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Apocryphal Gospels: New Book

February 7, 2017

Markus Bockmuehl’s new book, Ancient Apocryphal Gospels (Westminster John Knox Press, 2017), is a very good introduction to the subject.   The publisher’s online catalogue entry is here.

After an introductory chapter setting out the scope, intention and approach taken in the book, Bockmuehl then has chapters on “Infancy Gospels” (Infancy Gospel of James, Infancy Gospel of Thomas, other related texts), with a sympathetic discussion of why Christians wrote such texts.

Chapter 3 is on what he calls “Ministry Gospels,” writings about Jesus set during his lifetime.  These include “Q”, about which Bockmuehl expresses a slightly agnostic view, and also “Jewish Christian” gospels, and fragmentary texts such as Papyrus Egerton 2 and others.  As well, he discusses briefly the “Secret Gospel of Mark” (judging it dubious), and the Abgar Legend (fictive correspondence between Jesus and king Abgar).

Chapter 4 deals with “Passion Gospels”:  the Gospel of Peter, the “Unknown Berlin Gospel” or “Gospel of the Savior”, the Strasbourg Coptic Papyrus, the Discourse on the Cross, and various gospels linked with Pilate, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimatthea, plus Gospels of Gamaliel.

Chapter 5 introduces “Post-Resurrection Discourse Gospels” (often referred to as “Revelation” gospels).  Among these (indeed, among all the apocryphal gospels), the Gospel of Thomas is the most well known.  But these also include the Gospel of Philip, Gospel of Mary, Gospel of Judas, Gospels of the Egyptians, Gospel of Bartholomew, Epistle of the Apostles, and some other “dialogue gospels” from the Nag Hammadi cache.

Bockmuehl’s book appears in a series addressed to “the community of faith,” but I can’t find anything smacking of special pleading or cheap apologetics.  I’d say that this book is a fine guide to these apocryphal texts for anyone who wants a clear-headed introduction with no hype or exaggeration, just sober and cogent discussion, and with lots of bibliographical tips for further reading/study.

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  1. Donald Jacobs permalink

    It’s not a cheap apologetic. But is it maybe a “covert apologetic”? I heard this phrase the first time when you used it at your book launch and it intrigued me.

    • No, Bockmuehl’s book isn’t “covert apologetic”, just solid, measured judgement based on detailed research. But, actually, that’s the sort of work that I think best serves “the community of faith” and the rest of the world as well.

  2. Please define “cheap apologetics,” why it’s called that, and give some examples.

    • By “cheap apologetics” I meant simplistic and jaundiced comparisons of apocryphal texts with canonical ones. I decline to provide examples, as I’m not interested in defaming here.

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