Apocryphal Gospels, Acts and Revelations


Translated by Alexander walker

Here  download


Our aim in these translations has been to give a renlering of the original as literal as possible ; and to this we have adhered even in cases—and they are not a few—in which the Latin or the Greek is not in strict accordance with grammatical rule. It was thought advisable in all cases to give the reader the means of forming an accurate estimate of the stele as well as the substance of these curious documents.


The first part of the volume, extending to page 255, comprising the Apocryphal Gospels properly so called, consists of twenty-two separate documents, of which ten are written in Greèk and twelve in Latin. These twenty-two may be classed under three heads:

(a) those relating to the history of Joseph and of the Virgin Mary, previous to the birth of Christ ;

(b) those relating to the infancy of the Saviour ; and

(c) those relating to the history of Pilate. The origines of the traditions are the Protevangelium of James, the Gospel of Thomas, and the Acts of Pilate. All or most of the others can be referred to these three, as compilations, modifications, or amplifications.

There is abundant evidence of the existence of many of these traditions in the second century, though it cannot be made out that any of the books were then in existence in their present foren. The greater number of the authorities on the subject, however,seem to agree in assigning to the first four cen­turies of the Christian era, the following five books: 1. The Protevangelium of James; 2. The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew ; 4. The History of Joseph the Carpenter ; 5. The Gospel of Thomas; 9. The Gospel of Nicodemus.

We proceed to give a very brief notice of each of them.

1-The Protevangelium of James.—The name of Protevangelium was first given to it by Postel, whose Latin version was published in 1552. The James is usually referred to St. James the Less, the Lord’s brother ; but the titles vary very much. Origen, in the end of the second century, mentions a book of James, but it is by no means clear that he refers to the book in question. Justin Martyr, in two passages, refers to the save in which Christ was bom ; and from the end of the fourth century down, there are numerous allusions in ecclesiastical writings to statements made in the Protevangelium.

For his edition Tischendorf made use of seventeen mss., one of them belonging to the ninth century. The Greek is good of the kind, and free from errors and corruptions. There are trans-lations of it into English by Jones (1722) and Cowper (1867).

2-The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew.The majority of the attribute this book to Matthew, though the titles vary much. The letters prefixed, professing to be written to and by St. Jerome, exist in several of the MSS. ; but no one who is acquainted with the style of Jerome’s letters will think this one authentic. There are, however, in his works many allusions to some of the legends mentioned in this book. Chapters i.—xxiv. were edited by Thilo, chapters xxv. to the end are edited for the first time by Tischendorf. It is not very clear whether the Latin be original, or a direct translation from the Greek. In most part it seems to be original. The list of epithets, how-ever, applied to the triangles of the Alpha in chapter xxxi. are pretty obviously mistranslations of Greek technical terras, which it might not be difficult to reproduce.

3-Gospel of the Nativily of Mary—This work, which is in substance the same as the earlier part of the preceding, yet differs from it in several important points, indicating a later date and a different autbor. It has acquired great celebrity from having been transferred almost entire to the Historia Lombardica or Legenda ilurca in the end of the thirteenth century. Mediaval poetry and sacred art have been very much indebted to its pages. The original is in Latin, and is not a direct translation from the Greek. In many passages it follows very closely the Vulgate translation.

4- The history of Joseph the Carpenler.—The original language of this history is Coptic. From the Coptic it was translated into Arabic. The Arabic was published by Wallin in 1722, with a Latin translation and copious notes. Wallin’s version bas been republished by Fabricius, and later in a some-what amended form by Thilo. This amended form of Wallin’s version is the text adopted by Tischendorf. Chapters xiv.—xxiii. have been published in the Sahidic text by Zoega in 1810 with a Latin translation, and more correctly by Dulaurier in 1835 with a French translation. Tischendorf employs various arguments in support of his opinion that the work beloner to the fourth century. It is found, he says, in both dialects of the Coptic : the eschatology of it is not inconsistent with an early date : the fea.st of the thousand years of chapter xxvi. had become part of heretical opinion after the third century. The death of the Virgin Mary in chapter v. is inconsistent with the doctrine of the assumption, which began to prevail in the fifth century.

5,6,7- The Gospel of Thomas.Like the Protevangelium of James, the Gospel of Thomas is of undoubted antiquity. It is mentioned by name by Origen, quoted by Iremeus and the author of the Philosophumena, who says that it was used bv the Nachashenes, a Gnostic sect of the second century. Cyril of Jerusalem (t 386) attributes the authorship not to the apostle, but to a Thomas who was one of the three disciples of Manes. This fact, of course, indicates that Cyril knew nothing of the antiquity of the book he was speaking of. This lIanichwan origin has been adopted by many writers,of whom the best Down are in recent times R. Simon and Mingarelli.

The text of the first Greek foren is obtained from a Bologna ms. published by Ming,arelli with a Latin translation in 1764, a Dresden ms. of the sixteenth century edited by Thilo, a Viennese fragment edited by Lambecius, and a Parisian fragment first brought to light by Coteler in his edition of the Apost-lical Constitutions, and translated into English by Tunes.

The second Greek force is published for the first time by Tischendorf, who got the ms., which is on paper, of the fourteenth or fifteenth century, from one of the monasteries on Mount Sinai.

The Latin form is also published for the first time, from a Vatican ms. There is another Latin text existing in a palimpsest, which Tischendorf assigns to the fifth century, and asnerts to be much nearer the antient Greek copy titan any of the other Itss. It seems pretty clear, from the contents of the book, that its author was a Gnostic, a Docetist, and a Marcosian; and it was held in estimation by the Nachashenes and the Manichaens. Its hearing upou Christian art, and to some extent Christian dogma, is well known.

The Greek of the original is by no means good, and the Latin translator has in many cases mistaken the meaning of common Greek words.

8- Arabic Gospel of the Saviour’s Infancy.—Chapters i.—ix. are founded on the Gospels of Luke and Mattliew, and on the Protevangelium of James ; chapters xxxvi. to the end are compiled from the Gospel of Thomas ; the rest of the book, chapters x. to xxxv., is thoroughly Oriental in its character, reminding one of the tales of the Arabian Nights, or of the episodes in the Golden Ass of Apuleius.

It is evident that the work is a compilation, and that the compiler was an OrientaL Various arguments are adduced to prove that the original lang,uage of it was Syriac.

It was first published, with a Latin translation and copious notes, by Professor Sike of Cambridge in 1697, afterwards by Fabricius, Jones, Schmid, and Thilo. Tischendorf’s text is Sike’s Latin version amended by Fleischer.There are not sufficient data for fixing with any accuracy the time at which it was composed or compiled.

9-14. The Gospel of Nicodemus.—The six documents inserted under this name are various forms of two books—two in Greek and one in Latin of the Acts of Pilate ; one in Greek and two in Latin of the Descent of Christ to the world below. Of twelve mss., only two or timen give the second part con-secutively with the first, nor does it so appear in the Coptic translation. The title of Gospel of Nieudemus does nut appear before the thirteenth century.

Justin Martyr mentions a look called the Acts of Pilate, and Ensebius informs us that the emperor Maximin allowed or ordered a book, composed by the pagans under this title, to be published in a certain portion of the empire, and even to be taught in the schools ; but neither of these could have been the work under consideration.

Tischendorf attributes it to the second century, which is probably too early, though without doubt the legend was formed by the end of the second century. Maury places it in the beginning of the fifth centurv, from 405 to 420; and Renan concurs in this opinion.

The author was probably a Hellenistic Jew converted to Christianity, or, as Tischendorf and Maury conclude, a Chris­tian imbued with Judaic and Gnostic beliefs. The original language was most probably Greek, though, as in the case of Pseudo-Matthew, the History of Joseph the Carpenter, etc., the original language is, in many of the prefaces, stated to have been Hebrew. Some think that Latin was the original language, on the ground that Pilate would make his report to the Emperor in that, the official, language. The Latin text we have, however, is obviously a translation, made, moreover, by a man to whom Greek was not very familiar, as is obvious from several instances specified in our notes to the text.

15-The Letter of Pontius Pilate.—The text is formed from four authorities, none of them ancient. A translation of the Greek text of the same letter will be found at p. 264.

16,17-The Report of Pilate.—The first of these documents was first published by Fabricius with a Latin transla-tion ; the second by Birch, and then by Thilo. Tischendorf has made use of five the earliest of the twelfth century.

18-The Paradosis of Pilate.—It has been well remarked by the author of the article in the Quarterly Review above referred to, that the early church looked on Pilate with no unfavourable eye ; that he is favourably shown in the catacombs ; that the early fathers interpreted him as a figure of the early church, and held him to be guiltless of Christ’s death ; that the creeds do not condemn him, and the Coptic Church has even made him a saint. He remarks also that Dante finds punishments for Caiaphas and Annas, but not for Pilate.

19-The Death of Pilate. –This is published for the first time by Tischendorf from a Latin ms. of the fourteenth century. The language shows it to be of a late date. It appears almost entire in the Legenda Aurea.

20-The Narratire of Joseph.—This history seems to have been popular in the middle ages, if we may judge from the number of the Greek mss. of it which remain. It was first published by Birch, and after him by Thilo. For his edition Tischendorf made use of three mss., of which the oldest beloner to the twelfth century.

21-The Avenging of The Saviour.—This version of the legend of Veronica is written in very barbarons Latin, pro-ably of the seventh or eighth century. An Anglo-Saxon version, which Tischendorf concludes to be derived from the Latin, was edited and translated for the Cambridge Antiquarian Society, by C. W. Goodwin, in 1851. The reader will observe that there are in this document two distinct legends, somewhat clumsily joined topether—that of Nathan’s embassy, and that of Veronica.


This portion of the volume, extending from page 256 to page 454, presents us with documents written in a style considerably different from that of the Apocryphal Gospels properly so called. There we have without stint the signs that the Jews desired; here we begin to have some glimpses of the wisdom which the Greeks sought after, along with a considerable share of “Quidquid Grecia mendax Audet in historia”. We have less of miracle, more of elaborate discourse. The Apocryphal Gospels veere suited to the vilis plebecula, from which, as Jerome said, the church originated; the Apocryphal Acts appeal more to the Academia.

We have in ancient literature, especially Greek literature, a long series of fabulous histories attached to the names of men who made themselves famous either in arts or arms. This taste for the marvellous became general after the expedition of Alexander ; and from that time down we have numerous examples of it in the lives of Alexander, of Pythagoras, of Apollonius of Tyana, of Homer, of Virgil, and others without number; and we all know how much fabulous matter is apt to r.ather round the names of popular heroer even in modern times.

It is not to be wondered at. thee, that round the names of Christ and His apostles, who had brought about social changes greater titan those elïected by the exploits of any hero of old, there should gather, as the result of the wondering awe of simple-minded men, a growth of the romantic and the fabulous.

These stories came at length to form a sort of apostolic cycle, of which the documents following are portions. They exist allo in a Latin form in the ten books of the Acts of the Apostles, compiled probably in the sixth century, and falsely attributed to Abdias, the first bishop of Babylon, by whom it was, of course, written in Hebrew.

We shall now give a brief account of each of the thirteen documents which make up this part of the volume.

1-The Acts of Peter and Paul.—This book was first published in a complete form by Thilo in 1837 and 1838. A portion of it had already been translated into Latin by the famous Greek scholar Constantine Lascaris in 1490, and had been made use of in the celebrated controversy as to the situa-tion of the island Melita, upon which St. Paul was shipwrecked. For bis edition Tischendorf collated sis tss., the oldest of the end of the ninth century. Somne portions at least of the book are of an early date. The Domfine quo nadis story, p. 275, is referred to by Origen, and others after him. A book called the Acts of Peter is con-demned in the decree of Pope Gelasius.

2- Acts of Paul and Theela.—This book is of undoubted antiquity. There seems reason to accept the account of it given by Tertullian, that it was written by an Asiatic pres­byter in glorification of St. Paul (who, however, unquestionably occupies only a secoudary place in it), and in support of the heretical opinion that women may teach and baptize. It is expressly meutioned and quoted by a long line of Latin and Greek fathers.

3-Acts of Barnabas.This book has more an air of truth about it than any of the others. There is not much extravagance in the details, and the geography is correct, showing that the writer knew Cyprus well. It seems to have been written at all events before 478, in which year the body of Barnabas is said to have been found in Cyprus.

4-Acts of Philip.—A book under this name was condemned in the decree of Pope Gelasius; and that the traditions about Philip were well known from an early date, is evident from the abundant references to them in antient documents. The writings of the Hagiographers also, both Greek and Latin, contain epitomes of Philip’s life.

5-Acts of Philip in Hellas.—This also is published for thefirst time by Tischendorf It is obvionsly a later document than the preceding, though composed in the same style. It is from a Parisian sts. of the eleventh century.

6-Acts of Andrew.—In the decree of Pope Gelasius (t 496), a book under this name is condemned as apocryphaL Epiphanius (t 403) states that the Acts of Andrew were in favour with the Encratites, the Apostolics, and the Oriffenians ; Augustin° (t 430) mentions that the Acts of the apostles written by Leucius Charinus—discipulus diaboli, as Pope Gelasius calls him—were held in estimation by the Manichwans. The authorship generally is attributed to Leucius by early writers ; Innocentius t. (t 417), however, says that the Acts of Andrew were composed by the philosophers Nexocharis and Leonidas. The probability is that the book was written by Leucius, following Keller traditions, and that it was afterwards revised and fitted for general reading by an orthodox hand. Though some of the traditions mentioned in the book are referred to by authors of the beginning of the fifth century, there does not seem to be any undoubted quotation of it before the eighth and the tenth centuries. Some portions of Pseudo-Abdias, however, are almost in the words of our Greek Acts.

7-Acts of Andrew and Matthias. — Thilo assigns the authorship of these Acts also to Leucius, and the use of them to the Gnostics, Manichmans, and other heretics. Pseudo-Abdias seems to have derived his account of Andrew and Ifatthias from the same source. Epiphanius the monk, who wrote in the tenth century, gives extraets from the history. There is, besides, an old English—cominonly called Anglo-Saxon—poem, Andrew and Helene, published by Jacob Grimm in 1840, the argument of which in great part coincides with that of the Acts of Andrew and Matthias.

There is considerable doubt as to whether it is Matthias or Matthew that is spoken of. Pseudo-Abdias, followed by all the Latin writers on the subject, calls him Matthew. The Greek texts hesitatc between the two. The Acts of Peter and Andrew, from the Bodleian ms., are inserted as an appendix to the Acts of Andrew and Matthias.

8-Acts of Matlhew.—This book is edited by Tischendorf for the first time. It is a much later production than the last, written in bad Greek, and in a style rendered very cumbrous by the use of participial phrases. On the authority’of the oldest ms., Matthew, not Matthias, is the name here. It is probably owing to this confusion between the names, that there is much uncertainty in the traditions regarding St. Matthew.

9-Acts of Thomas.—The substance of this book is of great antiquity, and in its original form it was held in great estimation by the heretics of the first and second centnries. The main heresy which it contained was that the Apostle Thomas baptized, not with water, but with oil only. It is mentioned by Epiphanius, Turribius, and Nicephorus, condemned in the decree of Gelasius, and in the Synopsis of Scripture ascribed to Athanasius, in which it is placed, along with the Acts of Peter, Acts of John, and other books, among the Antilegomena. St. Augustine in three passages refers to the book in such a way as to show that he had it in something very like its present form. Two centuries later, Pseudo-Abdias made a recension of the bonk, rejecting the more heretical portions, and adapting it generally to orthodox use. Photius attrihutes the authorsbip of this document, as of mnany other apocryphal Acts, to Leucitts Charinus.

10-Cunsummation of Thomas.This is properly a portion of the preceding book. Pseudo-Abdias follows it very closely, but the Greek of some chapters of his trauslation or compilation bas not yet been discovered.The text, edited by Tischendorf for the first time, is from a ms. of the eleventh century.

11-Martyrclom of BartholomewThis Greek text, now for the first time edited by Tischendorf, is very similar to the account of Bartholomew in Pseudo-Abdias. The editor is inclined to believe, not that the Greek text is a translation of Abdias, which it probably is, but that botte it and Abdias are derived from the same source. Tischendorf seems inclined to lay some weiglit upon the mention made by Abdias of a certain Crato, said to be a disciple of the Apostles Simon and Judas, having written a voluminous history of the apostles, which was translated into Latin by Julius Africanus. The whole story, however, is absurd. It is very improbable that Julius Africanus knew any Latin ; it is possible, however, that he may have compiled some stories of the apostles, that these may have been translated into Latin, and that Pseudo-Crato and Pseudo-Abdias may have derived some of their materiab from this source.

12-Acts of Thaddaeus.The Greek text, which is probably of the sixth or seventh century, seems, from allusions to the synagogue, the hours of prayer, the Sabbath-day, etc., to have been written by a Jew. It is edited from a Paris ets. of the eleventh century, and a Vienna one of a later date.

13-Acts of John.—A book under this title is mentioned by Eusebius, Epiphanius, Photius, among Greek writers ; Augustine, Philastrius, Innocent I., and Turribius among Latin writers. The two last named and Photius ascribe the authorship to Leucius,  who got the credit of all these heretical It is not named in the decree of Gelasius.

Augustine (Tractat. 124 in Johannem) relates at length the story of John going down alive into his grave, and of the fact of his being alive being shown by his breath stirring about the dust on the tomb. This story, which has some resemblance to the Teutonic legend of Barbarossa, is repeated by Photins. There is a Latin document published by Fabricius, Psetedo-Mclitonis liber de Passione S. Johannis Evangelistce, which the author professed to write with the original of Leucius before his eyes. It has considerable resemblances in some passages to the present text. The only passages in Pseudo-Abdias that appear to have any connection with the present document are those which refer to the apostle’s burial.


This portion of the volume, extending from page 454 to the end, consists of seven documents, four of which are called Apocalypses by their authors. Of these, the Greek text of the first three is edited for the first time ; the fourth, the Apocalypse of John, bas appeared before. The fifth, The Falling Asleep of Mary, appears for the first time in its Greek form, and in the first Latin recension of it.

The mss. of these documents are cho.racterized by extreme variety of readings ; and in some of them, especially the earlier portion of the Apocalypse of Esdras, the text is in a very corrupt state.

1-The Apocalypse of Moses.—This document belongs to the Apocrypha of the Old Testament rather than to that of the New. We have been unable to find in it any reference to any Christian writing. In its form, too, it appears to be a portion of some larger work. Paris of it at least are of an ancient date, as it ia very likely from this source that the writer of the Gospel of Nicodemus took the celebrated legend of the Tree of Life and the Oil of Mercy. An account of this legend will be found in Cowper’s Apocryphal • Gospels, xcix.—cii.; in Maury, Croyanecs et Légcndes de r Antiguité, p. 294; in Renan’s commentary to the Syriac text of the Penitence of Adam, edited and translated by Renan in the Journal Asiatique for 1853. There appeared a poetical rendering of the legend in Black-wood’s Magazine ten or twelve years ago.

2-The.Apocalypse of Esdras.—This book is a weak imitation of the apocryphal fourth book of Esdras. Thilo, in his prolegomena to the Acts of Thomas, p. lxxxii., mentions it, and doubts whether it be the fourth book of Esdras or not. Portion of it were published by Dr; Hase of the Paris Library, and it was then seen that it was a different production. The ms. is of about the fifteenth ccutury, and in the earlier portions very diflicult to read.

3- Apocalypse of Paul.—There are two apocryphal books bearing the name of Paul mentioned by antient writers : The Ascension of Paul, adopted by the Cainites and the Gnostics ; and the Apocalypse of Paul, spoken of by Angus-tine and Sozomen. There seems to be no doubt that the pre­sent text, discovered by Tischendorf in 1843,  is the book mentioned by Augustine and Sozomen. It is referred to by numerous authorities, one of whom, hoorever, ascribes it to the heretic Paul of Samosata, the founder of the sect of the Paulicians.

4-The Apocalypse of John.—In the scholia to the Grammar of Dionysius the Thracian, ascribed to the ninth century, immediately after the ascription of the Apocalypse of Paul to Paul of Samosata, there occurs the following statement: ‘And there is another called the Apocalypse of John the Theologian. We do not speak of that in the island of Patmos, God forbid, for it is most true; but of a supposititious and spurious one.’ This is the oldest reference to this Apocalypse. Asseman says he found the book in Arabic in three MISS.

Of other Apocalypses, Tischendorf in his Pro/cyomente gives an abstract of the Apocalypse of Peter, the Apocalypse of Bartholomew. the Apocalypse of Mary, and the Apocalypse of Daniel. The Apocalypse of Peter professes to be written by Clement. There is an Arabic ms. of it in the Dodleian Library. It is called the Perfect Dook, or the Book of Perfection, and consists of eiglity-nine chapters, comprising a history of the world as revealed to Peter, from the foundation of the world to the appearing of Antichrist. The Apocalypse of Mary, containing her descent to the lover world, appears in several Greek mss. It is of a late date, the work of some monk of the middle altes.

The Apocalypse of Daniel, otherwise called the Revelation of the Prophet Daniel about the consummation of the world, is also of a late date. About the half of the Greek text is given in the Prolegomena. We have not thought it necessary to translate it.

5,6,7- The Assumption of Mary.—It is somewhat strange that the Greek text of this book, which has been translated into several languages both of the East and the West, is edited by Tischendorf for the first time. He assigns it to a date not later than the fourth century. A book under this title is condemned in the decree of Gelasius. The author of the Second Latin Form (see p. 522, note), writing under the name of Melito, ascribes the authorship of a treatise on the same subject to. Leucius.  This, however, cannot be the book so ascribed to Leucius, as Pseudo-Melito affirms that his book, which is in substance the same as the Greek text, was written to condem Leucius’ heresies.

There are trauslations or recensions of our text in Svriac, Sallidic, and Arabic. The Syriac was edited and translated bv Wright in 1865.  An Arabic version of it, resembling more the Syriac than the greek or Latin, was edited and translated hy Egerr in 1851.

In the end of the seventh century, John Archbishop of Thessalonica wrote a discourse on the falling asleep of Mary, mainly derived from the book of Pseudo-John; and in some MSS. this treatise of John of Thessalonica is ascribed to John the Apostle. Epiphanius, however, malies distinctive mentior of both treatises.

For his edition of the Greek text, Tischendorf made use five MSS., the oldest of the eleventh century. We have now concluded our notices, compiled chiefly from Tischendorf’s Prolegomena, of the Apocryphal Literature of the New Testament.

While these documents are of considerable interest and value, as giving evidente of a widespread feeling in early times of the importante of the events which form the basis our belief, and as affurding us curious glimpses of the  Christian conscience, and of modes of Christian thought, in the first centuries of our era, the predominant impression which they leave on our mind is a profound sense of the immeasurable superiority, the unapproachable simplicity and majesty, of the Canonical Writings.