What Has Apocrypha to Do with Hagiographa? A Reconsideration of the “Editing” of Apocryphal Acts
The following paper was presented at the 2021 Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature.
Every year in my New Testament Apocrypha course at York University I tell the students about the five so-called Great Apocryphal Acts (Peter, Paul, Thomas, Andrew, and John). I give the usual “facts”: they were composed in the late second and early third century, and were declared heretical due to their promotion of encratism (specifically the refusal to marry) and gnostic-adjacent speeches, but some aspects of the texts remained valuable to the orthodox, so they were trimmed down, sometimes retaining only the martyrdoms, and in these forms they were passed along in hagiographical compendia. As I work through the texts for my forthcoming introduction to Christian Apocrypha for the Anchor Yale Bible Reference series (shameless plug), I am struck by the problems of this simplistic summary. It is influenced by the efforts still somewhat entrenched in our field to establish the original forms of apocryphal texts, and by ancient and Byzantine writers who mention the texts, often in unsympathetic ways.
Photius (Cod. 114), in the ninth century, for example, read all five as a collective work attributed to Leucius Charinos. He did not like what he read and characterized them as containing Gnostic dualism, docetism, substitution, encratism, and “childish” stories of resurrection and of oxen and cattle. Other writers associate them with Manicheans (and it does seem that they did value the texts), as well as groups described as Encratites, Origenists, and Priscillianists. …