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Christianity / Apocrypha /
Apocryphal gospels




Apocryphal gospels
(Year)
Gospel of Thomas
(90-200)
Gospel of Mary Magdalene
(100-150)
Gospel of Peter
(100-150)
Gospel of Judas
(230-330)
Gospel of Philip
(250-300)
Gospel of Bartholomew
(150-500)
Gospel of Nicodemus
(350-600)
Secret Book of James
(100-250)
Infancy Gospel of James
(100-200)
Infancy Gospel of Thomas
(100-200)
Infancy Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew
(300-800)
Theoretical gospels
Q

In Christianity, stories and collections of sayings relating to Jesus, called 'gospels' that are not included in the New Testament.
The text of several apocryphal gospels have been found, in its entirety or as large fragments. Other texts are mentioned in sources, either referring to the content or at least to the name or title.
The different gospels may well be understood as theological orientations of early Christianity. The author, or name-giving main character, may have been a method of creating legitimacy for the specific theology. If the ideas could be traced through one of the compatriots Jesus, an explanation to why these ideas were not commonly known could be created. It is a common element to the apocryphal gospels, that this compatriote of Jesus was defined as the sole recipient of a certain truth given by Jesus. From the secrecy relating to the message, it is tempting to find Gnostic elements, but such theories should be promoted with caution. Some apocryphal gospels are clearly Gnostic, others were not.
The origin and importance of these alternative gospels are questions of dispute among scholars. The theories divide into two main categories.

1. An apocryphal gospel is false, erroneous or a later addition to the main orientations and theological schools of early Christianity.
2. An apocryphal gospel is parallel or near-parallel to the New Testament gospels. Such a text represented an orientation and/or a group that at a later stage in Christian history would lose in the battle of what should become accepted Christian practice, or this orientation and/or group simply disappeared.

Different scholars may consider some texts belonging to one group, others to another; few scholars would place all texts into just one category.

The content of the apocryphal gospels belong to three main categories:

1. Full gospels, containing sayings and/or stories.
2. Texts with gospel elements. These are too limited to count as full gospels.
3. Infancy gospels. These scripts try to shed light on a part of Jesus' life that is not mentioned in the canonical gospels.

Apocryphal gospels have helped scholars understand early Christian history, but also in the understanding of canonical gospels. The canonical Gospel of John represented for long a mystery with its dialogues between Jesus and the disciples. But with the finds at Nag Hammadi, with texts like the Gospel of Mary Magdalene and the Secret Book of James, other scripts using such dialogues became available.
The infancy gospels represent an interesting category. Although being younger than the canonical gospels, they are not considered alien to mainstream Christianity. The reason was that by recounting the early years of the life of Jesus, they gained much popularity, and was not in contradiction to general Christian theology.
Some of the full apocryphal gospels are labelled Jewish-Christian, being texts used by groups considering themselves as both Christian and Jewish. To this orientation three gospels have been identified; Hebrews; Nazarenes; and Ebionites. But since the surviving text fragments are few and scattered, it is quite possible that there was only one Jewish-Christian gospel.
Whether Q belongs to the group of apocryphal gospels is a question of definition, Q being a postulated gospel and reconstructed uniquely on common elements between Matthew and Luke. Despite Christian theologians willingness to accept the theory regarding Q, it may very well never have existed at all.




By Tore Kjeilen