Sunday, June 24, 2018

Quotations of Jewish Scripture - Non-Canonical Gospels, Other than Gnostic Gospels

This continues a survey of non-canonical gospels and their quotations of Jewish Scripture. Here we review the quotations of Jewish Scripture in four non-canonical gospels that are not generally classified as Gnostic: the Gospel of the Savior, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, the Proto-Evangelium of James, and the Gospel of Peter.

Again, people who have read the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are familiar with how conscious the writers could be -- and how conscious the people within their narratives could be -- of the background of Jewish Scripture that shaped Jewish culture and informed Jewish thought. Do the authors and the people within the alternative gospels share the same culture and worldview?

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas is mentioned only because it belongs to the collection of documents being reviewed, but does not contain any quotations of Jewish Scripture. The remaining three documents under consideration contain these quotations: 

Gospel of the Savior:

For it is written, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” 

Proto-Evangelium of James
They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it has been written." And he let them go.

Gospel of Peter:

For it is written in the Law, "The sun must not set upon one who has been executed.'"
For it is written that, "The sun should not set upon him that hath been executed."
And the Lord cried out aloud saying, "My power, my power, you have forsaken me."
The Proto-Evangelium of James is a borderline case because it doesn't quite quote the verse that it references, but because this is a survey and since it's close enough to a quotation to inform the question of quotations, I'm including it for present purposes.

Here are some points of interest in these documents compared to the Gnostic gospels. In these non-Gnostic alternative gospels we see:
  • Awareness of, and reference to, the written Scriptures as such: the phrase "it is written" occurs in all three of the documents that reference the Jewish Scriptures. This is in contrast to the Gnostic documents, where there was no clear indication that the authors were aware they were quoting Jewish Scripture.
  • Other people besides Jesus also have an interest in Jewish Scriptures, whether out of adherence to the Law or interest in a prophecy. While two of these quotations are presented as spoken by Jesus (the first and last listed above), the others are not, meaning that we have more people than just Jesus with an interest in the Jewish Scripture. Again, this is in contrast to the Gnostic documents, where all the quotations of Scripture were preserved only in sayings of Jesus. 
  • There is no sign of the authors independently applying Scripture quotations. This is like the Gnostic documents, where the interest in Jewish Scripture comes completely from the people inside the narrative, and that interest does not seem to be shared by the authors.
The Proto-Evangelium of James

The Proto-Evangelium of James is the only document here that does have quotations of Scripture but has none through a quotation from by Jesus. That's easily enough understood when we keep in mind that the Proto-Evangelium of James does not quote any words from Jesus, as it focuses mainly on the time before Jesus' birth.

The Gospel of Peter

The Gospel of Peter calls attention to itself in its handling of quotes: first that it has three quotes (more than the rest of the pack combined), and second that there are sourcing or translation problems with all three. One of the quotes, given twice, is that the sun should not set on someone who has been executed. While that was probably the effective practice, that's not a direct quote from the Jewish Scripture that I can find. The closest that I have yet found is
Deuteronomy 21:23  His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but you shall bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) so that your land is not defiled, which the LORD your God gives you for an inheritance.
In case that wasn't the intended reference, I also looked at some applications of burials after an execution in the book of Joshua, and in these cases there is an explicit reference to the sun as seen in the Gospel of Peter:
Joshua 8:29  And the king of Ai he hanged on a tree until eventide: and as soon as the sun was down, Joshua commanded that they should take his carcass down from the tree, and cast it at the entering of the gate of the city, and raise on it a great heap of stones, that remains to this day. 
Joshua 10:27  And it came to pass at the time of the going down of the sun, that Joshua commanded, and they took them down off the trees, and cast them into the cave wherein they had been hid, and laid great stones in the cave's mouth, which remain until this very day.
So two of the quotes mentioned in the Gospel of Peter may not be quotes of Jewish Scripture, even though they are introduced with "it is written". One more thing deserves mention at this point: the New Testament gospels don't point out that it was Jewish practice to bury an executed person on the day of death. There's some reference in the New Testament gospels to making sure that Jesus' death occurs before the feast, but the Gospel of Peter may show some sign of a question coming up about why the burial was so prompt, coming from the perspective of a culture that was not familiar with Jewish execution-and-burial customs. The first of these quotations is interestingly sourced to Herod, who would have been familiar with Jewish customs for a burial after an execution.

Also in the Gospel of Peter, we have the cry from the cross. It's unclear whether the author of the Gospel of Peter was aware that it was a quotation. It seems less likely when we consider how badly mistranslated it is ("My power, my power, you have forsaken me" as opposed to "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?").


This initial survey suggests that the author of the Gospel of Peter was aware that Jesus was executed in a time and place and culture where people were familiar with the Jewish Scripture and ordered their lives according to it, but the author himself does not seem to have been as familiar as someone who fully shared that time and place and culture.

The Proto-Evangelium of James and the Gospel of the Savior show awareness of Jewish Scripture but, at one quote each, again we have too small a sample to draw any more general assessment from that alone. When we expand the study later into other areas of Jewish culture, we'll have more resources to review.