Seoul Postscript

A few days ago I got back from Seoul, South Korea after attending the International Society of Biblical Literature conference and presenting three papers. I’m attaching a pdf of the ISBL 2016 Seoul Conference Program.

My first paper was an invited review of Dennis MacDonald’s forthcoming book, John and Euripides: The Dionysian Gospel (Fortress). My overall assessment of the book was that it makes a convincing case that the first edition of the Gospel of John depicted Jesus as a figure similar to and indeed greater than Dionysus/Bacchus, particularly as he was represented in the Bacchae of Euripides, the most popular play in Greco-Roman antiquity. My main critical comments pertained to MacDonald’s repeated case for the Gospel of John as a later text that borrowed from the earlier composed Gospel of Luke. In my view the potential parallels are sometimes inconclusive and at other times point toward the Gospel of Luke as the later text and one reliant on the earlier texts and/or traditions seen in the Gospel of John.

My second paper explored two Christian apocryphal tales in detail, the Rebellion of Dimas (CANT 78.2) and the Hospitality and Perfume of the Bandit (CANT 78.3), based on my creation of critical editions for these texts, as well as introductions and translations slated to appear in the next volume of More New Testament Apocrypha edited by Tony Burke and Brent Landau. Basically, both of these medieval legends were interpolations into the popular compilation known as Pseudo-Matthew and both promoted the cult of the so-called “Good Thief,” even though they represented two distinct and divergent clusters of medieval stories about this figure. Summaries and bibliographies for these two texts are available on the eClavis site mentioned below!

My third paper narrated the story of the birth of the eClavis for Christian Apocrypha. It began as a prototype I created for a Digital Collections class at Drexel University. After sharing the idea and prototype with Tony Burke, he, I and Brad Rice brought it to life as a subsection of the WordPress blog of the North American Society for the Study of Christian Apocryphal Literature (NASSCAL): The session participants gave helpful suggestions about how to improve the site, fund its work, and expand its collaborators to include notable European scholars of the Christian Apocrypha.

I also got to take in the beautiful Yonsei University campus, enjoy stimulating conversations with friends and colleagues, see a Korean Major League Baseball game (go Doosan Bears!), relish beautiful and delicious traditional Korean cuisine, and get some unique gifts for my family. All in all, a great trip.

Thanks again to Tom Phillips and Claremont School of Theology for allowing me to go!


Fascinating exposé of the Jesus’ Wife Papyrus forger, Walter Fritz

Investigative journalism at its finest. Thank you, Ariel Sabar.

You really can’t make this stuff up about the guy who made the Jesus’ Wife stuff up: disgruntled grad student and former museum employee who specialized in Egyptology; victim of abuse by a Catholic priest; car salesman with a penchant for wheeling and dealing; friend and former business associate of those claimed as previous owners of the papyrus; a Dan Brown devotee, together with his wife who writes in a similar vein; pre-release purchaser of the domain; and even, together with his wife, a maker of online porn with spiritual overtones.

I’ve succinctly summarized the salient details here because I want to encourage people to read this article, in its entirety.

P.S. Karen King refused to answer Sabar’s questions. The scholarly community, including the faculty of Harvard, need to ask those same questions and get honest answers. It’s one thing to be duped. It’s another thing entirely to participate in and enable an ongoing charade.

Supplemental Notes on Scott McGill, Juvencus’ Four Books of the Gospels: Evangeliorum Libri Quattuor (New York: Routledge, 2016)

Scott McGill kindly shared the working drafts of his translation and notes on this seminal early Christian epic poem. Now that his book is published, I am informally publishing all of the comments that I sent to Scott between March and May of 2015. Some of these comments made their way into his monograph, while others (understandably so) did not. I publish the this feedback online as a supplemental resource to Scott’s excellent and valuable monograph. I would like to thank Scott for allowing me to provide feedback and for his gracious acknowledgement of my assistance.

International SBL Papers

Thanks to the generosity of CST, I am getting the chance to travel to Seoul, Korea, this July to attend the International Society of Biblical Literature meeting. Dennis MacDonald was kind enough to invite me to be on a panel reviewing his new book on the Gospel of John and Euripides. I also submitted a couple of paper proposals which were accepted.

For the Digital Humanities section, I am presenting a paper entitled, “A Digital Rebirth in Christian Apocrypha Studies: NASSCAL and the eClavis.” Abstract:

Digital guides and resources abound for manuscript studies, especially regarding the canonical texts. But this is far less the case with non-canonical texts. Regarding Christian or so-called New Testament apocrypha, a digital rebirth of Geerard’s Clavis Apocryphorum Novi Testamenti would go a long way to bring awareness to texts and traditions whose popularity in earlier generations has often faded into neglect in modern scholarship. This paper will describe the initial planning and prototyping of such a resource, an e-Clavis for Christian Apocrpha conceived and designed by Mark Bilby, Tony Burke, and Bradley Rice. This resource is now sponsored and hosted on the NASSCAL (North American Society for the Study of Christian Apocryphal Literature) website: The presentation will also explore and explain the structure and maintenance of the eClavis, and also invite session participants to sign up as contributors.

For the Christian Apocrypha section, I am presenting a paper entitled, “The Divergent Bandit Narratives of Pseudo-Matthew: A Comparative Introduction to New Critical Editions and Translations of CANT 78.2 and 78.3.” Abstract:

Maurits Geerard published diplomatic editions of two interpolations (designated as CANT 78.2 and 78.3 and both placed under the title De bono latrone) found in medieval Latin texts of Pseudo-Matthew. The presenter is preparing new critical editions of these texts: a diplomatic edition of CANT 78.2 based on autoptic analysis of Namur Bib. Sem. Lat. 80, 13v-15v, 17r-v, and the first collated critical edition of CANT 78.3 from BL Harley 3199, f. 104v-106r (14th cent.) and Vat. Lat. 6300, f. 118r-119r (15th cent.). Introductions and translations of these texts are slated to appear in the second volume of the New Testament Apocrypha series edited by Tony Burke and Brent Landau. This presentation will introduce and compare these two Ps-Matthew interpolations as representations of two divergent narrative traditions about the so-called Good Thief. CANT 78.2 (here assigned the distinct title, The Rebellion of Dismas) is closely related to the story found in Leabhar Breac and Aelred of Rievaulx’s De institutione inclusarum, especially in terms of the bandit’s young age, the demonization of the bandit’s father, Mary’s relative unimportance compared with that of the infant Jesus, and the lack of any reference to hospitality shown the Holy Family. CANT 78.3 (here assigned the distinct title The Hospitality and Perfume of the Bandit), on the other hand, is closely related to the stories found embedded in the Latin Infancy Gospel Arundel form (CANT 78.1) and the Hospitality of Dysmas (BHG 2119y, here proposed as CANT 78.4), especially in terms of their common stress on the bandit’s hospitality to the Holy Family, the description of the bandit’s household, and the production of a healing liquid derived from bathing the infant Jesus.

Review of first book in Bryn Mawr Classical Review


Reinhard Feldmeier, Professor of New Testament at Georg-August-University, Göttingen, reviewed my first monograph for Bryn Mawr Classical Review. As is customary in scholarly book reviews, much of it represents a thoughtful and appreciative summation of the various chapters of the book.

Two critical comments appeared in the review. First, he (rightly) pointed out that my initial presentation of the “Roman-sympathizing sentiment of Luke-Acts” was eindimensional. In my defense, an overview of modern critical scholarly viewpoints on Luke-Acts was not the focus of the book, and Feldmeier recognizes this. Still, it would certainly have strengthened my monograph had I included a more nuanced and slightly more involved discussion of modern interpretations of the social and political significance and context(s) of Luke-Acts. Second, Feldmeier deems fraglich (questionable) my reconstruction of the Luke vis-à-vis the Gospel of Peter. I had come to the conclusion that the Gospel of Peter actually represents an earlier version of the story of the crucified bandits than does that of Luke. Feldmeier’s disagreement with my conclusion here certainly reflects the majority scholarly view, including that of Paul Foster in his recent critical edition and commentary on the Gospel of Peter. I would only mention that the textual evidence, at least in regard to the tradition of the co-crucified criminals, weighs against the majority scholarly view here and that alternate scenarios regarding the relationship of Luke (which scholars are increasingly viewing as a second century text) and the Gospel of Peter should be given serious consideration based on that evidence.

Overall I took the review as quite favorable, based on the two following, summary statements, which I translate for those who do not read German:

Der Schwerpunkt der Monographie liegt in dem, was der Untertitel andeutet: in der sorgfältig recherchierten und ausgelegten Rezeptionsgeschichte dieser Perikope in der alten Kirche (bis ca. 450 n.Chr.).

“The main focus of the monograph lies in that which the subtitle intimates: in the meticulously researched and presented reception-history of this pericope in the ancient church (up to 450 AD).”

Es ist das unzweifelhafte Verdienst dieser Studie, anhand der Rezeptionsgeschichte eines einzigen Textes gezeigt zu haben, welche Vielfalt und auch theologische Originalität die patristische Exegese auszeichnet. Auch für den modernen Interpreten ist es immer wieder faszinierend, welche Facetten einem Text abgewonnen werden können und wie dies seine eigene Ratio hat.

“It is the indubitable merit of this study to have shown, on the basis of the reception-history of a single text, that variety and also theological originality distinguishes patristic exegesis. It is also always fascinating to modern interpreters which facets could be acquired from a text and how it has its own reason.”

I take it as high praise to have an esteemed German professor at Göttingen call the work of this North American scholar “meticulously researched and presented” and accord it “indubitable merit.”

Appeal to Examine Robinson Papers at Claremont Graduate University

On Bart Ehrman’s blog, Mark Goodacre recently posted about the ambiguities and contradictions around the circumstances of the discovery and acquisition of the Nag Hammadi Codices. He mentions specifically that Robinson’s accounts (pl) have contradictory details, and that scholars such as Kasser and Krause questioned their plausibility.

During a tour of the Special Collections at Honnold-Mudd several months ago, I saw that the Robinson papers were being processed. That work may still be in progress or perhaps completed by now, but in either case there is a new opportunity here for one or more scholars to examine those papers and see if they shed any light on the historical circumstances of the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Codices.

Given the upcoming meeting at Claremont Graduate University of the International Association of Coptic Studies, there will also be ample opportunities to incorporate Robinson’s papers into presentations and even on-site displays.

– Mark Bilby

First Reviews of First Book

While several copies are still out for review in different journals, the first few reviews have started to appear:

  1. Clark, Roland. Review of As the Bandit Will I Confess You: Luke 23,39-43 in Early Christian Interpretation, by Mark Glen Bilby. Catholic Library World 85.2 (December 2014): 122-123.
  2. Phillips, Thomas E. Review of As the Bandit Will I Confess You: Luke 23,39-43 in Early Christian Interpretation, by Mark Glen Bilby. Religious Studies Review 41.2 (June 2015): 75.
  3. Widdicombe, Peter. Review of As the Bandit Will I Confess You: Luke 23,39-43 in Early Christian Interpretation, by Mark Glen Bilby. Journal of Theological Studies 66.1 (April 2015): 435-437.

– Mark Glen Bilby

Reflections on Juvencus, Evangeliorum libri, Book 4

Today I completed my feedback on Scott McGill’s forthcoming annotated translation of Juvencus’ Four Books of the Gospels, the first major Christian epic poem, a metrical retelling of the Gospel of Matthew (more or less). My interests in the text are manifold, but especially for the ways in which the Gospel of Luke finds its way into the retelling.

As noted in a previous blog post, book 1 of the Evangeliorum relies heavily on Luke, especially its birth and childhood narratives. As is well known, John and Mark have nothing to say about Jesus’ earthly life before his ministry, and Matthew’s infancy narrative is much shorter and quite different than Luke’s. So it makes sense, given the canonical sources available and Juvencus’ efforts to retell the whole life of Christ, that he would depend so heavily on Luke for his birth narratives, even while taking Matthew as his base text for the bulk of his composition.

What I found among books 2-4 were rare and fairly brief references to Luke’s Gospel. For example, in 3.81-83, Juvencus borrows Luke’s unique phrase, “that is enough,” in order to make a clever intertextual connection between the Gethsemane arrest and the feeding of the five thousand:

The disciples showed that there was nothing more
to eat but two fish and five pieces of bread.
“This is enough,” he said.

Besides the Lukan infancy narratives, the longest episode pulled from Luke is 14:7-11, a passage Aland’s synopsis entitles “Teaching on Humility,” but one that amounts to instructions on where to sit as a guest at a feast, and on whom to invite to the feasts one hosts. In 3.614-621, Juvencus weaves in this uniquely Lukan teaching so as to bolster the brief Markan/Matthean counsel about how those who humble themselves will be exalted. This appears immediately after Jesus’ rebuke of the sons of Zebedee for their request for eschatological places of glory. Apparently Juvencus thought that meal decorum, humility, and (perhaps) the inclusion of the poor were important enough so as to adventure out from his base text.

Surprisingly, book four had only one clear and very brief reference to Luke, specifically 17:34, about judgment dividing two people “in the same bed.” He inserts this saying in place of the Matthean mention (24:41) of two women at the mill. Perhaps he found the Matthean text too rustic.

What is most surprising about book four of the Evangeliorum is that the uniquely Lukan details and narratives related to the Passion and Resurrection are almost entirely absent. Juvencus’ retold Gospel has no second cup at the passover, no miraculous healing of the servant’s ear, no Annas, no Herod, no threefold assertion of innocence, no repentant criminal, no mourning crowds, no Emmaus road encounter, no post-resurrection feast with the disciples, and no ascension.

In summary, Juvencus was not primarily interested in navigating through or creating a harmonized Gospel (akin to Tatian’s Diatessaron). Instead, he sought to fashion a harmoniously epic version of the life of Jesus. Given the priority of Matthew’s Gospel for many early Christian interpreters, it makes a lot of sense that Matthew’s Gospel remained his consistent default.

– Mark G. Bilby

Reflections on Juvencus, Evangeliorum libri, Book 3

This is the third in a sequence of reflections on Scott McGill’s forthcoming (December 2015)  annotated translation (the first ever complete English translation) of the Four Books of the Gospels by Juvencus, the first great Christian epic poet. I continue to be impressed at the way Juvencus interweaves allusions to Latin classical poetry (especially that of Vergil), the narrative of Matthew, and also intertexts with other scriptures.

One such interweaving appears in lines 630-635 of book 3. This one stands out to me not only for its content, but also for its creative resequencing. As McGill mentions in his preliminary notes, these lines invert the order of Mt 21:4-7 (630-632 render Mt 21:6-7, while 633-635 render Mt 21:4-5).

Without delay, the disciples did as told.
They led the pair, spread a soft cloak upon
the gentle foal, and made a place to sit.
The ancient prophet’s vatic voice streamed down:
“Behold, your kind king comes; a gentle ass
and trailing foal bring him upon their backs.”

In my view, this inverted sequence dramatizes the episode. Rather than keeping with Matthew’s customary narrative pauses to quote a prophecy fulfilled, Juvencus makes the ancient speech into a present heavenly portent and voice that accompanies Jesus’ ascent. This shift also creates a resonance with other heavenly portents in the scriptures, most notably the “voice from heaven” at the baptism (Mk 1:11, Mt 3:17, Lk 3:22) and elsewhere (Dn 4:31, Jn 12:28, Ac 11:9, 2 Pt 1:18, Rv 10:4, 8, 11:12, 12:10, 14:2, 7, 13; 18:4). The inclusion of a heavenly portent here at the triumphal entry also recalls many possible scenes from Greek and Latin epic poetry.

– Mark Bilby