Alin Suciu on the Berlin-Strasbourg Apocryphon / ‘Gospel of the Savior’

Alin Suciu notes on his blog that he has successfully defended his PhD thesis.  The content of it is very interesting indeed, and thankfully he has made it available online here:

Apocryphon Berolinense/Argentoratense (Previously Known as the Gospel of the Savior). Reedition of P. Berol. 22220, Strasbourg Copte 5-7 and Qasr el-Wizz Codex ff. 12v-17r with Introduction and Commentary.

He notes:

My thesis is about a Coptic text which is largely known as the “Gospel” of the Savior. Although this titles suggests that the text is an uncanonical apocryphal gospel, literary evidences which I document in my thesis firmly indicate that the text does not belong to this genre, but it is rather one of the numerous “memoirs” of the apostles and disciples, which were composed in Coptic, most likely after the Council of Chalcedon (451 CE). Sometimes, the pseudo-apostolic memoirs were incorporated into sermons attributed to the Fathers of the Coptic Church.

The fact that the text belongs to a well-defined genre, formed mostly of homilies with apocryphal insertions, has caused me to eschew the label “gospel,” which I find unsatisfactory and misleading. Instead, I have chosen to call the text the Apocryphon Berolinense/Argentoratense (ApoBA), after the location of the two main manuscripts. In fact, the label “apocryphon” is larger and more generous than “apocryphal gospel.”

The publication of the Berlin papyrus 22220, under the title of the “Gospel of the Savior” (by Paul Mirecki and Charles Hedrick) took place in 1999, and some notes upon it prior to that time, probably in 1998, were among my earliest online endeavours.  Those notes may be found here.

Rather foolishly the editors and/or their publisher decided to engage in a bit of Christian baiting in the press.  This must certainly have alienated a good many of those who might otherwise have purchased their book.  Papyrology owes its existence to massive public funding, raised for the purpose of discovering new words of Jesus at Oxyrhynchus, more than a century ago.  For papyrologists to indulge in religious animosity is to cut their own throats, and the discipline remains chronically underfunded.

Thankfully the serious Coptic scholars have come to the rescue of the text.  Few of us, after all, have a proper knowledge of Coptic literature; it is, indeed, hard to acquire in the absence of a decent handbook.   Alin Suciu’s knowledge of Coptic literature is already wide, and he has done excellent work on fragments.  The thesis that the work is an original Coptic composition of the 5-6th century, is one that few will rush to disagree with, or be equipped to do so.

It seems entirely sensible to use the neutral term “Berlin-Strasbourg Apocryphon”, rather than rushing to tangle the text up with the New Testament; although, as he rightly supposes, the use of the term “gospel” will linger in the literature and republications of translations for a while yet.

Like most people, I was unaware of the genre of the “memoirs of the apostles”, and this casts an interesting light on Coptic apocrypha in general.

The thesis is in English, but with a French abstract.  It contains a semi-diplomatic re-edition of the three Sahidic manuscripts: Berlin, Papyrussammlung, P. Berol. 22220; Strasbourg, Bibliothèque Nationale et Universitaire, Copte 4-7a; Aswan, Nubian Museum, Special Number 168, ff. 12v-17r (= the Qasr el-Wizz codex), with introduction and commentary, plus a translation.  Suciu gives a detailed history of the find and reception of the text among scholars, and highlights the important work done by Coptologist Steven Emmel in analysing the text and recognising its connections to other work.

Recommended.  If you are interested in the work at all, get your copy now.  I have no doubt at all that this will become a book in short order.

6 thoughts on “Alin Suciu on the Berlin-Strasbourg Apocryphon / ‘Gospel of the Savior’

  1. That’s quite a strange comment, and rather insulting. May I ask why you come to my blog, merely to insult me?

    You don’t say why you supposed that I “run” to be “the first” to do anything. But why you feel the need to sneer at anybody so doing I can’t imagine. In what way does it profit anyone to be “first” to read a thesis? In what was is it morally wrong, if someone should do so?

    You sneer that I have only read the abstract. But you don’t explain just why you think — whoever you are — that I, a stranger, have some moral obligation to “read and study first its full extent”.

    Even so, you are mistaken. Had you read my post carefully you would have noted items in it which are not found in the abstract. I don’t know, but I can only imagine that you only read the abstract yourself.

    I suggest that you apologise to both Alin and myself.

  2. Thanks for this. On a tangent, could you possibly say a little more about the funding for the Egypt Exploration Fund a century or so ago. How did they go about raising money – was it largely through subscription, or were individual donors significant, or sales of books? I’m embarrassed to say I had never considered how funds were raised to allow Grenfell and Hunt to organize their expeditions.

  3. I can’t say that I know in detail. It was founded by Amelia Edwards, who no doubt persuaded influential people to donate and did so herself. The members all pay in a subscription, even now.

    But what I was referring to was rather different. As I understand it, after the first publication of the Oxyrhynchus sayings of Jesus, the story was picked up by a national newspaper (the Daily Mail? the Daily Telegraph?). The result was that funds poured in to send Grenfell and Hunt back out again to see if more bits of the same papyrus could be unearthed.

    All this at third hand of course. But it might be interesting to track down the newspaper reports etc. They might be online these days.

  4. Their first publication was of a single leaf, in 1897, “The sayings of our Lord from an early Greek papyrus”. It’s online here. They followed it up by “New sayings of Jesus and fragments of a lost gospel from Oxyrhynchus”, which is here.

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