We know very little of the primitive Acts of Andrew. As is customary with most early Christian literature, we are completely ignorant about both its author and the exact time and place of composition. In the case of Acts of Andrew, however, our ignorance is even more dramatic, since we have no evidence about essential issues such as the original textual character of the work, its length, content, and intention.

The Acts of Andrew, together with the Acts of John, Paul, Peter, and Thomas, is one of five major examples of a subcategory of New Testament apocryphal literature generally known as “Apocryphal Acts of Apostles.” These texts, written between the second and third centuries, supposedly narrated the adventures of the apostles as they carried out their missionary activities around the world, but in fact contain very diverse content and have highly different textual characteristics. Just like the other Acts, Acts of Andrew purportedly described the stations of Andrew's peregrinations around his allotted area. “Purportedly” because there is no clear and distinct evidence that allows us to assert, on a solid and objective basis, that this was in fact the case with the primitive Acts of Andrew. All the versions of the story that point in this direction tend to be rather late sources whose relationship with the primitive Acts of Andrew is not always easy to evaluate.

The Apostle Andrew.

With the exception of Acts of Andrew, early Christian literature offers very little information about the apostle Andrew. In the Synoptic Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, Andrew is merely named in the list of the apostles (Mark 3:18; Matt 10:2; Luke 6:14; Acts 1:13). From Mark and Matthew we also know that he was the brother of Simon Peter and that both were Jesus’ first disciples, as they were fishing on the Sea of Galilee when they were summoned to become “fishers of men” (Mark 1:16–18; Matt 4:18–20). Mark further adds that the brothers lived in Capernaum and offers other small details (Mark 1:29–31), but in contrast to his brother's important role as a leader of the apostles, Andrew's figure fades into the background.

This situation changes somewhat in John's gospel, which, however, adds some contradictory information. To begin with, it states that the brothers lived in Bethsaida and that before becoming Jesus’ follower Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist. Moreover, it was Andrew who, as first called, brought his brother Peter into contact with Jesus (John 1:35–42). Noncanonical literature shows the same lack of interest in the apostolic figure: the Gospel of Peter and the Gospel of the Ebionites refer only in passing to the apostle (Epiphanius, Panarion 30.13; Gos. Pet. 14 [60]). Did the author of the primitive Acts of Andrew intend to fill this gap in information regarding the apostle?

The Primitive Acts of Andrew, Later Versions, and Textual Transmission.

This biographical interest of later Christian generations may in fact be responsible for the appearance of the first Apocryphal Acts of Apostles. However, in line with the goal and character of ancient biography, these texts were not intended to offer detailed and exact information about the apostles’ lives. Rather they focused on those issues which, in their view, transmitted the essential character of their protagonists. As far as we can judge this was also the case with the primitive Acts of Andrew: in addition to the narration of the apostle's wondrous deeds, an important part of the text was dedicated to relate his words, long discourses by the apostle in which the author expounds his second-century ideas and world view (see below).

Given the noncanonical (or better, precanonical) nature of these ideas, Acts of Andrew was very soon stigmatized by later ecclesiastical authorities, who labeled it as “spurious” (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 3.25.6), attributing its composition to sectarians and later textual manipulations to Manicheans. This situation could have meant the end of Acts of Andrew, but renewed biographical interest during the fifth and sixth centuries saved it from orthodox flames. Indeed, the period saw the appearance of two groups of new texts based on the old account of Acts of Andrew. First, we have texts with a marked martyrological interest: the veneration of saints and the calendar observance of their deaths explain the profusion of martyrdom texts in this period. To this group belong the following documents related to Acts of Andrew: Conversante, Epistle, Andrew's Martyrdom in mss Ann Arbor 36, Martyrium alterum (A and B), Coptic Martyrdom in P. Ien. 649, Armenian passion, Martyrium Prius, and Andrew's Martyrdom in mss H and S. Second, there are texts with a visible exemplary goal: given that from early times the apostle's words aroused suspicion, some fifth and sixth-century “remakes” of the primitive account focus exclusively on the wondrous deeds of the apostle. This group includes the following texts: the Acts of Andrew and Matthias among the Cannibals, the Act of Andrew in Papyrus Copt. Utrecht 1, and Gregory of Tours's Epitome.

The production of new texts based on the primitive Acts of Andrew gained a new impulse during the eighth and ninth centuries, a period in which Andrew's figure acquired an almost political character. In its rivalry with the West, Byzantium claimed the authority of the apostle as founder of the Oriental Church with a view to counteracting the authority of Simon Peter, the legendary founder of the Christian community of Rome. According to an old legend, Andrew's relics had been brought to Constantinople during the fourth century, while according to a new one, Andrew had visited the city during his lifetime and ordained Stachys as a bishop. In this way Byzantium ensured a continuity from apostolic times to medieval bishops. Moreover, according to the Gospel of John, it was Andrew and not Peter who was the first to be called by Jesus. The texts known as Narratio, Laudatio and the Vita Andreae by Epiphanius the Monk belong to this period.

Reconstruction of the Primitive Acts of Andrew.

Given the uncertain relationships of the later texts to the primitive Acts of Andrew, as well as the various periods of composition and diverse intentions, caution is essential when extracting elements that allegedly proceed from the original account. Obviating this concern and based on a selective, sometimes arbitrary use of these documents, some scholars have nevertheless produced two textual reconstructions of Acts of Andrew. According to the first, Acts of Andrew was, for the most part, an account of Andrew's martyrdom in the city of Patras in Achaia (see Prieur 1989). The text, which is mainly based on Andrew's Martyrdom in mss H and S, begins with Stratocles, the brother of proconsul Aegeates, returning from Italy and narrates the events between this point and Andrew's martyrdom. It includes the healing of Alcmanes, Stratocles’ friend, and the latter's conversion; Aegeates’ return to Patras, Maximilla's rejection of his sexual advances and her stratagem to let Euclia substitute for her in Aegeates’ bed. Aegeates finally imprisons the apostle and orders him to be crucified. According to the second, it consisted of the travels and the martyrdom of Andrew (see MacDonald 1990). Based on a combination of material of diverse origin, date and purpose, this version narrates Andrew's peregrinations first from Achaia to the Myrmidons, then through Amasia, Nicomedia, and Byzantium toward Thrace and Macedonia in order to finally arrive in Patras, the city in which the apostle's martyrdom takes place. However, these reconstructions not only provide a tentative and poor sketch of an alleged primitive account, but are also apt, due to the amalgamation of segments of various provenances, to foil the study of the character, thought, and meaning of Acts of Andrew (Roig Lanzillotta 2007a, see particularly pp. 28–34).

Acts of Andrew's Fragment in the Vatican Manuscript.

In order to obtain a sound analysis of these aspects we need to find a better textual basis. According to a majority of scholars, Acts of Andrew's fragment in codex Vaticanus graecus 808 (V) is likely to preserve Acts of Andrew as it was originally. There are six other documents that include a version of the section preserved by this fragment (Laudatio, Narratio, S/H, Arm and Conversante) and a comparative analysis shows that V retains the most complete account (Roig Lanzillotta 2007a, see particularly pp. 53–100). Given that V is likely to present the most primitive version, this document should be the starting point for an analysis of the Acts of Andrew.

Plot of the Fragment.

Andrew travels to Patras (Achaia) in order to announce the Gospel. Part of his message is that Christians should live a spiritual life detached from the influence of both the body and externals. Maximilla, wife of the proconsul Aegeates, pays heed to his message and suspends all marital relations with her husband. As a result, Aegeates first imprisons the apostle and finally sentences him to death.

The fragment mainly consists of Andrew's four speeches to the brethren, Maximilla, Aegeates’ brother Stratocles, and once again to the brethren. The first incomplete speech (1; chapters are numbered according to Roig Lanzillotta 2007a) takes place in the prison at a meeting between Andrew and his followers, which establishes the conceptual framework of the whole fragment. The apostle describes the superiority of the community and its members and how they belong to the higher realm of the Good, of justice, and of light; they are akin to the transcendent realm and this relationship provides them with complete insight into earthly matters.

The subsequent narrative section (2–4) introduces all of the personae (except Stratocles) of our fragment: Andrew, Aegeates, Maximilla, her chambermaid Iphidama, and the brethren. The first half of this section describes the optimism of the followers and their reunion in prison during the days that Aegeates seems to have forgotten Andrew's case. This joy, however, is not abiding. Consistent with the tone of the first incomplete speech, which denies any stability in the realm of change, the second half of this narrative section brings a sudden turn in the action: Aegeates’ remembering the matter puts an end to the brethren's temporary relief. Becoming furious, the proconsul leaves the court and rushes back to the praetorium, where he speaks to his wife. The silent Maximilla listens to Aegeates’ ultimatum: if she agrees to resume their former conjugal life he will free Andrew; if she refuses, he will be punished. Troubled by this new turn of events, Maximilla hurries to the prison to relate her husband's proposition to the apostle.

In his lengthy speech to Maximilla (5–9), Andrew first encourages her not to listen to Aegeates’ proposition. She must ignore the threat to the apostle, since accepting his suffering is the only way to achieve her complete liberation from Aegeates. Andrew then analyzes the consequences of both a negative and a positive answer to her husband. As to the former, the apostle introduces an interesting reinterpretation of the Paradise scene, notably of the reasons for the first couple's “error,” in which Maximilla and Andrew represent the exact opposites of Eve and Adam. Thanks to the awareness that Maximilla has gained and her realization that she belongs to the realm above, they both, as representatives of spiritual humankind, can correct the first couple's deficiency. The next section of Andrew's speech (6) describes the results of such a correction and introduces the praise of a generic “nature that saves itself”: once humankind ascends to its original nature it will see the Ungenerated (God).

After some transitional lines (7), the subsequent section considers the consequences of Maximilla agreeing to her husband's terms (8). According to Andrew, Maximilla's agreement will have negative effects for him as well. If she dismisses her husband's threat, however, the apostle will be released from his prison (implicitly, also his body) and although the proconsul will think he is punishing him he will actually be liberating him. Hence, Andrew concludes, his own perfection depends on the “clear sight” of Maximilla's intellect (9).

Andrew's speech to Stratocles (10–13), the only discourse in pseudo-dialogue form, deals with the human soul, its rational and irrational parts, and includes a short answer from the addressee. Realizing that Stratocles is crying, Andrew asks him the reason for his grief, stating that if the apostle's words have reached the rational or “thinking part” of his soul, Stratocles’ suffering is inexcusable, while if they have not, his soul's irrational part might have taken control of the soul's conglomerate. Stratocles’ answer (12) affirms that Andrew's words have reached his soul. He knows that Andrew's departure is a positive event and states that if he cries it is simply because he will not be able to complete the process of his education. An agricultural metaphor depicts the future lack that Stratocles is already feeling: his soul being the ground and Andrew's words the seeds, both requiring the sower's care to grow and develop properly. Andrew, satisfied with this answer, changes the subject and announces that the next day he will be crucified (13).

After a short narrative section (14), Maximilla returns to the praetorium and announces her refusal to Aegeates. The proconsul decides to have Andrew crucified. After her husband leaves, Maximilla and Iphidama return to the prison, where they meet a group of Andrew's followers.

Andrew's last speech to the brethren (15–18) affirms that he was sent by the LORD to remind everyone “akin to the words” that they were wasting their time among ephemeral evils. He encourages people to flee from an unstable reality and praises those that “have become listeners to his words,” by means of which they achieved insight into their own nature. He then advises them to build on the foundation laid for them. Finally, Andrew warns them not to be struck by his death due to the violence of an evil man: the devil arms his children against those who have rejected his false friendship. His martyrdom is not only necessary but also expected as the final release from his last ties to the world. At this point our text ends abruptly, in the middle of a sentence.

Message of the Fragment.

Even if frequently neglected by commentators, Andrew's first discourse in V occupies a central role in the message of fragment, as it asserts that the blessed race has its origin and final destination in the transcendent realm. As a result, even if presenting a strong dualistic worldview, Acts of Andrew's thought is, in the last analysis, monistic, since everything derives from an original unity of being as a result from a process of devolution. Acts of Andrew's main focus is not on cosmology, but rather on anthropology. In fact, the following three speeches depict both humanity's devolution from its origin and the possible return to its transcendent source.

The speeches to Maximilla, Stratocles, and the second speech to the brethren reveal the background of a tripartite anthropology that distinguishes three elements in the human being: intellect, soul, and body. Each of these speeches illustrate the involvement of one of these three elements in prolonging human exile in the physical world: discursive thinking (intellect), immoderate affections (soul), and a combination of sensorial perception and representation (body) keep humanity attached to the world of nature. However, when conveniently reorganized by means of Andrew's words, these spheres may also provide for the beginning of humanity's liberation. This takes place by means of a rational reorganization of the three domains, since it allows individuals to control the distortions proper to them with a view to retracing the successive steps of devolution and to recovering, at the end of this process, their original intellectual condition.

Until the moment Andrew intervenes, the intellect remains unconscious of its present state of degradation and unaware of its pristine condition. The apostle's words, however, awake the intellect from its sluggishness and, as a result, individuals for the first time reject the delusion of the external world of matter in order to turn inward. This opens the path to a process of self-knowledge at the end of which human beings, conscious both of their origin and current degraded state, take control of their being and begin the gradual deconstruction of the accretions gained during its devolution.

Provenance of Acts of Andrew's Thought.

In spite of the multifarious philosophical influences detected in Acts of Andrew by previous scholarship, when focusing on V exclusively we obtain a much more consistent view. The Acts of Andrew reveals the backdrop of Middle Platonism, and more specifically of those Middle Platonists who explained Plato by means of Aristotle. This can be clearly seen in various aspects of our text. As far as cosmology is concerned, Acts of Andrew's view of the universe presents a clear tripartite conception of being; in what regards theology, the idea of God shows the combination of Plato's One and the Aristotelian unmoved Mover. The tripartite anthropology of the Acts is more specifically Aristotelian, however: it clearly elevates the status of the intellect, which is conceived of as the only immortal element in man, and contrasts it to the soul-body complex. Also distinctively Aristotelian is Acts of Andrew's epistemology. On the one hand, distortion proceeds not from sensory perception, which is always true, but from perceptual representation. On the other, we see the typical epistemic tripartition that discriminates the intellect's direct apprehension both from discursive thinking and from sense perception. With regard to ethics, we observe again the Platonic-Peripatetic backdrop, since there is an evident emphasis on virtue as a mean between excess and deficiency.

The Acts of Andrew is no philosophical text however. In fact the philosophical aspects mentioned above are also frequent in the Gnostic world of ideas. Besides, gnosis is a fundamental notion in our text: while ignorance explains the current human state of degradation, knowledge is the antidote that may help humans to regain their pristine condition. Humanity's exile in immanence is explained as being due to a process of devolution that follows three causally related stages (intellect, soul, and physis or body), which regularly appears in Gnostic cosmogonical myths. Also, in Acts of Andrew matter results from a substantialization of affections. Something similar is transmitted by the Valentinian Gospel of Truth. Another essentially gnosticizing idea is the metaphor of dispersal and reunion that describes the intellect's current state and the recovery of its primal unity: the divine elements that appear scattered in the world of nature need to be gathered together. Other known gnosticizing views are the conception of the human intellect as divine, its dormant condition under the influence of both soul and body, and the consequent need of being awakened. So too, Andrew's role as a redeemer who reminds the blessed race of its true nature and awakes the intellect from its lethargy; also the strong cosmological dualism that governs the view of the world contrasting the divine region of light to that of the lower, material darkness. Given Acts of Andrew's close proximity to the Gnostic world-view, it is plausible that the distinctive philosophical elements sketched above were already part of the religious thought of the community the author belonged to.

Date and Place of Composition.

Acts of Andrew is usually dated to the second or third century, but the conceptual analysis of its thought makes a date in the second half of the second century preferable. Acts of Andrew's close contacts with the Gospel of Truth further support this dating. However, the Acts of Andrew's almost literal echo of Achilles Tatius's Leucippe and Cleitophon (5.27.1), customarily dated circa 170 C.E., in V (55–56), seems to provide us with a more precise terminus a quo. The author clearly knew this text: not only are both passages very close to one another; the Acts of Andrew also slightly transforms Achilles Tatius's passage in order to adapt it to the more pious relationship between Maximilla and Andrew. As for the terminus ante quem, Eusebius's History (fourth century) includes the first mention of the Acts. As regards Acts of Andrew's place of origin, scholars have proposed three possible locations: Alexandria, Achaia, and Asia Minor or Bithynia. In our opinion, however, the textual evidence simply does not allow a definitive answer.

[See also ACTS and APOCRYPHA, subentry NEW TESTAMENT.]


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Lautaro Roig Lanzillotta