Lots of people saying Jesus did not exist forget that about that man there are written many more books and there can be found much more proofs of his existence, from his own time then about other people.
There are classical or Greco-Roman, Jewish and Christian scriptures talking about events around that Nazarene Jewish master teacher, his preaching, miracles or incredible actions and events. Ancient writers and historians like Tacitus [or more formally, Caius/Gaius or Publius Cornelius Tacitus (55/56–c. 118 C.E.)] wrote about that special figure, though he mistakenly took Christ for a personal name rather than an epithet or title.
From the time onwards his apostles going around, visiting places far away from Jerusalem, the message around that rabbi spread and several people wrote about him and his followers. By the fourth century the ecclesiastical statesman, and Egyptian national leader Athanasius of Alexandria complained that lots of writings could be found about Jesus
“to deceive the simple-minded.”
Some of the writings about the Nazarene master story-teller were considered important or even ‘sacred’, works to be set apart (or holy).
Some may think not much can be found about the infancy of Jesus, but in the late second century a text was written combining the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke with other traditions, including stories of the Virgin Mary’s own birth and upbringing. It was called ‘Protevangelium’ (Proto-Gospel of James)and was exceptionally popular — hundreds of manuscripts of the text exist today in a variety of languages, and it has profoundly influenced Christian liturgy and teachings about Mary (Miriam).
The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew brought the account of the holy family’s sojourn in Egypt. The Infancy Gospel of Thomas went on telling about Jesus’ childhood in Nazareth. The Gospel of Thomas in Coptic, a collection of sayings purporting to be the words of the risen Christ, the living Lord, falls in the same line as the Gospel of Truth (mentioned by Irenaeus), a Coptic manuscript of a Valentinian Gnostic speculation from the mid-2nd century—i.e., a work based on the teachings of the Egyptian religious philosopher and Gnostic teacher from Alexandria, Valentinus.
In the East, the Protevangelium was translated into Syriac and expanded with a different set of stories set in Egypt to form the Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which was later translated into Arabic as the Arabic Infancy Gospel. Another Syriac reworking of the Protevangelium lies behind the Armenian Infancy Gospel. Christians in the East also expanded on Matthew’s Magi traditions creating the Revelation of the Magi,the Wise men or noble pilgrims “from the East” who followed a miraculous guiding star to Bethlehem, where they paid homage to the infant Jesus as king of the Jews (Matthew 2:1–12).
The Legend of Aphroditianus, and On the Star (erroneously attributed to Eusebius of Caesarea), each of which in their own way narrates how the Magi became aware that the star heralded the birth of a king.
Having discussions under the Jews concerning their religious books and letters a synod of rabbis held at Yavneh, Palestine, about 90 C.E. was held to make a list of religious books to follow. The semisacred books that were excluded were labelled by christians the apocrypha (which means in Greek “hidden away”). Roman Catholicism later included them in its canon and called the Judaic canon the Old Testament.
The Jews and non-Jews who followed the teachings of Jeshua (Jesus Christ) added the scrolls of the talmidim (close pupils or disciples of Christ). To four gospels were added the letters of Paul or Pauline epistles, Jesus’ brothers James and Jude, the apostles Peter and John. Those books were ecclesiastically sanctioned by the end of the 4th century whilst the other writings did not achieve canonical status, because of numerous spurious details.
Origen (c. 185 – c; 254) explicitly describes the Old Testament canon as comprising only 22 books but used freely some of the Jewish apocryphal books. In the Syrian East, until the 7th century the church had only the books of the Hebrew canon with the addition of Ecclesiasticus, or the Wisdom of Jesus the son of Sirach (but without Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemia). It also incorporated the Wisdom of Solomon, which is still a very valuable book to learn from. Further they used the books of Baruch, the Letter of Jeremiah and the additions to Daniel.
For a long time it was considered to have “canonical books” and “ecclesiastical books”, which Jerome for example regarded as good for spiritual edification but not authoritative Scripture.
Biblical scholar Tony Burke says
“It has become increasingly clear that the Christian apocrypha were composed and transmitted throughout Christian history, not just in antiquity.”
Throughout the Middle Ages, the Apocryphal books were generally regarded as Holy Scriptures in the Roman and Greek churches, although theoretical doubts were raised from time to time.
Burke explains that after the invention of the printing press, scholars began to travel the world in search of ancient manuscripts that they could bring to light again with the use of this new invention.
Another modern “invention” has also aided in the scholarly understanding of the history of Christian apocrypha: archaeology. At Egyptian sites such as Oxyrhynchus and Akhmîm, archaeologists have unearthed texts or works that were previously known only from their mention by other ancient authors.
Other texts, such as the Nag Hammadi Codices—13 codices (dated mid-fourth century – discovered in 1945) that include complete copies of the Gospel of Thomas, which does not follow the canonical Gospels in telling the story of Jesus’ birth, life, crucifixion and resurrection, but rather presents the reader with an early collection of Jesus’ sayings, and the Gospel of Philip. Those texts show that Gnostic Christianity was not the depraved cult described by orthodox Christian writers but rather a legitimate religious movement that offered an alternate testament to Jesus’ life and teachings.
From a historical perspective, the Nag Hammadi codices provide a clearer picture of the diverse theological and philosophical currents that found expression through early Christianity. Indeed, Gnosticism and its classically inspired philosophical ideals permeated not just early Christian thought but also the Jewish and pagan traditions from which Christianity arose. The Nag Hammadi codices, widely regarded as one of the most significant finds of the 20th century, revealed this complex religious milieu and offered an unparalleled glimpse into alternative visions of early Christianity.
“It has become increasingly clear that Christianity began as a multitude of voices, each one declaring itself right and others wrong,”
and rejects the idea that these gospels were “lost” through intentional suppression by the “winning” tradition, the Roman Church.
All this leads Burke to conclude that the Christian apocrypha
“were valued not only by ‘heretics’ who held views about Christ that differed from normative (or ‘orthodox’) Christianity, but also by writers within the church who did not hesitate to promote and even create apocryphal texts to serve their own interests.”
Please be welcome to learn more about the Christian apocrypha and their role in Christian history by reading Tony Burke’s view on “‘Lost Gospels’—Lost No More” in the September/October 2016 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
Apocrypha composed and transmitted throughout Christian history
Looking at notes of Samuel Ward and previous Bible translation efforts in English
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