Category Archives: General

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.

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.

Insights from Israel, Palestine, and Jordan

Migdal Synagogue (2015 Jan 01)

Migdal Synagogue (2015 Jan 01)

Just yesterday I returned from a two week group tour of historical sites in Israel, Palestine, and Jordan. Hosted by the Society for Biblical Studies (SBS) and led by my friend and library director, Tom Phillips, it struck a nice balance of academic and spiritual interests. Many traditional religious sites were extraordinary and moving to behold, and these included the Western Wall, the Dome on the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Church of the Resurrection / Holy Sepulchre, the Church of the Nativity, the Church of the Annunciation, the Church at Capernaum, St. George’s Church at Madaba (the location of the Madaba Map), and others.

In terms of educational value, Jerash (Gerasa) in modern day Jordan was the most profound. Unlike most ancient Roman cities, this one was not built over with later or modern construction, so the bulk of the city’s layout and many of its buildings were able to be unearthed and reconstructed. While walking its streets, I gleaned several insights into New Testament texts, insights that may find their way into journal articles as time and opportunity affords.

Sephoris/Zippori was also fascinating in that it played host to the editing of the Mishnah (the most sacred text in Judaism next to the TaNaKh) and, as the closest major city to Nazareth, may have been a destination or even a work location for Jesus. It is instructive here to remember that the Greek word in Mark 6:3 (tekton), usually translated as “carpenter” in English, can just as easily and plausibly be rendered as “builder,” “craftsman,” or even “artisan.” In other words, Jesus may just as likely have been a stone mason or mosaicist as a carpenter, and the roads, buildings, and mosaics of Sephoris and nearby smaller towns (Capernaum, Migdal) may well have been places where Jesus plied his trade.

The site at Migdal, where a synagogue was first discovered in 2009, was just recently opened to visitors. While the site was technically closed on New Year’s Day, an archeologist from the Israeli Antiquities Authority happened to be working on site that day and gave our group an expert tour. He dated the synagogue’s construction no later than 29 CE (the date of a coin in the building’s foundation) and its destruction during the early phases of the Jewish War (ca. 67-68). Since the site was not built over in later years, it is one of the best-preserved and most credible candidates for the earliest synagogue yet discovered. Christian historians and pilgrims will find the site fascinating because of its potential connections to Mary Magdalene (Migdal = Magdala, Mary’s possible hometown), obviously a very popular figure in Christianity through the ages and today, as well as its potential connections to Jesus himself. The Roman Catholic church has built a beautiful church on the site which features the Magdalene and other early Christian women (Luke 8:1) prominently. The altar, designed in the shape of a boat, has as its mast a cross. Looking past the altar to the Sea of Galilee through a huge window, participants in worship will feel as if they are floating in one of the stories set there. The site, along with the hotel currently being constructed there, will almost certainly be a very popular destination for myriads of visitors (scholarly and religious) in coming years.

– Mark G. Bilby

New Publication: Reconsidering Arminius

I wasn’t expecting it to be released until December, as the Abingdon and Amazon pages note, but just yesterday a copy of Reconsidering Arminius appeared on my desk, courtesy of our cataloging librarian here at the Claremont School of Theology. Sometimes Christmas does come early!

This volume was co-edited by me, Keith D. Stanglin, and Mark H. Mann, and it pulls together conference papers, as well as later/additional contributions. The conference was entitled Rethinking Arminius and was held in 2012. I’ll append an abstract below.

The theology of Dutch theologian Jacob Arminius has been misinterpreted and caricatured in both Reformed and Wesleyan circles. By revisiting Arminius’ theology, the book hopes to be a constructive voice in the discourse between so-called Calvinists and Arminians.

Traditionally, Arminius has been treated as a divisive figure in evangelical theology. Indeed, one might be able to describe classic evangelical theology up into the 20th century in relation to his work: one was either an Arminian and accepted his theology, or one was a Calvinist and rejected his theology. Although various other movements within evangelicalism have provided additional contour to the movement (fundamentalism, Pentecostalism, etc.), the Calvinist-Arminian “divide” remains a significant one. What this book seeks to correct is the misinterpretation of Arminius as one whose theology provides a stark contrast to the Reformed tradition as a whole. Indeed, this book will demonstrate instead that Arminius is far more in line with Reformed orthodoxy than popularly believed, and show that what emerges as Arminianism in the theology of the Remonstrants and Wesleyan movements was in fact not the theology of Arminius, but rather a development of and sometimes departure from it.

This book also brings Arminius into conversation with modern theology. To this end, it includes essays on the relationship between Arminius’ theology and open theism and Neo-Reformed theology. In this way, this book fulfills the promise of the title by showing ways in which Arminius’ theology–once properly understood–can serve as a resource of evangelical Wesleyans and Calvinists doing theology together today.

– Mark Bilby

CBP 13 publication announcement and corrigenda

My first monograph went to press early in March:

Mark Glen Bilby, As the bandit will I confess you: Luke 23, 39-43 in early Christian interpretation. Cahiers de Biblia Patristica 13. Strasbourg: University of Strasbourg; Turnhout: Brepols, 2013. [ISBN 978-2-906805-12-5]

Copies are currently being sold directly from the Brepols website. I have a request in for it to be sold through Amazon as well.

Despite the diligent efforts of myself, the editor and the metteur en pages, some errors did appear in the printed edition. I ask the pardon of the readers for these oversights. Kindly inform me of additional corrections by replying to this post.

-Mark Bilby


Page 32 footnote 52
sermon. -> sermons.

Page 162
Tables 5A and 5B -> Tables 6A and 6B

Page 170, Footnote 171
moreafter -> more after

Page 175
Tables 6A and 6B -> Tables 7A and 7B

Page 206
Table 7 -> Table 5

Page 254
paschavi -> pascha vi

Page 255 footnote 81
nat. IV, lines 37-40 -> nat. IV, 37-40

Page 278 footnote 37
Lk 23, 39 -> Lc 23, 39

Page 282 footnote 50
fid. -> fid.

Page 319
As Syriac references influences, and rapidly multiplied -> As Syriac references and influences rapidly multiplied

Page 350
Esaiah -> Isaiah

Page 360
19: 165-l66 -> 19: 165-166

Page 366
XXXIX: 264, 266 ->  XXXIX: 264-266

Page 368
1: 99
II, 9, -> II, 9, 1: 99

Reflections on the 2nd York Apocrypha Symposium

Last week was a frenzy of activity and excitement for me, especially because I had the chance to attend and speak at the 2nd York Apocrypha Symposium at York University in Toronto ( Tony Burke and Brent Landau organized the event. Speakers included Nicola Denzey Lewis, Lorenzo DiTommaso, Mary Dzon, David Eastman, Mark Goodacre, Kristian Heal, Charles Hedrick, F. Stanley Jones, John Kloppenborg, Lee Martin McDonald, Stephen Patterson, Pierluigi Piovanelli, Annette Yoshiko Reed (giving the keynote), Jean-Michel Roessli, Stephen Shoemaker, Glenn Snyder, Lily Vuong, and yours truly. Needless to say, I felt completely out of my league.

Fortunately, my presentation seemed to be very well received. In it, I gave a survey of the various legends about the co-crucified bandits, from their initial emergence in Palestine in the 4th and 5th century, their reformulation in an Egyptian setting starting in the 6th and 7th century, and their export to the Latin West in revised forms starting around the 11th or 12th century. I attempted to set aside the scholarly preoccupation with the names of the bandits and instead focused on the legends as various examples of the cult of Dysmas as a patron saint. Tony and Brent are starting to gather together a volume of conference papers, and I’m hoping that my paper will make an appearance there.

It is hard to summarize how wonderful the symposium was. The papers were consistently excellent, the discussions thoughtful, the conversations international in scope and import, and the times of collegiality truly refreshing and enjoyable. It was a wonderful blend of scholars of a variety of ages, backgrounds, and specializations (New Testament, Gnosticism, Apocrypha, Patristics, Medieval), and this diversity proved mutually advantageous in myriad ways. I was especially grateful to meet Mary Dzon, an English professor and Medievalist at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, who shares my fascination with the legends of the bandits. In fact, Mary has an excellent and extremely well-researched chapter on the medieval legends of the bandits. It is forthcoming in a book entitled, Diuerse Imaginaciouns of Cristes Life’: Devotional Culture in England 1300-1560 (Brepols, 2014). I’m really thankful to have been a part of such a gathering.

If I could sum up the import of the conference, I’d simply say that it exploded a lot of the conventional boundaries in early Christian studies, especially the boundaries between non-canonical and canonical literature, between so-called apocryphal and so-called Gnostic literature, between patristics and apocryphal literature, between homilies (and commentaries, and novels, and poetry, and art, and film, and comics, and even video games) and apocryphal literature. In other words, the so-called apocrypha, so often relegated to a status of ancillary curiosity, is the life-blood of Christian theology, literature, and imagination, both in antiquity and even today.

On a related note, David Eastman and I are talking about organizing a session at the upcoming NAPS (the North American Patristics Society) that looks at how the legends of the apostles are conveyed and presumed in Biblical interpretation. To paraphrase David, Augustine does not read the Pauline epistles merely as a source for theology. Instead, he reads them as reflections of Paul as a martyr, even a North African martyr. Something very similar could be said in regard to the Gospel of Luke, a topic I am currently exploring in several articles in the Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception. The books of the Bible are never detached from the legends of the persons whom tradition said composed them, nor the legends of the characters within them. To put it yet another way, Biblical studies is essentially a subspecies of hagiography. Thus, the task of critical Biblical scholarship is to trace out the fluid yet inextricable links between the stories in the holy books and the stories of holy persons (i.e., saints and their legends).

– Mark Bilby

Upcoming York Apocrypha Symposium

I was happy today to receive advance copies of several papers for the upcoming York Apocrypha Symposium at York University in Toronto (Sept 26-28), including papers by Charles Hedrick, Lee McDonald, F. Stanley Jones, Nicola Denzey, and Stephen Shoemaker. The event is being organized by Tony Burke and Brent Landau, two of the leading scholars on Christian apocrypha in North America. The conference builds on the one Tony organized in 2011 on the Secret Gospel of Mark, where, as he narrates, the case was decisively settled against the thesis that Morton Smith had forged the Mar Saba text.

This conference ( aims to be broader in scope and interests. Several of the authors of the papers have requested that they not be cited, but I hope my colleagues take no offense if I promote the conference and their papers simply by mentioning their various topics. The papers I’ve received thus far include something of an academic autobiography by Charles Hedrick and a similar appraisal by Nicola Denzey of the affinities (or, perhaps better, lament of the artificial distinction made) between the so-called Gnostic and so-called apocryphal texts, an exploration by Lee Martin McDonald of Christian apocrypha vis-à-vis the formation of Christian Biblical canons, a demonstration by F. Stanley Jones of significant, early textual variants of Jesus sayings held in common between Justin Martyr and the Basic Writing (a collection of Jesus sayings used both in the Ps-Clementine Recognitions and Ps-Clementine Homilies), an exploration by Stephen Shoemaker of the role of the (oft-neglected but previously highly popular) Tiburtine Sibyl in early Byzantine imperial eschatology and concurrently in the rise of Islam, and an analysis by Lily Vuong of the reception and textual attestations of the Protoevangelium of James in the Syriac History of the Blessed Virgin Mary. My paper will focus on a single character who appears and changes in a variety of apocrypha (over 15 distinct stories spanning the 4th through 13th century)–the so-called Good Thief crucified with Jesus. It will show how the cult of Dysmas first arose in the late 4th / early 5th century in Syro-Palestine, was largely submerged in the swell in interest in the cult of the Virgin Mary in subsequent centuries (attested in apocrypha wherein the bandit’s story is subsumed in the story of the Holy Family’s sojourn in Egypt), and finally re-emerged in a variety of 12th and 13th short stories, especially in Byzantium and the Latin West.

Some of the conclusions of this paper stem from the work I did on a critical edition, introduction and translation of a particular Byzantine apocryphon (BHG 2119y), which I have re-named “The Hospitality of Dysmas.” The translation and introduction will appear in Tony and Brent’s forthcoming collection (Eerdmans) entitled More Christian Apocrypha, aimed at supplying fresh introductions and translations of many Christian legends heretofore not included in the major collections of apocrypha (e.g., those of Tischendorf, James, Hennecke/Schneemelcher, and the recent collections of Bovon, Geoltrain & Voicu as well as that of Ehrman & Plese).

Up to the present day, European scholars have dominated the study of the apocrypha. Largely due to the concerted efforts of scholars at Harvard, Toronto, York, and elsewhere, we are starting to witness a wave of contributions (even critical editions!) to the study of the apocrypha by scholars on American shores. It’s exciting for me to see this happening and to contribute in some small way to its development.

– Mark Bilby