Why The Apocryphal Gospels Pale In Comparison to the 4 True Gospels
The four assigned pseudo-gospels differ widely. In all of them Jesus is the star figure, but in the gospel of Peter (GP) he is not named. This piece differs from the other three in that it presents a totally silent Jesus (i.e., who cares what he said?) whereas the gospels of Thomas, Mary and Judas are comprised mainly of sayings attributed to Jesus—many of them cryptic or utterly nonsensical—and the speech of other figures conversing with him or with each other (who cares what he did?). Of the four works the GP is by far the most sensical in terms of being coherent. Unlike the other three, it is offers a complete narrative from beginning to end, starting from the trial/sentencing of Jesus until just after the resurrection. It bears the most resemblance to the last two chapters of Mark up through 16:8, with elements from parallel segments of the other synoptic gospels. However, it offers nothing at all before the trial of Jesus, and one wonders if there was once some material before this point. If so, it is apparently lost. If not, one should also wonder why the writer would have left out everything that necessarily preceded it. At the very least, did he have a name? Why was he tried and executed? Why did they call him Lord and Son of God? And, as with the short ending of Mark, what did Jesus and the disciples do after the Lord’s resurrection? Nothing at all?! In keeping with the bizarre character of the gnostic writings, the GP contains a tell-tale example: At the scene of the tomb with the presumably dead Jesus inside, first two radiant angels descend from heaven and the stone rolls away from the mouth of tomb for them. …Ok, so far so good. Then the angels go in and come out carrying the man we assume is Jesus between them. (I picture him upright with one arm around the neck of each angel, alive and taking steps, though by this account we would not know he was alive apart from the later angel who says he had risen, v. 55). Here come the crazy parts: As they were bringing him out the height of the two angels reached to heaven, and the height of the man we assume is Jesus reaches beyond the heavens. …Uh huh. Here’s the best part: As the three figures are coming out, the cross is following them, apparently self-ambulating (Is it hovering? Did it grow legs? Why the heck was it even in there?) Then, it TALKS.
And that’s just one. Simply put, these apocryphal gospels are weird in a lot of ways. That’s why I call them pseudo-gospels. They are highly questionable writings related to Jesus and/or his Apostles that quite understandably did not make the cut. By that I mean that they were rejected and/or excluded from the New Testament canon, or collection. Some of them are actually called “gospels” such as the gospels of Thomas, Mary, Judas, Barnabas, and Peter, but none of them is one of the four gospels contained in all Bibles and which are stated focus of this course—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. According to the official description in the syllabus for Jesus and the Gospels, this course is expressly restricted to the gospels, not the apocryphal gospels. In it a mention of “other gospels” is merely a passing reference. To remove any unclarity the professor of this course at UM-Dearborn reinforced this emphasis in an email to me in which he stated, “This course is on the Gospels. It is not a course on Paul, the New Testament, the preaching of the early church, Christian history, still less salvation history, or other ‘reservoirs of knowledge and sources about Christ’”. For this reason I am surprised and offended that we are wasting any time on them at all. False gospels are not what I paid for. In light of the professor’s non-ambiguous statement, I was similarly offended when we wasted the entire second class session (equal to two in the summer term) on the apocryphal writings of the Old Testament, especially 2 Maccabees. I could see no relevance at all. Then we spent the entire third class session in the Bible’s Old Testament, i.e. on the names of God in the Hebrew scriptures and whether Yahweh evolved from the Canaanite god, El (plus the dispersion of Mosaic authorship). Now, I am truly fascinated by the Hebrew Bible, but like the rest of the New Testament it is clearly stated to be outside of the strict parameters of this course. Actually, I can think of some readings that could have been relevant, such as Jesus’s numerous references to Moses, quotes from Psalms and other Hebrew writers, but there was no discernable relevance to the four canonical Gospels in what we studied. The same can be said of the gnostic writings. By way of comparing and contrasting them with the canonical gospels, we can learn from them, but they are nonsense. But since the other NT writings such as Paul and Acts are excluded from consideration along with OT readings that complement the NT, so also should the gnostic writings be.