Category Archives: General

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

Intimacy and the Lord’s Prayer

A friend asked me about familiarity and intimacy as regards the Lord’s Prayer, particularly about the use of “Abba” and informal 2nd person address in French translations. My response follows.

Regarding the Lord’s Prayer and its use of Abba, it depends on 1) which version of the Lord’s Prayer is meant (Q, Luke or Matt), 2) the language of the prayer, and 3) how one connects the Lord’s Prayer to the mention of “Abba” elsewhere in the New Testament.

  1. Both Luke and Matthew draw on an earlier source (Q = Quelle) of Jesus’ teachings and parables. Luke’s version of the Lord’s prayer is significantly shorter and is probably more faithful to this source. There you only find “Father” (pater), while in Matthew it is pater hum­on (Father of us). Matthew’s possessive form may convey intimacy, but my sense is that the stress is more on the community—that this Gospel is adapting Jesus’ prayer as the standard form prayer for its early Christian community in Antioch. The Didache follows Matthew and expands it, providing us with the “Kingdom and Power” climax typically used as part of the form prayer by Christians throughout history. More to the point, both Luke and Matthew (and thus Q) use the Greek term “Father”, not “daddy.”
  2. The Syriac version (the Peshitta) has aboun (Father of us), which parallels the Greek perfectly and does not use the diminutive (baby-talk) form Abba. There are two ways of reading this—either the Peshitta (a 4th century translation) is following the Greek, otherwise it represents the original Aramaic form of the prayer. In either case, the evidence is in favor of the more formal “Father”, rather than “Daddy”, as the earliest form of the prayer.
  3. Still, Jesus is quoted as praying “Abba” in his prayer of surrender in the garden of Gethsemane in Mark 14:36. Though Matthew and Luke do not follow Mark here, that may be due to their reluctance to repeat Mark’s Aramaicisms, i.e., the penchant to quote Jesus in Aramaic alongside a Greek translation. Paul mentions the “Abba” prayer twice (Gal 4:6, Rom 8:15), but he doesn’t seem to have the Lord’s prayer in mind in either of these examples. The stress is actually on adoption, perhaps evoking baptism as a repetition of Jesus’ adoption as Messiah by the Father. Moreover, in his authentic letters, Paul never gives an indication of knowing of such a form prayer.

In regard to the broader question of the intimacy of the prayer, there are other factors to consider as well. The Greek of Luke and Matthew resorts to a very formal and indirect form of request (3rd person passive imperative) at the beginning (“let be made holy your name”, “let come your kingdom”), before switching to a more informal and direct form (2nd person active imperative) thereafter (“give us”, “forgive us”, “don’t lead into”). Most later translations (including English and French) attempt to convey this shift in some way. Your reference to “tu/ton” is yet another issue. In Greek and Syriac, the 2nd person singular possessive form does not convey familiarity, but simply number (i.e., God is singular not plural). I’d agree that modern French (and German and Spanish) translations do convey familiarity by using informal 2nd person forms, but I’d say that this is more of a reflection of the particular character of those languages, not of the original/early versions themselves (which do not have a distinctive 2nd person plural form for conveying respect or formality).

Even so, the very use of “Father” in the Lord’s Prayer, not to mention Jesus’ many other uses of that term, conveys a familiarity and intimacy once set within the broader context of Jewish prayer. When compared with the amidah (the “standing” prayer of early Rabbinic Judaism), the Lord’s Prayer is strikingly similar in its content, but it is also far more familiar, addressing God as Father, rather than as “God of our Fathers.” I suppose the question then is not whether the Lord’s Prayer conveys intimacy, but the degree to which and ways in which it does this in its various renditions throughout history.

– Mark Bilby


Welcome to a new blog in the making. It’s going to take some time to add all the links, features, and content that I’d like. Thank you for your patience in the meantime. I’d welcome your suggestions about content. Please feel free to make them by replying to this post. Thanks!

I suppose this might be a good time to introduce the header image, one that encapsulates this blog and my scholarly background and interests. After spending a couple weeks this past summer in a paleography course at Calvin College (learning how to read medieval and Reformation-era handwriting), I had the privilege of visiting the Special Collections library at the University of Michigan. I went there especially to photograph the one and only manuscript of John Chrysostom’s Homily on the Cross and the Bandit located on American shores. The image is from the first page (verso side) of that manuscript (Mich 238). I did this archival research in the hope of one day producing a critical edition, but this will require spending at least a couple months in Europe. My dissertation at the University of Virginia (forthcoming in the Brepols’ series Cahiers de Biblia Patristica, edited by Rémi Gounelle) found that this sermon was the most influential text on Luke 23:39-43 (the story of the so-called Good Thief, often known as Dismas) in late antiquity. This sermon coursed quickly across the Mediterranean, as evident in Greek, Syriac, Latin, Coptic, Armenian and Arabic imitators. I also gave an invited talk at St. Katherine College (a new Orthodox college in Encinitas, California) on Chrysostom’s interpretation of this passage. There I treated of this sermon in detail, including the way it likely bore an immense influence on the history of crucifixion art, which so often accents a visual connection between the bandit and Jesus. If you’d like to hear the lecture, you can find it here. My English translation of Chrysostom’s sermon is also slated to appear in the first volume of a new book series I have started entitled Ancient-Future Sermons (riffing on Robert Webber’s books), a series that aims to make the best early Christian sermons widely available in fresh English translations today.

If all that didn’t make sense, let me summarize by saying that my scholarly interests include the history of the interpretation of the Bible (especially the Gospel according to Luke), early Christian homilies, apocryphal texts and traditions, paleography, the translation of rare or neglected texts, classical languages (especially Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, Greek and Latin), and the commerce of texts and ideas across the Mediterranean in late-antiquity.

I’d love to hear from you if you share some of the same interests, especially if you host a blog devoted to some of the same interests. Let me know if you’d like me to include a link to your blog!

– Mark Bilby