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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol VIII:
Apocrypha of the New Testament.: Part II

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Part II.—The Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles.

This portion of the volume, extending from page 477 to page 564, 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 Græcia mendax

Audet in historia.

We have less of miracle, more of elaborate discourse.  The Apocryphal Gospels were 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 gather round the names of popular heroes even in modern times.

p. 355 It is not to be wondered at, then, that round the names of Christ and His apostles, who had brought about social changes greater than those effected 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 also 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. 1553

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

I.  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 situation of the island Melita, upon which St. Paul was shipwrecked.  For his edition Tischendorf collated six mss., the oldest of the end of the ninth century.

Some portions at least of the book are of an early date.  The Domine quo vadis story, p. 485, is referred to by Origen, and others after him.  A book called the Acts of Peter is condemned in the decree of Pope Gelasius.

II.  Acts of Paul and Thecla.—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 secondary place in it), and in support of the heretical opinion that women may teach and baptize.  It is expressly mentioned and quoted by a long line of Latin and Greek Fathers.  The quotations are inserted in Tischendorf’s Prolegomena, p. xxiv.

The text was first edited in 1698 by Grabe from a Bodleian ms., republished by Jones in 1726.  A blank in the Bodleian ms. was supplied in 1715 by Thomas Hearne from another Oxford ms.  Tischendorf’s text is from a recension of three Paris mss., each of the eleventh century.

III.  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.

Papebroche first edited the book in the Acta Sanctorum  in 1698, with a Latin translation.  The Vatican ms. which he used was an imperfect one.  Tischendorf’s text is from a Parisian ms. of the end of the ninth century.

IV.  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 ancient documents.  The writings of the Hagiographers also, both Greek and Latin, contain epitomes of Philip’s life.

The Greek text, now first published, is a recension of two mss.,—a Parisian one of the eleventh century, and a Venetian one.  The latter is noticeable, from being superscribed From the Fifteenth Act to the end, leaving us to infer that we have only a portion of the book.

V.  Acts of Philip in Hellas.—This also is published for the first time by Tischendorf.  It is obviously a later document than the preceding, though composed in the same style.  It is from a Parisian ms. of the eleventh century.

p. 356 VI.  Acts of Andrew.—In the decree of Pope Gelasius (d. 496), a book under this name is condemned as apocryphal.  Epiphanius (d. 403) states that the Acts of Andrew were in favour with the Encratites, the Apostolics, and the Origenians; Augustine (d. 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 Manichæans.  The authorship generally is attributed to Leucius by early writers; Innocentius I. (d. 417), however, says that the Acts of Andrew were composed by the philosophers Nexocharis and Leonidas.  This book is much the same in substance with the celebrated Presbyterorum et Diaconorum Achaiæ de martyrio S. Andreæ apostoli epistola encyclica, first edited in Greek by Woog in 1749, and by him considered to be a genuine writing of the apostolic age, composed about a.d. 80.  Thilo, while dissenting from this opinion of Woog’s, concludes that it is a fragment from the Acts of Leucius, expurgated of most of its heresy, and put into its present shape by an orthodox writer.  Cardinals Baronius and Bellarmine assign the epistle to the apostolic age; Fabricius thinks it much later.

The probability is that the book was written by Leucius, following earlier 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.

The text is edited chiefly from two mss.,—the one of the eleventh, the other of the fourteenth century.

The Greek of the original is good of the kind, and exhibits considerable rhetorical skill.

VII.  Acts of Andrew and Matthias.—Thilo assigns the authorship of these Acts also to Leucius, and the use of them to the Gnostics, Manichæans, and other heretics.  Pseudo-Abdias seems to have derived his account of Andrew and Matthias from the same source.  Epiphanius the monk, who wrote in the tenth century, gives extracts from the history.  There is, besides, an old English—commonly 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 hesitate between the two.  Tischendorf edits Matthias, on the authority of his oldest ms.  There is also some discrepancy as to the name of the town.  Some mss. say Sinope, others Myrmene or Myrna:  they generally, however, coincide in calling it a town of Æthiopia.

Thilo, and Tischendorf after him, made use chiefly of three mss., only one of which, of the fifteenth century, contains the whole book.  The oldest is an uncial ms. of about the eighth century.

The Acts of Peter and Andrew, from the Bodleian ms., are inserted as an appendix to the Acts of Andrew and Matthias.

VIII.  Acts of Matthew.—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.

Tischendorf gives, in his Prolegomena, a long extract from Nicephorus, which shows that he was acquainted with this book, or something very like it.

The text is edited from two mss.,—a Parisian of the eleventh century, and a Viennese of a later date.

p. 357 IX.  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 centuries.  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 book, rejecting the more heretical portions, and adapting it generally to orthodox use.  Photius attributes the authorship of this document, as of many other apocryphal Acts, to Leucius Charinus.

The Greek text was first edited, with copious notes and prolegomena, by Thilo in 1823.  The text from which the present translation is made is a recension of five mss., the oldest of the tenth century.

X.  Consummation 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 translation or compilation has not yet been discovered.

The text, edited by Tischendorf for the first time, is from a ms. of the eleventh century.

XI.  Martyrdom of Bartholomew.—This 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 both it and Abdias are derived from the same source.  Tischendorf seems inclined to lay some weight 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 materials from this source.

The Greek text is edited from a Venetian ms. of the thirteenth century.

XII.  Acts of Thaddæus.—This document, of which our text is the editio princeps, is of some consequence, as giving in another form the famous letters of Christ to Abgarus.  Eusebius (H. E., i. 13) says that he found in the archives of Edessa the letters written by their own hands, and that he translated them from the Syriac.  The story of the portrait was a later invention.  It is found in Pseudo-Abdias (x. 1), and with great detail in Nicephorus (H. E., ii. 7).  There is considerable variety in the texts of the letters.  They were probably written in Syriac in the third century by some native of Edessa, who wished to add to the importance of his city and the antiquity of his church.  See the whole subject discussed in Dr. Cureton’s Ancient Syriac Documents relative to the earliest establishment of Christianity in Edessa.

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 ms. of the eleventh century, and a Vienna one of a later date.

XIII.  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, discipulus diaboli, who got the credit of all these heretical brochures.  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 Photius.

p. 358 There is a Latin document published by Fabricius, Pseudo-Melitonis liber de Passione S. Johannis Evangelistæ, 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.

The text is edited from a Paris ms. of the eleventh century, and a Vienna one, to which no date is assigned.

It is doubtful whether the narrative part of the Acts of John be by the same hand as the discourses.



[That is, this is the tradition.  Of such Hebrew original there is no trace.—R.]

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