These apocryphal biblical texts, mostly written in ancient Greek or Latin, have now been translated into English for the first time and compiled into a single book.
The texts in the Bible as we know it today were first ‘canonized’ by the Church at the end of the fourth century. But before then, hundreds of other religious texts circulated across Christiandom.
More than 300 Christian apocryphal texts that weren’t included in the final version of the Bible are known to exist today. New English translations of these leftover texts were recently published by Eerdmans Publishing, and they contain some surprising tales.
As Live Science reports, these forgotten apocryphal texts of Christianity have been brought back to the limelight in the 2020 book New Testament Apocrypha More Noncanonical Scriptures (Volume 2).
The book features hundreds of texts that were once held to be true by Christian followers — even after the canonization of the Bible.
“Apocryphal texts were integral to the spiritual lives of Christians long after the apparent closing of the canon and that the calls to avoid and even destroy such literature were not always effective,” wrote Tony Burke, a professor of early Christianity at Canada’s York University who edited the volume.
The apocryphal texts were sourced from various places across Europe and Egypt and mostly written in ancient Greek or Latin. Some of the texts tell of dark wizardry and demons.
One such story follows a character named Bishop Basil who allegedly lived between 329 to 379 AD. The bishop is approached by the Virgin Mary in his dreams where she tells him to find an image of her that is “not made by human hands.” She instructs him to place her image on top of two columns inside her church located outside of the city of Philippi.
But at the temple, the bishop finds himself and his men fighting against a group of wizards who knew diabolical magic and wanted to keep him from completing his quest. Fortunately, the bishop has the Virgin Mary on his side.
“Those who did this evil deed of impertinent magic, behold, they are blind, grasping,” she says to him in another dream. When he awakes, the Virgin Mary places her own image atop the columns, and a stream emerges that heals people. The tale ends with the evil wizards being literally swallowed whole by the Earth.
“There was a tendency to identify the remnants of polytheism with ‘magoi’ or ‘wizards’ who posed dangers to the Christian community, sometimes openly, sometimes clandestinely,” said Paul Dilley, a professor of religious studies at the University of Iowa, who translated the text for the book.
The text, written in the Coptic Egyptian language that uses the Greek alphabet, was originally written sometime around 1,500 years ago. The only two surviving copies of this text are held at the Vatican Apostolic Library and the Leipzig University Library.
Another Christian text featured in the book dates back to the 11th or 12th century. Scholars suspect the story was originally written centuries earlier, likely about a century earlier than the story mentioned above.
It tells the story of Peter, who encounters angelic beings revealed to be demons. Their true forms were uncovered after Peter had drawn a circle around them and performed some sort of anti-demon chant. After the demons are revealed, they banter with Peter about the mistreatment of the Lord against their kind compared to sinful humans.
“You have the partiality of Christ; for which reason he chastises us, but he spares you when you repent. Therefore when he leads a prostitute and a tax collector and a denier and a blasphemer and a slanderer into his kingdom, then he ought to gather all of us with you!”
The text, translated by Cambry Pardee, likely signified an evolving perception about sin.
“The narrative resonates with the context of the fourth and fifth-century speculations about sin, but its loose form and lack of regimentation seem to represent an early phase in that development,” wrote Pardee, a visiting professor of religion at Pepperdine University in London.
These forgotten Christian tales provide intriguing insights into the early days of one of the world’s largest faiths. As more translations of these stories come to light, a fuller picture of Christianity’s ancient roots is sure to emerge.