Sep 252013

I just got through a first read of Hedrick and Mirecki’s Gospel of the Savior: A New Ancient Gospel. The first thing that strikes me is a comparison between the reception of the Gospel of Judas and the Gospel of the Savior, the two new ancient gospel texts published recently. There was a little hive of publishing activity regarding the Gospel of Judas, but almost nothing regarding the Gospel of the Savior has come out in book form since it was first released.

I attribute this to the sensationalism of the initial publication of the Gospel of Judas but also, secondly, to the very fragmentary form of the Gospel of the Savior. You can’t easily just sit down with the latter in translation and muse about it. Everywhere you must first wrestle with the difficult questions of what might be in those lacunae, the missing parts of the text that lie beyond, in every direction, that which we actually can read.

Hedrick and Mirecki have done an excellent job with the text. Everything you could ask for is here in the book: photographs of the plates, an introduction focusing on the history of the find and the text-critical questions surrounding it, a critical text that scholars can use, and a translation that makes it accessible to most readers. They also present a commentary that can only be considered conservative in the best sense of the word, restricting itself to the evidence, as well as a lexicon for the original text (Coptic and a bit of Greek).

As presented in the introduction and the annotations, there is extensive literary contact between the Gospel of the Savior and the Gospel of John as well as between the Gospel of the Savior and the Gospel of Matthew. Literary dependence seems assured in these two cases. No judgment can be made regarding the Gospels of Mark and Luke, due to the fragmentary nature of the text, but there are two hints of similarity to the unique parts of Mark.

One is the reference to the “greatest commandment” of the Gospel of the Savior p. 99.11-13 that has its parallel in Mark 12:31 (but which is followed by a parallel to John 15:13, viz. “For no commandment is greater than this, that I lay down my life [for] people”). The other is a reference to Jesus rising in “three days” instead of on the third day, which is only found in the Gospel of Mark (8:31, 9:31, 10:34) among the Synoptic Gospels (but see also John 2:13). There is also a strange point of contact with Luke 1:23 in the fragment of page 116*, so marked because its uncertain relationship to the earlier pages, but only a few words survive (“complete,” “the service,” “go to them”), and coincidence seems as likely as anything else.

Another interesting parallel presents itself with the Gospel of Thomas.
GSav p. 107.42-48 “I am the [fire that] blazes; who [is near to me, is] near to [the fire]; who is far from me, is far from life.”
Gospel of Thomas 82. “Jesus said: He who is near to me is near the fire, and he who is far from me is far from the kingdom.”

In the text, the Savior is consistently identified as such, or as the Lord, which is the basis on which it has been given its modern title. There are several references to the “cross,” as if the cross were a participant and more than just the place of crucifixion, not unlike some other apocryphal literature (as, for example, the Acts of Philip, the Acts of John, the Christian Sibyllines, the Gospel of NicodemusActs of Andrew, the NHL Apocalypse of Peter, an Ethiopic translation of the Apocalypse of Peter, and presumably the Gospel of Peter).

The text of the Gospel of the Savior is mostly missing, which leads one to wonder if any other fragments or quotations come from the same document.

  3 Responses to “Upon Reading the Gospel of the Savior for the First Time”

  1. Yes – the more recent furore over the Gospel of Judas was very similar to the earlier one over the Gospel of the Saviour. The recent PhD dissertation by Alin Suciu discusses some of the early controversy and speculations and how this adversely affected scholarship on the text.

    You may be aware that Stephen Emmel has since established that the Strasbourg Coptic Gospel (Bibliothèque Nationale et Universitaire de Strasbourg, papyrus copte 5-7) is another manuscript of the same text. They overlap between verses 100 and 150. Before 100, only the Berlin ms is a witness; after 150 only Strasbourg is a witness. See “Unbekanntes Berliner Evangelium = the Strasbourg Coptic Gospel: Prolegomena to a New Edition of the Strasbourg Fragments.” Pages 353-74 in Hans-Gebhard Bethge, Stephen Emmel, Karen L. King, and Imke Schletterer, eds, For the Children, Perfect Instruction: Studies in Honor of Hans-Martin Schenke on the Occasion of the Berliner Arbeitskreis für koptisch-gnostische Scriften’s Thirtieth Year. Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies 54 (Leiden and Boston, 2002); “Preliminary Reedition and Translation of the Gospel of the Savior: New Light on the Strasbourg Coptic Gospel and the Stauros-Text from Nubia.” Apocrypha 14 (2003): 9-53.

    In addition, Christ’s hymn to the cross also appears in an abbreviated form within the Qasr al-Wizz ms (Cairo, Coptic Museum inv. 6566 [now in Aswan, Museum of Nubian Civilization?]), corresponding to verses 97-125 in the Strasbourg/Berlin mss.

    Emmel also finds that Hedrick and Mirecki had consistently confused the hair and flesh sides of the parchment in their editio princeps. An error of this kind, he notes, “is likely to have a significant impact on the probability or even validity of the reconstruction of that codex” (“Preliminary Reedition”, 12).

  2. Thank you for an extraordinarily helpful comment! I had seen the reference to the similarity of content in the Strasbourg Coptic Gospel, but I had not known where to find the argument developed. This is very handy, as is the information about the Qasr al-Wizz ms 6566. It is also very interesting to know that there is such basic disagreement regarding how to reconstruct the text. I am interested in reading what Emmel has to say, and I wonder what consensus will form, if any.

  3. […] Peter Kirby – Upon Reading the Gospel of the Savior for the First Time […]

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