“Others” or “Other Apostles”: Steve Johnston’s objections to Rordorf

April 5, 2012

In his 2003 master’s thesis at Laval University, under the direction of Paul-Hubert Poirier, Steve Johnston discusses the text of 3 Cor provided by Willy Rordorf, at the end of his article, “Héresie et orthodoxie selon la Correspondance apocryphe entre les Corinthiens et l’apôtre Paul”, in Orthodoxie et hérésie dans l’Eglise ancienne, Cahiers de la Revue de Théologie et de Philosophie 17:60-63.

Johnston writes as follows (p. 161, n. 45):

The explanation, if I’m not mistaken, is that the text that Rordorf provides in his 1993 article is a preview of his forthcoming  edition of the Acts of Paul which will appear in the CChrSA (Brepols).  Thus, Rordorf will provide an edition of the 3 Cor only as it was integrated into the Acts of Paul.  Bodmer X provides what is believed to be the independent Greek text of the 3 Cor which evidently predated the Acts of Paul.  Every text which stems from the Acts of Paul, starting with the Heidelberg Coptic Papyrus, has the words “other apostles”.

By the way, if Steve Johnston himself happens upon this blog post, it would be great for him to contact me.

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Thematic parallels between Acts of Paul IX, 13 and 1 Corinthians 8.1-6

March 14, 2012

One of the strongest affirmations of the divinity of Christ occurs in Greek Hamburg Papyrus (IX, 13): εἷς Χριστὸς Ἰησοῦς καὶ ἄλλος οὐκ ὑπάρχει· This sentence resembles 1 Cor 8.6: ἀλλ’ ἡμῖν εἷς θεὸς ὁ πατὴρ ἐξ οὗ τὰ πάντα καὶ ἡμεῖς εἰς αὐτόν, καὶ εἷς κύριος Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς δι’ οὗ τὰ πάντα καὶ ἡμεῖς δι’ αὐτοῦ. AP IX, 13 shares three common themes with 1 Cor 8.1-6: These are: (1) A polemic against idolatry: both argue that idols represent false gods: The Acts of Paul says they are empty; 1 Cor argues that they have no real existence. (2) Both raise the language of the Shema, in order to affirm what R. Bauckham calls Christological monotheism. The Lord Jesus Christ is the one Lord of the Shema and affirmed thus as the one eternal Creator. (3) Both texts affirm creation theology–that God created the heavens and the earth and humanity.

1 Cor 8.1-6 (RSV); Acts of Paul IX, 13, my translation (italics are restored from Coptic Bodmer XLI.


A verbal comparison of Galatians 1.11-17, Philippians 1.27, and Acts of Paul IX, 5-6 (Paul’s conversion)

March 6, 2012

The Acts of Paul seems to base the story of Paul’s conversion upon Galatians 1.11-17. A verbal comparison of the English helps us to see clearly possible influence.

The translation of the AP from Coptic is mine. Biblical passages are from the RSV.


The best way to cite the Acts of Paul

November 11, 2011

Some have experienced the situation when reading the Bible that someone asks where to find a particular passage, and someone else will volunteer, “That’s on page 1123.”  This is an absurdity, and often just a little joke, because most experienced Bible readers know that many versions, editions, and prints of the same editions differ in their pagination, and that it is proper when citing the Bible to use the primary sources reference, i.e., a convention of chapter and verse which is mostly the same in every modern edition and translation.

Violations of this principle of properly citing primary sources can cause confusion and consternation.   If for example a scholar cites an English edition by page number instead of the primary source reference. It implies two unfortunate failures: (1) that the writer does not know the correct manner to cite primary sources; (2) that the scholar is unacquainted with the original text but depends wholly on a translation.

The question remains as to how to go about citing the Acts of Paul, since so many MS discoveries have increased our knowledge of the whole, adding new chapters as our knowledge increases.  The answer, for now, is to consult Willy Rordorf (Greek), Pierre Cherix (Coptic) and Rudolphe Kasser (Coptic of Bodmer XLIX)“Actes de Paul”, in François Bovon and Pierre Geoltrain, eds., Écrits apocryphes chrétiens (Bibliothèque de la Pléiade,  Saint Herblain: Gallimard, 1997).  Rordorf divides the Acts of Paul into 14 acts.  These are indicated by Roman numeral followed by a comma, and then the paragraph (e.g., III, 3 = Acts of Paul and Thecla 3; Acts of Paul IX, 10 = Ephesian episode, 10 paragraph).  Now this may seem arbitrary.  Why not use the numeration in Schneemelcher or Elliot?  The answer is that Rordorf et al. are preparing a text of the Acts of Paul for CChrSA (Corpus Christianorum Series Apocryphorum, Brepols) and it will be the most complete and up-to-date text of all the available evidence.  This edition has been long in coming but should imminently see the light of day.  It is thus better to use this system, to which translations will eventually conform, than to use older translations like Schneemelcher, which are already out of date the moment “Actes de Paul” (in E.A.C. vol 1) was published in 1997.

Here is a complete list of episodes and their chief witnesses:

  • I. Damascus: John Rylands Vellum
  • II.Antioch (of Syria?) – Coptic Heidelberg Papyrus (PHeid)
  • III. Iconium – PHeid, Greek miniscules
  • IV. Antioch (of Pisidia?) – PHeid, Greek miniscules
  • V. Myra – PHeid
  • VI. Sidon – PHeid
  • VII. Tyre – PHeid
  • VIII. Jerusalem (?) – PHeid (Smyrna is also probable, cf. Life of Polycarp, in Lightfoot part 2, vol. 3
  • IX. Ephesus – Hamburg Papyrus bil. 1 (PHamb); Coptic Bodmer Papyrus XLI
  • X. Philippi (3 Corinthians) PHeid
  • XI. Philippi – PHeid
  • XII. Corinth – PHamb, PHeid
  • XIII. Voyage to Italy – PHamb, other papyri, PHeid
  • XIV. Martyrdom of Paul – PHamb, PHeid, miniscules, Coptic

Artemilla and the New Roman Woman

September 9, 2011

In AP IX, 17, Artemilla, the wife of Jerome, the Roman ἀνθύπατος in Ephesus, goes to see the prisoner Paul, who is condemned to die in the beast fight on the following morning.  She has put on somber clothing in preparation to see him.  Then, when Paul sees her he says (my trans.):

Woman, ruler of this world, mistress of much gold, citizen of much luxury, woman who brags of her apparel, sit upon the floor and forget your riches and your beauty and your boasts in your earthly status.  For these things profit you nothing, except you beg God, who considers crap what is formidable here but who freely gives what is marvelous there.  Gold perishes, riches are consumed, clothes become tattered, beauty becomes old, great cities are replaced and the world will be destroyed in fire because of the lawlessness of humanity.  Only God remains, as well as the adoption given through him, in whom it is necessary to be saved.  And now Artemilla, hope in God and he will rescue you.  Hope in Christ and he will grant forgiveness of sins and place upon you a crown suitable for freedom, so that you serve no longer idols with the smoke of fat offerings, but the living God and Father of Christ, whose is the glory forever and ever. Amen.

I have written in previous posts about the manner in which liberal interpreters are no more careful than evangelical apologists in their treatment of Christian apocryphal literature, and the interpretation of Artemilla’s conversion is no exception.  By many liberal interpreters, most notably Stevan L. Davies, Virginia Burrus and Dennis R. MacDonald, Artemilla is an example of a married woman who embrace chastity as means to autonomy and freedom from the patriarchal system.  Thus, they apply the sentiments and world view of modern feminism to the text, and they see Artemilla as a woman who seeks woman’s liberation.

Yet Paul, in his discourse to Artemilla, does not see her as a woman who is oppressed by patriarchy and marriage, but rather, as a member of the ruling class whose wealth bestows upon her a status of privilege.  But all the wealth upon which her status rests  is temporary and will burn in the eschatological fire, according to the beast fighter.  She must repent and embrace instead freedom in God and adoption into his family.  Only then, will she be able to experience salvation.

The preaching of an encratite gospel, a decision for sexual continence, and a refusal by Artemilla to sleep with her husband are all completely lacking in this text.  It is a complete misreading to see it as a chastity story (Burrus) or as written by women who have renounced sexual relations (Davies).  Rather, the text becomes more coherent in the light of studies like The New Roman Women by Bruce W. Winter, which demonstrates how women like Artemilla already experienced a large measure of freedom and autonomy, for their privileged status made it possible to dominate their domus, their slaves, their lovers, and at times, even their own husbands, while showing too little respect for the Roman laws and the customs that dictated propriety.


An example of the liberal use of Christian apocryphal literature

September 6, 2011

As mentioned in the last post, Tony Chartrand-Burke, Prof. at York University, has panned the treatment of Christian Apocryphal literature by the evangelical scholars, who have written with apologetic motives. While agreeing with him in part, I mentioned in passing that evangelicals who have been stung by such criticism should take heart.  I wrote: “It is not as if liberal scholars, who are not specialists, are any more accurate in their treatment of Christian apocryphal literature.”

One such example is the funny little book by Stevan L. Davies, The Revolt of the Widows: The Social World of the Apocryphal Acts (1980), Professor of Religious Studies at Misericordia University.    As a doctoral student I borrowed the book from one of my professors.  I spilt coffee on it one day, and upon returning the book I confessed my misdeed and offered to pay for a new copy; my prof responded with a wink, “Don’t worry about it.   After all, it is not a very good book, is it?”

Chief among  Davies’ faults is his assumption of a single coherent community behind the five major Apocryphal Acts (Peter, Paul, John, Andrew and Thomas).  It is widely acknowledge that this is a methodological faux pas.*

*See in this regard, Jean-Daniel Kaestli,  “Les principales orientations de la recherche sur les Actes apocryphes des Apôtres.” In Les Actes apocryphes des Apôtres.  Christianisme et monde païen, ed. François Bovon, 49-61. Publication de la faculté de théologie de l’Université de Genève. Geneva: Labor et Fides.  (56-57, “La nécessité d’étudier chaque texte pour lui-même”).


An 18 foot lion

August 25, 2011

Tony Chartrand-Burke, a professor at York University, castigates evangelicals who have an apologetic motive for their treatment and understanding of Christian apocryphal literature.  For example, he writes:

The modern apologists’ inadequate knowledge of the CA [Christian Apocrypha] is due to the fact that they are not experts on the CA nor on Gnosticism. The apologists show their shortcomings in CA studies also in their reliance on collections of apocryphal texts or commentaries rather than recent and comprehensive scholarship on the texts.

Being evangelical myself, I am sympathetic with the aims of the apologists and have myself been accused of being one.  Yet as a specialist of the Acts of Paul, I would desire that those on my side who wish to say things about Christian apocrypha do so with accuracy and sophistication.  Thus, I am in part (and only in part) in agreement with Prof. Burke’s sentiments.

So consider the following lines from Timothy Paul Jones’, Misquoting Jesus:

According to this document [Acta Pauli], being a Christian includes not only faith in Jesus Christ but also complete abstinence from sexual relations, even within marriage.  Plus, about halfway through Acts of Paul, the apostle Paul baptizes a lion that’s eighteen feet tall.  So, if Acts of Paul had ended up in the New Testament, you might get to dunk wild felines in your church’s baptistery, but you’d also have to stop having sex.

First, the Acts of Paul nowhere gives such a measure of the lion, though we found that Goodspeed’s translation of the Epistle of Pelagia, an Ethiopic text which shows evidence of dependence on the Acts of Paul.

And they set a lion in ambush for Paul in the theater, and the one whose height is 12 cubits, and his size as that of a horse …

Now a cubit is said to be usually equal to 18 inches (Webster’s) and so 12 cubits comes to 18 feet.  Hence, it is our theory that Jones mistakenly applies something that he read in the Epistle of Pelagius to the Acts of Paul.  This is a pretty amateur mistake.

While it is true that most scholars have concluded, as Jones, that the Acts of Paul is encratite, I have written a lengthy refutation of this view in chapter 4 of my doctoral dissertation.  Even the scholar I quoted yesterday, as saying that the lion himself had given up marital sex, concludes (H.-J. Klauck, The Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles, 75):

Despite all the exhortations, and despite Thecla’s radiant example as image of an ideal virgin, there is no clear prohibition of marriage anywhere in the text, nor is the renunciation of marriage made a precondition for the reception of baptism.  It is possible that Onesiphorus, with his wife and two sons, is intended to function as a model of Christian family life.  It seems that the author stops just short of an important boundary line, which he does not cross into a programmatic encratism.

This is a much more subtle and sophisticated reading of the Acts of Paul, and Klauck has evidently come to this position quite independently of me, since he betrays no knowledge of my unpublished or published work on the Acts of Paul.   For evangelical Protestants, it is perhaps strange to see a text extol the virtues of sexual continence, yet even the New Testament promotes Christian chastity.  The Acts of Paul likewise allows the Christian either the path of marriage and family or the path of total devotion to God through sexual continence.

How could evangelical scholars overcome this lack of sophistication and accuracy with regard to Christian apocryphal literature? My suggestion is that they and their publishers consider seeking the help of consultants, like myself and others (members of AELAC), before publishing.  No one can be an expert in every area and so there is absolutely no shame in consulting the opinion of others who have become specialists in a subject.  And finally, I would offer courage to such evangelicals who have made mistakes like Jones’s.  It is not as if liberal scholars, who are not specialists, are any more accurate in their treatment of Christian apocryphal literature.