I wanted to share a link to Jim Davila’s review of Tony Burke and Brent Landau’s edited New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures (vol. 1; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016). This is the first in a series of posts reviewing this important contribution to early Christian apocrypha (the MNTA project). As a contributor to this volume–my introduction and translation of the Encomium on John the Baptist (CANT 185; CPC 0170; CPG 5150.3)–my interest in this review is obvious. This review is also insightful as it comes from one of the editors of the sibling (yet independent) series of volumes in the works on Old Testament apocrypha (MOTP project).
For the full review, here is the link:
This first installment, however, focuses on the introductory section of the book. In a way, this section is of far greater value to the general reader than the individual texts. Burke and Landau engage a range of pressing challenges facing those of us who study Christian apocrypha and how such work fits within a broader field dedicated to the study of early to medieval Christianities, including of course biblical scholarship. Specifically, the problematic categories of “apocrypha” and “canon” are addressed, along with the scholarly fixation on “early” Christian texts (as if dating a text closer to and in relation to the canonical material somehow makes those texts more worthy of scholarly attention). As Davila nicely observes, this volume (and the ones currently in preparation) helps to highlight a range of texts beyond even a “canon of the apocrypha” (in that the collection strives to highlight unpublished or little known texts rather than reproducing more accessible texts in English translation). Increasingly, I have become uncomfortable with the taxon “apocrypha” (as I am with, for example, “Apostolic Fathers”), as I think others working on these ancient texts are as well. As the interest in apocryphal writings gains momentum in scholarship, I am eager to see how our historical taxonomies are deconstructed, re-constructed, and debated. Such historical framing may give us greater insights into the presuppositions of modern scholarship than into ancient cultures.
The collection–and the approach taken by the two editors both here and in their other work–also helps breakdown the dichotomies of canon and non-canon, as if the former is authentic orthodoxy and the former heretical or marginal. Historically, there was a greater fluidity in the use, articulation, and internalization of both kinds of texts. Thus, one of the advantages in studying Christian apocrypha is to get at more popular religious beliefs, practices, and attitudes over the centuries. This breaking down of dichotomies is something I really like about Burke and Landau’s work, especially when modern popular culture often sparks interest in apocrypha gospels etc. through controversial dichotomies set within conspiracy tales of heresy vs. orthodoxy. While such tales may make for great (and less than great) fiction, it does not give us much insight into ancient and medieval cultures.
I encourage people to read the full review by Davila and to watch for the subsequent installments.