Alin Suciu on the Berlin-Strasbourg Apocryphon or “Gospel of the Savior”

It’s taken four years, but Alin Suciu’s magnificent thesis on the so-called “Gospel of the Savior” has now appeared in book form from Mohr Siebeck, although at a huge price.  The abstract is as follows:

The Berlin-Strasbourg Apocryphon – A Coptic Apostolic Memoir

The present volume offers a new edition, English translation, and interpretation of the Berlin-Strasbourg Apocryphon , previously known as the Gospel of the Savior . An apocryphal story about Jesus probably transpiring shortly before the Crucifixion, the Berlin-Strasbourg Apocryphon claims to recount the narrative as told by the apostles themselves. The text also includes a long hymn sung by Christ to the cross on which he will soon be crucified.

The Berlin Strasbourg-Apocryphon is exclusively preserved in Coptic by two fragmentary manuscripts, Papyrus Berolinensis 22220 and Strasbourg Copte 5-7. Additionally, a Coptic manuscript discovered at Qasr el-Wizz in Christian Nubia contains a short version of the Hymn of the Cross.

Until now, it has been almost unanimously accepted that the Berlin Strasbourg-Apocryphon is an ancient Christian gospel – probably datable to the second century CE – which was bypassed in the formation of the Christian canon. Approaching the text from the angle of Coptic literature, Alin Suciu rejects this early dating, showing instead that its composition must be located following the Council of Chalcedon (451 CE), whose theological deliberations gradually alienated Egypt from the Byzantine world. The author argues that the Berlin-Strasbourg Apocryphon is one of numerous ‘apostolic memoirs,’ a peculiar genre of Coptic literature, which consists of writings allegedly written by the apostles, often embedded in sermons attributed to famous church fathers.

The PDF is the same as the printed book, which is cheeky.

Interesting to see a Coptologist’s perspective.  We all know that there are masses of apocrypha in Coptic, running into the medieval period.

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.