The Apocryphal Gospels: A Very Short Introduction

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OUP Oxford, Feb 26, 2009 - Religion - 160 pages
3 Reviews
This Very Short Introduction offers a clear, accessible, and concise account of the apocryphal gospels - exploring their origins, their discovery, and discussing how the various texts have been interpreted both by the Church and beyond. Looking at texts from the Gospels from Nag Hammadi to the Dialogues with the Risen Saviour, Paul Foster shows how the apocryphal gospels reflect the diversity that existed within early Christianity, and examines the extent to which they can be used to reconstruct an accurate portrait of the historical Jesus. Including discussions of controversies and case-studies such as the alleged hoax surrounding the discovery of Secret Mark, Foster concludes that the non-canonical texts, considered in the correct context, offer us an important window on the vibrant and multi-faceted face of early Christianity. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.

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User Review  - Scapegoats - LibraryThing

This wasn't quite what I expected. The author is an expert on the New Testament and on gospels of Jesus that didn't make it into the New Testament. I thought he would explain what each gospel was and ... Read full review

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Over the last ten years or so there has been a flurry of interest into the apocryphal gospels and all forms of early non-orthodox Christian thought and practice. Much of this is due to the fact that many of these early non-orthodox sources were for the first time in almost two thousand years available in their original form, thanks to the remarkable set of archeological discoveries that commenced in the late nineteenth century and continue to present day. It became exciting to see these ancient texts in their original form, unmediated to us through the prism of their opponents or detractors. For the better or for worse, some of the interest in these texts stemmed from the desire for sensational and mysterious, and many of those texts became the source of ever more exaggerated claims. To the opponents of Christianity, or at least its more orthodox form, these texts gave a hope of discovering more "authentic" Christianity that was not corrupted by the "power-hungry churches" over the course of history. This interest has been additionally fueled by all sorts of books of varying level of credibility that purported to reveal the conspiracies at the heart of Christianity. However, the more sober and scholarly assessment of these non-canonical text paints a much more subdued picture. For a start, the term "gospel" has been used widely for many of these texts that vary widely from the canonical gospels and amongst themselves. Most of these apocryphal gospels are available to us only as fragments, and there is very scant evidence that even in their original form they had been anything but very short texts. Furthermore, far from being earlier than the canonical gospels these extra-canonical texts are by and large later in origin and depend heavily on the canonical gospels for the kernel of their narrative. In the instances where they deviate from those narratives, they tend to be very fanciful, mysterious or downright bizarre. Most of these apocryphal gospels were a Gnostic reaction to orthodox Christianity, and were written in order to bolster the Gnostics' theological claims. Overall, the scholarly consensus is that they shed very little light on the "real" historical Jesus. Their primary value is in giving us more informed view of the diversity and growth of early Christianity.
This very short introduction introduces the reader to the most important and famous of the apocryphal gospels. It gives ample quotations and references to those works, and makes a critical assessment of their value. It is written with a general reader in mind, and for the most part stays clear of any theological or doctrinal biases. This is a very useful introduction to the apocryphal gospels.


1 The apocryphal gospels whats in a name?
2 The gospels from Nag Hammadi
3 The infancy gospels
4 Gospels set during the earthly life of Jesus
5 Secret revelations and dialogue gospels
6 Insights from the noncanonical gospels
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About the author (2009)

Paul Foster is Lecturer in New Testament Language, Literature & Theology, University of Edinburgh. His publications include Community, Law and Mission in Matthew's Gospel, (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2004); The So-called Gospel of Peter - An Introduction and Commentary (Oxford: OUP, 2007) in preparation. The Writings of the Apostolic Fathers (London: Continuum, 2006), an edited collection of essays; Justin and his Worlds (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007), a collection of articles edited with Dr Sara Parvis.

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