Any adequate diachronic analysis of "earliest" Christianity must extend well into the second century at least, and must take account of extracanonical books about Jesus in addition to the more well known canonical ones. In this chapter I give attention to the many extracanonical "gospels" that were probably composed at various points in the second century, and that in any case certainly circulated then. In the following chapters I discuss additional phenomena and the broader dynamics of devotion to Jesus, and I characterize the second century in terms of "radical diversity" and the emergence of what we may call "protoorthodox" expressions of Christianity.
Although it is increasingly recognized among scholars that the four accounts of Jesus that became canonical were widely disseminated and appreciated from at least the early decades of the second century, other writings devoted to Jesus also circulated and were appreciated in Christian circles of that time and later.1
1. For a recent, concise taxonomy of extracanonical Jesus books, see Stephen J.
Patterson, "Gospels, Apocryphal," in ABD, 2:1079-81, with bibliography of editions and key
major studies. Ron Cameron, ed., The Other Gospels: Non-Canonical Gospel Texts (Guildford,
Surrey: Lutterworth, 1983), is an enthusiastic introductory handbook, though a number of his
specific claims are debatable. See also Stephen Gero, "Apocryphal Gospels: A Survey of Textual
and Literary Problems," in ANRW, 2.25/5 (1988): 3969-96. Among older standard works,
Johannes Quasten, Patrology, 4 vols. (Westminster, Md.: Christian Classics, 1950-86), 1:106-28,
remains a valuable, concise treatment of extracanonical gospels. Two standard works on early
Christian extracanonical writings are Wilhelm Schneemelcher, ed., New Testament Apocrypha,