The Acts of Paul
J. K. Elliott
Tertullian, de Baptismo 17 (ed. A. Reifferscheid and G. Wissowa, CSEL 20 (Prague, Vienna, Leipzig, 1890), p. 215, or ed. J. W. P. Borleffs, CCL 1.2 (Turnhout, 1954), pp. 291–2), written at the end of the second century, knows of Thecla, and it may well be that he was aware of the existence of the Acts of Paul and Thecla which circulated separately, and indeed of the Acts of Paul as a whole. His testimony, however, is ambiguous. Borleff's edition speaks of the ‘Acts of Paul’, the CSEL edition of the ‘writings attributed falsely to Paul’. 1 See A. Souter, ‘The “Acta Pauli” etc. in Tertullian’, JTS 25 (1924), 292 and J.W.P. Borleffs, ‘La valeur du Codex Trecensis pour la critique de texte dans le traité de baptismo’, VC 2 (1948), 185–200. Certainly the details given by Tertullian do not fit the Acts of Paul and Thecla precisely. de Bapt. tells that the author was a presbyter in Asia who resigned from office for falsely claiming that, on the precedent of Thecla's action, women had a right to preach and to baptize.
Unlike Tertullian (if he is indeed referring to the Acts of Paul), some other fathers do not disapprove of these Acts. Hippolytus, Commentary on Daniel 3.29, written about 204, refers to Paul and the lion without hesitation as orthodox (ed. G.N. Bonwetsch, GCS 1.1 (Leipzig, 1897), pp. 176–7).
The first explicit reference to the Acts of Paul by name is in Origen, de Principiis 1.2.3 (ed. p. Koetschau, GCS 22 (Leipzig, 1913), p. 30) and in his commentary on John 20, 12 (Preuschen, p. 342). Eusebius, HE 3.3.5, claims that the Acts of Paul does not belong to the undisputed books, but in HE 3. 25. 4 he distinguishes it from the lesser spurious works (Schwartz, GCS 9.1, pp. 190, 252). Jerome is more definite in rejecting the orthodoxy of the Acts of Paul. In his de Vir Ill. 7 (Richardson, pp. 11 ff.). the ‘πɛρίοδοι Pauli et Theclae’ is one of the ‘apocryphal writings’.
After it was known that the Manichaeans had made use of the Acts of Paul subsequent church opinion branded the work as apocryphal. 2 See 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). Thus it is rejected (twice) in the Gelasian Decree, in the Stichometry of Nicephorus, and in the Catalogue of the Sixty Canonical Books. But it is included in the canonical list inserted into Codex Claromontanus of the Pauline epistles (D).
Clement of Alexandria, Strom. 6. 5 (Stählin, GCS 52(15), pp. 451–3) possibly shows knowledge of a work known as ‘The Preaching of Paul’. Similarly Pseudo‐Cyprian in the third century, De Rebaptismate 17, (ed. G. Hartel, CSEL 3, Part 3 (Vienna, 1871), p. 90) refers to ‘The Preaching of Paul’, but there is no trace of a book with such a title, and it may well be that it is the Acts of Paul that are being referred to. W. Schneelmelcher, in Hennecke 3 i.e. the preceding stories in which he tells of the self‐sacrifice of Codrus and Lycurgus (taken from the historian Justin). , ii. 56; 5ii. 33 (Eng. trans. 3 i.e. the preceding stories in which he tells of the self‐sacrifice of Codrus and Lycurgus (taken from the historian Justin). ii. 92 ff.; 5ii. 31–2), is doubtful about connecting the Pseudo‐Cyprian reference to the Acts of Paul (cf. E. von Dobschütz, Das Kerygma Petri (Leipzig, 1893), pp. 127–31 (= TU 11.1)). James, in Apoc. Anec. (ii. 54–7) and then in ANT drew attention to later writings that may be referring to portions of the Acts of Paul. These include John of Salisbury's Policraticus 4.3 of the twelfth century, which includes the abstract of a sermon delivered by Paul in Athens that is not the Areopagus speech of Acts 18. The Latin text is given by James in Apoc. Anec. ii. 56, with an English rendering in ANT, p. 299, repeated here:
I make use of these examples 3 i.e. the preceding stories in which he tells of the self‐sacrifice of Codrus and Lycurgus (taken from the historian Justin). the more readily because I find that the apostle Paul when preaching to the Athenians made use of them also. That excellent preacher strove so to impress on their minds Jesus Christ and him crucified, that he might show by the example of heathens how the release of many came about through the shame of the cross. And this, he argued, could not happen save by the blood of the just, and of those who bore rule over the people. Further, no one could be found capable of freeing all, both Jews and Gentiles, save he unto whom the heathen are given for an inheritance, and the utmost parts of the earth assigned for his possession. And such a one he said could be no other than the Son of God Almighty, since no one but God has subjected to himself all nations and lands. As, then, he proclaimed the shame of the cross in such a way as gradually to purge away the foolishness of the heathen, little by little he raised the word of faith and the language of his preaching, up to the Word of God, the wisdom of God, and the very throne of the divine majesty: and, lest the power of the gospel should seem mean in the weakness of the flesh by dint of the slanders of Jews and the folly of heathens, he set forth the works of the crucified, which were confirmed by the witness of common report; since it was plain to all that none but God could do such things. But as report often falsifies, in both directions, report was assisted by the fact that Christ's disciples did even greater works, seeing that by the shadow of a disciple (Peter) the sick were healed of every kind of disease. What more? The ingenuities of an Aristotle, the subtleties of a Chrysippus, the traps of all the philosophers were defeated by the rising of one who had been dead.Another text cited in its original Latin in Apoc. Anec. (ii. 54) and translated in ANT (p. 298) is from Commodianus, Carmen de Duobus Populis (cf. ed. J. Martin, CC 128 (Turnhout, 1960), p. 96):
And whatever he wills he can do: making dumb things to speak; he made Balaam's ass speak to him when he beat it; and a dog to say to Simon: ‘You are called for by Peter!’ For Paul when he preached, he caused mules 4 Reading ‘muli’ for ‘multi’ (‘multi’ is also a possible conjecture). to speak of him: he made a lion speak to the people with God‐given voice. Lastly, a thing which our nature does not permit—he made an infant five months old speak in public.The passage may refer to the Acts of Paul or to Nicephorus' account of the Ephesian lion (see later).
Echoes of these Acts are to be found in two manuscripts of the Greek New Testament, namely cursive 181p (of the eleventh century) and cursive 460 (of the thirteenth century). They make an addition at 2 Tim. 4: 19 seemingly from the Acts of Paul and Thecla. 181 alone makes a further addition (at 2 Tim. 3: 11 ) also from this source (see J. K. Elliott, The Greek Text of the Epistles to Timothy and Titus (Salt Lake City, 1968), ad. loc. (= Studies and Documents 36).
The Stichometry of Nicephorus calculates 3600 lines to the Acts of Paul (cf. 2800 for the canonical Acts). Much is unaccounted for by the extant remains. The following fragments exist:
Greek. Eleven papyrus leaves in a third–fourth century Hamburg manuscript (p. Hamb.); and p. Michigan 1317, p. Michigan 3788, and p. Berlin 13893 of the fourth century (these belong together and for the most part overlap with a portion of the Hamburg manuscript p. 8, as shown in the footnotes to my translation). p. Michigan 3788 contains some lines absent from the Hamburg fragment. These extra lines appear below in the translation and are indicated in the footnote accordingly. The lines agree with a folio (pp. 79–80 ) of the Heidelberg Coptic manuscript (see below), which C. Schmidt, the original editor, identified as coming from an apocryphal gospel and thus printed separately in Acta Pauli, pp. 55*–6*. A German translation appears in Acta Pauli, pp. 237–8, and there are English translations by B. Pick, Paralipomena: Remains of Gospels and Sayings of Christ (Chicago, 1908), pp. 54–6, and by James, ANT, pp. 31–2. Four further texts, two from Oxyrhynchus (p. Oxy. 6 and 1602, the latter overlapping with part of p. Hamb. p. 8), one papyrus from Antinoopolis, and the small Fackelmann fragment now in the Münster Bibelmuseum, also survive. Other, later, manuscripts were used by Lipsius–Bonnet (as indicated below for the separate sections).
Coptic. The fifth–sixth century Heidelberg manuscript (p. Heid.) contains extensive remains of the whole of the Acts of Paul. They were pieced together by C. Schmidt from 2000 fragments. A fourth‐century fragment in the Rylands library described by Crum has not yet been published: this seems to have belonged to the beginning of Acts. Kasser's unpublished Bodmer manuscript contains the Ephesus episode (see below).
For some time The Acts of Paul and Thecla, the Correspondence between Paul and the Corinthians (including the so‐called 3 Corinthians), and the Martyrdom of Paul have been well‐known, although it was not usually recognized that these three were originally to be found together in a larger work, the Acts of Paul.
(1) The Acts of Paul and Thecla
These acts tell the popular story of Thecla, a Greek girl who is converted by Paul's preaching. She breaks off her engagement and follows Paul as his assistant. She escapes persecutions and death in a miraculous way and finally retires to Seleucia. The cult of St Thecla became widespread in both East and West. The contents of this novel influenced Christian art and literature not least for its description of Paul. It is unlikely to be historical, despite mention of Queen Tryphaena of Pisidian Antioch, who is historically attested.
Lipsius–Bonnet based their edition on eleven Greek manuscripts, but over forty are now known to be extant. There are manuscripts of separate Latin translations that, according to von Gebhardt, represent an independent tradition. Syriac, Armenian, Slavonic, and perhaps Arabic 5 According to Lipsius–Bonnet, i, p. cii. versions also survive.
Since the publication of Lipsius–Bonnet's edition, parts of the text of the Acts of Paul and Thecla are to be found in P. Heid. (pp. 6–28), the Antinoopolis fragment, P. Oxy. 6, and the Fackelmann papyrus.
The popularity of the Acts of Paul and Thecla and of the Acts of Paul as a whole is shown in various later writings, not least in hagiographical literature, which encouraged the spread of the legend of St. Thecla. The separate circulation and the subsequent survival of the Acts of Paul and Thecla were also due to the veneration of Thecla, who was commemorated on 23 September (in the West) and on 24 September (in the East). The cult of Thecla seems to have reached a peak of popularity in the fifth century. Pseudo‐Chrysostom's Panegyric to Thecla seems to have been composed about this time (text in PG 50, cols. 745–8, and in M. Aubineau (ed.), ‘Le Panégyrique de Thecle, attribué à Jean Chrysostome BHG 1720: la fin retrouvée d'un texte mutilé’, Anal. Boll. 93 (1975), 349–62. 6 See D. R. MacDonald and A. D. Scrimgeour, ‘Pseudo‐Chrysostom's Panegyric to Thecla: The Heroine of the Acts of Paul in Homily and Art’, in D. R. MacDonald (ed.), The Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles (Decatur, Ga., 1986), 151–9 (= Semeia 38).
(2) 3 Corinthians
The Correspondence of Paul with the Corinthians contains the Corinthians' letter to Paul and Paul's reply to them. These letters were included in the Syriac collection of the Pauline epistles: at one time the Syriac (and the Armenian) churches regarded them as authentic Pauline letters.
Five Latin manuscripts (one dating from the third century) betray varying texts. The correspondence is also known from the Armenian Bible and from Ephraem's commentary. Recently a Greek text of the third century (being the language of the original) was discovered and is now known as Bodmer X, but is not to be treated as infallible: the later Latin often seems to have the better reading. P. Heid. (pp. 45–50, 41, 42, 44) also contains this section.
The Corinthian correspondence is likely to date from the second century and probably had a separate authorship and existence prior to its incorporation into the Acts of Paul. Its separate existence continued even after its incorporation into this larger work, as is evidenced by the Bodmer papyrus and by its inclusion as a separate entity in the Armenian Bible.
(3) The Martyrdom of Paul
This work deals with Paul's preaching and missionary work in Rome, the persecution by Nero, and the death of the apostle. The description of the death influenced Christian art. After his death Paul appears to the emperor and prophesies the judgement that will befall him. The work emphasizes the conflict between the soldiers of Christ the King and the cult of the emperor.
Lipsius–Bonnet's edition is based on two Greek manuscripts (which also contain the Acts of Peter), on a fragmentary Latin translation, and on Coptic, Slavonic, and Ethiopic versions. Vouaux added the Syriac edited by Nau. The Martyrdom also occurs in the Hamburg and Heidelberg manuscripts (P. Hamb. pp. 9–11; P. Heid. pp. 53–8).
As can be seen from the description above, P. Heid. contains elements of all these three sections, showing that originally all three belonged together in the Acts of Paul, and its finding thus confirmed the suspicions of those who had previously considered that the Acts of Paul and Thecla (and 3 Corinthians) had from an early date belonged with the Martyrdom of Paul to a larger work.
This manuscript also contains other parts of the original Acts including the following:
(a) A journey from Damascus to Jerusalem (probably corroborated in the Rylands fragment) (pp. 61, 62, and perhaps 60, 59=)
(b) Paul in Antioch (pp. 1–6)
(c) Paul in Myra (pp. 28–35)
(d) Paul in Sidon (pp. 35–9)
(e) Paul in Tyre (p. 40)
(f) Paul in Corinth (also found in P. Hamb.) (pp. 44, 43, 51, 52)
(g) Paul's speech in Puteoli (cf. the Michigan manuscript) (pp. 79–80)
P. Hamb., of c.300 in Greek, contains the following:
(a) Paul in Ephesus (also in the unpublished Bodmer manuscripts) (pp. 1–5)
(b) Paul in Corinth (also found in P. Heid.) (pp. 6–7) 7 Thus P. Hamb. or its Vorlage deliberately omits the Corinthian correspondence and records nothing of Paul in Philippi despite the words ‘from Philippi to Corinth’ on p. 6 (top)—i.e. the back of p. 5.
(c) Paul en route from Corinth to Italy (portions of this section also found in the Berlin, Oxyrhynchus 1602, and Michigan fragments, and in P. Heid. pp. 79–80) (pp. 7–8)
The sequence of Paul's travels can be reconstructed with a reasonable degree of confidence on the basis of the Heidelberg and Hamburg fragments. After journeys from Damascus to Jerusalem and then on to Antioch, Paul travels to Iconium where the famous Acts of Paul and Thecla is located. P. Heid. goes on to relate the acts of Paul in Myra, stating in its superscription that he set out for Myra from Antioch, and then leads into an episode in Sidon. Both these acts are incomplete, as is the next episode in Tyre, which is known from P. Heid. p. 40, though hardly anything of this scene survives. Schmidt printed the fragments numbered pp. 64, 63, 70, 69, 68, 67, 66, 65, 61, 62, 60, 59 at this point, and James followed this, but so little is decipherable on these pages that there is no certainty that they did in fact belong here; they are ignored in the present volume.
There is in any case a gap in the story at this juncture, and it is disputed at which point P. Heid. should be resumed. James decided that what came next was the episode of Longinus and Firmilla's daughter, Frontina, followed by the correspondence between Paul and the Corinthians, and then by an episode in Ephesus. Hennecke–Schneemelcher argued that the Ephesus episode should follow the act in Tyre. In the present work also it was decided that the unpublished Coptic text of the papyrus announced by Kasser and the first five pages of P. Hamb., which tell of events in Ephesus (following a visit to Smyrna), belong here after the episode in Tyre. James, who was unaware of either of these texts, printed his episode of the lion in Ephesus on the evidence of (a) Nicephorus, Ecclesiastical History 2. 25 (PG 145, col. 822)—which is possibly fourteenth‐century although based on a tenth‐century ancestor—with some support from the Acts of Titus by Pseudo‐Zenas, which is dependent on the Acts of Paul, and (b) Hippolytus, Commentary on Daniel 3. 29 of the third century (ed. G. N. Bonwetsch, GCS 1.1 (Leipzig, 1897), p. 176). Both of these sources show the popularity of the lion story. (It is also to be found in Ethiopic literature in the Letter of Pelagia—see bibliography below under ‘Ethiopic’.) The reference in Hippolytus, vouches for the early date of the story; Nicephorus shows its source to be the Acts of Paul. James' judgement in ANT (pp. 291–2 Cf. Matt. 9: 34; 12: 24, 27; Mark 3: 22; Luke 11: 15, 19 . ) that an episode in Ephesus belonged to the original Acts of Paul has thus been vindicated by later manuscript discoveries.
Hennecke–Schneemelcher's text then gives the correspondence with the Corinthians which is to be found in P. Heid. pp. 45–50 and in Armenian, Latin, Greek, and Syriac. This edition again deviates from James's sequence by following this correspondence with the Frontina episode. The correspondence places the episode in Philippi (3 Cor. 2: 1 states that the letter was brought to Paul, in prison, in Philippi). There is a gap in P. Heid. between the Corinthian correspondence and the conclusion of the Philippi episode, and thus it is uncertain where Schmidt's pp. 41–2, 44 (telling of the Frontina episode) belong. Hennecke–Schneemelcher's sequence is adopted here.
In the middle of Schmidt's p. 44 a new episode begins, which indicates a move from Philippi to Corinth; P. Hamb. is clear that the following episode takes place in Corinth. (P. Hamb. jumps from the episode in Ephesus straight to the incident in Corinth.) The next journey takes Paul from Corinth to Italy; the text is found in the Hamburg, Berlin, Oxyrhynchus 1602, and Michigan manuscripts. The two Michigan texts also overlap with P. Hamb. p. 8 and with P. Heid. pp. 79–80 (identified by Schmidt as coming from an apocryphal gospel (see above, p. 352) and accepted as such by James who provided a translation ( ANT pp. 31–2 ) under the running title ‘Fragments of Gospels’). P. Mich 3788 (= 1317) now anchors that leaf to a portion of the Acts of Paul. It also helps to fill the gap that is apparent between P. Hamb. p. 8 and p. 9 (p. 9 begins the Martyrdom). The final episode (in Rome) is also found in various versions and often circulated as a separate text.
I summarize here the contents of my translation and their manuscript attestation:
1. From Damascus to Jerusalem
P. Ryl.; P. Heid. pp. 60–59, 61–2. 8 Schmidt changed his mind after the original publication. See his ΠΡΑΞΈΙΣ ΠΑΛΟ, p. 118.
P. Heid. pp. 1–6.
3. Iconium(The Acts of Paul and Thecla)
Lipsius–Bonnet; P. Heid. pp. 6–28; P. Oxy. 6; P. Antinoopolis; P. Fackelmann.
P. Heid. pp. 28–35 (one page missing after p. 30 (not indicated by Schmidt); one page missing after p. 34).
P. Heid. pp. 35–9 (two pages at least missing after p. 36; two pages at least missing after p. 38).
P. Heid. p. 40 (James adds fragments pp. 64, 63, 70, 69, 68, 67, 66, 65 and (following Schmidt's original positioning 8 Schmidt changed his mind after the original publication. See his ΠΡΑΞΈΙΣ ΠΑΛΟ, p. 118. ) pp. 61, 62, 60, 59).
P. Hamb. pp. 1–5 (and a summary of the unpublished Coptic fragment).
8. Philippi (and text of 3 Corinthians)
P. Heid. pp. 45–50, 41, 42, 44a; P. Bod. X.
P. Heid. pp. 44b–3, 51–2; P. Hamb. pp. 6–7.
10. Corinth to Italy
P. Hamb. pp. 7–8; P. Berlin 13893; P. Oxy. 1602; P. Michigan 1317, 3788; P. Heid. pp. 79–80 (and possibly fragments pp. 71–4).
Lipsius–Bonnet; P. Hamb. pp. 9–11; P. Heid. pp. 53–8.
(Unplaced fragments = P. Heid. pp. 75–8).
The work uses the conventions of contemporary preaching. Although not a theological treatise it is concerned to promote a simple faith (in contrast to Gnostic systems) and to encourage sexual continence. The main motive for its composition seems to have been to set already existing legends about Paul (some possibly oral) in sequence, as an act of devotion to his memory.
In contrast with the canonical Acts, Paul here undertakes one continuous missionary journey; the Christian communities were already in existence, and he is not founding new churches. It may well be that the author of the Acts of Paul was not familiar with the details of the canonical Acts. However, the popularity of Paul was doubtless enhanced by the canonical letters, including the Pastoral Epistles, that were written by him (or in his name) and by the circulation of the canonical Acts. The popularity bred the legends that were then included in the Acts of Paul.
The majority of scholars date the book at the end of the second century (a date confirmed if Tertullian was referring to the Acts of Paul). The provenance is likely to have been Asia Minor.
1 See A. Souter, ‘The “Acta Pauli” etc. in Tertullian’, JTS 25 (1924), 292 and J.W.P. Borleffs, ‘La valeur du Codex Trecensis pour la critique de texte dans le traité de baptismo’, VC 2 (1948), 185–200.
2 See 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).
3 i.e. the preceding stories in which he tells of the self‐sacrifice of Codrus and Lycurgus (taken from the historian Justin).
4 Reading ‘muli’ for ‘multi’ (‘multi’ is also a possible conjecture).
5 According to Lipsius–Bonnet, i, p. cii.
6 See D. R. MacDonald and A. D. Scrimgeour, ‘Pseudo‐Chrysostom's Panegyric to Thecla: The Heroine of the Acts of Paul in Homily and Art’, in D. R. MacDonald (ed.), The Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles (Decatur, Ga., 1986), 151–9 (= Semeia 38).
7 Thus P. Hamb. or its Vorlage deliberately omits the Corinthian correspondence and records nothing of Paul in Philippi despite the words ‘from Philippi to Corinth’ on p. 6 (top)—i.e. the back of p. 5.
8 Schmidt changed his mind after the original publication. See his ΠΡΑΞΈΙΣ ΠΑΛΟ, p. 118.