The Lost Bible
Forgotten Scriptures Revealed
J. R. Porter
The Lost Bible provides a fascinating introduction to sacred writings of great profundity and aesthetic merit that did not become part of the canon of the Old and New Testaments. In the centuries around the beginning of the Common Era, the Jewish people drew faith and inspiration from hundreds of sacred writings, not just those that make up the Hebrew Bible we know today. Early Christianity itself produced a wealth of sacred writings, which, though they did not become part of the New Testament, were popular among believers and important in spreading the faith. After the canons of the Jewish and Christian Bibles were established, many of these works disappeared into obscurity. Some were lost entirely; others survived in translations.
J. R. Porter introduces the reader to a wide selection of these extraordinary and beautiful "lost" works-from words considered to be those of prophets, kings, and patriarchs (even Adam himself) to legends and stories that supply "missing" parts of the Gospels.
The thumbnails below reproduce four pages from the book; click on each thumbnail to see a full-size image of each page. Click on the link (or scroll down) to read the text on these pages.
Pages from The Lost Bible
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As Adam gained in stature (see pp.22-3), there was a repeated attempt to put the blame for the Fall entirely upon Eve, the first woman: as 2 Enoch bluntly says, when the devil entered Paradise he corrupted Eve, "but Adam he did not contact" (2 Enoch 31). It was natural to speculate as to how and why Eve had succumbed to temptation and to find answers by expanding the laconic narrative in Genesis. An especially interesting section in the Life of Adam and Eve consists of Eve's own account, related to her children and grandchildren, of the events surrounding the Fall. She emerges as a considerable figure in her own right, in charge of half of the garden of Eden and all the female animals-in contrast to the Bible, where Adam is in sole control.
The Life of Adam and Eve introduces a more explicit religious and moral tone into the biblical story. Eve is misled by covetousness, which is described as the origin of all sinan idea also found in the New Testament (Romans 7.7)and her nakedness is not primarily physical but rather the loss of righteousness, a common rabbinic interpretation (see extract, below). To lend authority to the narrative, the author adds concrete details: thus the tree of knowledge is said to be a fig tree, and the serpent possesses hands and feet before he is reduced to crawling on the ground. The serpent acts at the instigation of Satan, reflecting the increasing prominence of Satan as the force of evil. He approaches Eve in the guise of one of the angels, who play a notable role throughout and are depicted as participating in regular acts of divine worship.
From the Life of Adam and Eve, chapters 17-20 (Greek version)
[Satan] said to me, "Are you Eve?" And I said to him, "I am." And he said to me, "What are you doing in Paradise?" I replied, "God placed us to guard it and eat from it." The devil answered me through the mouth of the serpent, "You do well, but you do not eat of every plant." And I said to him, "Yes we eat from every plant except one only, which is in the midst of Paradise, concerning which God commanded us not to eat of it, else you shall most surely die."
Then the serpent said to me, "May God live! For I am grieved over you, that you are like animals. For I do not want you to be ignorant; but rise, come and eat, and observe the glory of the tree." And I said to him, "I fear lest God be angry with me, just as he told us." He said to me, "Fear not". ...
He went, climbed the tree, and sprinkled his evil poison on the fruit which he gave me to eat, which is his covetousness. For covetousness is the origin of every sin. And I bent the branch toward the earth, took of the fruit, and ate. And at that very moment my eyes were opened and I knew I was naked of the righteousness with which I had been clothed.
The Protevangelium of James, also known as the Book of James, claims as its author one of Jesus' disciples, but it was written at least a century after the Crucifixion. It was hugely popular and inspired the genre of writings known as "infancy gospels," which recount episodes from Jesus' early years, about which the canonical gospels say almost nothing (see pp.134-9). Often lively and entertaining, these works were much loved by ordinary Christians and were a rich source of subjects for medieval writers and artists.
The Protevangelium ("Pre-Gospel") is the origin of numerous traditions and also furnished two popularand entirely legendarysaints, Joachim and Anna (or Anne), the parents of Mary and grandparents of Jesus. As the title suggests, the Protevangelium fills in events before the story told in the canonical gospels, beginning with the birth of Mary and ending with that of Jesus. Mary is at the heart of the work, reflecting her growing cult among the early Christians; the Protevangelium also foreshadows later teachings about the Virgin, especially the Immaculate Conception (see box, opposite). One episode, describing Mary's presentation in the Temple, is still celebrated as one of the great festivals of the Orthodox Church.
The work recounts Mary's miraculous birth in terms that echo the gospel story of the birth of Jesus, but it also draws on themes in the Hebrew Bible. An angel tells the barren and elderly Anna that she will conceive. This annunciation is couched in language drawn from the Bible, especially the story of Samuel (1 Sam. 1.11, 28). The name of Samuel's mother, Hannah, is Anna in Latin and Greek. Anna and her husband Joachim, Mary's father, are said to live in Jerusalem in Judea. The Protevangelium movingly narrates their joyful meeting at the Golden Gate of the city after Joachim has learned of his wife's conception, a scene often found in medieval art.
The tradition of Mary's Judean family ties is mentioned in the gospels-her relative Elizabeth is said to live there (Luke 1.36, 1.39-40). Given the relatively early date of the Protevangelium and the fact that Mary was well known among the early Christian community in Jerusalem (Acts 1.14), it is not inconceivable that this tradition has some authentic basis.
From the Protevangelium of James, chapters 4-6
And behold an angel of the Lord appeared and said: "Anna, Anna, the Lord has heard your prayer. You shall conceive and bear, and your offspring shall be spoken of in the whole world." And Anna said: "As the Lord my God lives, if I bear a child, whether male or female, I will bring it as a gift to the Lord my God, and it shall serve him all the days of its life."
And her months were fulfilled, as the angel had said: in the ninth month Anna brought forth. And she said to the midwife, "What have I brought forth?" And she replied: "A female." And Anna said: "My soul is magnified this day." And she laid it down. And when the days were fulfilled, Anna purified herself from her childbed and gave suck to the child, and called her name Mary.
Day by day the child waxed strong; when she was six months old her mother stood her on the ground to try if she could stand. And she walked seven steps and came to her mother's bosom.
The Immaculate Conception
The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, as finally defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854, states that the Virgin Mary was, from the moment of her conception, free from all stain of Original Sin. This belief seems to have become widespread from ca. 500ce, although it was never universally accepted and was disputed throughout the Middle Ages.
The impetus behind it was the growing veneration of Mary, which was reflected inand in turn fuelled bythe Protevangelium and popular writings derived from it. The book strongly emphasizes the purity of Mary, and it is the first work to affirm the belief in her perpetual virginity-it explains that the brothers of Jesus mentioned in the New Testament were in fact Joseph's sons by a former marriage. Such assertions of Mary's purity led ultimately to the claim that she had been absolutely immaculate from the beginning of her life.
Copyright notice: ©2001 Excerpted from pages 24-25 and 130-31 of The Lost Bible: Forgotten Scriptures Revealed by J. R. Porter, published by the University of Chicago Press. ©2001 by Duncan Baird Publishers. All rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of University of Chicago Press.
J. R. Porter
The Lost Bible: Forgotten Scriptures Revealed
©2001, 256 pages, 180 color plates, 8-1/2 x 11
Cloth $35.00 ISBN: 0-226-67579-3
For information on purchasing the bookfrom bookstores or here online please go to the webpage for The Lost Bible.
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