Secret Scriptures Revealed: A New Introduction to the Christian Apocrypha by Tony Burke 2013
About the Author
Tony Burke is professor of humanities at York University. His academic interests include the study of Christian biographical literature of the second century (infancy gospels), children and the family in Roman antiquity, curses, and noncanonical Jewish and Christian writings.
About the Book
The Christian Apocrypha burst into the public consciousness in 2003, following the publication of The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Interest in the wide assortment of texts not included in the Bible has remained strong ever since. Although much has been written and said on the subject, misunderstandings still abound.
Tony Burke’s Secret Scriptures Revealed dismantles the many myths and misconceptions about the Christian Apocrypha and straightforwardly answers common questions like these:
Where did the apocryphal texts come from and who wrote them? Why were they not included in the Bible? Is reading these texts harmful to personal faith?
The book describes and explains numerous fascinating apocryphal stories, including many that are not well known. Instead of dismissing or smearing the Christian Apocrypha, Burke shows how these texts can help us better understand early Christian communities and the canonical Bible.
“A readable, engaging introduction to noncanonical texts and debates about them. Nonspecialists are gently introduced to significant scholarly issues, and texts are described in such intriguing ways that readers will surely be motivated to follow the helpful recommendations for further reading and peruse texts for themselves. . . . Provides a fascinating window into the intriguing world of noncanonical texts for a general audience.” — Review of Biblical Literature
“A superb introduction to a broad range of early Christian non-canonical texts. . . . [Burke] writes with the skill of an expert and the communicative ability of a great teacher.” — Catholic Biblical Quarterly
“Tony Burke has long established himself as a master of the Christian apocrypha, writings that did not make it into the New Testament. With Secret Scriptures Revealed he has made his massive knowledge of the field available to a broad general audience in a readable, informed, and enjoyable overview that will be long cherished by both beginners and devotees.” — Bart D. Ehrman, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Summary of Chapter 1 (partial)
Ten years ago, few people besides biblical studies scholars knew much about apocryphal Christian literature – defined, in short, as stories about Jesus and his contemporaries similar to New Testament texts but, for one reason or another, not included in the Bible.
Then, in 2012, news media and internet bloggers debated the authenticity of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife, a newly revealed fragment from an ancient text in which Jesus is asked by his disciples about Mary (likely Mary Magdalene), whom Jesus appears to refer to as his ‘wife’.
Most of the books and articles critical of the Christian Apocrypha are written by North American evangelicals eager to champion the New Testament as containing the truth about the life and teachings of Jesus and as representing the accurate history of the early Church.
They call for their readers to keep away from apocryphal texts; one writer even declares that scholars of the Christian Apocrypha, ‘though bright and sincere, are not merely wrong; they are misled.
They are oblivious to the fact that they are being led down this path by the powers of darkness.’ Not content with merely pointing out problems with Brown’s version of the history of the Church, or with the sensational claims sometimes made by legitimate Christian Apocrypha scholars, modern critics of the Christian Apocrypha want to smother conversation on the texts by pushing them back into the margins of history.
They characterize the Apocrypha as late texts, not early; written to destroy Christianity – to promote error, not truth.
Stories from the Christian Apocrypha appear in sermons, art, iconography, drama, poetry and song, contributing to Christian tradition despite considerable efforts to eradicate the texts.
In many bookstores, and certainly most libraries, a visitor can find collections and studies of apocryphal Christian texts.
And works targeted for a more general readership tend to suffer from a lack of impartiality, with both ‘liberal’ scholars and ‘conservative’ theologians couching their arguments in hyperbole – the texts portray Jesus as more human; no, he is more divine; the texts are earlier than those in the New Testament; no, they are all much later; etc.
The Christian Apocrypha need to be studied with that same level of objectivity, not to prove they are superior or inferior to other types of Christian literature, not to call for the replacement of canonical texts with non-canonical, or for avoidance or censorship of unofficial scripture.
The second chapter will acquaint readers with aspects of the scholarly study of the Christian Apocrypha, in particular how texts are recovered and reconstructed so that they can be made available to other scholars and readers.
The chapter also traces the dispersion of the texts over the centuries, in various languages and sources, up to their inclusion in Christian Apocrypha collections in use today.
In these three chapters we cover a large number of texts, more than in any other introduction to the Christian Apocrypha.
The final section of the book returns to the discussion of the reception of the Christian Apocrypha today with a series of questions addressing misconceptions about the texts born out of their treatment in popular media (such as The Da Vinci Code), and subsequent reactions to these treatments.
It is hoped that readers will finish the book with an awareness of the wide range of apocryphal Christian texts and what they have to contribute to our knowledge of Christian thought and history.
Far too often these texts are dismissed as forgeries and fictions, but they need to be taken seriously as vital witnesses to beliefs and practices from throughout Christian history and as products of human imagination that continue to enthral readers.
The statement that Christian Apocrypha scholars are ‘misled’ by ‘the powers of darkness’ is made by Ben Witherington in The Gospel Code, p. 174.
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