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List of illustrations viii
1 The apocryphal gospels - what's in a name? 1
2 The 'gospels ' from Nag Hammadi 26
3 The infancy gospels 61
4 Gospels set during the earthly life of Jesus 86
5 Secret revelations and dialogue gospels 117
6 Insights from the non-canonical gospels 132
Further reading 139
Posted May 7, 2011
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.
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