The Acts of John and gnostic ritual dances

The apocryphal Acts of John is a curious text which is first attested in the Manichaean Psalm-book in the Chester Beatty collection.[1]

This papyrus manuscript was one of seven Coptic codices which were discovered somewhere in Egypt before 1929.  Naturally they were broken up by the Cairo dealers in order to obtain a higher price, and then sold after much haggling to two wealthy buyers.[2] “The codices include the Manichean psalmbook, a fragment of the Synaxeis, two versions of the Kephalaia, a collection of homilies, the Acts, and a volume of Mani’s letters.”  Part of the collection was bought by Chester Beatty and is in London; the remainder by Professor Carl Schmidt of Berlin.  The Berlin material was looted by the Soviets at the end of WW2, and the location of much of it is uncertain.  A facsimile has been printed of both parts of the Psalm-Book.  There is an edition with English translation of the second part of the Psalm-Book. The text probably belongs to the late 3rd century.[3]

The Manichaean literature in this collection originates from Syriac sources.  There is some evidence that the Acts of John may have been composed in that language, rather than in Greek.  The date of the work is unclear, but seems to be late 3rd century also.  There is a reference to John causing the collapse of the famous temple of Artemis at Ephesus, in which the temple is supposed to stand on high ground.  In fact it stands on the plain, so the author had no knowledge of the region.  Likewise the temple of Artemis was partly destroyed by the Goths in 269 AD, so again this suggests that time had gone by and that the author knew only that the temple had partly collapsed.  But none of this is very conclusive.

Most the Acts of John is story.  So much of it survives in Greek through quotation in later hagiographical material.  No complete manuscript is known, and the order of the bits is somewhat debateable. The Iconoclast council of 754 included it in a list of early works – including works by Eusebius – that condemned the use of images, and the 2nd Council of Nicaea in 787 casually condemned the lot of them for it.  As I wrote 12 years ago, it also condemned the Acts of John to be burned (full material from the council minutes is here).  The Stichometry of Nicephorus gives 2,500 lines for the length of the work, suggesting that only around 70% has survived.[4]

The material now numbered chapters 87-105 are preserved only in a single Greek manuscript, so I understand: Vindobonensis hist. gr. 63.  (A look at suggests that this is not online). The text here makes the gnostic origin of the text fairly clear, with its references to docetic ideas: at one point it states (c. 93):

And I often wished, as I walked with him, to see if his footprint appeared on the ground – for I saw him raising himself from the earth – and I never saw it.

But chapter 94 contains something still more interesting.

94. Before he was arrested by the lawless Jews, whose lawgiver is the lawless serpent, he assembled us all and said, “Before I am delivered to them, let us sing a hymn to the Father, and so go to meet what lies before (us).” So he told us to form a circle, holding one another’s hands, and him self stood in the middle and said, “Answer Amen to me.” So he began to sing a hymn and to say,

“Glory be to thee. Father.”
And we circled round him and answered him, “Amen.”
“Glory be to thee, Logos: Glory be to thee, Grace.” – “Amen.”
“Glory be to thee, Spirit: Glory be to thee. Holy One: Glory be to thy Glory.” – “Amen.”

Grace dances.
“I will pipe, Dance, all of you.” – “Amen.”
“I will mourn. Beat you all your breasts – “Amen”.
“(The) one Ogdoad sings praises with us.” – “Amen.”
“The twelfth number dances on high.” – “Amen.”

By the Logos I [.] made a jest of everything and was not made a jest at all.
I exulted: but do you understand the whole, and when you have understood it, say, Glory be to thee. Father.” – “Amen.”

97. After the Lord had so danced with us, my beloved, he went out. And we, like men amazed or fast asleep, fled one this way and another that. And so I saw him suffer, and did not wait by his suffering, but fled to the Mount of Olives …[5]

The gnostic reference is evident.  But what we seem to be looking at is some kind of liturgical circle dance, or round dance.  Apparently the “Gospel of the Savior” discovered a few years ago also contains some kind of hymn section, which might involve dance.

It’s not clear from this whether this indicates that the gnostics or manichaeans responsible for the text had such a dance as part of their liturgy.  There seems to be a certain amount of scholarly literature featuring such speculation.  Dance could certainly feature in ancient society as part of a ritual, and even in the Old Testament.  There is a Nubian text, the Dance of the Saviour, which was found at Qasr el-Whizz, or so I learn from here.  But there is no evidence either way on this question.

I also saw one non-scholarly source on twitter suggesting that this was evidence of gnostics dancing around an altar on which the communion elements were placed.  But I could find no other source for this claim, so it is probably just a confusion or imaginary!

The surviving portions of the Acts of John fall naturally into three sections, of which this is the middle.  Naturally there is speculation that the separate parts are of different origins.  Inevitably there are attempts to date as much of it as possible as early as possible!  But there seems no evidence that any of the material is known earlier than the Manichaean period.

  1. [1]Iranica: The two parts of the psalmbook (Codex A, Chester Beatty Library, 578 pp.) have been published, part I (172 folios) in a facsimile (Giversen, 1988a; 172 folios), part II (117 folios) first in an edition with English translation (Allberry; 117 folios) and then in facsimile (Giversen, 1988b).
  2. [2]Iranica Online: Coptic Manichaean Texts: “At least seven 4th-century Coptic Manichean papyrus codices said, probably erroneously, to have come from Madīnat Māżī (Gk. Narmoûthis, in the Egyptian Fayyūm) were divided into eight parts by three dealers…”
  3. [3]Edition with English translation: A Manichaean Psalm-Book, Part II, ed. C.R.C. Allberry (1938), p.192.33-193.1.  This I have not seen; the reference is note 11 (p.205) in Schneemelcher, NT Apocrypha 2.
  4. [4]M.G. Beard-Shouse, The Circle Dance of the Cross in the Acts of John: An Early Christian Ritual, diss. Kansas (2010), p.10.  Online here.
  5. [5]Wilhelm Schneemelcher (ed.), R. McL. Wilson (trans.), “New Testament Apocrypha, Vol. 2: Writings Relating to the Apostles Apocalypses and Related Subjects”, Westminster: John Knox Press (2003) ISBN: 0664227228, 9780664227227. The passage starts on page 182.  I have compressed the formatting because of the limitations of WordPress.

Apocryphal and then some: The so-called “Synopsis” of so-called Dorotheus of Tyre

A correspondent asks me about Dorotheus of Tyre, Synopsis.  This is a patristic work of which I had never heard.  A Google Books search shows that scholars refer to the work from the 16th to the 19th century, after which there is a sudden silence.

The Synopsis is a work that was first published in 1557 in a collection in Latin of the works of the Ecclesiastical Historians, edited by Joachim Camerarius, and printed at Froben in Basle.  Fortunately this edition is online.[1]  The start of the Dorotheus section reads as follows:

Quomodo Apostoli et Prophetae vixerint ac mortui sint, Synopsis Dorothei Episcopi Tyri, viri Spiritu Dei praediti et martyris, qui sub Diocletiano et Magno sancto Constantino claruit, et ad tempora usque Iuliani Apostatae duravit, sub quo et martyrium passus est.  Vuolfg. Musculo interprete, nunc primum in lucem aedita.

In what manner the apostles and prophets lived and died.  The summary of Dorotheus bishop of Tyre, a man called by the spirit of God and a martyr, who flourished under Diocletian and holy Constantine the Great, and remained until the times of Julian the Apostate, under whom he received martyrdom.  Translated by Wolfgang Musculus, now published for the first time.

The work is in four parts; a short introduction De ipsius Dorothei vita ac morte (On the life and death of Dorotheus himself); the lives and deaths of the prophets; the lives of the 12 apostles; and a list of the 70 disciples.

The translation of Musculus proved popular.  It was reprinted as part of an edition of the works of Salvian in 1560 (also online), although the anonymous editor thoughtfully left out the name of Musculus. He also rearranged it, to place the prophets first, and to add material of his own part way through the prophets.[2]  According to Lipsius, the Musculus was reprinted in 1570, again at Froben.[3] I have also come across Latin editions from 1564 and 1587.[4]  English writers generally refer to the work as the Synopsis, and some even call Dorotheus the “ecclesiastical historian”.  (Evidently they had the Froben edition to hand!)

But something was obviously wrong, and it did not take scholars long to see this.  Eusebius mentions Dorotheus of Tyre (HE VII c.32).  He tells us that Dorotheus was appointed by the emperor Diocletian as manager of the factory in Tyre that produced the famous imperial purple dye.  But he doesn’t call him a bishop, and he doesn’t mention any literary productions extant.  Since Tyre is close by, and the two are nearly contemporaries, this silence is worrying.

Attempts to locate the Greek text from which Musculus printed the work were also instructive.  Henry Dodwell was able to find a text in two of the Barroci manuscripts in the Bodleian library in Oxford.[5] (His 1715 biographer, Francis Brokesby, records that Dodwell was rather proud of unmasking the Dorotheus forgery)[6].  The Dorotheus text proved to be related to similar lists in the Chronicon Paschale.[7]

Furthermore, it was found that each part of the work was transmitted separately.  The Synopsis as such did not even exist.  What actually existed were three unconnected works:

  •  The Lives of the Prophets
  •  The Lives of the 12 Apostles
  •  The List of the 70 disciples

But this was not all.  Each of these works existed in a range of recensions.  For the Lives of the Prophets, at least six recensions are known.

Nor are these recensions attributed to Dorotheus.  Only one of them, recension “B” in the classification of Schermann (below), has the name of Dorotheus attached to it in the manuscripts.  Other names, such as Epiphanius and Hippolytus, are attached to other versions.  The same problem arises with the other two works.

As for the prologue on the life and death of Dorotheus, obviously not by Dorotheus himself, it appears to be very similar to a passage in the Chronographia of the 6th century historian Theophanes.  Mango felt that the prologue was the origin of the statement in Theophanes; but of course the opposite is possible.

Even worse, examination of some versions of the list of the disciples – especially the “Dorotheus” – reveals the interpolation of a certain “Stachys” as coming from Byzantium, and this is used by medieval orthodox writers to bolster the claims of Constantinople.  The need for an apostolic connection to the see of Constantinople only arises in the 8-9th century, when the schism with Rome begins.  The appearance of Stachys indicates that this recension is the product of deliberate editing of a pre-existing tradition, for political reasons.

In conclusion, the Synopsis is not a single work at all; and it is certainly not by Dorotheus of Tyre.  So there is no reason to refer to either.  It would be interesting to know whether the arrangement in the Musculus edition was the work of Musculus himself, to sell a few more copies of his book; or whether a manuscript existed collecting them all together.

Not all of this was apparent at first, but the work ceases to be referred to in the mid-19th century.  A good summary of the reasons for this is found in 1838 in the widely-read works of Nathaniel Lardner.[8] However even today there are popular writers who repeat older writers without verifying who this Dorotheus might be.

Let me end with a few notes on this literature.

The whole question of the nature of these texts was examined in 1907 in two volumes by Theodor Schermann, who went back to the Greek:

  •  Theodor Schermann, “Propheten- und Apostellegenden nebst Jüngerkatalogen des Dorotheus und verwandter Texte”, (“Legends of the Prophets and Apostles and catalogues of the disciples of Dorotheus and related texts”) in Texte und Untersuchungen 31, Heft 3, Hinrichs, 1907.  Online at here.
  •  Theodor Schermann, Prophetarum vitae fabulosae, Indices Apostolorum Discipulorumque, Domini Dorotheo, Epiphanio, Hippolyto aliisque vindicata, (The legendary lives of the Prophets, Lists of the Apostles and Disciples, attributed to Dorotheus, Epiphanius, Hippolyus and others) Leipzig: Teubner, 1907.  Online at here.

Schermann edited the texts from the Greek, and established a list of recensions for each, and the author to whom they are attributed.  For the Lives of the Prophets, the Dorotheus text is recension B.

The Lives of the Prophets

This Old Testament apocryphon has been the object of quite a lot of research.  Most of us have limited German, so many will be glad to learn of a book by David Satran, in English, in 1995, with a Google Books preview online.[9]  Satran feels that the work in its present form cannot be of pre-Christian Jewish origin, as some have held, but must reflect the 4th century AD.

In Emil Schürer, The history of the Jewish people in the age of Jesus Christ: (175 B.C. – A.D. 135), vol. III.3, A&C Black, 1973, p.785, (revised by Geza Vermes and others) we find the following useful summary of the recensions:

The Lives have survived in five Greek recensions, designated A-E in Schermann’s edition. Recension A, preserved in medieval manuscripts and dating to the sixth century A.D., has been transmitted as a work of Epiphanius. Recension B, from the third or fourth century according to Schermann, has circulated under the name of Dorotheus of Tyre or Antioch, a martyr under Diocletian. The sixth century recension C, also attributed to Epiphanius, is shorter and older than B, and derives from D. The latter is conserved in the sixth century Codex Marchalianus (Vat. Graec. 2125). It is the oldest recension (probably from the third century), free of the many interpolations detectable in the other versions. Equally from the sixth century comes Recension E, called after Hesychius of Jerusalem, and attested again in medieval codices. For a full description, see Schermann, Prophetarum vitae fabulosae (1907), pp. xiii-xxxi; cf. also Denis, IPGAT, pp. 85-7. Denis (ibid., pp. 87-8) further mentions a sixth recension contained in Christian hagiography (synaxaria and menologia).

The Vitae prophetarum are represented also in various forms in Syriac, mostly dependent on Recension D and normally attributed to Epiphanius. There are, moreover, Armenian, Ethiopic and Arab versions.

The “IPGAT” is A. M. Denis, Introduction aux Pseudepigraphes Grecs d’Ancien Testament, Brill, 1970, which does contain a useful overview.

The Lives of the Prophets has benefited by an edition with English translation by C.C.Torrey (1946, online here).  The translation is online in HTML here.

See also Ky-Chun So,Jesus in Q: The Sabbath and Theology of the Bible and Extracanonical Texts, 2017, p.183, for a useful summary of opinion.

The Lives of the Apostles

This text, and the list of the 70 disciples, appear to be circulating in some form already in the 6th century AD.[10]  Peterson gives the following statement about this work, in the context of the legends of Andrew:

A worthy successor to Pseudo-Epiphanios is the famous forgery known as Pseudo-Dorotheos or Pseudo-Procopios. Altho full of the most amazing anachronisms, it is still quoted extensively by Greek Orthodox scholars as the main proof that Andrew ordained the first bishop of Constantinople. Its literary influence is such that all later texts bear its influence, whether in Greek or in Syriac, while a modern scholar lists it among the pseudepigraphs of the New Testament. The alleged author is Dorotheos of Tyre, who is said by the forger to have died about 361; the translator claims to have done his work in 525; the absence of any reference to the villain of the story (one Zeuxippos) until after Nicephoros Callistos, shows that the composition is from the first half of the ninth century, at the earliest. Photios (see below) had no mention at all, either of Pseudo-Epiphanios or of Pseudo-Dorotheos; so perhaps the dating is later. The Photian controversy, however, seems the likely period to have inspired such a document.[11] The most original part of the document is here given.

“For Andrew, having crossed the Pontus, came to preach Christ to the Byzantines. At that time, a blood-thirsty man, Zeuxippos, was ruler. He used to ask foreigners, upon their arrival in Byzantium, about the Christ, before he would permit them to enter the city. If anyone confessed Christ, (Zeuxippos) ordered him bound hand and foot with chains and to be sunk into the sea. Hearing this and sailing around Byzantium, Andrew settled in that part of Thrace nearest Byzantium, at one stadion’s distance, in Argyropolis for a period of two years, during which he established a congregation of truth-loving and law-abiding men. As soon as he had some two thousand in the congregation, he erected an altar to Chrst, and ordained Stachys as bishop.”[12]

Pseudo-Epiphanios is also quoted word for word, but no credit is given to any author other than Dorotheos, bishop of Tyre.[13]

There is an article by Cyril Mango, “Constantinople’s Mount of Olives and Pseudo-Dorotheus of Tyre”, Nea Rhome 6 (2009), p.157-70 (online here).  Also the work is discussed in Francis Dvornik, The idea of apostolicity in Byzantium and the legend of the apostle Andrew, Harvard, 1958 (online here).  P.M.Peterson also wrote “The genealogy of the Andrew legends”, in his Andrew, brother of Simon Peter: His history and legends (Brill, 1958) which apparently discusses the subject further.  But the Andrew legends are a subject beyond the scope of this post.[14]

One of the few modern references to Dorotheus is in Sean McDowell, The Fate of the Apostles, Routledge, 2016, p.248, where we find a snippet in translation: “Simon Zelotes traversed all Mauritania, and the regions of the Africans, preaching Christ. He was at last crucified, slain, and buried in Britain”.  But the quote is from a 1861 book.[15]

The Lives of the 70 Disciples

I found an English translation of some version of the text here.  Musculus states that Dorotheus died a martyr at the age of 107; this version curiously suggests 170!  But the online translation is not of the same recension of the text.

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I hope these notes will be useful to someone!

  1. [1]Joachim Camerarius, Ecclesiasticae historiae authores Eusebii … historiae ecclesiasticae lib. X Vuolfgango Musculo interprete. Ruffini … lib. II. Eusebij … De uita Constantini lib. V. Socratis Scholastici … lib. VII. Theodoriti … Ioachimo Camerario interprete lib. V ; Hermij Sozomeni … Musculo interprete lib. IX. Theodori Lectoris … lib. II. Euagrij Scholastici … lib. VI. …  , Froben: Basiliae, 1557. Online at the Bavarian State Library here.  Dorotheus starts on p.806.
  2. [2]The 1560 Latin edition of Sulpitius Severus (Guillard: Paris, 1560, online here) contains Dorotheus as an appendix on fol.120, under the title De vita prophetarum et apostolorum synopsis: “Sulpitii Severi, … Sacrae historiae a mundi exordio ad sua usque tempora deductae libri duo. Item Dorothei, episcopi Tyri … de Vita prophetarum et apostolorum synopsis. Quibus accessit rerum et verborum index copiosus”, Parisiis : Apud G. Guillard et A. Warencore, 1560.  No editor is listed, but there is a dedicatory epistle by a certain “Jacobus Faber”, plus a “Life” of Sulpicius Severus from Gennadius.  I found online evidence of a reprint at “Köln, apud Johann III Gymnich, 1573”.
  3. [3]Lipsius, Die apokryphen Apostelgeschichten und Apostellegenden ein Beitrag zur altchristlichen Literaturgeschichte, vol.1, 1883, p.194.  Online at here.
  4. [4]Salviani, episcopi Massiliensis, De vero judicio et providentia Dei libri VIII. Maximi Taurinensis homiliae. Paciani Barcilonensis de penitentia, & confessione. Sulpicii Severi sacrae historiae libri duo. Dorothei Tyrii de prophetis, & discipulis Domini. Haymonis Halberstattensis Sacrae historiae epitome. Adjunctis in tres posteriores Petri Galesinii notationibus… / Romae : apud Paulum Manutium Aldi f. in aedibus populi romani , 1564.  Eusebii Pamphili, Ruffini, Socratis, Theodoriti, Sozomeni, Theodori, Evagrii, et Dorothei Ecclesiastica historia, sex propè seculorum res gestas complectens : latinè jam olim à doctissimis viris partim scripta, partim è graeco à clarissimis viris, Vuolfgango Musculo, Joachimo Camerario & Johanne Christophersono Britanno, eleganter conversa : et nunc ex fide Graecorum codicum, sic ut novum opus videri possit, per Joan. Jacobum Grynaeum locis obscuris innumeris illustrata, dubiis explicata, mutilis restituta : chronographia insuper Abrahami Bucholceri, ad annum epochae christianae sexcentesimum : & lectionis sacrae historiae luculenta methodo exornata. Unà cum indice rerum & verborum locupletiss. / Cum gratia & privilegio Caesareae Majestatis. Basileae : ex officina Eusebii Episcopii, & Nic. fratris haeredum. M. D. LXXXVII. , 1587
  5. [5]Barroci 142, no. 23; and Barroci 206, no.5.  His handwritten transcription is preserved as Ms. St Edmund Hall 19, folios 23r-29r.    This from Jean-Louis Quantin, “Anglican scholarship gone mad? Henry Dodwell (1641-1711) and Christian Antiquity”, in: Christopher Ligota, Jean-Louis Quantin (eds), History of Scholarship: A Selection of Papers from the Seminar on the History of Scholarship Held Annually at the Warburg Institute, OUP, 2006, p.327-8. Preview here. “Dodwell also discovered and transcribed from two Baroccian manuscripts the original of Pseudo-Dorotheus of Tyre’s Synopsis of the life of the seventy disciples. The text, purporting to derive from the fourth-century bishop and martyr Dorotheus, had been known previously only in a Latin translation. The Greek text discovered by Dodwell possessed a lengthy postscript which provided the key to its origin: it was a forgery intended to enhance the apostolicity of the see of Constantinople. It was also the earliest occurrence of the legendary Byzantine catalogues of the bishops of Constantinople, from Andrew onwards.123 Dodwell gave his transcription to William Cave, who published it, with a commentary, in his Historia literaria of 1688.124 The complete text was simultaneously published in Paris by Du Cange from a manuscript in the library of the King of France. Du Cange yet again propounded conclusions very close to those of his Anglican counterparts.125″.  The Cave reference is William Cave, Scriptorum ecclesiasticorum Historia literaria, London, 1688, 114-25.
  6. [6]F. Brokesby, The Life of Mr. Henry Dodwell, London, 1715, p.516: “Dr. Cave takes a particular notice of Mr. Dodwell, as one of the persons he was obliged to… To name no more, he furnished him with a Greek fragment out of two Baroccian MSS. by himself, which plainly detected the fraud of that person who obtruded on the world that Synopsis that appeared under the name of Dorotheus, forged in the time when the dispute for precedency was managed betwixt the Bishops of Rome and Constantinople;  that as the former pretended S. Peter as their first bishop, so the latter, the rivals of the former, might derive themselves from his brother S. Andrew, from whom this Pseudo-Dorotheus derived a succession of bishops at Byzantium. This is in Histor. Liter., p. 114, 115, &c. The Contrivance of which Forgery, I have heard Mr. Dodwell recount, and which he and I have read together with some Pleasure.”
  7. [7]See here.
  8. [8]See Vol. 3, chapter 55, p.159 f.
  9. [9]David Satran, Biblical Prophets in Byzantine Palestine: Reassessing the Lives of the Prophets, Brill (1995). Preview here.
  10. [10]Peter Megill Peterson, Andrew, Brother of Simon Peter: His History and His Legends, Brill, 1958, p.17: “For this section, I am relying greatly upon Schermann’s publication of the texts and partly upon his commentary. But to his collection of pseudonymous and anonymous texts, I add a few texts from known and datable Byzantine fathers. Probably the oldest of the later lists of the Apostles and Disciples of the Lord is the Syriac text found in Codex Sinaiticus Syrus 10, whose handwriting is of the ninth century but whose origin is probably directly from a sixth century source. It reads concerning Andrew and Stachys simply: “Andrew, Simon’s brother, died in the city Patrae.” After the Twelve is found a list of “The Names of the Seventy Apostles, Composed by Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon,” and some “Six More were with Peter of Caesarea”, which includes as sixty-first: “Stachys.”

    Probably also from the sixth century is a Greek translation of a Syriac text similar to the above, but by someone cognizant of the Acts of Andrew, which gives the simple statement: “Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, having preached in Greece, at Patrae was killed by Aegeates.””

  11. [11]Schermann, Vitae, p.xli-xlv; Propheten p.182-7. (This and the next two references are copied from Peterson.)
  12. [12]Schermann, Vitae, p.146 f.
  13. [13]Ibid. p.153-7, cf. p.108 f.  Cf. Lipsius, Ap. I, in many places.
  14. [14]See also this web page, by Milton V. Anastos, “Constantinople and Rome”, taken from M. Anastos, Aspects of the Mind of Byzantium (Political Theory, Theology, and Ecclesiastical Relations with the See of Rome), Ashgate Publications, Variorum Collected Studies Series, 2001, for a summary.  See also F.L.R. Lanzillota’s 1969 thesis The apocryphal acts of Andrew, (online here) which repeats the idea of the 9th century origin for ps.Dorotheus.
  15. [15]Note 14 reads: This quote is from Doretheus, Synopsis de Apostol, as found in Richard Williams Morgan, St. Paul in Britain; Or, The Origin of British As Opposed to Papal Christianity (Oxford: J.H. and Jas. Parker, 1861), 151.

Coptic text of the Acta Pilati – translated into English by Anthony Alcock

Anthony Alcock continues his splendid series of translations from Coptic with a translation of the Coptic version of the Acta Pilati, from a papyrus manuscript in Turin published in the Patrologia Orientalis 9.  This forms part of the text known as the Gospel of Nicodemus.

Here it is:

Our thanks to Dr Alcock for making this available!  More please!

The apocryphal Pilate literature is a tangled mass of materials in Greek, Latin and other languages, which ought to be sorted out one day.


English translation of Coptic apocrypha, “The Investiture of the Archangel Michael” – by Anthony Alcock

Anthony Alcock has translated another Coptic apocryphon for us – the Investiture of Michael the Archangel.  It purports to be written by John the Evangelist, and narrates non-canonical discussion between Jesus and his disciples.    The complete text is preserved in a 9th century Sahidic codex, and fragments from a White Monastery parchment manuscript of the 9-12th century.[1]

The translation is here:

Thank you so much, Dr A.

  1. [1]These notes via here, H. Lundhaug &c, The monastic origins of the Nag Hammadi codices, 2015, p.156-7.

Coptic Acts of Andrew and Paul now online in English

Anthony Alcock has continued his programme of translations with the first English translation of two Coptic fragments from a Vatican manuscript, which have been given the title of the Acts of Andrew and Paul.  The two were printed, with French translation, by X. Jacques, “Les deux fragments conservés des ‘Actes d’André et Paul'”, in Orientalia 38 (1969), p.187-213.

Here is the translation:

In addition I have OCR’d the French introductory material, which is here:

What do we know about this material?  I thought that I would translate some of the introduction into English for those who do not read it.  I’ve included a few (but by no means all) of the bibliographic footnotes.

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The two fragments preserved of the ‘Acts of Andrew and Paul’ (Ms. Vatican Borgia Coptic 109, fascicle. 132)

Fascicle 132 of the manuscript Borg. Copt. 109, in the Vatican, consists of 11 folios.  Zoega, who made them known in 1811, gave them the pagination 115-126, 131-136, 139-142, and labelled them “Fragmenta duo de rebus SS. Andreae et Pauli; duo pariter de rebus S. Bartholomaei” (Two fragments about the doings of St Andrew and St Paul; likewise two about the doings of St. Bartholomew).  He then summarised the first two fragments (115-126, 131-136) and edited the first one (115-126). [1]

In 1835, Dulaurier translated a part of the first fragment into French (end of 117 to start of 123), using Zoega’s text.  He changed Zoega’s vague title, given, he felt, with little thought, into “the Acts of St. Andrew and St Paul.”[2]

Under this title, the text entered the general works devoted to the apocrypha.  Tischendorf transcribed the Latin summary of Zoega and added part of Dulaurier’s translation in a footnote.  Migne published large extracts of the same translation in his Dictionnaire des légendes du christianisme (Dictionary of Christian Legends) in the articles Judas Iscariot and Paul, and mentioned it in his Dictionnaire des Apo­cryphes.[3]  Lipsius mentioned it, in the context of the Acts of Andrew, translated freely the summary of Zoega, and added some reflections on the nature and origin of the text.[4]

In 1887 Guidi edited the second of these “frammenti relativi alla leggenda di s. Paolo e s. Andrea” (131-133 col. 1), and in the following year supplied an Italian translation.  Lipsius signalled it, in his complementary volume, and Schmidt reproduced this information in Harnack’s history of Christian literature.  Hennecke, on the other hand, in the first two editions of his work, made no mention of these fragments.

However, in 1894, Steindorff inserted the fragment published by Zoega in the selection of readings accompanying his grammar, and did the same with some extracts in his abridged grammar.  Guidi followed his example in publishing an extract of the same fragment in his Eléments.  M.R. James summarised the two fragments without translating them.[5]

The first English translation – but only of Steindorff’s extracts, minus the last lines of the second fragment – was offered by Hallock to the readers of the Journal of the Society of Oriental Research, in 1929[6] (J. Worrell, in 1945, citing the apology of Judas as an example of Coptic literature of the 4-5th century, gave a new translation of this fragment, based on Zoega’s Coptic text).[7]

Finally in 1964 Schneemelcher, in redoing the work of Hennecke, introduced a short notice on these two fragments.[8]  Erbetta translated the summary by James.

But the authors of general works were not the only ones interested in these fragments.  By 1890 von Lemm connected three passages of the fragment published by Zoega with other apocrypha, and he gave a German translation of them.  In 1911 Flamion attempted to situate the “Acts of Paul and Andrew” somewhere in his study of the Acts of Andrew.  Haase, with a broader perspective, reproduced the summary of Zoega among the sources of his enquiry, summarised himself the summary of Lipsius in the paragraph devoted to Andrew.  At this point he said nothing of the long narrative about Judas, nor, even more oddly, in the paragraph which he devoted to that apostle.

In the volume of magical texts published by Lexa, three passages of Zoega’s fragment are translated into French.[9]  The author relates to them some other passages in his collection.  …

In a note, published in 1947, Morenz suggests, on very fragile grounds, to see in the person of Andrew, as it appears in these fragments, a new Serapis.[10]  In 1955 an article by J. Zandee, devoted to the descent into Hell among the Copts, was the occasion for him to translate for his readers the extracts published by Steindorff…  In 1957 Godron proposed to place the bird labelled in our text among the Ardeidae.

Peterson, studying the history and legends concerning Andrew, summarised the two fragments.  They are often referred to in the work of Zandee, written in Dutch but published in English in 1960, on  ancient Egyptian ideas about death.[11]  …

    *    *    *    *

Jacques also states that Zoega’s text departs from the manuscript in 16 places, sometimes affecting the meaning.  But curiously he does not indicate the age of the manuscript, nor of the text.

Schneemelcher (vol. 2, p.450), adds the following:

It was only the contribution of X. Jacques, ‘Les deux fragments conserves des Actes d’Andre et de Paul’ (Orientalia N.S. 38, 1969, 187-213), with a complete and critical edition of the original text and a translation, also in French (reprinted a year later in Recherches de Science Religieuse 58,1970,289-296), bibliography and commentary, that finally replaced the earlier partial editions and translations.

Particular interest was aroused among scholars by the passage in which it is narrated that ‘Andrew with a beaker of sweet water put asunder the salt sea-water and so made it possible for Paul to ascend again from Hell.’ This motif has been associated inter alia with ancient Egyptian magical texts: so for example F. Lexa, La magie dans l’Egypte antique I, Paris 1925, 150-151 and A.M. Kropp, Ausgewahlte koptische Zaubertexte III, Brussels 1930, 61-62. S. Morenz (ThLZ 79, 1947, cols. 295-297) considers such explanations questionable, and suggests comparing the miracle of the dividing of the waters accomplished by Andrew with an act ascribed by Aelius Aristides to the hellenistic-Egyptian god Sarapis, according to which ‘in the midst of the sea he called forth drinkable water’. On this view we should here have before us a syncretistic text in which – in Morenz’ words – the apostle Andrew would appear as νέος Σάραπις. That this conclusion is not valid is already clear from the fact that the alleged parallelism between the two motifs is at least just as imperfect as others which might be drawn from the Egyptian magical texts previously mentioned, or even from biblical sources (e.g. Exod. 15:22ff., the bitter water at Mara). There appears to be a clearer analogy with an episode in the Prochorus Acts (= Zahn 5421569), which speaks of a transformation of sea-water into drinking-water. The motif of the dividing of the waters seems however to be deeply rooted in Egypt, and could – with the inclusion of other circumstances in the tradition – be taken as a sign that our present document originated in Egypt. For other indications in this direction, see Jacques, art. cit. passim.

A striking feature of these ‘Acts’ is the hybrid character of their contents: this is chiefly a matter of an alleged episode of the Acts of Andrew (i.e. the raising-up of a child through the apostle’s intercession, as in the Acta Andreae et Philemonis; see below, 5.5) into which the apocalyptic interlude of Paul’s journey to Hell is interwoven (with great reliance on the known Apocalypse of Paul [BHGII,1460] and the Gospel of Bartholomew [BHG 1,228]). This is without doubt an indication of a late time of origin. For adetailed analysis of the contents cf. Lipsius (Die apokr. Apostelgeschichten 1,616-617; Erganzungsheft 96), James, 472-475 and Moraldi II, 1616-1617.

Which gives us something, if not the data we want.

All the same, the material is now in English!

  1. [1]G. Zoega, Catalogus codicum copticorum manu scriptorum qui in Museo Borgiano Velitris adservantur (Romae 1810) 230-235.
  2. [2]É. Dulaurier, Fragment des Révélations apocryphes de saint Barthé­lemy et de l’Histoire des communautés religieuses fondées par saint Pakhome (Paris 1835) 30-35. The title of this work relates to two unpublished fragments of which the author gives the text and translation.  He added to these the three very short texts already published by Zoega, from cod. Borgia CII, CXXI et CXXXII. Of this last, which is of interest to us, he only published a fragment: 50-144 (these numbers, like those which follow, refer to the lines of our edition).
  3. [3]J. de Douhet, Dictionnaire des légendes du christianisme (Troisième et dernière encyclopédie théologique 14; Petit-Montrouge 1855) col. 720- 722 et 1040-1042. — Migne, Dictionnaire des Apocryphes. I (Paris 1856) col. 1102.
  4. [4]R. A. Lipsius, Die Apokryphen Apostelgeschichten und Apostel­legenden. I (Braunschweig 1883) 616-617.
  5. [5]M. R. James, The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford 1924, reprinted 1926, 1945, 1950) 472-475.
  6. [6]P. H. Hallock, “An Apocalypse of SS. Andrew and Paul”, JSOR 13 (1929) 190-194. He suppressed 144-146.
  7. [7]W. H. Worrell, A Short Account of the Copts (Ann Arbor 1945) 21-22 et 53. Fragment translated: 72-129.
  8. [8]E. Hennecke-W. Schneemelcher, Neutestamentliche Apokryphen in deutscher Übersetzung3. II (Tübingen 1964) 403. English Trans. (London 1965) 576.
  9. [9]P. Lexa, La magie dans l’Egypte antique, de l’Ancien Empire jusqu’à l’époque copte. II (Paris 1925) 223-225. Passages translated: 50-64; 152-171; 179-205.
  10. [10]S. Morenz, “Der Apostel Andréas als νέος Σάραπις”, TLZ 72 (1947) col. 295-297.
  11. [11]J. Zandee, Death as an Enemy, according to Ancient Egyptian Conceptions (Studies in the History of Religions, Supplements to Numen 5; Leiden 1960).

Migne, Dictionnaire des apocryphes – online

Here’s something that I didn’t know.  Apparently there is a bunch of French translations of the apocrypha, published by J.-P. Migne.  They were printed under the title Dictionnaire des apocryphes: ou, Collection de tous les livres apocryphes relatifs à l’Ancien et au Nouveau Testament, in two volumes, vol. 1 (1855) and vol. 2 (1858).  They may be found on Google Books here and here.

“Yes, so what?” I hear you cry, stifling a yawn on this hot afternoon.

Well, it seems that they sometimes contain translations of stuff not found in Schneemelcher’s massive collection of English translations!  And, if you can manage a little French, that can be helpful.  Of course they are very elderly now, but so what?  They’re free.

I learned this while looking for material about the Martyrium beati Petri Apostoli attributed to ps.-Linus in J. K. Elliot’s Apocryphal New Testament.  The latter is not nearly so extensive as Schneemelcher, but has other virtues, one of which is its bibliographies.  The relevant section is on p.427, and lists translations of the work.  The French translation is said to be in Migne, vol. 2, cols. 459-70; and so it is, right here!

Likewise on p.388 of Elliot I learn that the corresponding Martyrium beati Pauli Apostoli by pseudo-Linus is in Migne, ii, cols. 665-74.  And so it is, here.

I’m not sure what else may be in these two thick volumes, but clearly they deserve investigation.