Were the Miracles of Jesus invented by the Disciples/Evangelists?

 


Posted: May 15,2002  |   Back to the Miracles Index  |  Summary


 

 

10. Later Christians obviously embellished the gospels with apocryphal stories--why would we believe the New Testament authors didn't have the same influences or 'pressures' on them?
 

The post-canonical literature is a great 'test bed', to see if some alleged 'legendizing tendency' was operative in the miracles of Jesus. According to the traditional Bultmann/Form Critical programmes, we should expect to see

 

(a) miracle stories about the mature Jesus not contained in the canonical gospels;

(b) miracle stories that obviously came from non-miracle stories in the canonical literature; and/or

(c) miracle stories from the canonical literature, but with 'bigger, better' miracles in them [i.e., a heightening of the already existent miraculous element].

 

If we don't see this tendency, of course, then we have strong reason to doubt it was in existence earlier, during the formation of the canonical miracle stories.

 

If we don't see this exact tendency, but see something similar, then we will need to assess the relevance of the 'something similar' to our question.

 

So we need to:

 

1. Identify the non-canonical literature, purporting to be about Jesus' deeds (within, say, two hundred years of the gospels--at least through the mid 3rd century).

2. Identify in this material any miraculous elements having to do with the Jesus of the gospels.

3. Assess the direct relevance of this data to our question.

4. Identify/Analyze any similar patterns or special cases.

5. Make some observations and reflections on this data.

6. Look back at the canonical literature for any evidence of miraculous embellishment WITHIN it.

7. Summarize our findings.

 

 


 

1. Identify the non-canonical literature, purporting to be about Jesus' deeds (within, say, two hundred years of the gospels).

 

There are three sets of literature here:

 

1.        The Apostolic Fathers (I & II Clement, Letters of Ignatius, Letter of Polycarp, Martyrdom of Polycarp, Didache, Barnabas, Shepherd of Hermas, Epistle to Diognetus, Fragments of Papias).

 

2.        The second-century Apologists (Justin, Apollinaris of Hierapolis, Melito of Sardis, Athenagora of Athens, Tatian, Theophilus of Antioch).

 

3.        The second/third century Apocryphal works (listed in Volume one of [NTA:1])

 

 

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

 

2. Identify in this material any miraculous elements having to do with the Jesus of the gospels.

 

1. The Apostolic Fathers don't contain any narrative material (direct or indirect) about miracles done by Jesus:

 

"We can omit the apostolic fathers from our consideration, since they contain no traditions either of Jesus or of the apostles as wonder-workers." [Achtemeier, "Gospel Miracle Traditions and the Divine Man", in Interpretation 26 (1972), p.190, note 75.]

 

 

2. The Apologists contain mentions of the canonical miracles but no additional ones, or new miraculous elements:

 

"Perhaps the most striking fact is the relative absence of references to the miracles of Jesus. Whereas the Apostolic Fathers had virtually ignored such acts of the Lord, the apologists do mention them, but as a rule limit such treatment to summaries. There is no evidence either of a growing tradition of miracles of Jesus, nor are any miracles ascribed to him that were not already reported in the synoptic gospels." [p.156f,"Jesus and the Disciples as Miracle Workers in the Apocryphal New Testament", by Paul Achtemeier, in Aspects of Religious Propaganda in Judaism and Early Christianity, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza (ed), UNotreDame:1976.]

 

 

3. The NT Apocryphal writings, very surprisingly,  also seem to 'ignore' the miracle working of the mature, earthly Jesus!

 

"The picture of Jesus as miracle worker in the apocryphal New Testament writings is remarkable for its absence. To be sure, Jesus is still remembered in such terms. When, in a letter quoted by Eusebius, Irenaeus recalls his contacts with Polycarp, and the latter's conversations with the Apostle (?) John, the two things recalled from John's reports are the teachings and the miracles of Jesus. There are also scattered, if remarkably rare, summaries of the miracles of Jesus to be found in these apocryphal writings, a state of affairs duplicated in the remaining Christian corpus, including the Fathers, of this period." [p.161,"Jesus and the Disciples as Miracle Workers in the Apocryphal New Testament", by Paul Achtemeier, in Aspects of Religious Propaganda in Judaism and Early Christianity, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza (ed), UNotreDame:1976.]

 

"Unfortunately, we do not possess in any degree of completeness the apocryphal gospels from this period. Of those we do possess, in part or complete, I am aware of only three references to miracles of the mature Jesus. Only in much later writing do we find further miracles reported of the mature Jesus which are completely new and different from those in our canonical gospels, and even then in very limited number [he names Acts of Andrew and Matthias,5-6th century]." [p.161,"Jesus and the Disciples as Miracle Workers in the Apocryphal New Testament", by Paul Achtemeier, in Aspects of Religious Propaganda in Judaism and Early Christianity, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza (ed), UNotreDame:1976.]

 

"The basic tendency, then, of the traditions about miracles of the mature Jesus in the second century and beyond, including the material subsumed under the general heading 'apocryphal New Testament,' is to ignore Jesus as miracle worker." [p.162,"Jesus and the Disciples as Miracle Workers in the Apocryphal New Testament", by Paul Achtemeier, in Aspects of Religious Propaganda in Judaism and Early Christianity, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza (ed), UNotreDame:1976.]

 

references to miracles of the nature Jesus are as rare in the apologetic as in the apocryphal literature." [p.174,"Jesus and the Disciples as Miracle Workers in the Apocryphal New Testament", by Paul Achtemeier, in Aspects of Religious Propaganda in Judaism and Early Christianity, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza (ed), UNotreDame:1976.]

 

"There is, finally, an enigma associated with the apocryphal New Testament literature, namely, the virtually total absence of new miracle stories told of the mature Jesus. That is true right through the sixth century. Only the Gospel of Philip [late 2nd century, with the one white-out-of-all-colors "miracle"] and the later Acts of Andrew and Matthais [5th century or later] report miracles of Jesus not contained in the synoptic accounts, and they total only three. Miracles reported of the apostles, on the other hand, abound, as we have seen. So do miracles of the period in Jesus' life not covered in the canonical gospels, his childhood." [p.175,"Jesus and the Disciples as Miracle Workers in the Apocryphal New Testament", by Paul Achtemeier, in Aspects of Religious Propaganda in Judaism and Early Christianity, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza (ed), UNotreDame:1976.]

 

"As Epiphanius himself indicates elsewhere, the gospel used by Cerinthus, and also by Carpocrates, was in fact identical with that of the Ebionites and apparently only a truncated version of Matthew…" [NTA:1:397; notice that even this heretical gospel only contained LESS THAN the gospels, not MORE THAN.]

 

 

This means, of course, that we do NOT have any new or miraculously-heightened miracle stories in this latter literature!

 

 

……………………………………………………………………………………….

 

3. Assess the direct relevance of this data to our question.

 

 

Actually, this is pretty strong data. The later writers somehow did NOT embellish the narratives about Jesus, in the direction of the miraculous--and therefore they do not offer us any evidence of 'influences to inflate' the stories of Jesus in this way. [There were forces in the general culture to do this, but for some reason these forces did not apply to the miracle stories of Jesus!] This runs very counter to the expectations of the 'legends grow over time' schools of thought (at least in respect to their applicability to the stories of Jesus' miracles). If fact, the data is very opposite: the miracles of Jesus are rarely mentioned at all.

 

"As will quickly become apparent, forces were at work within that world which would have encouraged the development of traditions about Jesus and his disciples as wonder workers, even apart from the canonical roots we have seen." [p.152,"Jesus and the Disciples as Miracle Workers in the Apocryphal New Testament", by Paul Achtemeier, in Aspects of Religious Propaganda in Judaism and Early Christianity, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza (ed), UNotreDame:1976.]

 

"That does not mean a corresponding loss of interest in miracles as such, however, nor in their importance. It is quite clear that at the time the apologists wrote, wondrous activity was still very much a part of contemporary Church life." [p.157,"Jesus and the Disciples as Miracle Workers in the Apocryphal New Testament", by Paul Achtemeier, in Aspects of Religious Propaganda in Judaism and Early Christianity, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza (ed), UNotreDame:1976.]

 

"John 20:30 is an open invitation to the later tradition, an invitation of the kind rarely passed up, to develop additional miracle stories of Jesus, something one would surely have expected if the earlier form critics were correct in their estimate of the origin and direction of the miracle stories in the canonical gospels." [p.176,"Jesus and the Disciples as Miracle Workers in the Apocryphal New Testament", by Paul Achtemeier, in Aspects of Religious Propaganda in Judaism and Early Christianity, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza (ed), UNotreDame:1976.]

 

"That that 'invitation' was not accepted by the framers of apocryphal tradition remains a mystery within the development of Christian tradition in the second and third centuries." [p.176f,"Jesus and the Disciples as Miracle Workers in the Apocryphal New Testament", by Paul Achtemeier, in Aspects of Religious Propaganda in Judaism and Early Christianity, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza (ed), UNotreDame:1976.]

 

"If the trend is in the direction of the disappearance of the miracle story about the mature Jesus, can we continue to assume, as Bultmann did, that the miracles are a late addition to the canonical gospel traditions, and that the trend was toward increasing emphasis on the miracles of Jesus? Changes from Mark to Matthew and Luke, with respect to miracle stories, may be due as much to the intentions of the respective evangelists as to any traditional trajectory." [p.183, n.105,"Jesus and the Disciples as Miracle Workers in the Apocryphal New Testament", by Paul Achtemeier, in Aspects of Religious Propaganda in Judaism and Early Christianity, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza (ed), UNotreDame:1976.]

 

 

 

By the way, some accounts ARE embellished but not with miraculous elements done by Jesus. They manifest the same character of expanded or re-told narratives we saw in our discussion of the Re-Told Bible (e.g., names for anonymous characters, additional background discourse and speech, increased dramatic elements).

 

"In the narratives [of the Gospel of the Nazarenes] a fictional development of the tradition can often be detected…" [NTA:1:157; examples given are a doubling; "The story of the healing of the withered hand is fictionally enlarged by a request from the sick man, and further it is given a different point through a social motive" [NTA:1:158]; a new 'conversation' between Jesus and his mother; and a possible lintel-falling text replacement (Josephus?)]

 

"'It [Gospel of Peter] shows not only an enhanced delight in the fantastic and the miraculous, but above all a shifting of the theological interest from the Cross to the Resurrection.'" [NTA:1:218; only new elements were astrological and cosmic signs around the cross/tomb--NOT additional miracles by Jesus.]

 

"Such elaboration as there is remains limited to descriptions of those who were healed rather than to Jesus or the way he healed them." [Achtemeier, "Gospel Miracle Traditions and the Divine Man", in Interpretation 26 (1972), p.192]

 

 

…………………………………………………………………….

 

4. Identify any similar patterns or special cases.

 

There are two "similar" or "special cases": the "Infancy Gospels" and embellishment of the apostolic figures.

 

"There is, finally, an enigma associated with the apocryphal New Testament literature, namely, the virtually total absence of new miracle stories told of the mature Jesus. That is true right through the sixth century. Only the Gospel of Philip [late 2nd century, with the one white-out-of-all-colors "miracle"] and the later Acts of Andrew and Matthais [5th century or later] report miracles of Jesus not contained in the synoptic accounts, and they total only three. Miracles reported of the apostles, on the other hand, abound, as we have seen. So do miracles of the period in Jesus' life not covered in the canonical gospels, his childhood." [p.175,"Jesus and the Disciples as Miracle Workers in the Apocryphal New Testament", by Paul Achtemeier, in Aspects of Religious Propaganda in Judaism and Early Christianity, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza (ed), UNotreDame:1976.]

 

 

1. The Infancy Gospels.

 

The Infancy Gospels purport to describe the life and teaching of Jesus when he was a boy, during the years from 0-12. They are replete with outrageous miracles, none of which 'fit' into the traditional picture of the adult Jesus.

 

·         The two foundation works--upon which all later versions are based--are the "Protevangelium of James" and the Infancy Story/Gospel of Thomas. The former is not actually about Jesus, but about the miraculous birth and exalted nature of Mary:

 

"The basis for all the vast later literature constituting the apocryphal infancy gospels is the so-called Protevangelium of James, probably of the 2nd century, particularly for the birth, childhood and motherhood of Mary, and the Gospel [Infancy Story] of Thomas, not much later in its original form, for the miracles of the child Jesus." [NTA:1:419]

 

"Although it [ProtJas] reaches the birth of Jesus and recounts it, it is really much more an account of the miraculous birth of Mary…" [NTA:1:423]

 

"The whole was written for the glorification of Mary. Not only are Jewish calumnies by implication vigorously refuted, but all the future themes of Mariology are already propounded…" [NTA:1:425]

 

 

·         The portrait of the child Jesus in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas is quite bizarre, and would not represent an 'orthodox' Christian author in any sense:

 

"Character of the material, literary style and theological tendencies of the document: it was not the youth of Jesus between the age of twelve and his coming to be baptised at the Jordan at the age of thirty that was the chief interest for legend, but rather the years before the incident reported by Luke, when Jesus was twelve years old. For the intention is precisely to present the boy Jesus as an infant prodigy. All the miracles he was later to perform are here anticipated in a particularly blatant fashion. There is, however, a great difference between these miracles and those reported in the canonical Gospels. Here the extraneous material is simply imported into the story of Jesus, without the slightest attempt to make it fit, even remotely, the portrait of Christ... The cruder and more startling the miracle, the greater the pleasure the compiler finds in it, without the slightest scruple about the questionable nature of the material.…Not only the miracle-worker but also Christ the teacher must be foreshadowed in the child. What Luke relates relatively soberly about the twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple is here exaggerated into the grotesque. The boy not only possesses all the wisdom of the age, but baffles all human teachers by profound and often obscure pronouncements. In particular the longer version of chapter 6 shows how the boy Jesus becomes the gnostic Revealer. He proclaims gnostic speculations, and already possesses all divine wisdom in its fullest range; in contrast to Luke 2:40, he has no need whatever of 'growth in wisdom'. The book displays the docetic tendency which ultimately lies at the root of most of the infancy gospels. Although lacking in good taste, restraint and discretion, it must be admitted that the man who collected these legends and composed the Gospel of Thomas was endowed with a gift of vivid story-telling, especially when he depicts scenes from everyday childhood." [NTA:1:442]

 

"The Infancy Gospel of Thomas purports to describe the miracles which Jesus, a veritable “enfant terrible,” performed between the ages of five and twelve. When Jesus was five he made twelve sparrows from clay, and then caused them to fly. When the son of Annas the scribe scattered the water that Jesus had collected into a pool, Jesus cursed the child: “You insolent, godless dunderhead, … See, now you also shall wither like a tree.” A lad who accidentally bumped into Jesus was smitten dead. Those who accused him were blinded. A teacher who attempted to teach the Alpha and the Beta was rebuked by the precocious Jesus. As an assistant in his father’s carpenter shop, Jesus was able to stretch beams of wood to the proper size!" [ISBE, s.v. Apocryphal Gospels]

 

 

·         In fact, these gospels were never recognized as being 'Christian' writings by the mainline, orthodox church (so it's questionable whether we should even include these in our discussion of what  'later Christians did'), and they contain very little that actually IS Christian:

 

"Although nothing definite can be said about the place of composition, the high value ascribed to the early Syriac mss, the traditional association with the Syrian Thomas tradition, and the possibility of shared traditions with the Gospel of Thomas (cf. Inf. Thom. 10:2 and Gos. Thom. logion 77) all suggest Syria as the place of composition (but Gero is probably correct in suggesting that the ascription to Thomas, as we have it, is medieval [1971: 58–59]). Data for the time of composition include both ms evidence and patristic testimonies. The ms evidence takes us back to the 5th century at the earliest, leaving us merely to surmise how much earlier the time of composition might have been. The most relevant patristic testimony comes from Irenaeus (ca. 180; Haer. 1.20.1) where we find the well-known Alpha-Beta logion, found twice in Inf. Thom. (Irenaeus’ form of the logion is closer to that in Inf. Thom. 14:2 than in 6:3), giving us a date in the second half of the 2d century at least for this logion. Irenaeus does not specify whether he quotes it from an infancy gospel, but he does contrast his source for the logion with “the true scriptures,” suggesting he knew it as part of a text which some (the gnostic Marcosians) apparently considered as authoritative. He also introduces the saying by summarizing its narrative context (a context which is essentially, but not exactly, the same as that in Inf. Thom.), further suggesting that he knew it already as part of a narrative story (apophthegm? infancy gospel?) rather than as an independent oral saying. Other sayings’ parallels or patristic allusions are either references to the Gos. Thom. or else are not explicit enough so that identification can be made (Hippo. Haer. 5.7; Origen, Hom. I in Lc.; Euseb. Hist. Eccl. 3.25. 6; Cyril of Jerusalem, Catech. 4.36 and 6.31). Another, but less objective, evidence for dating is provided by comparative analysis with the datable canonical infancy narratives" ABD, s.v. "THOMAS, THE INFANCY GOSPEL OF"

 

"Despite this, opposition was aroused against this whole type of literature [i.e., the infancy materials], especially in the West, where Jerome assailed it with particular zeal, so that it was condemned by the Popes Damasus (366-384) and Innocent I (401-417). The Decretum Gelasianum (pre-6th cent) lists by name a series of infancy gospels which are to be rejected." [NTA:1:418]

 

"Admittedly opposition was aroused specifically in the West against this whole literature, first and foremost by Jerome…" [NTA:1:457]

 

"Here Jesus' miracles are the equal of any the Hellenistic world knew and are notable for their lack of any genuine Christian, or even generally religious motifs. They simply glorify the young Jesus who can and does do what is appropriate for his own convenience, physical or emotional." [Achtemeier, "Gospel Miracle Traditions and the Divine Man", in Interpretation 26 (1972), p.192].

 

 

·         These infancy gospels (about Jesus) were essentially heretical, Gnostic propaganda vehicles, used to 'smuggle' Gnostic teachings into, and used to defend the concomitant Docetic ("He only LOOKED human--He really wasn't") position:

 

"With the provisional closure of the canon (about 200) a motive which had probably also been operative earlier becomes increasingly important: the aim of supplementing the canonical texts. Here it is a question of filling up 'gaps' in the reports about Jesus and the apostles, but also of presenting and propagating teachings which do not appear in the canonical books…The Infancy Gospels are an important example of this kind of expansion. Here the meager statements of the canonical Gospels are drawn out at length, expanded and supplemented by large additions, and here the influence of literary Gattungen (genres/forms) of the surrounding world was certainly considerable." [NTA:1:55]

 

"It is in particular the Gnostics who appear to have been interested in infancy stories, and to have encouraged the collection of all this kind of material. They were always on the look-out for details in the life of Jesus upon which to hang the speculations which they attributed to Christ. Besides the appearances of the risen Jesus to his disciples it was especially stories like that of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple, and all the legends which attached to them, which provide a suitable framework for Gnostic gospels. This was the genesis of the development of Gnostic infancy narratives." [NTA:1:418]

 

 "In particular the longer version of chapter 6 shows how the boy Jesus becomes the gnostic Revealer. He proclaims gnostic speculations, and already possesses all divine wisdom in its fullest range; in contrast to Luke 2:40, he has no need whatever of 'growth in wisdom'. The book displays the docetic tendency which ultimately lies at the root of most of the infancy gospels." [NTA:1:442]

 

"Perhaps infancy gospels were written by Gnostics at an early date. Certainly such material did not originate with them. [Tanknote: not sure I agree with that statement.] But in order to be able to derive their speculations from Jesus himself, they needed as a framework a setting in his life which could be fitted into the older gospel tradition, but without being controlled by its content. Besides the resurrection appearances during the forty days, there was available the whole childhood of Jesus left untouched by the older Gospels. We have seen how fruitful in this respect were the themes of Jesus at the age of twelve in the Temple and of his education. What they required, however, was a child Jesus who was only a child in appearance, but had in fact no need of development, since he possessed the full revelation in its entirety, and already had unlimited power to perform miracles…The tendency to Docetism behind all the legends of the infancy met this need, and at the same time was greatly strengthened by it. The statements of heresiologists, and the fragments given below, show that legends in which the child Jesus stands in permanent union with the Spirit and the source of all revelation from the very beginning, and even before his baptism, were especially the ones to be adopted and developed.…Docetism, further, was bound to affect the way in which the birth of Jesus was told. The tendency is to eliminate all traces of a normal, human origin in the story of the birth of Jesus of the virgin Mary. Thus the Gnostics early wrote a 'Prehistory (Genna) of Mary', mentioned by Epiphanius (Haer. 26.12), which shows that the material of the Protevangelium of James was used in Gnostic circles. The apocryphal expansions of the original nativity stories all betray a more or less marked docetic tendency." [NTA:1:453f]

 

What this nets out to is this: the Infancy Gospels are NOT examples of 'natural embellishment processes, by normal Christians'. We don't have any 'transitional forms' between the silence of the canonical scriptures and the terrifying, Gnostic revealer and punitive wonder-working five-year-old Jesus…He appears on the stage in full Gnostic and Docetic garb, loaded with their messages, and NOT appearing in continuity with the canonical, mature Jesus.

 

 

2. Embellishment of Apostolic figures--the Apocryphal Acts.

 

·         As Achtemeier noted in his studies of this area, the 'embellishment engine' was applied in the Apocrypha to the Apostolic circle, instead of to Jesus:

 

"The basic tendency, then, of the traditions about miracles of the mature Jesus in the second century and beyond, including the material subsumed under the general heading 'apocryphal New Testament,' is to ignore Jesus as miracle worker…When we turn from the figure of Jesus and the apocryphal gospels, to the apostles and the apocryphal acts, the situation is reversed. We have many such accounts of Jesus' disciples, and they are replete with miracles entirely independent of those told in the canonical Acts of the Apostles." [p.162,"Jesus and the Disciples as Miracle Workers in the Apocryphal New Testament", by Paul Achtemeier, in Aspects of Religious Propaganda in Judaism and Early Christianity, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza (ed), UNotreDame:1976.]

 

 

·         There are five "big" such works, summarized by P. J. Lalleman, [HI:DictNTB, s.v. "Apocryphal Acts and Epistles"]

 

"The five major apocryphal acts, those of Peter, Paul, Andrew, Thomas and John, have been transmitted as a corpus attributed to a certain Leucius. Modern research has established that Leucius was a fictive person, but with certain scholars he has been replaced by the no less fictitious figures of female authors. Although the books in question pay relatively much attention to women and to renunciation of marriage and love, the case for female authorship is weak. The major acts mentioned above have as many differences as they have things in common, so that they must be studied individually. These five differ from the other acts mentioned below because they were the earliest to be written. The value of even the earliest apocryphal acts for our knowledge of the first century, however, nearly equals zero. Generically, these writings draw close to the ancient pagan novels, which deal mainly with love and travels. Except in the Acts of John, a lot of attention is paid to the martyrdom of the eponymous apostle.

 

"4.1. Acts of John. This is the earliest of the apocryphal acts, having been written in Asia Minor not later than 150 a.d. The beginning and several episodes have been lost. Influence of Acts of the Apostles is visible in the imitation of its unique “we” form, which occurs at irregular intervals in the Acts of John, without identification of the “I” and without change of narrative perspective. The text has a docetic Christology, and it has been interpolated with a gnostic piece that forms an interpretation of the suffering of Christ. This part of the text directly contradicts the words of the Fourth Gospel. The Acts of John was known to the authors of the following three acts.

4.2. Acts of Andrew. This is the worst preserved of the five major acts. It is disputed whether its peculiar ideology is gnostic. In any case the text rejects marriage in a straightforward manner. Its origin is probably second-century Asia Minor. At the end of the sixth century, Gregory of Tours wrote a kind of summary of this text from which he omitted all heretical elements.

4.3. Acts of Peter. This book testifies to a simple, popular form of Christianity, which is unconscious of the fact that ideologically it falls far below the level of contemporary texts. Although the anonymous author knew the Roman regula fidei, in places where he was influenced by the Acts of John he turns quasi-Gnostic. The narrative focuses on a contest in Rome between Peter and Simon Magus (cf. Acts 8). This Simon, assumed to have been a Gnostic, is also a main character in other early Christian writings.

4.4. Acts of Paul. R. J. Bauckham has shown that this text was intended to report the events that took place after Acts 28. Large parts of the book have been lost. Important among the preserved elements are the romantic story concerning Paul and the pious virgin Thecla and Third Corinthians (see 3.2). The description of Paul’s appearance in the Thecla episode is based on a physiognomic reading of 2 Corinthians 10–13. Tertullian (De Bapt. 17.5) refers to the Acts of Paul as a product of second-century Asia Minor.

4.5. Acts of Thomas. This writing is the only one of the acts to have been written in Syriac and also the only one that has been preserved as a whole. It includes a famous hymn that has been called the most beautiful piece of early Christian literature, the Hymn of the Pearl. It has Thomas travel to India and preaches the cessation of marriage and procreation. Its tendency is ascetic and probably gnostic.

 

 

 

·         Canonical Acts, of course, shows that the apostles/disciples were capable of working miracles (indeed, Paul seemed to argue that it was a requirement for being an apostle), but the differences between the 'intensity' of the miracles is not a 'linear growth':

 

"In fact, Paul apparently thought there were no true apostles who could not and did not do miracles." [p.151,"Jesus and the Disciples as Miracle Workers in the Apocryphal New Testament", by Paul Achtemeier, in Aspects of Religious Propaganda in Judaism and Early Christianity, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza (ed), UNotreDame:1976.]

 

"Although some of these elements also appear in the canonical Gospels and Acts--i.e., accounts of journeys, wondrous deliverance from dangers, miracles--the shape they assume in the apocryphal Acts of Thomas will clearly demonstrate the differences between canonical and apocryphal literature on this score." [p.164,"Jesus and the Disciples as Miracle Workers in the Apocryphal New Testament", by Paul Achtemeier, in Aspects of Religious Propaganda in Judaism and Early Christianity, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza (ed), UNotreDame:1976.]

 

 

 

·         Part of the difference, though, is due to genre: the Apocryphal Acts--as opposed to the 'orthodox' literature--adopt a modified-Romance genre [see the piece on Historical Fiction in the Miracles Series], that "encouraged" the fantastic as part of the genre:

 

"One of the contributions of the later Hellenistic period to Greek literature was the novel (=romance). The genre is hard to define, but it had certain characteristics, among them the theme of a couple separated from one another yet remaining true despite great pressures against such a course of action. This theme, completely foreign to the canonical Acts, appears, in adapted form, with startling regularity in the second- and third-century Acts." [p.162f, "Jesus and the Disciples as Miracle Workers in the Apocryphal New Testament", by Paul Achtemeier, in Aspects of Religious Propaganda in Judaism and Early Christianity, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza (ed), UNotreDame:1976.]

 

"If it is true, therefore, as seems to be the case, that the authors of the apocryphal acts have adapted literary conventions of the Hellenistic world in the composition and structure of their narratives, and if, as seems equally to be the case, those elements make the Acts more 'entertaining,' and thus more likely to be read, then it would also seem to be the case that the authors had some kind of apologetic and/or missionary intention underlying their work. They appear to have wanted to gain readers for their works and were wiling to cast those works in a form currently popular. To that extent, they adapted their understanding of the Christian message to the literary tastes of the second and third centuries." [p.164, "Jesus and the Disciples as Miracle Workers in the Apocryphal New Testament", by Paul Achtemeier, in Aspects of Religious Propaganda in Judaism and Early Christianity, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza (ed), UNotreDame:1976.]

 

 

·         This genre carried a built-in temptation to 'embellish' (with the readers, btw, knowing from the genre to 'discount' the material somewhat, for that same reason). This requirement for compromise with the genre--in the case of the canonical literature--was not apparently very strong, by contrast:

 

"Any author, of course, writes to be read. But the continuing and unresolved debate over the possible genre of the canonical gospels indicates that such adaption [sic] to  current Hellenistic literary tastes was no so great an element in their formation, as in that of the apocryphal acts. The same is true of the canonical Acts, if in somewhat modified degree. Cf. E. Plumacher, Lukas als hellenistischer Schriftsteller (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1972), who sees Luke as dependent on Hellenistic historiography for his model, but never using elements drawn from it to arouse interest or decorate his narrative to make it palatable to Hellenistic tastes [p. 139). It is just this, it seems to me, that the authors of the apocryphal acts are doing." [p.184, n.110,"Jesus and the Disciples as Miracle Workers in the Apocryphal New Testament", by Paul Achtemeier, in Aspects of Religious Propaganda in Judaism and Early Christianity, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza (ed), UNotreDame:1976.]

 

"The frequency with which metamorphoses are narrated in the apocryphal acts, along with numerous astonishing prodigies, seems to indicate that the Hellenistic view of magic has been taken over less critically there than by the apologists." [p.174,"Jesus and the Disciples as Miracle Workers in the Apocryphal New Testament", by Paul Achtemeier, in Aspects of Religious Propaganda in Judaism and Early Christianity, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza (ed), UNotreDame:1976.]

 

 

·         And again we are faced with the question: are these writings 'Christian enough' to be considered in our question? Do they represent an "obviously orthodox", mainstream position? The answer would have to be, as in the case of the Infancy gospels, generally "No" (although each Acts has a different 'amount' of Gnostic or Docetic material, and even 'orthodox' positions may have occasional twinges of these beliefs):

 

"..given the Gnostic flavor of the apocryphal acts…" [p.174,"Jesus and the Disciples as Miracle Workers in the Apocryphal New Testament", by Paul Achtemeier, in Aspects of Religious Propaganda in Judaism and Early Christianity, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza (ed), UNotreDame:1976.]

 

"Phrases that reflect Gnostic cosmology and beliefs occur with some regularity within the apocryphal acts we have examined, e.g., John reports that Jesus sometimes had a material, sometimes an immaterial body, and left no footprints when he walked; a youth cannot praise God because it is not in his "nature"; when one understands himself, he understands all; Paul's opponents affirm that the resurrection of the Christian has already occurred; a person must recognize what he was, is now, and that he is to become again what he was; those who realize that the true meaning of Christ's passion and cross is something other than that which is visible, and who withdraw from the material world, will learn the "whole secret" of their salvation. Such instances could be multiplied many-fold. Along with this is a strong ascetic strain present in all the apocryphal acts here examined, and aimed primarily against sexual intercourse, to the point that a lion, baptized by Paul, refuses to yield himself to the blandishments of a lioness…" [p.185f, n.125,"Jesus and the Disciples as Miracle Workers in the Apocryphal New Testament", by Paul Achtemeier, in Aspects of Religious Propaganda in Judaism and Early Christianity, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza (ed), UNotreDame:1976.]

 

"This is reflected in the apocryphal literature. With the advance of 'orthodoxy' the character of this literature also changed: it became propaganda literature for particular groups or opinions." [NTA:1:56]

 

 

·         The fact that the non-canonical miracles in these works are generally "business as usual" literary topoi (i.e., common narrative situations for a specific genre, such as shipwreck, metamorphoses, resurrections, love interest) argues they were not 'legendary accretions' at all, but rather, conscious literary choices/creations. In other words, it is NOT as if the miracle 'tradition' surrounding some apostolic figure was received/reviewed by the author, and then inserted into the narrative--but rather that there WAS no 'received tradition' of said miracle(s) at all, and that the literary author 'pulled one out of the literary topoi catalogue' and used that one. This is standard practice for well-known genres. [This would eliminate this category from our question as well.] For example, the healing miracles associated with Jesus are 'minor players' in these stories; instead, fabulous stories that would not likely have been folklore-additions(!) appear en masse:

 

"An indication of the direction in which these apocryphal acts are moving in their portrayal of the disciples lies in the fact that while the healing miracles reported of them are not numerous, accounts of people being raised from the dead, both by the disciples and by those temporarily empowered by the disciples to do it, are much more numerous. .. Healing miracles occur with even less frequency in the later apocryphal acts...Stories of people being raised from the dead, on the other hand, are much more numerous."  [p.164f,"Jesus and the Disciples as Miracle Workers in the Apocryphal New Testament", by Paul Achtemeier, in Aspects of Religious Propaganda in Judaism and Early Christianity, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza (ed), UNotreDame:1976.]

 

"There are of course many other miracles reported in these acts in addition to those of healing and raising the dead. During a prayer of John, the altar and temple of Artemis in Ephesus are shattered, killing the priest, and at John's word bedbugs abandon the bed upon which he intends to sleep and then, again at his word, return to it the next morning. An adulteress is paralyzed at Paul's approach and his prayer causes rain and hail to quench the fire meant to burn Thecla. At Peter's bidding a dog announces a challenge to Simon, and a baby speaks with the voice of a man. When a demon, leaving on Peter's command, shatters a statue, Peter instructs another on how to cause the statue to restore itself immediately, and to show his power, Peter makes a smoked fish swim and eat. Thomas causes a serpent to tell its story after its bite has killed a man, causes a wild ass to speak and summons four wild asses to draw his wagon (at his summons the whole herd appears, but Thomas dismisses them after choosing the four largest), and sends one of them into a city to summon forth a demoniac…Punitive miracles are also recorded, though not in great abundance. An unworthy woman was paralyzed when she received the eucharist at Paul's hands, and an unworthy lad's hands withered when he took the elements from Thomas. As a result of slapping Thomas, a man dies, as Thomas had predicted he would. Simon is struck dumb when a baby speaks to him with a man's voice, and Simon kills a boy by whispering in his ear. At Peter's prayer, the flying Simon falls and breaks his leg in three places."  [p.165f,"Jesus and the Disciples as Miracle Workers in the Apocryphal New Testament", by Paul Achtemeier, in Aspects of Religious Propaganda in Judaism and Early Christianity, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza (ed), UNotreDame:1976.]

 

"Another regular feature of this literature is accounts of metamorphoses, especially of Jesus appearing in another's form. He appears to a group of widows as an old man, a youth, and a boy, each form to a different portion of the group. He appears to Thecla in the form of Paul and to Maximilla in the form of Andrew. To Drusiana he appears in the form of John, and of a young man, to John he appears as an old man, to James, who was with John, as a youth, and to a young married couple on their wedding night he appears as Thomas."  [p.167f,"Jesus and the Disciples as Miracle Workers in the Apocryphal New Testament", by Paul Achtemeier, in Aspects of Religious Propaganda in Judaism and Early Christianity, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza (ed), UNotreDame:1976.]

 

"The world of the apocryphal acts, in sum, is a world of miracles and prodigies, of dreams, foreknowledge and visions, of metamorphoses and voices from heaven. It is a world of wondrous rescues and miraculous punishments, a world in which men return from the dead, having learned secrets of the future, and having seen the torments of the damned while there, a world in which demons not only possess people, but are seen and described. It is, in many ways, the Hellenistic world in which magic and sorcery were quite at home." [p.168,"Jesus and the Disciples as Miracle Workers in the Apocryphal New Testament", by Paul Achtemeier, in Aspects of Religious Propaganda in Judaism and Early Christianity, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza (ed), UNotreDame:1976.]

 

Accordingly, it doesn't appear that this category is an apples-to-apples comparison.

 

 

 

……………………………………………………………………………….

 

5. Make some observations and reflections on this data.

 

 

One. One of the persistent themes that surfaces in most of the apocryphal gospel material (not considering the apocryphal Acts) is that it is antithetical (sometimes self-consciously so) to scriptural/orthodox positions (as represented by the Fathers and the Apologists of the time). This is not as apparent in the Apocryphal Acts (although it is definitely there, as noted above), is very apparent in the Infancy Gospels, and can easily be seen in the apocryphal gospel literature.

 

In some cases, the documents are simply pagan works 'baptized' with Christian terminology, in other cases, the disagreement is verbalized in the text itself. The Gnostic literature itself is somehow able to 'borrow orthodox dignitaries' for their PR campaigns (e.g. The Prot.Jas. was used in Gnostic circles about Mary; James is adopted by the Gnostics in "his" apocalypses), as do other groups--regardless of scripture or history. Let's look at just a sample of some of the data:

 

"The appearance of the risen Christ to James is an independent legend, which has formed round an historical kernel of which the oldest witness is 1 Cor. 15:7. But that the first appearance of the risen Christ was to James [a la Gospel of the Hebrews GH], and that he was present at the last supper, contradicts the New Testament tradition; the target of the account is the setting free of the Lord's brother from his vow of abstinence; here a special interest in the person of James is evident…Since contrary to the historical facts he is distinguished as a participant of Jesus' last supper and as the first witness and consequently the most important guarantor of the resurrection, it is clear that for the GH he is the highest authority in the circle of Jesus' acquaintances." [NTA:1:172,173]

 

[Gospel of Philip] "Some said: 'Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit' They are in error! They do not know what they are saying! When did a woman ever conceive by a woman?" [NTA:1:190]

 

"Removed from its framework the text [BookThomas] emerges as a platonising, Hellenistic-Jewish wisdom writing. Put briefly, the literary character of Book Thom. is similar to that of the Sophia of Jesus Christ. Just like Soph.Jes.Chr., Book Thom is the Christian 'dramatisation' of a non-Christian 'prose' model." [NTA:1:236]

 

"…the overwhelming mass of the material [in Book Thom] clearly represents traditions and ideas that are of a quite different nature and essentially non-Christian, and even alien to Christianity." [NTA:1:239]

 

"Sayings which according the Ap. Jas. [Apocryphon of James] derive from the earthly Jesus are rejected, since the Jesus of before Easter did not possess the character of revelation." [NTA:1:290]

 

[Ap.Jas.] "[Jesus speaking] Become better than I! Make yourselves like the son of the Holy Spirit!…surpass even me!" [NTA:1:293]

 

"The Valentinian theologoumena utilized in it (cf. especially the doctrines of an upper and a lower Sophia, or of  'Sophia' proper and 'Achamoth', which also occur in the text outside the mystery formulae quoted: p. 36.5,8) seem to presuppose the fully-developed Valentinian system, and therefore suggest the composition of the document at the earliest towards the end of the 2nd century." [NTA:1:315; 1st Apocalypse of James]

 

[1st Apocalypse Jas] "…criticism of the scriptures at p. 26.2-8" [NTA:1:317]

 

[2nd Apocalypse Jas] "Its chief aim is not the denunciation of the ignorant, but the provision of a literary basis for a cultic reverence for James - a James who is appointed for the purpose of opening the gates of heaven to those returning home, and distributing the reward [55], who is envied by the creator (!!!) [55.25f.; see the following quote below], 'the first who will unclothe himself' [56.9f.], indeed the one for whose sake redemption is bestowed on those to be redeemed [56.2-7]. Here (after the manner of Peter) the original authority of the earthly representative is carried over into eternity - yet with so much enthusiasm that James is exalted to an extraordinary mythical rank, with aspects of autonomy (cf. Gos. Thom. § 12)…Before James can receive the promise of his rank as exclusive mediator of redemption, he must first become a gnostic. This means here that he must first come to know that the salvation intended for him himself is of quite another kind than he hitherto believed. " [NTA:1:331]

 

[2nd Apcly/Jas] "'…You shall he envy, he who has called himself your Lord…Behold, I shall reveal to you those things that he did not know, he who boasted 'there is no other except me'…55.25; 56.20f]

 

[Pistis Sophia, c.61] "And the [Holy] Spirit said to me: Where is Jesus my brother, that I may meet him? And when he said this to me, I [Mary the mother of Jesus] was at a loss, and thought it was a spectre to tempt me. But I took him [the Holy Spirit!] and bound him to the foot of the bed which was in my house…" [NTA:1:367]

 

This 'motivation' factor differentiates this from our situation. The Gnostic writers created innovations to 'dress the infant Jesus up' to look like a well-defined target--the flaming a-temporal, a-physical Gnostic. On the other hand, we have seen in this series that the canonical writers had no real exemplar to follow. There was no 'target description' or 'standard miracles' for them to create for Jesus--there simply were no antecedents. They might have had the desire to 'embellish Jesus' (assuming this was not forbidden by the earthly Jesus!), but would not have known how to do so (i.e., in what pattern to 'cast him'). This difference further weakens arguments that the motives/influences on Gnostic writers were analogous to those on the canonical evangelists.

 

 

 

Two. The way this should have 'looked'--if the 'gradual miracle-izing of Jesus stories' theory was true/applicable--was that narratives, in the same/similar genre/form/Gattung as the canonical gospels, would have appeared somewhat later, with many of the same elements as the canonical gospels, but with a few new miraculous "enhancements" to the works of Jesus ( and transitional forms should be seen).  They should be narratives, and should be 'cut from the same cloth' as the canonical gospels.

 

But this is not what the apocryphal (non-Infancy) gospels are--they are discourses and dialogues, almost always of the post-earthly, risen, "post-narrative" Jesus. Since most of these writings are from Gnostic groups, this is not surprising, since they are much more focused on what Jesus allegedly said, rather than on what Jesus did. Their 'gospels' are NOT 'gospel narratives' at all, but are essentially lectures and dialogues, sometimes cast into a very simple, one-act narrative setting.

 

"Kurt Rudolph has devoted an important essay to this question. He demonstrates that the Gnostic texts link up with the ancient literary form of the 'dialogue', and at the same time take up elements of the erotapocrisis (question and answer) literature. Rudolph rightly stresses the intention of the Gnostic works: they serve to convey salvation and for the formation of doctrine." [NTA:1:228]

 

"…the Easter stories in the gospel traditions are the point of departure for this literary Gattung. In fact these dialogues are set out as instruction for the disciples by the risen Lord in the period after Easter…" [NTA:1:229]

 

"The Epistula Apostolorum shows that there were also non-gnostic works of this kind. 'This in church circles is singular, and is evidently a conscious taking over of one of the most typical Gnostic forms for substantiating authoritative teaching; it is thus a case of an attempt to combat the Gnostic opponents with their own weapons.'" [NTA:1:229]

 

For example, the Apocryphon of John is not even considered 'apocrypha' by the editors of [NTA:1]:

 

"We may forego any detailed discussion of this text…because it is a Gnostic revelation document which has been only secondarily transformed into a conversation between Jesus and John. It is in any case predominantly a monologue, a discourse in which Gnostic ideas are presented. Even though this document is of very  great importance for the history of Gnosis, it still does not belong in this collection. " [NTA:1:387]

 

 

In fact, the only narrative-type gospels we know of in this period are sub-sets of the canonical gospels--NOT super-sets:

 

·         We might first note that the canon of Marcion was essentially a sub-set of the orthodox canon, with passages deleted from even these.

 

·         And the gospel of the Ebionites itself was a subset of Matthew:

 

"As Epiphanius himself indicates elsewhere, the gospel used by Cerinthus, and also by Carpocrates, was in fact identical with that of the Ebionites and apparently only a truncated version of Matthew…" [NTA:1:397]

 

Accordingly, with the theoretical exception of the Infancy Gospels (of doubtful relevance to this question at all), there simply are no such 'expanded gospels', in the sense required by this theory.

 

 

Three. The enigma of "expand the disciples, but do NOT expand Jesus" that puzzled Achtemeier can be understood as a theological necessity of the Gnostic agenda (IMHO).

 

In the Gnostic system, there has to be a 'levelizing' operation, to put the Gnostics on a par with Jesus. The 'metaphysical distance' between Jesus and His disciples, for the orthodox, was substantial, in keeping with the theology of the Incarnation (with due allowance for the human solidarity 'side' of it) . But this is not a part of Gnosticism--every Gnostic could become a 'Jesus'. Accordingly, given the quality/quantity of the canonical miracles, the Gnostics didn't need any more of those--what THEY needed were more miracles by Jesus' disciples (i.e., alleged founders of Gnosticism, in the Apocryphal Acts!). They needed to bring the disciples up to Jesus' level. They needed to 'bridge the divinity gap' between Jesus and themselves, with a group of Gnostic-looking disciples who achieved the same level of Gnostic-salvation as Jesus had.

 

This leveling motive to 'reduce theological distance' between Jesus and the current Gnostics can be seen in a couple of ways:

 

·         In the Apocalypse of James, Jesus tells his follows that He can be 'surpassed' by them:

 

"Become better than I! Make yourselves like the son of the Holy Spirit!…surpass even me!" [NTA:1:293]

 

·         In the Second Apocalypse of James, James almost replaces Jesus as the cause of redemption and is even credited with making the God of the Hebrew Bible (i.e., the Demi-urge in Gnostic thought) jealous of him!:

 

"Its chief aim is not the denunciation of the ignorant, but the provision of a literary basis for a cultic reverence for James - a James who is appointed for the purpose of opening the gates of heaven to those returning home, and distributing the reward (55), who is envied by the creator (55.25f), 'the first who will unclothe himself' (56.9f.), indeed the one for whose sake redemption is bestowed on those to be redeemed (56.2-7). Here (after the manner of Peter) the original authority of the earthly representative is carried over into eternity - yet with so much enthusiasm that James is exalted to an extraordinary mythical rank, with aspects of autonomy (cf. Gos. Thom. § 12)…Before James can receive the promise of his rank as exclusive mediator of redemption, he must first become a gnostic. This means here that he must first come to know that the salvation intended for him himself is of quite another kind than he hitherto believed. " [NTA:1:331]

 

·         We have noted already that the Infancy Gospels were docetic in tone, and they portrayed the child Jesus as a full-grown Gnostic. These miracles heighten the miraculous in Jesus, but do so under 'controlled conditions'--they can be allowed to happen since they are ALSO putting the "Gnostic Message" into the mouth of the child Jesus:

 

"Not only the miracle-worker but also Christ the teacher must be foreshadowed in the child. What Luke relates relatively soberly about the twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple is here exaggerated into the grotesque. The boy not only possesses all the wisdom of the age, but baffles all human teachers by profound and often obscure pronouncements. In particular the longer version of chapter 6 shows how the boy Jesus becomes the gnostic Revealer. He proclaims gnostic speculations, and already possesses all divine wisdom in its fullest range; in contrast to Luke 2:40, he has no need whatever of 'growth in wisdom'. The book displays the docetic tendency which ultimately lies at the root of most of the infancy gospels." [NTA:1:442]

 

"But in order to be able to derive their speculations from Jesus himself, they needed as a framework a setting in his life which could be fitted into the older gospel tradition, but without being controlled by its content. Besides the resurrection appearances during the forty days, there was available the whole childhood of Jesus left untouched by the older Gospels. We have seen how fruitful in this respect were the themes of Jesus at the age of twelve in the Temple and of his education. What they required, however, was a child Jesus who was only a child in appearance, but had in fact no need of development, since he possessed the full revelation in its entirety, and already had unlimited power to perform miracles…The tendency to Docetism behind all the legends of the infancy met this need, and at the same time was greatly strengthened by it..." [NTA:1:453f]

 

·         Jesus is consistently styled an 'illuminator' (phostar) and so are the disciples (Letter of Peter to Philip, p.137.8)

 

Even when one makes adjustments for canonical comments such as "greater works shall YOU do" and "the student shall be as his teacher" and "I have given you an example", the Gnostic teaching goes considerably beyond this, and the 'leveling' effect is needed.

 

 

Four. The difference between folklore and canonical tradition seems to be visible here.

 

In this mass of material, we could theoretically have had miracle traditions arising from  four categories of sources:

 

1.        Traditional material which is considered 'normative' or 'constitutive' for the (orthodox) group.

2.        Miraculous material added to some of the literary works, because of genre-characteristics, selected from topoi.

3.        Miraculous material of a folkloric/"popular" origination.

4.        Miraculous material of a spurious nature, created deliberately as propaganda for a sectarian position or personal influence.

 

Number two was operative in the Infancy Gospels (e.g., child prodigy fables), and in the Apocryphal Acts (e.g., Hellenistic romance stories). These elements would have been understood--by literate audiences--as being 'less than factual' and for entertainment (and/or perhaps, exemplary) purposes. They would not be considered 'historical tradition' at all, but rather as literary topoi, which was 'standard fare' for that genre.

 

Number four might be represented by some of the Infancy miracles (e.g., those not deriving from topoi), but the absence of invented miracles about the mature Jesus means this source concentrated more on 'creating post-Easter speeches' than on pre-Easter miracles.

 

When I did my 'sanity check' on Achtemeier's conclusions, I went through each of the documents listed in Volume One of NTA ("Volume One: Gospels and Related Writings").

 

Here are the entries from the table of contents:

               

Fragments of Unknown Gospels

·         Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 840

·         Papyrus Egerton 2

·         Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 1224

·         Papyrus Cairensis 10 735

·         The so-called Fayyum Fragment

·         The Strasbourg Coptic Papyrus

Appendix: the 'secret Gospel' of Mark (note: very controversial!)

The Coptic Gospel of Thomas (Manicean Thomas)

Jewish-Christian Gospels                                              

·         The Gospel of the Nazareans

·         The Gospel of the Ebionites

·         The Gospel of the Hebrews

The Gospel of Philip                                                        

The (Greek) Gospel of the Egyptians

The Gospel of Peter                                                         

Dialogues of the Redeemer                                            

·         The Book of Thomas

·         The Freer Logion

·         Epistula Apostolorum

·         The Apocryphon of James

·         The Dialogue of the Saviour

·         The First Apocalypse of James

·         The Second Apocalypse of James

·         The Letter of Peter to Philip

Other Gnostic Gospels and Related Literature

Gospels under general titles

·         The Gospel of the Four Heavenly Regions

·         The Gospel of Perfection

·         The Gospel of Truth

Gospels under the name of an Old Testament figure (Gospel of Eve)

Gospels current, directly or indirectly, under the name of Jesus, and similar works

·         The Sophia Jesu Christi

·         The Dialogue of the Redeemer (see Dialogue of the Savior))

·         The Pistis Sophia

·         The two Books of Jeu

Gospels attributed to the Apostles as a group

·         The Gospel of the Twelve (or: of the Twelve Apostles)

·         The (Kukean) Gospel of the Twelve

·         The Memoria Apostolorurn

·         The (Manichean) Gospel of the Twelve Apostles

·         The Gospel of the Seventy

·         Other 'Gospels of the Twelve Apostles'

Gospels under the name of an Apostle

·         The Gospel of Philip

·         The Coptic Gospel of Thomas

·         The Book of Thomas

·         The Gospel according to Matthias/The Traditions of Matthias

·         The Gospel of Judas

·         The Apocryphon of John

·         Fragments of a Dialogue between John and Jesus

·         The Apocryphon of James (Apocryphon Jacobi)

·         The Gospel of Bartholomew

Gospels under the names of holy women

1.        The Questions of Mary

2.        The Gospel of Mary

3.        The 'Genna Marias'

Gospels attributed to an arch-heretic

·         The Gospel of Cerinthus

·         The Gospel of Basilides

·         The Gospel of Marcion

·         The Gospel of Apelles

·         The Gospel of Bardesanes

·         The Gospel of Mani

Gospels under the Names of their Users

Infancy Gospels                                                                                                                                                                                    

·         The Protevangelium of James

·         The Infancy Story of Thomas

·         Gnostic Legends

·         Later Infancy Gospels

4A) Extracts from the Arabic Infancy Gospel

4A1) Legends of the child Jesus in Egypt

4A2) The children who were changed into goats

4B) Extracts from the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew

4B1) Ox and ass at the manger

4B2) Legends of the child Jesus in Egypt

4C) Extract from the Latin Infancy Gospel in the Arundel Manuscript

4D) Extract from the Life of John according to Serapion

The Relatives of Jesus                                                    

The Work and Sufferings of Jesus

1.        The Witness of Josephus (Testimonium Flavianum)

2.        The Abgar Legend

3.        The Gospel of Nicodemus. Acts of Pilate and Christ's Descent into Hell

4.        The Gospel of Bartholomew

                                                                                                   i.      The Questions of Bartholomew

                                                                                                 ii.       Coptic Bartholomew Texts

5.        The Gospel of Gamaliel

 

 When I went through each of these, I first eliminated all of those (a) which were duplicates; (b) were later than the 3rd century; and (c) for which we had no copies of the actual text [i.e., their title showed up somewhere in the ancient lit, but we don’t have any actual text associated with that]. I also removed the highly contested and controversial "Secret gospel of Mark" (it has one revivification miracle in it).

 

I then went through the remaining, noting whether they included any references to miracles done by Jesus, and also whether they were considered 'orthodox' (by the standards of the authors of the individual articles in NTA1). If they were not orthodox, I tried to note which particular aberrance(s) was/were involved. Here is the resulting list, which agrees with Achtemeier:

 

Title

Miracles of Jesus?

Orthodox?

Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 840

no

 

Papyrus Egerton 2

? seed on the water?

The so-called Fayyum Fragment

no

 

The Strasbourg Coptic Papyrus

no

 

The Coptic Gospel of Thomas (Manicean Thomas)

no

no, Gnox/Mani

The Gospel of the Nazareans

1 canonical

 

The Gospel of the Ebionites

no

no, Gnox

The Gospel of the Hebrews

no

no, Gnox

The Gospel of Philip

?transfiguration,

no, Gnox

 

?color-merger?

The (Greek) Gospel of the Egyptians

no

no, Encratites,Gnox,Sabellian

The Gospel of Peter

no

no, docetic

The Book of Thomas

no

no, Gnox, other

The Freer Logion

no

 

Epistula Apostolorum

list of canonical

 

The Apocryphon of James

no

no, Gnox

The Dialogue of the Saviour<  `  ` ÿÿÿÿ

no

no, Gnox

The First Apocalypse of James

no

no, Gnox (dev. Val.)

The Second Apocalypse of James

no

no, Gnox/pre-Marcionite

The Letter of Peter to Philip

no

?no, semi-Gnox

The Gospel of Truth

no

no, Gnox (dev. Val.)

The Sophia Jesu Christi

no

no, Gnox

The Pistis Sophia

no

no, Gnox

The two Books of Jeu

no

no, Gnox

The Gospel/Traditions according to Matthias

no

?, Gnox

The Apocryphon of John

no

no, Gnox

Fragments of a Dialogue between John & Jesus

no

no, Gnox

The Questions of Mary

1 sexual?

no, Gnox/Nicolaitans

The Gospel of Mary

no

no, Gnox

The 'Genna Marias'

no

no, Gnox

The Gospel of Marcion

prob not

no, Marcionite

The Protevangelium of James

no

 

The Infancy Story of Thomas

childhood only

no (cf. Iren)

Gnostic Legends

no

no (Gnox, docetic)

The Gospel of Nicodemus/Acts of Pilate

all canonical

 

 

 

References to the miracles of Jesus is scarce indeed, as Achtemeier noted. There are three non-canonical miracle stories listed, with the Papyrus Egerton 2 document of disputed value ["Dated around 200 and first published in 1935, it is incomplete and badly damaged…It concludes with Jesus working a miracle at the Jordan River, a story not attested in the other Gospels. The value of Egerton Papyrus 2 is disputed, but most researchers conclude from its fragmentary nature and its mixing of Johannine and synoptic elements in its narrative that it is a later reworking of their traditions." [HI:JONT:211]]. The second non-canonical miracle is one noted by Achtemeier, the one about Jesus doing a color-miracle. He throws 72 different colored dyed clothes into a dying vat, and they all come out white (duh). But the third 'new miracle'--from the Questions of Mary--seems to fall squarely in our 'fabrication to justify a religious praxis' (Number four).

 

The text we have from the Questions of Mary (Magdalene, probably) comes from Epiphanius:

 

 "[Jesus] gave [Mary] a revelation, taking her aside to the mountain and praying; and he brought forth from his side a woman and began to unite with her, and so, forsooth, taking his effluent, he showed that 'we must so do, that we may live'; and how when Mary fell to the ground abashed (!!!), he raised her up again and said to her: 'Why didst thou doubt, O thou of little faith?'" [NTA:1:390]

 

NTA1 points out that this is what it looks like: Jesus creating a woman from His side (a la Genesis), then copulating with her up to coitus interruptus, and then capturing the bodily fluid for use in their religious ritual:

 

"The following actions (sexual union, gathering and offering of the seed, etc.) are intended to serve as the model and first example, the prototype, for the eucharistic rites actually in use among the Nicolaitans, the Borborians and other licentious Gnostics in Egypt…" [NTA:1:390…see quote below].

 

These rituals could hardly be described as 'orthodox' and scarcely something that arose from 'folkloric embellishment' (!):

 

"Finally, Clement of Alexandria (Stromateis III, 2.10.1) reports that the Carpocratians celebrate an apparently nocturnal common meal that he calls a "love feast," after which they extinguish the lamps and command the women present to engage in sexual intercourse as a divine duty. Epiphanius reports similar activity on the part of the Borborites, whom he connects with the Sethians; in particular, he mentions two communal meals of theirs: a eucharist consisting of offering up and consuming menstrual blood and spent semen withheld from intercourse as the blood and body of Christ, and a Passover meal devoted to the consumption of a mangled fetus extracted from any woman who accidentally happens to become pregnant during such sexual exchange (Panarion 26.4.5-5.6)." (from http://jdt.unl.edu/ritual.htm)

 

This seems clearly a case of "Number four"--the invention of a praxis-justifying miracle and attaching said action to Jesus. [However, it is not clear that this is a pre-Easter Jesus and not a Post-Easter Jesus, as would be the "normal" Gnostic way to do this. Accordingly, it MIGHT NOT be a case of a extra miracle by the pre-Risen Christ.]

 

 

But it is the relationship between Number One ('official tradition') and Number Three ('folkloric elements') that is intriguing and worth thinking about.

 

Given the popularity of Jesus in the first half of His ministry, and the gospel comments about His 'fame spreading everywhere', I find it impossible to believe that 'folkloric expansions' of His public events would not occur, in the very 'spreading of the fame' by the populace. Herod had heard about His miracles, as had the Canaanite woman. The crowds in John know about His miracles, although they may not have seen any. Normal processes of 'dinner time dramatization' and 'evening meal embellishment' would be likely to occur among the populace. These process are ubiquitous, and such stories/rumors follows any public or 'famous' figure.

 

However, we need to distinguish between simple embellishment of stories, circulating outside the apostolic circle, and folklore proper. "Casual embellishment" is done by individuals; folklore is a group practice. The American Heritage Dictionary gives this for folklore:

 

"The traditional beliefs, myths, tales, and practices of a people, transmitted orally.

This means that an individual "embellishment" requires time, distribution, 'credibility', and 'competitive success' to even become 'folklore'. It might be a spectacular (read 'juicy') piece of embellishment, but until it "gets around" widely enough and gets 'believed' widely enough, it is not 'folklore' per se. It has to be distributed widely, either through rumor mill, information channels, social events, or official distribution bodies--but this requires that it must have been 'believed' enough already by SOMEBODY and/or some group willing to both (a) make the dissemination effort and (b) be willing to be 'identified' with this particular story. It has to be 'credible' enough, to get beyond the "interesting story--not sure I know WHAT to make of that" stage (cf. "can anything good come out of Nazareth?!" )--for the majority of some group…And finally it has to 'compete successfully' with alternative and competitive and even 'official' versions of the event/item.

 

If I hear a rumor or story about some event in my home town, then I can 'semi-believe' or 'believe' that event, if it's plausible. If, however, the cover article on the next day's hometown newspaper has a 'more official' or 'more credible' version that differs from my version, I am likely to discard my proto-folklore in favor of a 'semi-official' version thereof. My version simply lost the 'competitive battle' with an alternate version. Also, once published and circulating in the public, the semi-official version will now act to retard (a) future variants of the core incident; and (b) people believing the old proto-folklore version I might have already started spreading. Of course, it will not reduce (and may actually increase via public exposure), variants of the incidentals around the core element. In other words, the core cannot easily be modified now, but the setting, names of the characters, amount of money, etc.--incidentals and setting variables CAN vary in future retellings.

 

So, the mere fact that people can embellish (for any number of reasons) a story, doesn't mean that these embellishments can become folklore at all. The generation of the variant is easy; 'selling' that variant to a large enough 'market' is not necessarily easy at all.  And, if there are competing versions, with higher credibility, holding the 'older' version requires extra 'faith' and exposes one to possible social 'censure' once the social group has embraced the 'orthodox version'.

 

Of course, I may persist in my personal belief/version (and given me, I probably would…self-deprecating smile), but unless I can convince sufficient other people to abandon the more widely-held, semi-official one and adopt my personal version, then I cannot call it 'folklore'--it's just another example of my weirdness and social deviance…(sigh/smile). Correspondingly, there could be several variants, held by sub-groups within a larger group, at any given time. But it takes consistent effort and reinforcement, generally speaking, to withstand the 'smothering' influence of dominant positions.

 

And even if I can somehow 'sell my idea' to a wide group, getting my personal 'tradition' or innovation embedded in the culture, it likely won't displace the 'true' or official versions for quite some time (if at all). It will have to be satisfied with being an 'unofficial alternative'.

 

To get some idea of the time scales here, consider the information from Sherwin-White [RLRS, chapter 8]. He works through two examples in G-R history, in which the 'mythological' challenger does not win against the historical core:

 

"Herodotus enables us to test the tempo of myth-making, and the tests suggest that even two generations are too short a span to allow the mythical tendency to prevail over the hard historic core of the oral tradition. A revealing example is provided by the story of the murder of the Athenian tyrant Hipparchus at the hands of Harmodius and Aristogeiton, who became the pattern of all tyrannicides. The true story was that they assassinated Hipparchus in 514 B.C., but the tyranny lasted another four years before the establishment of the Athenian democracy. Popular opinion created a myth to the effect that Harmodius and Aristogeiton destroyed the tyranny and freed Athens. This was current in the mid-fifth century. Yet Herodotus, writing at that time, and generally taking the popular view of the establishment of the democracy, gives the true version and not the myth about the death of Hipparchus. A generation later the more critical Thucydides was able to uncover a detailed account of exactly what happened on the fatal day in 514 B.C. It would have been natural and easy for Herodotus to give the mythical version. He does not do so because he had a particular interest in a greater figure than Harmodius or Aristogeiton, that is, Cleisthenes, the central person in the establishment of the democracy...All this suggests that, however strong the myth-forming tendency, the falsification does not automatically and absolutely prevail even with a writer like Herodotus, who was naturally predisposed in favour of certain political myths, and whose ethical and literary interests were stronger than his critical faculty. The Thucydidean version is a salutary warning that even a century after a major event it is possible in a relatively small or closed community for a determined inquirer to establish a remarkably detailed account of a major event, by inquiry within the inner circle of the descendants of those concerned with the event itself. " (p.190f)

 

Sherwin-White was contacted later by a colleague who suggested

 

"…that a study of the Alexander sources is less encouraging for my thesis. There was a remarkable growth of myth around his person and deeds within the lifetime of contemporaries, and the historical embroidery was often deliberate. But the hard core still remains, and an alternative but neglected source--or pair of sources--survived for the serious inquirer Arrian to utilize in the second century A.D. This seems to me encouraging rather than the reverse. " (p.192f)

 

It is important to realize what S-W is saying here. He is NOT saying that fiction/fable do not arise. Nor is he saying that such fiction/fable cannot contaminate the details, setting, portrayal of some event. What he IS saying is that it cannot displace the 'hard historic core' of the "true version". It might exist simultaneously alongside the more accurate version, and even be preferred by many audiences, but it will not 'prevail' as the only version. [We must also remember that S-W is talking here about non-manipulative, and "non-aggressive" fictions--those that are not being 'driven' by an agent, nor promoted by a publicist. A good image-manipulator or spin-doctor can create widely-held fictions within a very, very short time.]

 

In our particular case of Jesus' miracles, it is very safe to understand that they were 'core' to the apostolic understanding. The earliest sermons we have in Acts reflect this. For example, Peter points to the miracles of Jesus, NOT as a proof of His power, but of His authentication by God (as we have noted before):

 

“Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know." (Acts 2.22)

 

So, Sherwin-White's observations might apply to our case as well--since the miracles of Jesus did seem to be a 'core' part of the earliest traditions.

 

In addition to these obstacles to becoming 'folklore', there are the more powerful anti-deviance influences/processes of all social groups. For example, if the proposed story/embellishment (or its implications)  threatens group cohesion (e.g., claims that Jesus is the messiah, or that His miracles makes Him a threat to Caesar or Herod), normal social processes will kick in to regulate the group 'back down' to more conventional, more original, safer, and more foundational beliefs.

 

What this means is that individual 'innovations' may have to overcome considerable social 'resistance' forces in order to achieve folklore status.

 

 

In contrast to free-floating folklore, there was a specific group of people who were in charge of the 'sacred and true' traditions. The two dominant models for the activity of Jesus were those of prophet (with the disciples approximating the 'school of prophet X'--faithfully carrying on the traditions and recording/disseminating the 'true' words/deeds of prophet X) and of rabbi (with the disciples approximating the 'students of rabbi X'--learning and transmitting the traditions with an absolute minimum of modification). Both of these models are now well-documented for the times and activities of Jesus, and the solidly conservative nature of these specific transmission processes all but preclude 'innovation' on the part of the disciples.

 

The words and works of Jesus (including His miracles) were the charter and foundation traditions for the Christian Church. Created by the reality of the resurrection of the Living Lord, the first believers were given the commission to 'make followers/students/disciples' of Jesus. This has at its very core the faithful transmission of the life-example and teachings of our Lord. Innovation is not part of the job spec--fidelity to the actual events and actual teachings of Jesus are. As day-to-day companions of Jesus, there was no need to travel around, 'collecting Jesus traditions' to know what to teach! They had lived and learned these daily from the Rabbi, who took them into the experiences and then explained it to them (and interpreted it to them) afterwards.

 

And they succeeded in preserving that past, even when it might not have 'made sense.' Lemcio's work on The Past of Jesus in the Gospels [LPJG] is a detailed study of this:

 

"The hardest available evidence from the gospels has confirmed the thesis that the Evangelists produced narratives about Jesus of Nazareth that were free of blatant attempts to infuse and overlay his story with their own later and developed estimates of his teaching, miracles, passion, and person….With a consistency that can be charted on virtually every page of text, the thought and idiom of his era are not reproduced in theirs. Or, more correctly, they do not retroject theirs into his. Such a claim, when carefully qualified, can even be made of John. At significant moments (5:24, 12:44), the most christocentric of Evangelists reveals a synoptic-like theocentricity that dominates the entire gospel." [LPJG:108,109]

 

Not only was the church literally born with this tradition full-formed, in-hand, and ready for dissemination, but the earliest written records we have show that preservation and transmission of the traditions--in fidelity--were central in their responsibilities. There was even a special vocabulary (rabbinical) of 'receiving', 'holding to', 'delivered to', etc. for this sacred deposit. These words show up in the early (and late, for that matter) epistles of the NT. Examples would include:

 

"I commend you because…you hold to the traditions, even as I delivered them to you…" (1 Cor 11.2)

 

"what things you both learned and received and heard and saw in me, do…" (Phil 4.9)

 

"[They turned] from the holy commandment delivered to them" (2 Pet 2..21)

 

"Contend for the faith once delivered to the saints." (Jude 3)

 

"Note those who make dissensions against the teaching which you learned" (Rom 16.17)

 

"Hold the traditions which you were taught" (2 Thess 2.15)

 

"Abide in the things you learned…knowing from whom you learned them." (2 Tim 3.14)

 

"The one who abides in the teaching of Christ, this one has both the Father and the Son…If anyone comes to you and does not bear this teaching, do not receive him." (2 John 9f).

 

 

I have pointed out on the Tank in numerous places that the gospels were group products, involving group-collaboration, group-review, and group-approval. A recent work by E. Earle Ellis has demonstrated now that the same can be said of the NT epistles [NT:MNTD].

 

"As the above examples indicate, the New Testament references to transmitted traditions are predominantly in Pauline letters, but they occur also in the literature of the Jacobean, the Johannine and, if II Peter be allowed, the Petrine missions. If they have been rightly understood, they point to a prior traditioning process in which apostolic teachings were transmitted to congregations of believers as a holy word that is regarded as the tradition of Christ and that the recipients are to 'receive,' 'learn,' 'hold,' 'keep,' 'abide' and 'walk in,' 'do' and 'teach.' The traditioned teaching is, moreover, a particular 'version' of Christian doctrine, for in a number of New Testament writers it is contrasted to teachings of (in their view) a false or distorted Christian message, that is, 'the tradition of men.'...This traditioning process (and the attitude on which it is based) has affinities with and appears to be rooted in practices traditional to Judaism and, as we have seen in the preceding chapter, it has its immediate antecedent in the practice of Jesus himself. For, despite differences of idiom, it is common to various apostolic missions and is generally presupposed by the authors of the various New Testament letters." [NT:MNTD:57f]

 

"The texts at Rom 6:17 and Rom 16:17 shed considerable light on the nature of the traditioning process in the Christianity of the fifties of the first century, for they show that the Apostle Paul can address a church outside his own mission with an assurance that it has (already) received instruction in Christian teachings that is in essential agreement with that which his own churches have received. Thus, these verses substantiate the inferences drawn from other texts that there was a general transmission of common and agreed Christian traditions among a number of apostolic missions." [NT:MNTD:59]

 

My point here is that, unlike folklore, the canonical materials were already-formed (not developed over time), conservatively maintained (part of the commission), and would have exerted a 'dampening' influence on all non-canonical alternative 'versions' of those events and words of Jesus.

 

To these historical factors, I should mention one sociological one: foundation documents/charters of a social group do not 'change'. The forces that bind group members into the group also operate to 'preserve' the traditions/charter that constituted and created the group to begin with. Proposed changes to the very constitutive vision of the group incites social pressures and feedback mechanisms to conform.  Interpretations of those documents might change over time, additional documents might be added to the 'charter document group', and members may leave the group when/if they lose 'faith' in the vision articulated in those foundation stories, but the stories/documents themselves are not subject to 'accretions'.

 

A trivial example can be seen in the US Declaration of Independence. Even if it had not been a written document, it would not have undergone significant embellishment or accretion. Rather, interpreters would have come up with 'new and improved' understandings of that document--similar to the way the US Constitution has not 'changed', but has been re-interpreted in major paradigm shifts more than once.

 

In our case, we can hardly doubt that there might have been both free-floating folklore and 'audited traditions' side-by-side during this entire period of 3 centuries. But the fact of the matter is that this folklore is not visible in our sources. It would seem that the early presence and dominance of the 'commissioned transmission' exerted a strong enough influence to preclude the alternate versions, and also provided an adequately powerful vision for the community, such that there was no 'occasion' or need to entertain alternatives. The experience of new life and freedom in the New Family was apparently adequate to educate the believer that all else were counterfeits, spurious, or superfluous.

 

 

 

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

6. Look back at the canonical literature for any evidence of miraculous embellishment WITHIN it.

 

 

Here we face an obvious and immediate problem: which gospels (or parts thereof) were the 'earlier, non-embellished' versions and which were the "later, miracle-ized" ones. This is an intractable problem, so I will approach it by evaluating ALL MAJOR OPTIONS and look at all 'conjectured, but defended' positions on early-versus-later strata.

 

Remember, what we are looking for is some kind of 'development' or 'movement' from (a) the non-miraculous to the miraculous; and/or (b) from the miraculous to the more-miraculous.

 

[Note: simply 'doubling' the number healed, for example, from one to two is not a big enough jump to qualify! Maybe increasing from 1 to 100 would be, but we are really talking more about turning a healing into a revivification, or turning healing one servant at a distance into healing an entire town at a distance. Likewise, literary 'embellishment' does not count: the supplying of names to anonymous characters, additional background detail, making motivations explicit, adding congruent dialogue, etc.]

 

 

First, let's look at the various identified strata. Are any of them without miracle traditions? NO, references to miracles occur in ALL strata and ALL literary forms.

 

"A final piece of evidence that Jesus performed miracles is that inside the New Testament all the Gospel traditions support the case that Jesus performed miracles: Mark, Q, M, L, John and--if it existed--the Johannine signs source, as well as the appendix to the Fourth Gospel. The witness of various literary forms in the Gospels also gives support to the view that Jesus performed miracles. There are biographical sayings, parables, a dispute story, sayings of instruction, and commissionings, as well as the stories of exorcism, healing, raising the dead and so-called nature miracles…" [NT:JMW:256]

 

"If the above data caution us against easily assuming that the autonomy of Jesus'' miracle-working as represented in the Markan miracles is due to a secondary assimilation of Jesus to pagan miracle workers, further considerations will suggest that this autonomy was a characteristic feature of the historical Jesus himself. Firstly, we have already seen that this feature generally goes against the grain of  O.T., apostolic, and rabbinic miracle stories. Therefore Latourelle is to some extent justified when he argues that Jesus' autonomy passes the criterion of dissimilarity. Secondly, all of the miracle stories from each of the generally recognized Gospel strata (Q, Mark, M, L, John) agree in their presentation of the autonomy of Jesus' miracle-working...the Gospel's presentation of Jesus' direct manner of performing miracles coheres with that striking degree of authority which the historical Jesus undeniably exercised with respect to his ministry as a whole." [X02:TAMMT:132-3]

 

 

Second, let's look at the various (main) 'literary priority' positions. Do any of the early-later gospel pairings indicate a pattern of miracle-ization? NO, there is no such discernable pattern.

 

·         If we look back at our table of miracles, we see that Mark includes 18 stories, Matthew has 20, Luke has 21, and John has 8.

 

·         If we believe that John was the last one written, then we might see a pattern of lowering miracle-ization! The Synopitics have 18-20-21, but John only has 8.

 

·         One of the 'big' miracles--the feeding of the 5,000--is mentioned in ALL 4 gospels, without ANY heightening of the already-miraculous.

 

·         It is highly indefensible to 'rank order' the difficulty of already impossible feats(!), but we might at least include in a list of 'hard to do' miracles the following:

 

·         Healing the blind or deaf

·         Exorcism (this might be considered the 'least miraculous' by some)

·         Nature miracles

·         Reviving the dead

·         Action at a distance

 

 

Looking at the Four Gospels, now:

 

·         If Mark is earliest, we note from the table that Mark's gospel has all five of these miracle-types. Therefore, his gospel already 'starts out high'.

 

·         If Matthew is the earliest, we note from the table that Matthew's gospel has all five of these miracle-types. Therefore, his gospel already 'starts out high'.

 

·         If Luke is the earliest, we note from the table that Luke's gospel has all five of these miracle-types. Therefore, his gospel already 'starts out high'.

 

·         I don't know anyone who argues that John's gospel was the first to be written, but he has all of the five EXCEPT exorcism (but, of course, he has the fewest miracles over all--but they are 'big ones'). Therefore, his gospel already 'starts out high'.

 

 

Third, if John is the latest gospel, then do we see the 'biggest miracles' in John? NO, with the possible exception of the Wine-production at the wedding in Cana, all of the miracles mentioned by John have close precedents in the 'earlier' Synoptics:

 

1.        The Feeding of the 5,000 is shared with all the synoptics.

2.        The Walking on the water is shared with two synoptics.

3.        The Healing the Official's son at a distance is similar to Healing the Centurion's Servant at a distance in Matthew and Luke.

4.        The Healing of the Sick Man at the Pool of Bethesda is similar to many healing stories in the other three gospels, especially sharing the 'get up and walk' image with the Paralyzed Man in the Synoptics.

5.        The Healing of the Blind man is comparable to other blind-healings in the synoptics (sharing the spittle motif with Mark 8.23--certainly not a 'heightening' device!).

6.        Raising Lazarus is matched by other revivifications in the synoptics.

7.        The Second Catch of Fish matches the first catch of fish in Luke.

 

The Wine miracle is somewhat similar to the Feeding miracles, and certainly not necessarily 'greater' than those.

 

 

Fourth, does the later, canonical book of Acts 'heighten' the miracles of Jesus, or add any new ones (perhaps in 'flashbacks' or sermons)? No, there are few mentions of Jesus' miracles, except in summary fashion. (As noted by Achtemeier also, in the post-canonical literature.)

 

 

Fifth, are there any miracle stories in one gospel that have a corresponding 'non miracle-ized' version in another gospel (e.g., is there a Healing-only of Lazarus somewhere, which would suggest a 'heightening' to a revivification of him) ? No, there are no such 'pairs' of  regular-then-miracle-ized stories.

 

[Even where we have incidents that could be questioned, such as the two Miraculous Feedings (4K and 5K) or the leprosy healings (one man, ten men), each item in the pair is included in the same gospel! This indicates that they were considered separate events by the evangelists.]

 

 

So, by every way we can slice this data, there seems to be absolutely no evidence that the evangelists heightened miracle/thaumaturgic  motifs about Jesus, from any material they 'borrowed' from one another.

 

 

 

 

…………………………………………………………..

 

7. Summary:

 

1.        The Apostolic Fathers do not heighten or create new miracle traditions of Jesus.

2.        The 2nd-century Apologists do not heighten or create new miracle traditions of Jesus.

3.        The 2nd/3rd -century writers of the Apocryphal Gospels (surprisingly) do not heighten or create new miracle traditions of Jesus.

4.        No one in our period shows evidence of any influences to inflate the miraculous elements in the life of the mature Jesus.

5.        What few cases of semi-embellishment occur are in literary elements (e.g. how sick the person was, what their name was) and NOT in the miraculous element.

6.        The innovations in the Infancy Gospels (Gnostic and Docetic in character) are not cases of 'later Christian embellishment' at all.

7.        The Infancy Gospels were largely propagandistic vehicles.

8.        The Infancy Gospels and Apocryphal Acts (not Gospels) are replete with "normal topoi" miracles, due to matters of genre.

9.        The Apocryphal Acts are generally Gnostic in orientation and thrust.

10.     The Apocryphal writings often take a decidedly anti-scriptural and anti-orthodox stance.

11.     The miracle-accretion theory would predict a more homogenous group of narratives in this period, with 'transitional forms'--our extant texts do not manifest this character, and therefore do not support that theory.

12.     There are substantial differences between innovation variants, folklore, and official/controlled tradition. These differences illustrate the enormous difficulty of innovations becoming folklore and then displacing 'official' tradition (especially within the time frames under discussion).

13.     Canonical traditions were not 'developed' over time; they were experienced by the apostles during the life/ministry/teaching of Jesus, who commanded them to IMMEDIATELY begin to teach these things ("making disciples"). They didn’t have to gather and assemble these traditions at all.

14.     The NT epistles show evidence that controlled transmission and 'conservative' traditions were pervasive in early church mission.

15.     The resulting NT texts demonstrate a remarkable fidelity to this "preserve-the-past-whether-it-makes-sense-or-not-to-you" commission.

16.     The factors/forces inherent in official, controlled, and constitutive traditions are conservative, and create 'barriers' to discourage innovation and instability in the 'charter documents'.

17.     The canonical gospels show absolutely no signs of a miracle-izing trend; "high" miracle traditions are present in every strata, every literary form, every presumed 'first gospel'.

 

 

Accordingly, I think it is very safe to conclude that later Christians did NOT make up additional miracles of Jesus, and that those made up by non-Christians or fringe groups were not 'developments' from the canonical tradition. Accordingly, the data in the post-canonical writings of the 2nd and 3rd centuries is MORE SUPPORTIVE of tradition stability and conservation, THAN OF 'incremental miracle introduction and expansion'. The data offers no evidence of even influences to create such innovations, much less evidence that it was actually done.

 

 

On to the next one…

 

Glenn Miller

May 15, 2001


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