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

Introduction

J. K. Elliott

Included in this section are translations of:

  • The Protevangelium of James

  • The Infancy Gospel of Thomas

and translations of extracts from:

  • The Gospel of Pseudo‐Matthew

  • The Arabic Infancy Gospel

  • Arundel 404

  • The History of Joseph the Carpenter.

There then follows a section discussing other infancy narratives listed on p. 118, for which translations have not been given.

‘Whenever biographical literature shows gaps, legend generally springs up, in the absence of reliable information, to supply the deficiency.’ These words by Oscar Cullmann translated in Hennecke–Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha (3rd edn., i. 364; 5th edn., i. 415), explain the origin of many of the infancy and birth stories to be found here.

Although some collections of apocryphal gospels subdivide the infancy narratives into birth stories and infancy stories (for example, de Santos Otero) it is convenient to group all these gospels under one head. They tell of events in the life of Jesus prior to his public ministry, and of his parentage.

As with much of the material to be found in the New Testament apocrypha as a whole, these infancy gospels fill gaps left by the nativity stories in the canonical Gospels. The other main gap in Jesus' life and ministry, in regard to which members of the early church were most curious but where the canonical Gospels did not satisfy their curiosity, was the three‐day period between Jesus' death and his resurrection. As Bruce Metzger says, 1 B. M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance (Oxford, 1987), 166–7. See also id., ‘Names for the Nameless in the New Testament: A Study in the Growth of Christian Tradition’, in P. Granfield and J. A. Jungmann (eds.), Kyriakon: Festschrift Johannes Quasten (Münster, 1970), 79–99. ‘When people are curious, they usually take steps to satisfy their curiosity, so we should not be surprised that members of the early Church drew up accounts of what they supposed must have taken place.’ The period covering Christ's death and afterlife will be considered below, under the heading ‘Passion Gospels’.

Apart from the account of Jesus’ birth, the canonical Gospels have only one story of Jesus’ childhood, namely Luke's telling of Jesus in the Temple at the age of twelve, which doubtless inspired the many stories relating the generally miraculous events in Jesus’ childhood that are to be found in the apocryphal infancy gospels. Elaborations of the actual nativity also have a place in the apocryphal traditions, and many of these are of a Gnostic character. Other accounts of Jesus’ birth are there to glorify Mary and to emphasize her virginity. Episodes telling of Jesus’ ancestry also occur, with accounts of Mary's parentage, her birth, and her early life, and with stories that treat of Joseph's first encounters with her and of his death. The sojourn of the Holy Family in Egypt is another theme in the apocryphal tradition that developed out of the canonical Gospels.

That many of the apocryphal infancy stories developed from, or were inspired by, the canonical Gospels permits us to refer to these works as ‘gospels’ although in many ways the genre of the apocryphal writings is not comparable to the literature of the New Testament Gospels.

The repetition of many of the pericopes within the apocryphal tradition is characteristic of the way in which this material was used and developed. Those interested in form‐ and redaction‐criticism can readily pursue these literary concerns with much of the material, although the interrelationship of many of these texts is often speculative: definitive editions of many of the works are lacking, as will be clear from the introductory section to several of those included below. The repetition of stories and the repetitiveness of many of the types of stories is, however, a reason for my selecting and translating only samples from some derivative texts or in other cases for providing only introductory remarks and no text. The two seminal works, The Protevangelium of James and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, are given in full, and extracts from four books that owe their inspiration to these two: Pseudo‐Matthew, the Arabic Infancy Gospel, Arundel MS. 404, the History of Joseph the Carpenter. Other works are given briefer treatment.

Although theological and apologetic tendencies have shaped some of the material in the apocryphal infancy gospels, it is the narrative and biographical interest that predominates. The dominant theological concerns of the canonical birth stories (such as the fulfilment of prophecy, the Davidic descent of Jesus, the Bethlehem‐Nazareth problem, the divine birth of Jesus, the relationship with the Baptist) are less significant in the apocryphal tradition. These texts were the popular literature of the pious for many centuries. Their influence in shaping belief, as well as their exposure of the beliefs that shaped their contents, are significant and important for all whose interests lie in the history of Christianity and Christian doctrine.

Notes:

1 B. M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance (Oxford, 1987), 166–7. See also id., ‘Names for the Nameless in the New Testament: A Study in the Growth of Christian Tradition’, in P. Granfield and J. A. Jungmann (eds.), Kyriakon: Festschrift Johannes Quasten (Münster, 1970), 79–99.

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