BYU scholars of the Bible and religion in antiquity are often, perhaps even distinctively, drawn to the fundamental work of their disciplines such as archaeology and textual editing. These are certainly high-value activities that result in primary contributions to research. It is unfortunate that their specialist character may render them less known to nonspecialist readers, even though their importance to research is easy to describe and appreciate.
Professor Thomas Wayment (BYU, Ancient Scripture) has recently published just this kind of book. The Text of the New Testament Apocrypha (100-400 CE) gathers together for the first time all Greek manuscripts (mostly fragmentary) of New Testament apocrypha up to the fifth century. These writings are some of the most studied ancient Christian texts—and with good reason. They seem to have claimed—and occasionally achieved—scriptural authority.
What sets Wayment’s book apart, given that many editions and translations of apocryphal works have already been published? At times, translations are sensationally presented to an intrigued nonspecialist public. By contrast, Wayment’s book is a no-nonsense tool for scholars. It contains a new edition of all the Greek texts in its purview in addition to introductions and bibliographic suggestions. Wayment also includes images of the original manuscripts, most in full color. Many of these facsimiles have never been previously published, and in several cases no publicly accessible images have existed at all.
Important to note: this edition does not contain translations. While nonspecialists will find the general and chapter introductions readable and useful, they will want the English translations of these texts found in standard collections of the New Testament apocrypha and the Apostolic Fathers. Latter-day Saints should also read Wayment’s already-published discussion of New Testament apocrypha.
Wayment notes the rising importance of studying textual artifactuality and scribal culture among scholars who wish to understand the relationship of early Christians to their authoritative texts. His book provides the materials for such study of the apocrypha and at least hints at its significance. He notes, for example, that the extensive fragments of one text, the Shepherd of Hermas, exhibit “a greater lack of concern for orthographic regularity than the other documents in this collection” and, importantly, relative to the earliest surviving Hermas fragment (see Wayment, p. 3; cf. p. 81). Hermas was one of the most popular Christian books from the second to fourth centuries and was even considered canonical by some Christians. However, its popularity thereafter diminished, and it was uniformly dropped from the canon. This geographically differentiated but steady decrease in popularity may be reflected in the variability of care in orthography. In other words, scholars can help determine the importance of a particular text by looking at the way it was cared for and transmitted over time in different places.
Wayment, who is a contributor to and advisory board member of the Maxwell Institute’s Studies in the Bible and Antiquity, has provided a wonderful scholarly tool by publishing The Text of the New Testament Apocrypha (New York and London: T&T Clark, 2013). Further study of its contents will no doubt reveal even more about the context and reception of these important religious writings.
Carl W. Griffin received a BA in Near Eastern studies and classics from Brigham Young University and an MA and PhD in early Christian studies from the Catholic University of America. Carl has worked at the Maxwell Institute since 2001 and now serves as the associate director of the Center for the Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts and editor of Studies in the Bible and Antiquity.