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another lost gospel

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  • Yuri Kuchinsky
    Dear friends, Our past discussion about the Beloved Disciple passages in John and in ms Pepys (where BD is lacking, and where John is named instead) was
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 16, 2001
      Dear friends,

      Our past discussion about the Beloved Disciple passages in John and in ms
      Pepys (where BD is lacking, and where "John" is named instead) was quite
      interesting. And the reason why I brought up that whole matter is actually
      because of the following text that is still completely unknown today to
      biblical scholars. Because this mysterious medieval text also happens to
      lack the Beloved Disciple figure entirely -- just like in Pepys, "John" is
      named there instead. From our past discussions, it is clear that no other
      such texts are known to exist at this time, so this whole situation is
      certainly quite curious.

      Also, this new text features a lot of other pronounced Johannine
      influences, so it may prove to be quite interesting to the scholars of the
      Fourth Gospel. I was planning to post more information about it before,
      but was side-tracked into other things. So, finally, here is this
      additional information. As they say, better late than never...

      Best wishes,

      Yuri.

      --------------------------

      COMPLAINT-NICODEMUS SEQUENCE (CNS)

      _The Middle English Prose Complaint of Our Lady, and Gospel of Nicodemus_
      (from MS Pepys 2498), C. William Marx and Jeanne F. Drennan, eds.;
      Heidelberg: Carl Winter Universitatsverlag, 1987.

      What Marx and Drennan publish in this book is really a unified gospel in
      its own right, although, formally, it is composed of one gospel (THE
      COMPLAINT OF OUR LADY), followed by parts of another gospel (THE GOSPEL OF
      NICODEMUS). This whole document exists as a continuous text in five
      medieval mss, three of them in Middle English (ME), and two in the
      Anglo-Norman dialect of medieval French (AN).

      It is not known when this whole document was put together, where, and by
      who. It had probably already existed as a unified Latin gospel before
      being translated into ME and AN.

      The text deals primarily with the Passion and the Resurrection of the
      Lord. As we find it now, it is really a unique document the sources of
      which are not entirely clear, as Marx & Drennan, themselves, admit. And it
      seems to preserve some very unusual details of the Passion, that may be
      very primitive indeed. In this article, I will refer to this whole text as
      COMPLAINT/NICODEMUS SEQUENCE (or CNS).

      Our two AN mss date from 14c. As to the ME mss, the oldest one is from the
      14c, another dates to early 15c, and the third to late 15c/early 16c. In
      this volume, the two texts, the ME and the AN, are printed next to each
      other. (Also, more recently, another AN fragment of CNS has come to light;
      CW Marx, NOTES AND QUERIES 236 [1991]:157-58)

      The first part of CNS, or COMPLAINT, seems to be a very unusual document
      in its own right, with many unique features. And the second part, composed
      of segments of what now is generally known as THE GOSPEL OF NICODEMUS,
      appears to be a rather complex compilation, also featuring quite a few
      unusual elements; its relationship to the known recensions of THE GOSPEL
      OF NICODEMUS is not very clear at all.

      In my view, the whole text is quite valuable, and it seems to represent
      some unknown and rather unusual ancient source or sources. To my
      knowledge, no biblical scholar (as opposed to a medievalist) has examined
      it as yet.

      The COMPLAINT (and perhaps parts of NICODEMUS as well) is clearly using
      some sort of a Diatessaron as its base, but the exact identity and
      provenance of this narrative base are not known at this time, as Marx &
      Drennan admit (p. 30). Johannine influences are very strong, but many
      elements of the other three canonicals are also there in the text.

      After already studying CNS for some time, basically, I can conclude that
      it represents some unknown and very ancient gospel harmony, that had been
      expanded with other material, primarily an account of the sorrows of Mary
      as she's witnessing the tragic events of the Passion and Resurrection of
      her son.

      Of course, Marx & Drennan did try to compare CNS to other documents with
      similar content, that are better known, but the results of their
      comparisons are often inconclusive. After doing some of these comparisons
      myself as well, I can estimate that, on the whole, perhaps 1/3 of CNS text
      lacks parallels elsewhere, and is more or less unique. The rest of this
      narrative mirrors various other texts that are better known. In any case,
      all these relationships and interrelationships are often very complex, and
      take a while to figure out for each particular passage.

      According to Marx & Drennan, the most representative texts that they have
      been able to identify, that contain material close to the COMPLAINT, are
      the following two,

      1. Pseudo-Bernard, _Liber de Passione Christi et Doloribus et Planctibus
      Matris Ejus_, or _Qui Dabet_.

      2. Pseudo-Anselm, _Dialogus Beatate Marie et Anselmi de Passione Domini_.

      But, according to Marx & Drennan,

      ""The Complaint" owes an exclusive debt to neither of these seminal
      texts"". (p. 34)

      Of course one should also keep in mind the possibility (if not a
      probability) that "The Complaint" does not owe _any_ debt to these two
      texts, but that instead all three derive from some even more primitive
      ancient source or sources.

      A very difficult and potentially controversial question is the exact
      relationship between CNS and the canonical gospels. Throughout their
      commentary, clearly Marx & Drennan always assume that, for every
      particular passage, the canonical texts precede CNS, but there are some
      good reasons to doubt that this is so, or always so. This seems like a
      very important question that may take a long time to resolve.

      Another very difficult question is the exact nature of the
      interrelationships between the AN textual tradition of CNS, the ME textual
      tradition of CNS, and their probable Latin source text. In their
      introduction and commentary, Marx & Drennan argue that the ME version of
      CNS had been a translation from AN; they also clearly assume that this is
      the situation throughout the whole of the ME text. This of course is also
      a common opinion among medievalists in regard to these sorts of texts. And
      yet, as it seems to me, within this particular textual tradition, the
      situation is a lot more complicated than this -- as we shall see below.

      Certainly, Marx & Drennan devote considerable space to trying to establish
      how exactly the five mss of CNS (that had been known up to 1987) relate to
      each other, and to their probable Latin source. It's a very complex puzzle
      indeed, involving numerous variables, and the authors, themselves, admit
      that some uncertainty in this area still remains. And this is also
      reflected in their hypothetical stemma of CNS textual tradition that is
      printed on p. 25. According to this, there are at least 2 intermediate mss
      between Latin and the existing AN mss, and at least 3 or 4 intermediate
      mss between Latin and the existing ME mss. So, even on the face of it, the
      whole problem seems rather complicated.

      ***

      So here now is the basic narrative sequence of CNS.

      After a brief prologue, Mary, the mother of Jesus, begins her story with
      the scene where Jesus predicts his passion in Jerusalem. Then, the
      following events are narrated on 64 pages (pp. 73-136; ME and AN being
      printed next to each other on the same page),

      the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem
      (p. 75) the authorities assemble & conspire against him
      Judas comes to the authorities
      they give him 30 pieces of silver
      the Last Supper
      Judas receives the sop
      (a theological intrusion on the above theme)
      Jesus predicts Peter's denial
      Judas again goes to the authorities
      he sets up the plans for the arrest
      Jesus washes the feet of disciples
      he & disciples go to Gethsemane
      (p. 80) Jesus prays and is comforted by an angel
      while disciples fall asleep 3 times
      the arrest
      Peter strikes with the sword
      Jesus heals Malchus' ear
      Jesus is taken to Annas
      John and then Peter go inside the gate
      Jesus is interrogated
      he's sent to Caiaphas
      Peter's denial
      Jesus is abused
      (p. 85) false witnesses are brought in
      Caiaphas interrogates Jesus
      Jesus is tormented all night
      in the morning Mary sees Jesus & falls down weeping
      while he's being taken before Pilate
      Jesus comforts her
      Jesus is accused and interrogated
      Pilate finds him not guilty
      Pilate sends Jesus to Herod
      Mary now accompanied by "cousin John" follows after
      Jesus remains silent before Herod
      he is sent back to Pilate
      Pilate again finds him not guilty
      (p. 90) but orders him scourged anyway
      he is scourged
      Jesus talks to Mary who's accompanied by John throughout
      Pilate decides who to release, Jesus or Barrabas
      Pilate is unwilling to condemn Jesus
      dialogue between Pilate & Jesus
      "the Jews" demand Jesus' death
      Pilate complies unwillingly
      Dismas and Gestas (the two thieves) are condemned
      Barrabas is released
      Pilate orders that the inscription for the cross be written
      "Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews" (Jn version)
      Jesus is again abused and mocked
      (p. 95) he is led to be crucified
      he addresses the women of Jerusalem
      a stranger (unnamed) is made to bear the cross
      Veronica lays a piece of cloth on Jesus' face
      Jesus is again made to bear the cross
      Mary now helps him to carry the cross
      she faints
      she is comforted by John and by female disciples
      Jesus is stretched brutally and nailed to the cross
      (p. 100) the cross is lifted up
      it is driven brutally into its holding place twice
      while Jesus suffers terribly
      the plaint of Mary
      the two thieves are also crucified
      Jesus is mocked on the cross
      Dismas (the good thief) is promised salvation
      another plaint of Mary
      Jesus entrusts Mary to John
      she faints again
      (a theological intrusion about salvation)
      (p. 105) Jesus asks for a drink, tastes it, and dies
      miracles accompany his death
      another plaint of Mary
      she faints again
      Jesus is pierced with a spear
      the rulers go home leaving the guard at the cross
      Joseph of Arimathea asks for the body of Jesus
      and so Pilate now learns about his death
      (p. 110) Nicodemus brings the spices for the burial
      Jesus is taken down from the cross
      Mary embraces Jesus' body
      she then becomes semi-conscious
      Joseph lays Jesus in his new tomb
      another plaint of Mary
      Mary is then kindly led to John's house
      in the morning, "the Jews" ask Pilate to guard the tomb
      guards are sent to the tomb
      a dialogue of Nicodemus with the rulers of the Jews
      a dialogue of Joseph with the rulers of the Jews
      (p. 115) Joseph is cast into prison
      he's to be condemned to death later
      Jesus rises from the dead
      he first of all comes and comforts Mary
      he goes and liberates Joseph from prison
      he takes him to Arimathea
      Mary concludes her narrative

      (Gospel of Nicodemus fragments begin)
      the authorities assemble intending to condemn Joseph to death
      but they find his prison cell empty
      the knights who guarded the tomb arrive
      they tell the authorities their story of miracles at the tomb
      (p. 120) the authorities interrogate the guards
      the guards chastise the authorities for their unbelief
      the authorities bribe the guards
      the three Doctors of the Law arrive
      they tell about the miracles they saw in Galilee
      where Jesus showed himself to disciples
      (a theological intrusion about the true faith)
      the Doctors finish their story
      they take an oath that their story is true
      they are also bribed to remain silent
      (p. 125) "the Jews" are scared about all these miracles
      but are comforted by Annas & Caiaphas
      Nicodemus proposes that Joseph should be sent for
      7 members of Joseph's family are selected
      they are given a letter for Joseph
      the letter is cited and it is highly respectful
      the 7 are sent to fetch Joseph
      Joseph receives the messengers gladly
      he goes to Jerusalem
      he is received there with great honours
      he goes to stay with Nicodemus
      then he goes before the assembly of the Jews
      he tells his story to them
      (p. 130) the authorities are amazed
      Joseph swears an oath that his story is true
      old prophesies of Simeon about Jesus are now recalled
      it turns out that Simeon had two sons
      and that they have now been resurrected
      they are in Arimathea, and are sent for
      they are brought to Jerusalem
      they appear before the authorities who are amazed
      they are made to write out their stories separately
      they each describe the events in Hell and Heaven
      that accompanied the resurrection of Jesus
      (p. 135) their written testimonies are read out
      and are found to be identical
      then they vanish to everybody's amazement
      all the people believe these miracles
      but the authorities still refuse to
      (because their hearts are hardened)
      a final prayer to Jesus & Mary

      ***

      As I already said, the relationship of CNS with the existing mss of the
      Gospel of Nicodemus is not entirely clear. For example, I have already
      compared "the letter of the Jewish authorities to Joseph", as found in
      CNS, with two other common Latin versions, and there's almost no
      connection there between the CNS and these Latin versions (the two Latin
      texts, themselves, were actually quite similar; one of them is supplied by
      Marx & Drennan on p. 45). Also, the situation is complicated considerably
      by the fact that there's actually a very large number of extant mss of the
      Gospel of Nicodemus, apparently belonging to numerous textual traditions.
      (It seems like there are actually hundreds of these mss in dozens of
      languages, as this composition was extremely popular in the middle ages.)

      Now, even a superficial comparison between the ME and the AN textual
      traditions, as represented by our 5 mss, reveals that often there are very
      considerable differences between them (let alone the great many internal
      differences that exist within the ME tradition, and within the AN
      tradition, themselves). All these many differences between the ME and the
      AN are very difficult to account for and this, alone, should cast some
      doubt on the idea that ME text was entirely based on AN. So I don't think
      Marx & Drennan are taking this matter into their consideration in an
      adequate fashion.

      At the same time, in certain passages, the two traditions, the ME and the
      AN, are almost like carbon copies of each other. So the whole thing is
      certainly a fine puzzle, the solution to which is not so clear and obvious
      at all.

      Speaking about the two AN mss of CNS, it is also obvious that they are
      often quite fragmentary, and omit important passages. In general, they do
      seem to have an abbreviating tendency. Even Marx & Drennan, themselves,
      admit that very often, if not usually, the ME tradition preserves the
      better and the more complete text.

      So, in my own opinion, these are two very different, albeit related
      textual traditions. These differences between AN and ME texts are
      generally very significant and, by their own admission, the editors have
      not been able to account for them completely (see for example p. 50, where
      they admit to "a degree of uncertainty" in this regard).

      In general, Marx & Drennan seem to be completely unaware that these texts
      may be preserving some highly valuable ancient sources. Their assumption
      throughout is that these texts are late medieval compositions, based
      mostly on the canonical gospels. But this can hardly be the case. And also
      the same mistake was commonly made by Margery Goates, the editor of the
      Pepys gospel text. It is obvious that these medievalists, who are not
      biblical scholars, have very little idea about all the extensive
      Diatessaronic scholarship that had been done in the 20th century, and even
      before. And so, it seems like they are simply not capable of recognising
      potentially primitive Christian sources when they see them.


      Yuri Kuchinsky in Toronto -=O=- http://www.trends.ca/~yuku

      It is a far, far better thing to have a firm anchor in nonsense than
      to put out on the troubled seas of thought -=O=- John K. Galbraith
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