Montague Rhodes James, The Apocryphal New Testament was published by Oxford University Press in 1924. Since then it has been regularly reprinted. A modest revision was made in 1953, and the text of the Egerton Papyrus 2 and portions of the Acts of Paul were added as an appendix.
Much has happened in the study of New Testament apocrypha in recent years. Other new gospel‐type fragments have come to light, and these need to be set alongside the fragments known from earlier this century. The vast find at Nag Hammadi in particular has added significantly to our knowledge of early Christian and Gnostic literature and has profoundly influenced our understanding of those early centuries when Christianity was expanding and when the bulk of our apocryphal texts had their genesis. New manuscripts of previously known texts have also been discovered in the libraries and monasteries of the world: their publication has sometimes revealed hitherto unknown portions of those texts; elsewhere the new texts have necessitated adjustments to published editions. Also in recent years, new projects have been initiated by scholars who are preparing critical editions. Some of these have started publication, most notably the Corpus Christianorum: Series Apocryphorum and the Society of Biblical Literature's Christian Apocrypha series.
Since 1924 other collections of apocryphal texts in translation such as those edited by Hennecke–Schneemelcher, de Santos Otero, Erbetta, Moraldi, and others have helped to spread knowledge of these texts. A growing number of scholars now pays attention to the significance of this body of early Christian literature.
As a result of this flurry of activity and the consequent renewed interest in the literature and theology of early Christianity, it was decided by Oxford University Press that the time had come to revise James's Apocryphal New Testament. As a one‐volume collection in English, ‘James’ has been a valued introduction to these texts for generations of theologians, historians, and Biblical scholars, and it has also been a ready reference tool for clergy, art historians, and indeed for general readers too.
The Press allowed me carte blanche for this revision. When I began to examine the issues involved it became clear that nothing less than a thorough rewriting would suffice. Mere tinkering with the original, the adding of footnotes or further appendixes, seemed inadequate. This volume is therefore a complete reworking of the original. Nevertheless, it was my intention that it should be recognizable as a replacement of ‘James’. The length and scope of the original and certain other features have been preserved. Unlike certain other modern collections the ‘new James’, like the old, includes some later, medieval, texts and does not limit itself exclusively to early writings. Despite reservations expressed in some quarters, one cannot really tie the production of apocryphal texts to a limited period up to, say, the fourth century. The creation of apocryphal literature and the revision of earlier texts did not cease with the formation and acceptance of the New Testament canon.
The purpose of this new edition is the same as its predecessor's: to allow readers access to the contents of this vast range of literature without over‐burdening the translations with excessive textual or critical notes.
One change I immediately decided upon was to replace the consciously archaizing English style that James affected with a translation, which I hope will be acceptable to modern readers. In the 1920s those who were likely to turn to a volume entitled The Apocryphal New Testament were probably familiar with the Bible, in the Authorized Version, and so it was appropriate for James to employ a style intended to remind the reader of it. Nowadays those who refer to apocryphal texts are not necessarily Bible readers and, even if they are, they are more likely to use a modern version. Thus the present translation is similarly in modern style.
Another major change in the present book is the inclusion of a formal introduction to each text. James's editorial insertions or introductory remarks were not always consistent or as complete as one might wish for. I have therefore tried to provide introductory notes that are more informative. The length of these introductions inevitably varies and is obviously dependent on the importance of the text being introduced and the amount of discussion it has generated in the specialist literature. Some secondary literature may have taken up matters such as the complexities of the manuscript evidence for a particular text, or its reconstruction and other critical questions. My intention in revealing such issues in the introductions is to alert readers to the debate, although I have tried to be a neutral observer where controversy is current. Wherever scholarly debate is raging or when old problems remain unsolved or unsettled it seemed best in a book designed in part as a reference book not to take sides. The bibliographies attached to each introduction should alert readers to the relevant secondary literature, and to the existence of differing views.
My decision to give fairly detailed (although by no means exhaustive) bibliographical references was prompted by the companion volume, The Apocryphal Old Testament, edited by H. F. D. Sparks (Oxford, 1984). There, a useful bibliography is appended to each introduction: in it are references to editions, translations, and general studies. I too have included references to critical editions of the texts in the original languages, and to ancient versions as well as to modern translations (principally into English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish). Articles or studies of a more general nature are added either in the bibliography to the separate text or at the beginning of the volume.
It will be noted in the bibliographies that I have occasionally included references to older printed editions and to earlier translations. This is not only to satisfy historical interests and show the extent to which a particular text might have been known to the scholarly world, but also because some of these earlier studies yield information not always repeated or available in later publications. The bibliographies are thus intended as a starting‐point for those readers who wish to get behind a simple English rendering and read the text in its original language or to research the history of scholarly investigation on the text or, of course, to study the wider critical, literary, historical, or theological issues raised by the text.
There is a need to justify the retention of James's title for this book. In 1924 James himself devoted some space in his Preface to castigate the impression given by Hone's Apocryphal New Testament of 1820, which had been until then the main vehicle in English for popularizing some of the so‐called apocryphal texts. Part of James's complaint was that Hone had given the impression that a book entitled The Apocryphal New Testament comprised a recognized collection of texts that had deliberately been excluded from the canon. Such an impression was encouraged by Hone's subtitle which stated that the apocryphal texts were ‘not included in the New Testament by its compilers’. But even without such an addition the mere title The Apocryphal New Testament could imply that this is indeed a fixed body of literature. Unlike the Apocrypha to the Old Testament, which is in general universally identifiable, the texts included under a title such as The New Testament Apocrypha represent an amorphous and wide‐ranging group. Unlike the New Testament, which is distinct and stable, and was written over only a short period of time, a collection of ‘apocryphal’ texts such as the present one does not constitute an agreed, settled, entity written within a defined time scale. In fact one noteworthy feature of this literature—possibly because it lacked the sanctity of texts afforded canonical status—is that the contents of its books were frequently revised, expanded, epitomized, and rewritten. Thus several texts re‐emerge in a new guise that James liked to describe as a réchauffé.
One may even take exception to the words ‘New Testament’ in the title. Many of the texts translated here have no obvious link with the genres of literature to be found in the canonical New Testament. I have followed the convention of subdividing the texts into Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Apocalypses, but many of them do not fit sensibly into these categories. The Epistle of the Apostles is no real letter as understood in terms of the New Testament epistles: rather it is a type of apocalyptic literature better designated as ‘Dialogues of the Risen Jesus’. As such it could really stand alongside the Apocryphon of James among the apocalypses. Similarly, few of the apocryphal gospels are correctly classified as gospels in the normal understanding of this term. In style, theology, and content they are hardly comparable to the canonical Gospels. Some fragmentary apocryphal gospels may be mere homilies. Others are restricted to only certain periods in Jesus’ career and are infancy gospels or passion gospels or are accounts of his descent to the underworld. Even the apocryphal acts and apocalypses, although at first sight having closer ties to their canonical counterparts, are in fact very different in character: the former seem to owe much to pagan romances, the latter to have been inspired by Jewish apocalyptic rather than the Book of Revelation. A justification for the use of the words ‘New Testament’ in the title may be that many, but probably not all, the apocrypha selected have been inspired by events, or gaps, in the New Testament narratives or, at the very least, have made use of the New Testament's dramatis personae. But, from the theological and literary points of view, the linking of these apocryphal works to the New Testament has suggested some common identity between the two sets of texts thus making their interrelationship closer and more significant than it sometimes ought to be.
Even the word ‘apocrypha’ in the title is not idea! The majority of texts now normally to be found under such a title are not apocryphal in the sense of hidden or secret (although a few may have been intended as secret writings for an inner circle: the Apocalypse of Paul claims to have been hidden and only rediscovered later). The more normal meanings of apocryphal as spurious, fictitious, or false are also not ideal for the books included here, bizarre and fanciful though many of them are, but it is in this modern sense of the word that it is applied faute de mieux to the documents in this collection.
So if The Apocryphal New Testament is not the right title, why use it? Possibly one answer is that most readers turning to a book with this title are usually aware of the sort of literature they expect to find within its covers. Having become a conventional title it is now difficult to substitute for it another that would be more accurate yet still be recognized for what it is. Suggested alternatives such as ‘Early Non‐Canonical Christian Writings’ or ‘Christian Apocrypha’ are occasionally to be heard as possibilities, but even these are not as clear, watertight, or inclusive as one might wish. I have tried to alleviate the problem of the title by adding a qualifier as a subtitle, ‘A Collection of Apocryphal Christian Literature’, and this may further inform the uninitiated browser about the range of contents.
Now to the selection of texts. First, it must be said that in compiling a collection of these apocryphal texts a major problem is that far more documents are available than could conceivably be included in a single volume planned to be roughly the same length and format as its predecessor. Nowadays the exclusion of the Apostolic Fathers is taken for granted. Similarly one can justify the exclusion of the bulk of Gnostic texts. Most of them—especially those from the Nag Hammadi library—are readily accessible in good modern editions and translations. (The Coptic Gospel of Thomas has, however, been included because of its obvious importance for scholars of early Christianity. The Apocryphon (or Letter) of James from Nag Hammadi, which is a ‘dialogue gospel’ is also included here in a new translation from the Coptic. After deliberation I decided on balance not to include the Gospel of Philip; it is however readily available in publications of the Nag Hammadi material.) Following James's example I also exclude those books such as the Apostolic Constitutions that deal with church order and with liturgy. James excluded all the so‐called Clementine literature, but I decided to include samples from the pseudo‐Clementine Recognitions and Homilies as a supplement to the chapter on the Acts of Peter.
The vast number of apocryphal texts, especially martyrdoms, in Coptic, Ethiopic, and other oriental languages do not merit space in this volume and are generally referred to only when they relate to texts available to us in other languages. All Rabbinic and Islamic traditions about Jesus are omitted. Similarly, Christian or Christianized books bearing the name of Old Testament worthies are not included. Most of these are to be found in collections of Old Testament pseudepigrapha.
In general the criterion for the inclusion of texts in this book is that they should be either among the oldest or most important and influential or merely the most popular of those that have come down to us.
Montague Rhodes James was a pioneer—he discovered, identified, and published many apocryphal texts. His erudition and encyclopaedic knowledge of the world of early Christianity are clearly evident in his writings. The present volume owes a great deal to his inspiration and example. However, I could not have attempted to revise his Apocryphal New Testament, or have the audacity to replace it, without the encouragement and advice of many scholars whose help is gratefully acknowledged. They include François Bovon and members of the Association pour l’étude de la littérature apocryphe chrétienne, especially Jean‐Daniel Kaestli, Eric Junod, Willy Rordorf, Gérard Poupon, and Yves Tissot, who gave of their time and expertise on matters relating to the apocryphal Acts during my stay in Switzerland in 1988. Others associated with this European enterprise to revive interest in apocryphal texts are Jean‐Daniel Dubois, Albert Frey, Jean‐Marc Prieur, Jan Gijsel, and Sever Voicu: I sought advice from them on various of the texts and I thank them for the help they rendered so readily.
Among American scholars at work in this field I wish to thank most warmly Ron Cameron for his translation of the Letter of James, and Dennis MacDonald for permission to base my translation of the Acts of Andrew on his work. Richard Pervo gave valuable comments on my draft of the Acts of John.
A. F. J. Klijn and Georg Strecker generously answered my queries concerning the Jewish‐Christian Gospels and the Pseudo‐Clementine literature respectively. Christopher Tuckett advised on aspects of the Coptic Gospel of Thomas; David Wright helped with the Gospel of Peter. My thanks are extended to them all.
Robin Wilson of St Andrews has been most supportive and has offered wise counsel throughout the years of planning and work on this volume. Richard Bauckham gave bibliographical help on the apocalyptic traditions. J. Martin Plumley readily answered queries on aspects of Coptic texts. These all deserve fulsome praise. I also wish to acknowledge with gratitude the help of H. F. D. Sparks and T. C. Skeat and the late A. J. B. Higgins, who gave me the benefit of their expertise at the early planning stages of this revision.
With thanks duly proffered, with all explanations made, with all the labours completed, there still remains the need to justify the publication of a volume of such literature. Why should anybody bother to read or study these texts? What is their significance and importance? In attempting to provide a justification I think I can most fittingly cite a few paragraphs written by M. R. James in the Preface to his 1924 edition:
Interesting as they are—and I will try to show later why they are interesting—they do not achieve either of the two principal purposes for which they were written, the instilling of true religion and the conveyance of true history.
As religious books they were meant to reinforce the existing stock of Christian beliefs: either by revealing new doctrines—usually differing from those which held the field; or by interpreting old ones—again, usually in a fresh sense; or by extolling some special virtue, as chastity or temperance; or by enforcing belief in certain doctrines or events, e.g. the Virgin birth, the resurrection of Christ, the second coming, the future state—by the production of evidence which, if true, should be irrefragable. For all these purposes the highest authority is claimed by the writings; they are the work, they tell us, of eyewitnesses of the events, or they report the utterances of the Lord himself. As books of history they aim at supplementing the scanty data (as they seemed) of the Gospels and Acts, and in this they resemble many of the Jewish Midrashim and apocrypha.…
But, as I have said, they fail of their purpose. Among the prayers and discourses of the apostles in the spurious Acts some utterances may be found which are remarkable and even beautiful: not a few of the stories are notable and imaginative, and have been consecrated and made familiar to us by the genius of mediaeval artists. But the authors do not speak with the voices of Paul or of John, or with the quiet simplicity of the three first Gospels. It is not unfair to say that when they attempt the former tone, they are theatrical, and when they essay the latter, they are jejune. In short, the result of anything like an attentive study of the literature, in bulk and in detail, is an added respect for the sense of the Church Catholic, and for the wisdom of the scholars of Alexandria, Antioch, and Rome . . .
But, it may be said, if these writings are good neither as books of history, nor of religion, nor even as literature, why spend time and labour on giving them a vogue which on your own showing they do not deserve? Partly, of course, in order to enable others to form a judgement on them; but that is not the whole case. The truth is that they must not be regarded only from the point of view which they claim for themselves. In almost every other aspect they have a great and enduring interest.
If they are not good sources of history in one sense, they are in another. They record the imaginations, hopes, and fears of the men who wrote them; they show what was acceptable to the unlearned Christians of the first ages, what interested them, what they admired, what ideals of conduct they cherished for this life, what they thought they would find in the next. As folk‐lore and romance, again, they are precious; and to the lover and student of mediaeval literature and art they reveal the source of no inconsiderable part of his material and the solution of many a puzzle. They have, indeed, exercised an influence (wholly disproportionate to their intrinsic merits) so great and so widespread, that no one who cares about the history of Christian thought and Christian art can possibly afford to neglect them.
The Translations This reprint (1999) incorporates a number of additions, refinements and corrections.
The source(s) for the translations are given in the introductory matter to each new text. I have tried to avoid extensive scholarly footnotes to the translations. Occasionally, significant variant readings or obscure passages are noted in the margin. The footnotes are generally reserved for references to Biblical citations in the text. Direct quotations from Biblical books are referred to: the footnote is preceded by ‘cf.’ if the citation is not exact. Allusions to a Biblical text are not noted: the nature of many of these apocryphal documents is such that their authors were so steeped in Biblical or liturgical language that many echoes of scriptural passages occur throughout the writings without being conscious quotations.
Translation is always a difficult art. My aim has been to produce as readable and coherent an English version as the original Greek and Latin allows. Lacunae in the originals are noted by dots ‘…’ in the translation; significant additions to the original usually occur in round brackets. Occasionally, silent corrections to the originals have been accepted. Translations of texts in oriental languages have in the main been taken over with modest changes from James's edition. But for all the translations I have consulted other editions old and new in English, German, and Italian. The translation of Epistula Apostolorum has been taken directly from the English translation of Hennecke—Schneemelcher5: the permission granted by the publishers is herewith acknowledged. The translation of the Acts of Andrew and of the Acts of Andrew and Matthias is used with the permission of D. R. MacDonald.
This reprint (1999) incorporates a number of additions, refinements and corrections.