A Critique Of Purportedly Authentic Agrapha -- By: William L. Lane
JETS 18:1 (Winter 1975) p. 29
A Critique Of Purportedly Authentic Agrapha
The term agrapha designates isolated sayings attributed to Jesus in the tradition, but which are not recorded within the canonical Gospels.1 In the last quarter of the nineteenth century Alfred Resch2 and James Hardy Ropes3 worked meticulously to collect and to critically evaluate a large quantity of agrapha. The subsequent publication of the Oxyrhyncus Papyri between the years 1897–1908 disclosed the existence of early collections of the sayings of Jesus which produced new agrapha (P. Oxy. Nos. 1,654, and 655). More recently, the discovery in 1945 of the Coptic library at ancient Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt has made available a large quantity of sayings attributed to Jesus which were previously unknown.
From the standpoint of the agrapha, the most important document from Nag Hammadi was the Coptic Gospel of Thomas, which shed surprising light on the nature of the agrapha known from the Oxyrhyncus Papyri. In form, this document is a sayings collection. After a prologue of four and a half lines, which itself contains a saying, the collection preserved 144 sayings, the larger number of which are introduced by the formula “Jesus said.” The sayings fall into four categories: (1) those which agree verbatim with statements of Jesus known from the canonical Gospels; (2) those which paraphrase the canonical sayings or represent independent variants to the canonical tradition; (3) those sayings which are unattested in the canonical Gospels but which occur elsewhere in documents and manuscripts from the patristic period; (4) sayings which were previously unknown and which bear a pronounced Encratite or Gnostic stamp.4 The third category of sayings had particular bearing on the character of the agrapha, for it was observed that the
*Visiting Professor of Religious Studies, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, Kentucky.
JETS 18:1 (Winter 1975) p. 30
Coptic Gospel of Thomas contained the Oxyrhyncus sayings of Jesus.5 The prologue to the Coptic Gospel of Thomas is provided in Greek by P. Oxy. No. 654. Moreover, the order of the sayings within the Oxyrhyncus fragments is almost identical to that in the Coptic Gospel of Thomas. These observations provided evidence that the sayings of Jesus in the Oxyrhyncus Papyri are actually the remains of the Gospel of Thomas in Greek. It is now possible to reconstruct with certainty many of the fragmentary lines of the Greek papyri on the basis of the Coptic text, in s...
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