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Nicklas, Tobias, Moss, Candida R., Tuckett, Christopher, and Joseph Verheyden [Eds.]
The Other Side: Apocryphal Perspectives on Ancient Christian »Orthodoxies«.
Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2017. 269 S. = Novum Testamentum et Orbis Antiquus. Studien zur Umwelt des Neuen Testaments, 117. Geb. EUR 120,00. ISBN 978-3-525-54058-8.
Judith M. Lieu
This collection of essays arises from a conference held »under the auspices of the University of Notre Dame« at their centre in London in July 2014. Its unifying purpose would seem to be to understand in their own right texts which have been labelled »apocryphal«, namely to hold in suspension any judgement about the origins of their status and whether or not they merit being associated with deviant or heretical forms of early Christianity. The interest of these essays is not, as the title might be read, a consideration of what these texts have to say about those forms of early Christianity and its literature which have come to be associated with »orthodoxy«. Underlying the potential conceptual confusion, and indeed the use of quotation marks around »orthodoxies« but not around »apocryphal«, is the problematic of the very term »apocryphal«: how far is this descriptive, how far is it pejorative? If the former, is it descriptive in a negative sense, i. e. what these writings are not, or in a positive sense re-garding the content, origins or reception history? If the latter, what merits critical judgement and can this be challenged? Is the term properly set in some sort of tensive relationship with »orthodoxy« and how does it also relate to the idea of »canonical«? To what extent is the label one applied by modern scholarship, to what extent does it represent a term or an evaluation already used in antiquity? There is, of course, no single or simple answer to any of these questions, neither do the essays seek to offer one. Rather, they are case studies, focussing on a particular text or group, but to a greater or lesser degree avoiding questions of theological or value judgement, and seeking to answer questions of a more historical character.
One exception is the opening essay by Christoph Markschies, »Models of the Relation between ›Apocrypha‹ and ›Orthodoxy‹. From Antiquity to Modern Scholarship«. The title was apparently commissioned and not entirely to the author’s liking; it combines a nod in the direction of rhetorical and cultural criticism of the categories, with a somewhat playful and inconsequential exposure of the challenges both of avoiding the terminology and of attempt-ing to say anything without it. Tobias Nicklas’ essay does precisely what the title implies, »Beyond ›Canon‹. Christian Apocrypha and Pilgrimage«, showing from early accounts of pilgrimages the role that these texts played in enhancing and giving content to the encounter with specific spaces and the traditions associated with them. Ismo Dunderberg, »Recognizing the Valentinians – now and then«, drawing on a research project on »Religious Recognition« at the University of Helsinki, studies the different degrees to which Valentinianism was acknowledged or appreciated by Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen and Heracleon, suggesting the need to modify a monochrome binary conflict model. Petri Luomanen (»The Nazarenes: Orthodox Heretics with an Apocryphal Canonical Gospel?«) revisits earlier studies (including his own) of heresiological accounts of Gospel(s) associated with »the Nazarenes« and its/their likely origins, while admitting the tentative nature of any hypothesis. Reidar Aagaard does introduce some assessment of the differing stances of two infancy Gospels, »The Protoevangelium of James and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas,« signalling the conclu-sions he reaches in the sub-title »Orthodoxy from Above or Heterodoxy from below?« Meghan Henning adopts a more culture-critical approach in »Lacerated Lips and Lush Landscapes: Constructing This-Worldy Theological Identities in the Otherworld«; she seeks to undermine readings which attempt to provide social or historical explanations of apocalyptic motifs, but rather to demonstrate how these constructed patterns of being and behaviour for groups in the present. Judith Hartenstein answers her own question (with its implied negative evaluation of the epithet), »Wie ›apokryph‹ ist das Evangelium nach Maria? Über die Schwierigkeiten einer Verortung«. Similarly, Jens Schröter scrutinises both the scholarly tradi-tion and the source material to explicate his question, »The Figure of Seth in Jewish and Early Christian Writings. Was there a ›Sethian Gnosticism‹?« Christopher Tuckett returns to re-articulating the problematic nature of the foundational category in asking »What’s in a Name? How ›apocryphal‹ are the ›apocryphal gospels‹?« Candida Moss deviates from the general direction of the volume in exploring »Notions of Orthodoxy in Early Christian Martyrdom Literature«; with reference to Justin Martyr and the Martyrdom of Polycarp she shows how the texts do seek to inscribe notions of »insiders« and of »orthodoxy« even while betraying the much more fluid boundaries surrounding all participants. Jacques van der Vliet (»The embroi-dered garment«) focusses on late antique Egypt, showing how textual reception as well as debate responded to notions of what he entitles »apocryphicity« and »orthodoxy« before he specifically addresses the Apocalypse of Paul and the Apocalypse of Adam (NH V,5); he suggests that more attention should be paid to the way such texts were »produced and transmitted within communities of practice« particularly in liturgy (192). Jan Dochhorn moves even later and into the Ethiopic tradition with a somewhat technical study of »Menschenschöpfung und urzeitlicher Teufelsfall in Überlieferungen der Falascha«. Basil Lourié likewise provides a largely specialist analysis of the effect of recent textual discoveries and analysis on scholarship about »Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, Nubia, and the Syrians«. Finally, in an essay originally presented in another Conference on the topic (in Thessaloniki), John Carey gives an account of »The Reception of Apocryphal Texts in Medieval Ireland«.
As will be evident from this summary, the collection is somewhat haphazard and eclectic; there is no editorial overview (and the brief foreword appears to have been written as a prospectus for the publishers), leaving readers to decide whether there are conclusions to be drawn. The regrettable absence of any index or of a bibliography may be further evidence that the editors simply wanted to get the volume out. Readers with an interest in particular subjects and even in the conundrum of how we may classify and interpret texts which (in Dieter Lührmann’s regularly repeated phrase) »became apocryphal« will find material of interest but probably not anything that brings us substantively forward. Perhaps rather than simply describing the problem of the terminology and categorisation, what is needed is more clearly identified sets of questions that may eventually contribute to a new way of speaking about this broad body of literature.