April 29, 2009

The Gospel of Judas vs. the Acts of Paul

Around the time that we started Palabre, I created with Dr. Jeremy Barrier Acta Pauli.  In the meantime, on April 23, I launched the Committee for the Inclusion of the Acts of Paul in the New Testamet Canon.  For many years I have suggested this particular idea to people partly to promote my own scholarship and fame, and they just took it as a kind of a joke.

Now compare this with the media treatment of the Gospel of Judas, published from a fourth century Coptic papyrus.  It is purported to be translated from a Greek original and representative of the Gospel of Judas attested by Irenaeus, haer. 1.31.1 (ANF 1):

Others again declare that Cain derived his being from the Power above, and acknowledge that Esau, Korah, the Sodomites, and all such persons, are related to themselves. On this account, they add, they have been assailed by the Creator, yet no one of them has suffered injury. For Sophia was in the habit of carrying off that which belonged to her from them to herself. They declare that Judas the traitor was thoroughly acquainted with these things, and that he alone, knowing the truth as no others did, accomplished the mystery of the betrayal; by him all things, both earthly and heavenly, were thus thrown into confusion. They produce a fictitious history of this kind, which they style the Gospel of Judas.

If the newly published Gospel of Judas is a version of the Cainite one, then we clearly have the work of a 2nd century gnostic sect.  This is an exciting discovery for scholars of early Christianity, but the media latched on to this document in order to attack the Christian view that Judas betrayed Jesus.  Thus, to a media so gullible and inaccurate in its attempt to challenge ruthlessly the Christian faith, I propose the Acts of Paul, also known largely through a later Coptic MS in an even more lamentable state than the codex of the Gospel of Judas, with probably more than half of the text completely lost–this fragmentary nature of the Acts of Paul alone should create a media stir.  But in defense of the Acts of Paul, unlike the Gospel of Judas, it has actually been used by the catholic church: chapters III and IV of the Acts of Paul (a.k.a., The Acts of Paul and Thecla) were at an early date separated from the whole and used in the cult of Thecla and read on her feast day.  The  Acts of Paul XIV (a.k.a., The Martyrdom of Paul) was likewise separated to be read on Paul’s feast day.  Thecla, who was a hearer of Paul through the window of her house in Iconium, embraced a life of chastity and rejected her fiancé Thamyris, much to the chagrin of her impoverished mother.  There is actually considerably more evidence for the historicity of this story than there is for the alternate version of Judas Iscariot that is promoted by the drive-by media.  Why don’t we promote this document as equal to the NT canon?  Why so much attention for the Gospel of Judas?

Therefore, I wrote up a press release for media use, “Cambridge-trained scholar calls for Extension of the New Testament Canon“, with blank fields where they can add the names of their authors, their media outlets (CNN, New York Times, AP, AFP, etc.), and just publish as their own.  Surely this would suit the media’s penchant these days for publishing news stories without doing any investigative journalism.  I’ve provided everything they need to make this story happen.  The press release has some characteristic errors, but according to my friend Jim Leonard it was obviously written by a scholar, since it contained too few errors compared to a recent BBC article on Codex Sinaiticus–but there the errors seem to be gratuitous and not an attempt to attack the Christian faith.  In other words, the drive-by media is capable of bad journalism for its own sake; they don’t need the excuse of attacking Christians.

My prognosis for the Committee is bleak.  Serious Christians are likely to view me as some sort of crackpot.  I may get some interest from nominal and liberal Christians until they read the thoroughly orthodox Acts of Paul; the exaltation of women prophets and a female apostle will of course attract some feminists, but at the end of the day, liberals will reject it because it extols the beauty and the virtue of sexual chastity, and after all, the world must be protected from Christian bigots who would impose limits on sexual freedom.

You may join the Committee for the nominal fee of $10,000 US per annum (charter members exempted; $15,000 CDN; or 20,000 euros or pounds sterling).  All are welcome, we make no discrimination regarding race, sex, creed or academic credentials.  Even journalists are allowed.  Please make cheques payable to Peter W. Dunn.  Later, Acta Pauli will be offering free 1-year memberships to promote the website.

March 28, 2009

Paul’s Martyrdom

From Corpus Paulinum, Sept. 12, 2000:

Until now I have observed silently the discussion on the death of Paul with some interest, as I am currently working on the Acts of Paul.

Karl Heinz Schmidtke wrote:

It is clear that Eusebius is very insistent that Paul actually died, and equally insistent that Paul and Peter died under Nero and in Rome. This very insistence is a mark of  Eusebian polemic against the heretical view that Paul was “elevated”, for which we have even earlier literary evidence (e.g. 1 Clement 5 as another lister has pointed out off list). Paul (at least in part) thought of himself as an Elijah figure (Rom 11), and this is the point of the heretical view (also attested in Polycarp, Philippians 9; Epiphanius and the Armenian Acts of Paul among others) that Eusebius seems intent on countering. Do scholars on this list accept Eusebius’ view that Peter and Paul died under Nero in Rome?

In two cases where Eusebius relates Paul’s death, he appears neither to create a new tradition (that Paul has died in Rome) nor to counter a heresy (that Paul was translated living in the fashion of Elijah). Eusebius’s purpose is first historical. He is writing an account of the church from its origins to his own day. He does this by relying especially on written traditions available to him. In h.e. 2.22.1, he writes that “tradition has it” that Paul defended himself before Nero in Rome (referring to his imprisionment in Acts 28), was released. He returned to the same city to be martyred. Eusebius maintains that Paul wrote 2 Tim during this second imprisonment.

In h.e. 2.25.5f., Eusebius cites Caius of Rome, who was active while Zephyrinus was bishop (199-217) and Dionysius of bishop of Corinth (late 2nd cent.). Furthermore, Eusebius maintains that Paul was beheaded in keeping both with the Acts of Paul and with the legal means of executing a Roman citizen (cf. Acts). Surely the Acts of Paul is one of the traditions upon which Eusebius relies, since he almost certainly knew it, placing it in the category of disputed books with Revelation, Shepherd, et al. (h.e. 3.25.4). This reliance could explain two facts of Eusebius: (1) the beheading of Paul (see Martyrdom of Paul [Acts of Paul XIV] 5); (2) Eusebius’ theory that Paul was released and recaptured, which he may have deduced from the two very different and incompatible accounts of the Paul’s journeys to Rome in the canonical Acts and in the Acts of Paul. Willy Rordorf (see =Ecrits apocryphes chrétiens, vol 1, François Bovon and Pierre Geoltrain, eds.) and I now date the Acts of Paul ca. 150 in any case, it is another second-century tradition referring to Paul’s death. I do not recall from my reading (some years ago) of the Armenian Martyrdom of Paul this idea that Paul was translated. The Armenian is in any case dependent on the Greek Martyrdom, at the end of which Paul appears alive. But one must argue that this is in spirit only, since he has already been decapitated (ch. 5); after death, he appears to Nero saying (ch. 6), “Caesar, behold it is Paul, the soldier of God. I am not dead but living.” Is this where Herr Schmidtke gets the notion of an Elijah-like Paul?  1 Clement 5.7 does indeed say that Paul was “taken up”. But the immediate context indicates that both Peter and Paul suffered martyrdom (1 Clement 5.2; LCL): “Through jealousy and envy the greatest and most righteous pillars of the Church were persecuted and contended unto death.”

Polycarp, Phil. 9, also implies that Paul, like Ignatius, suffered martyrdom. Finally, one must add Ignatius’ testimony (Eph. 12.2, LCL): “… you are the passage for those who are being slain for the sake of God, fellow initiates with Paul, who was sanctified, who gained a good report, who was right blessed, in whose footsteps may I be found when I shall attain to God …” Thus, Ignatius hopes to imitate Paul by travelling to Rome and suffering martyrdom. According to tradition, he attained his wish.

Thus, we are not in the position of merely judging Eusebius’ own view of Paul’s martyrdom in Rome but of judging the whole superstructure of tradition on which he bases his point of view and which was deeply entrenched in the church already in the 2nd century.

Finally, I am completely unaware of an early church heresy which held that Paul did not die. If such a opinion existed, I would certainly like to see the evidence, as my ignorance on the matter would be a great fault.  I do not accept Herr Schmidtke’s interpretation of those texts which I have been able to check (i.e., Philippians, Romans 11, Polycarp, Phil. 9, 1 Clement 5, and the Armenian Martyrdom of Paul). None of them offers tangible historical evidence that anyone in the early church held such a view.

Perhaps Herr Schmidtke would be so kind as to indicate a reference in Epiphanius’ voluminous corpus so that I might also check it too. Or is there some other text not yet mentioned?

Peter W. Dunn
Concord, Ontario

March 11, 2009

The influence of 1 Corinthians on the Acts of Paul

I have posted the following paper at Acta Pauli:

Peter W. Dunn, “The influence of 1 Corinthians on the Acts of Paul“, Society of Biblical Literature 1996 Seminar Papers (Atlanta:  Scholars Press), 438-454, with minor corrections.

This paper largely draws from my 1996 doctoral dissertation with a few additional reflections.

January 21, 2009

The Acts of Paul and the Pauline Legacy in the Second Century (Cambridge, 1996)

The Acts of Paul and the Pauline Legacy in the Second Century (pdf; 1.3 mb)

I have now offered my PhD dissertation on the world wide web at actapauli.wordpress.com.

Voir ce resumé en français.

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