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Bovon, François et P. Geoltrain [Ed.]


Écrits apocryphes chrétiens, I. Index établis par S. J. Voicu.


Paris: Gallimard 1997. LXVI, 1782 S. kl.8. geb. fFr. 450.-. ISBN 2-07-011387-6.


Peter W. Dunn

Écrits apocryphes chrétiens is the first collection of its kind in French. While aimed at a large literary public, it should also become the starting point for all who wish to study the apocryphal texts. The story of how it came to be is well worth retelling.1

Écrits apocryphes chrétiens is the work of the Association pour l’étude de la littérature apocryphe chrétienne (AELAC), founded in 1981 by Swiss and French scholars to oversee the production of the Corpus Christianorum Series Apocryphorum (CChrSA).2 This series consists of Christian apocryphal texts, based on all current evidence, along with new translations and commentaries. At the instigation of Swiss New Testament scholar François Bovon, professor at Harvard Divinity School, the core members of AELAC began meeting about thirty years ago for serious study of Apocryphal literature in its own right, not merely as an adjunct to New Testament studies or to Patristics. Initially they hoped to produce the first collection of apocryphal writings in their own language and considered editing a French version of Hennecke-Schneemelcher’s Neutestamentliche Apokryphen, but they soon realized that to much ground work was still necessary. Its translations were based upon editions of the nineteenth century - Tischendorf for gospels and apocalypses, Lipsius-Bonnet for acts.3 Given the ambitions of these francophone scholars, it would have been "scientifically irresponsible"4 for them merely to translate Hennecke-Schneemelcher. What was needed was a complete reworking of the text based upon MS discoveries which were greatly improving the possibility of reconstructing the originals. Their findings are published regularly for scholars in the CChrSA. Here now are the "first-fruits" of their labor in a form accessible to non-specialist and scholar alike. The inclusion of Écrits apocryphes chrétiens in Gallimard’s series, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, will assure it a wide audience amongst readers of French literature. It will also receive international attention from scholars interested in early Christianity.

Our translators took upon themselves to search the libraries of Europe and the Near East for MSS of their documents. For example, thanks to their 1974 discovery of a MS of the Acts of Philip at Mount Athos, François Bovon and Bertrand Bouvier provide a translation of Acts XI-XV, a third of the ancient original hitherto unknown. Willy Rordorf made a similar discovery at Saint Catherine’s Monastery at Mt. Sinai - the oldest MS of the Acts of Paul and Tecla (eight or ninth cent.), which figures prominently in his edition of the text behind his translation. In some cases, it is necessary also to reconsider some basic text critical problems. E. g., Jan Gijsel provides a translation of the Gospel of Ps.-Matthew, not based upon "Q", an eleventh century recension found in Tischendorf, but upon "A", a ninth century family which remains very faithful to the sixth or seventh century original (see pp. 112-113). In other cases, the editors have presented writings never before included in such a collection (e. g., the Coptic Legend of Simon and Theonoe). These are only a few the reasons why Écrits apocryphes chrétiens surpasses all other modern translations of apocryphal literature.

The great extent and diversity of Christian apocrypha required that the editors choose carefully what they would include in this first volume and what they would reserve for presentation in a second volume (see XII f.). They have selected here material from the earliest centuries of the Church, and later documents, up to the middle ages, will appear in the next volume (including the Ps. Clementine Homilies and Recognitions). In addition, they have furnished in the first volume some later documents of two kinds: (1) rewritings of or expansions upon early documents (e. g., the Infancy Gospel of Ps.-Matthew and the Book of the Nativity of Mary which are developments of the Protevangelium of James); (2) documents of unique character of unknown prototype (e. g., the late fifth or early sixth cent. Dormition of Mary of Ps.-John). Écrits apocryphes chrétiens is very extensive (1594 pp. plus a general introduction and indices), renouncing the summarization of stories or the presentation of extracts only: every text is translated in full.

Each document is treated in the following fashion: Each contributor provides a short introduction to the document along with a bibliography for further study. The translation of the document comes next with explanatory notes which concisely illumine the text theologically and historically, especially through cross references to the Old and New Testament, other Apocryphal literature, and Patristic literature. Brief textual and philological comments also appear occasionally, but those searching for detail of this sort will have to consult the volumes of the CChrSA as they bevome available.

François Bovon and Pierre Geoltrain, in cooperation with the members of AELAC, have thus provided the starting point for those interested in the study of apocryphal literature. In 1991 when I started my doctoral studies in the Acts of Paul, I was painfully aware of my lack of French and the necessity of learning it to keep up with the work of AELAC. But now it should be clear that French is a necessity to all scholars and doctoral students of early Christianity, who too often rely only on a knowledge of German and English. AELAC’s research of Christian apocryphal literature in its own right hats significant consequences for the mapping of the earliest Christian centuries.5 Écrits apocryphes chrétiens thus is a visible sign that French is an even more indispensable language than ever before.


1 For the history of L’AELAC, I am partially dependent on J.-D. Dubois, "The New Series Apocryphorum", The Second Century 4 (1984) 29-30.

2 Now in eight volumes (Turnhout, Brepols Publishers).

3 C. Tischendorf, Evangelia Apocrypha (Leipzig, 1853); Apocalypses Apocryphae (Leipzig, 1866); R. A. Lipsius and M. Bonnet, Acta Apostolorum, 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1891, 1898, 1903).

4 F. S. Jones, "Principal Orientations on the Relations between the Apocryphal Acts (Acts of Paul and Acts of John; Acts of Peter and Acts of John", in Society of Biblical Literature 1993 Seminar Papers (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1993), 487, n. 6.

5 See Willy Rordorf, "Terra Icognita: Recent Research on Christian Apocryphal Literature, especially on some Acts of the Apostles", Studia Patristica 25 (1993) 142-158.