 93. The text is to be found in Hennecke5 (German), ii. 191–3; (Eng. trans.), ii. 210–12.

5 J. C. Thilo, Colliguntur et commentariis illustrantur fragmenta actuum S. Johannis a Leucio Charino Conscriptum, i. in Universitatis Literariae Fridericianae Halis consociatae programma paschale (Halle, 1847), 14 f.

6 ‘Fragments’, ed. O. Stählin, GCS 17 (Leipzig, 1909);2 rev. L. Früchtel and U. Treu (Berlin, 1970) 210, with reference perhaps to Acts of John 93.

7 Review by W. Schneemelcher, Rivista di Storia e Letteratura Religiosa 22 (1980), 358–71.

8 This continues an Arabic text of The History of John, Son of Zebedee, an independent story of John based on a Syriac original. (Horae Semiticae 2, 134–44; Eng. trans. ibid 4, 157–67.)

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