The Apocryphal Jesus: Legends of the Early Church

The Apocryphal Jesus: Legends of the Early Church

The Apocryphal Jesus: Legends of the Early Church

The Apocryphal Jesus: Legends of the Early Church

Synopsis

Jesus' birth in a cave, his childhood, escapades, his secret sayings, and his descent to the underworld; the torments in Hell; Saint Paul baptizing a lion; the death of Pontius Pilate and Saint Peter being crucified upside down. These are among the fascinating stories found in this presentselection. They all come from early Christian legends which did not get into the Bible, yet have had a profound influence on art, literature, and theology from the second century through the Middle Ages and even modern times. Some of the stories included here, especially those involoving the Virgin Mary, have affected matters of doctrine; others have influenced the church's teaching on the after life - whilst from the apocryphal Acts there are some of the best examples of accounts of the lives of Christianity's earliest saints. In this book Dr Elliott provides introductions to each ofthe most important and significant of these remarkable and often bizarre apocryphal texts.

Excerpt

Christians from the second-third centuries onwards seem to have been avid readers. Not only did they study the twentyseven writings that later were to be collected together to form the New Testament, but they also heard and read other stories and sayings about Jesus and the founders of the church which were not in the New Testament. Many of the early stories about Jesus, his parents, and his disciples were supplemented and expanded as the church developed. Secular romances, the novels of their day, provided precedents on which the burgeoning Christian literary tradition drew. The curiosity of pious Christians about the origins of their faith was increasingly satisfied by a growing number of Gospels, Acts, and other types of literature.

Much of this writing provided the popular reading matter of a significant number of believers. These second-third-century inventions may be judged as crudely sensational, magical, or superstitious. Little of this literature maintains the restrained spirituality of the earlier writings that eventually formed the New Testament. Nor do these 'popular' books match the highly intellectual theology of the church father's treatises that are contemporaneous with them. Yet these lively supplementary Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Apocalypses testify to a vigorous folk religion which was sometimes deviant, even unorthodox, when compared to the mainstream Christianity that established itself, but which, in general, was perfectly normal and orthodox, albeit reflecting an uncritical, simple, even ascetic, faith. These writings characterized and stimulated a significant number of early Christians.

Once the church authorities decided to control the flood of writings by selecting approved, canonical, texts, authorized for . . .

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