Review: The Apocryphal Gospels – Texts and Translations (Ehrman and Pleše)

Title: The Apocryphal Gospels: Texts and Translations

Authors: Bart Ehrman and Zlatko Pleše

Bibliographical Info: XII + 611

Cover: Hard (with dust jacket)

Publisher: Oxford University Press, 2011

Purchase it at Amazon or OUP

With thanks to OUP for the gratuitous review copy.

While it is not too hard to find an English translation of many of the many apocryphal New Testament writings, it is noticeably harder (and can be quite expensive) to acquire the texts in their original language. The authors, Bart Ehrman and Zlatko Pleše (who are colleagues at the University of North Carolina), have filled this gaping hole by providing easy (and quite affordable) access to the original language texts of the many apocryphal Gospels that have been discovered.

In regards to content, this volume contains the texts and translations of approximately forty apocryphal Gospels, some of which are a Gospel in its entirety, while others are just the fragments that have survived. They are all in either Greek, Latin, or Coptic, though the texts of the Nag Hammadi library are not included (due to the fact that they are readily available elsewhere), although the authors did decide to include the Gospel of Thomas. One notable Gospel that was not included was the Coptic Gospel of the Savior, though the authors did explain this omission as being due to the lack of a reliable critical edition. The Gospels are grouped into four sections: (1) Infancy Gospels, (2) Ministry Gospels, (3) Sayings Gospels and Agrapha, and (4) Passion, Resurrection, and Post-Resurrection Gospels.

Each Gospel contains an introduction which provides a summary of the usual factors (e.g. date, provenance, etc), as well as any other pertinent issues for the Gospel in question (e.g. its theology, reception history, extant manuscripts, etc). Each introduction ends with a bibliography, and this is where my main quibble with this volume arises. Considering this volume was aimed at graduate students and scholars, I was kind of surprised at how small the bibliographies for each Gospel are. They typically run at about one-third of a page long, but I was expecting a full page of bibliography for the reader desiring further resources on the specific Gospel in question.

The Gospels are presented in the original language–facing page English translation (i.e. the original language text is found on every even-numbered page, and the English translation is on every odd-numbered page). The footnotes to the English text are relatively sparse and most just provide cross-references to New Testament writings. The footnotes to the original language are on text-critical issues and are, unfortunately, even more sparse.

I won’t provide a review of every Gospel text and translation presented in this volume, but I will give a brief couple notes on the Gospel of Judas. There is disputation over exactly how the figure of Judas is portrayed in this Gospel. On the one hand you have scholars who argue that Judas is depicted as an evil demon (e.g. April De Conick), yet on the other hand there are those who believe that Judas is depicted as a hero who carries out the will of Jesus (the popular view). Ehrman adheres to this latter interpretation, which shows through in the translation, but there are notes included which notify the reader of the controversy regarding some of the readings. The bibliography to the Gospel of Judas runs at about a half-page, which I was kind of surprised and thought the bibliography could have been fleshed out more fully.

One proviso which I think needs to kept in mind about this volume is that it shouldn’t be considered an “authoritative” version of the original language of the Gospels contained therein. In other words, the text of each Gospels original language is not a critical edition (at least, not in the same sense as the Nestle-Aland edition is for the Greek New Testament). Other more specific studies will need to be drawn upon in conjunction with this volume if that is what the reader is looking for. Nevertheless, this volume is a great contribution that provides the original language texts, along with reliable translations, all in an inexpensive single-volume book (and it is also available in an even more affordable e-book version for the Kindle).

All in all, I consider this book to be one of those invaluable reference works that any student of early Christianity should have in their own personal library.

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