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 (http://tonyburke.ca/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.