Author Topic: Protoevangelium of James?  (Read 10848 times)

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Offline Peleg

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Protoevangelium of James?
« on: July 19, 2009, 11:25:55 PM »
This question goes out to the more mature of Orthodox Christians who have been around the block a few times.  What is your opinion of this document?  I've been told by one who has been conducting a thorough study of the history of the Church that it was written some 150-180 years after the events it describes and was rejected by the early Church as being non-canonical and a forgery.  I've heard Fr. Thomas Hopko also admit that while we may learn from it, it was clearly not historical.  While the teachings concerning Mary are widely held by the church...should they be?  Any good history on this subject would be most appreciated.

Offline Salpy

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Re: Protoevangelium of James?
« Reply #1 on: July 20, 2009, 12:19:03 AM »
Here is a page dealing with it from a scholarly point of view:

http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/infancyjames.html

It's my understanding that it was written in the second century, but that doesn't necessarily mean that everything in it is untrue.  There are some things in it, in fact, that agree with ancient Church tradition about the Mother of God.  I don't think the early Christians disrespected it.  It gets quoted in Christian works pretty early on, and I recall hearing (of course I can't recall where) that some early (pre-fourth century) Christian communities even read it as scripture.

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Re: Protoevangelium of James?
« Reply #2 on: July 20, 2009, 12:52:18 AM »
While the teachings concerning Mary are widely held by the church...should they be?
Yes, IF it can be shown that these teachings are found in traditions outside the Protoevangelium of James.
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Offline LBK

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Re: Protoevangelium of James?
« Reply #3 on: July 20, 2009, 03:31:18 AM »
The liturgical and iconographic tradition of the feasts of the Mother of God which are not mentioned in the Gospels (i.e. all except the Annunciation and the Meeting of the Lord, the latter being a "shared" feast between Christ and His mother) are very heavily based on the Protoevangelion. It may not be part of the canon of scripture, but it is a very, very important deuterocanonical document. Even icons of the Annunciation contain imagery which is derived from the Protoevangelion.
« Last Edit: July 20, 2009, 03:32:36 AM by LBK »
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Offline Orthodoc

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Re: Protoevangelium of James?
« Reply #4 on: July 20, 2009, 04:22:15 AM »


I am glad someone brought this up because it is one of my favorites.  The strory of how Joseph was chosen and the confirmation that he was an old man and a widower are worth their weight in gold as the story goes.  Would like to hear some of our clergy comments regarding this book.  Fr Ambrose, Fr Anastasios, Fr Chris, etc., care to comment?

Here it is on line:

This is an excerpt -

http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0847.htm

Excerpt -

8. And her parents went down marvelling, and praising the Lord God, because the child had not turned back. And Mary was in the temple of the Lord as if she were a dove that dwelt there, and she received food from the hand of an angel. And when she was twelve years old there was held a council of the priests, saying: Behold, Mary has reached the age of twelve years in the temple of the Lord. What then shall we do with her, lest perchance she defile the sanctuary of the Lord? And they said to the high priest: Thou standest by the altar of the Lord; go in, and pray concerning her; and whatever the Lord shall manifest unto you, that also will we do. And the high priest went in, taking the robe with the twelve bells into the holy of holies; and he prayed concerning her. And behold an angel of the Lord stood by him, saying unto him: Zacharias, Zacharias, go out and assemble the widowers of the people, and let them bring each his rod; and to whomsoever the Lord shall show a sign, his wife shall she be. And the heralds went out through all the circuit of Judæa, and the trumpet of the Lord sounded, and all ran.

9. And Joseph, throwing away his axe, went out to meet them; and when they had assembled, they went away to the high priest, taking with them their rods. And he, taking the rods of all of them, entered into the temple, and prayed; and having ended his prayer, he took the rods and came out, and gave them to them: but there was no sign in them, and Joseph took his rod last; and, behold, a dove came out of the rod, and flew upon Joseph's head. And the priest said to Joseph, You have been chosen by lot to take into your keeping the virgin of the Lord. But Joseph refused, saying: I have children, and I am an old man, and she is a young girl. I am afraid lest I become a laughing-stock to the sons of Israel. And the priest said to Joseph: Fear the Lord your God, and remember what the Lord did to Dathan, and Abiram, and Korah; Numbers 16:31-33 how the earth opened, and they were swallowed up on account of their contradiction. And now fear, O Joseph, lest the same things happen in your house. And Joseph was afraid, and took her into his keeping. And Joseph said to Mary: Behold, I have received you from the temple of the Lord; and now I leave you in my house, and go away to build my buildings, and I shall come to you. The Lord will protect you.


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Offline ialmisry

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Re: Protoevangelium of James?
« Reply #5 on: July 20, 2009, 11:13:23 AM »
This question goes out to the more mature of Orthodox Christians who have been around the block a few times.  What is your opinion of this document? 

Is it Scripture?  No. Is it infallible? No. Is it accurate in all its details?  Probably not.  Is it worthless? No.  Does it preserve the earliest thoughts about the family life of Christ? Yes. Does it seem to be based on the early Church's traditions?  Yes.  Is it the earliest coherent source on the Theotokos?  Yes.

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I've been told by one who has been conducting a thorough study of the history of the Church that it was written some 150-180 years after the events it describes

Yes.  So?

This objection, basing solely on the passage of time from the events to the record, is often made by secular historians with an axe to grind, namely to chop the Church's Head off.  But we would have to be consistent in our application: Suetonius remains one of the main sources on the critical period of Julius Caesar and the rise of the Principate under Augustus.  Suetonius wrote in 121 as the personal secretary of the Emperor Hadrian.  He records Caesar's "Veni, vidi, vici," which Caesar, according to Suetonius, uttered in 47 BC. Octavian gained the titles "princeps" and "Augustus" in 27 BC.  So he writes some 150 years after the events, and does so largely from the reports of others, court gossip, etc. rather than primary sources.  He also sides with the Senate, biasing the work.  And this is what the history of a pivotal moment, on people who were literally moving the world's events at the time, is based on (the sources on the pivotal reign of Alexander the Great are worse: the oldest extant history dates from nearly 3 centuries after him).  And yet some would want a fully documented life of Christ, someone who was born in obscurity in a backwater of the Empire.  That's not following either logic or reality (btw, Suetonius provides an early non-Christian source on Christ, mentioning that Claudius' banishment of the Jews (Act 18:2) because of "constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus") in Rome in 51.  This is within a generation of the birth of the Church).

The question is how good were Suetonius' information.  He was well placed to get good information, and bits and pieces of primary sources back him up.  So too the Protoevangelium.  For instance "Jude And The Relatives Of Jesus In The Early Church" By Richard Bauckham
http://books.google.com/books?id=c8h3HWPO8QYC&printsec=frontcover&dq=jude+and+the+relatives+of+jesus
deals with the bits and pieces of the circles that produced the Protoevagelium.  One interesting bit is that the names of Jesus' sisters, Mary and Salome, account for half of the recorded female Jewish names in Palestine, whereas these names of Jewesses in diaspora are almost unknown, making it unlikely that Gentile forgers would have hit upon these (especially Salome) names.

Quote
and was rejected by the early Church as being non-canonical and a forgery.

Not being included in the Canon is not a major defect, just that it is not infallible.  The Didache and I Clement were not included in the finalization of the canon, but no one questions their Orthoodxy or their historical value.

The Proto-evangelium was rejected by Jerome, who through the full weight of his authority against it: its widow Joseph conflicted with Jerome's idea of an ideal family without sex, for which Jerome had to invent the "Brothers-of-the-Lord-as cousins."  For that reason, it fell out of favor at Rome, and the Latin version doesn't survive.  But Latin tradition (e.g. the names of Mary's parent) still depends on it: it does survives in Old Irish (!), and appears in the Gelasian Decrees, showing it had circulated in the West.  It was translated into every major ecclesiastical language: Syriac, Ethiopic, Coptic, Georgian, Old Slavonic, Armenian, and Arabic.  Hardly rejected, and, as mentioned, much of Church Tradition-feasts, iconography, hagiography, etc.-base themselves on it.  That icon of the Nativity, with the birth in the cave, is from the Proto-evangelium.

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  I've heard Fr. Thomas Hopko also admit that while we may learn from it, it was clearly not historical.

It displays several features found in other traditions from the Palestinian Church.  What better source would you expect?  Other such information from the same source is Hegesippus, St. Epiphanius of Salamis (however from Palestine: he writes at length on the matters also covered by the Proto-Evangelium, e.g. his dogmatic letter to Arabia), etc.

Quote
  While the teachings concerning Mary are widely held by the church...should they be?

Yes, because they are bottom line Christological.


Quote
  Any good history on this subject would be most appreciated.
The linked work above, with its references is good. Others (which deal more with the issue of James and the Hebrew Church, out of whose remnants the Proto-Evangelium was composed):
http://books.google.com/books?id=hokY46MMhewC&pg=PP1&dq=Just+James
http://books.google.com/books?id=YS_d3a-wxDMC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Just+James
http://books.google.com/books?id=6kmnlMDIwpUC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Just+James&source=gbs_similarbooks_s&cad=1
http://books.google.com/books?id=Y2ct-_trNUgC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Just+James&source=gbs_similarbooks_s&cad=1
http://books.google.com/books?id=5SHbjAKaBy0C&printsec=frontcover&dq=Jame+christian+origins

I've posted some on this topic (and hope to finish posting more) on this thread:
http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,19811.msg300498.html#msg300498
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Offline ialmisry

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Re: Protoevangelium of James?
« Reply #6 on: July 20, 2009, 11:55:03 AM »
While the teachings concerning Mary are widely held by the church...should they be?  Any good history on this subject would be most appreciated.
For a (by a Protestant) literary analysis of the PE on Mary:
"Mary:glimpses of the mother of Jesus" By Beverly Roberts Gaventa

http://books.google.com/books?id=ZByPneXWM_MC&printsec=frontcover&dq

includes a translation of the PE.
« Last Edit: July 20, 2009, 11:55:48 AM by ialmisry »
Question a friend, perhaps he did not do it; but if he did anything so that he may do it no more.
A hasty quarrel kindles fire,
and urgent strife sheds blood.
If you blow on a spark, it will glow;
if you spit on it, it will be put out;
                           and both come out of your mouth

Offline AlexanderOfBergamo

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Re: Protoevangelium of James?
« Reply #7 on: July 20, 2009, 03:28:10 PM »
Just a different perspective:
If I were a writer and chose to write a novel on Julius Caesar basing myself on historical documentations and using a first person perspective centered on Brutus, would you consider me a liar for having taken another identity? Or would you say that the story I wrote is garbage or a fairy tale, even denying how Julius Caesar died 'cause I wrote it 2000 years after those events? Of course I don't think so.
The Protoevangelium of James is a novelization by an early Christian hagiographer of the true and historical events on the Mother of God in her youth, where the author, for the sake of literary style, chose to pick James identity in the first person as a narrator. And yeah, he wrote it using the oral tradition handed down by the bishops and later blessed by the Church through the testimony of iconography, which purges the book of all its novelizations and leaves what is certain of the early life of the Mother of God.

Hope this helps,
In Christ,    Alex
"Also in the Catholic Church itself we take great care that we hold that which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and properly Catholic" (St. Vincent of Lérins, "The Commonitory")

Offline Peleg

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Re: Protoevangelium of James?
« Reply #8 on: July 20, 2009, 04:52:10 PM »
Thanks everyone for your helpful responses!  I regret that I didn't word my OP differently.  I did not mean to offend anyone but I did come across as rather arrogant.  Again, sorry.

Offline AlexanderOfBergamo

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Re: Protoevangelium of James?
« Reply #9 on: July 20, 2009, 05:01:35 PM »
I personally found no arrogance in your words... I just found it very useful to use strong words to let you understand the concept.

In Christ,  Alex
« Last Edit: July 20, 2009, 05:04:22 PM by AlexanderOfBergamo »
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Offline Hopeful Faithful

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Re: Protoevangelium of James?
« Reply #10 on: July 20, 2009, 05:44:46 PM »
I am not sure anyone that uses the Internet is very mature, but the teachings of the Church concerning Mary should be held onto.

The Proto-evangelium was rejected by Jerome, who through the full weight of his authority against it

We ought not consider Jerome a saint.

If there were a better source in English I would use it (of course all English is pagan anyway) but here is something to think about.

In the Preface to The Life of the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, there are these words at the subtitle Scriptures and Ancient Writings.

...Until the Gospels, Epistles, Acts of the Apostles and the Apocalypse were written, the early Christian community abided by "oral tradition." St. John Chrysostom says this tradition of the Church is passed on not only in written documents, but in unwritten form. After the holy Apostles were directly instructed by the Lord, they, in turn, appointed others to perpetuate these traditions. It would not be until the fourth century that the 27 canonical books of the New Testament were officially compiled...for many generations the Christians lived by the authority of oral tradition and the authority of the early Fathers...Although patristic literature is considered the basis for explaining and commenting on the Holy Bible, yet other ancient writings will contain some sources of Christian truths. Orthodox patristic literature, hymnography and iconography are the indispensable depositories and custodians of the truths and traditions concerning the teaching on the Virgin-Mother...

Use of Apocryphal Christian Literature

...Apocryphal manuscripts describe her as an innocent child, making her role awesome and wondrous...The apocryphal books are a group of disparate writings on biblical subjects that had appeared in the age of the New Testament or within memory of it...The oldest and most famous of the infancy Gospels is the Protoevangelium of James...the holy Fathers of the Church, together with the hymnographers and iconographers--with great spiritual discernment--borrowed from and expounded certain certain episodes within the Apocrypha. They believed these accounts, like buried pearls, wear valid and edifying...above all, the Protoevangelium of James of Judeo-Christian origin, a composite work, in which the part concerning the Virgin Mary goes back to the date 130-140. The venerable antiquity of this source allows the acceptance of the veracity of certain particulars that it gives...

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Offline Theophilos78

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Re: Protoevangelium of James?
« Reply #11 on: July 20, 2009, 05:47:34 PM »

While writing a massive file on the distortion of the non-canonical literature for the sake of adaptation to the Islamic scripture, I had a chance to read this Gospel in addition to the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew. The interesting point is that these two Gospels are amazingly similar. The first major difference between the Gospel of James and that of Pseudo-Matthew is that the latter is bigger in size. The second difference is that the Gospel of James makes a reference to the infancy of John the Baptist whereas the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew says nothing about either Zachariah or John the Baptist. This is rather weird.

In Pseudo-Matthew the priest who organizes and conducts the selection of a guard for Mary is said to be Abiathar:

Now it came to pass, when she was fourteen years old, and on this account there was occasion for the Pharisees' saying that it was now a custom that no woman of that age should abide in the temple of God, they fell upon the plan of sending a herald through all the tribes of lsrael, that on the third day all should come together into the temple of the Lord. And when all the people had come together, Abiathar the high priest rose, and mounted on a higher step, that he might be seen and heard by all the people; and when great silence had been obtained, he said: Hear me, O sons of Israel, and receive my words into your ears. Ever since this temple was built by Solomon, there have been in it virgins, the daughters of kings and the daughters of prophets, and of high priests and priests; and they were great, and worthy of admiration. But when they came to the proper age they were given in marriage, and followed the course of their mothers before them, and were pleasing to God. But a new order of life has been found out by Mary alone, who promises that she will remain a virgin to God. Wherefore it seems to me, that through our inquiry and the answer of God we should try to ascertain to whose keeping she ought to be entrusted. Then these words found favour with all the synagogue. (Pseudo-Matthew chapter 8 )

In the Gospel of James, however, the priest accomplishing the same task is said to be Zachariah:

And when she was twelve years old, there was a council of the priests, saying: Behold Mary is become twelve years old in the temple of the Lord. What then shall we do with her ? lest she pollute the sanctuary of the Lord. And they said unto the high priest: Thou standest over the altar of the Lord. Enter in and pray concerning her: And whatsoever the Lord shall reveal to thee, that let us do. And the high priest took the vestment with the twelve bells and went in unto the Holy of Holies and prayed concerning her. And lo, an angel of the Lord appeared saying unto him: Zacharias, Zacharias, go forth and assemble them that are widowers of the people, and let them bring every man a rod, and to whomsoever the Lord shall show a sign, his wife shall she be. And the heralds went forth over all the country round about Judaea, and the trumpet of the Lord sounded, and all men ran thereto. (Gospel of James VIII:2-3)

Apparently, Gospel of James adds Zachariah into Mary's story right before the annunciation of Jesus' birth although it does not give the account of John's annunciation. More, the Gospel of James functions to answer an important question that is related to the infancy narrative in the canonical Gospel of Matthew:

What happened to baby John when Herod sent his soldiers to slaughter all the babies in Bethelehem and its vicinity? (Atheists as well as non-Christian polemicists argue that the massacree of the infants by Herod, as recorded by Matthew, would have resulted in John the Baptist's death)
 

Is it possible that the author of this non-canonical Gospel aimed to rebut some Jewish allegations concerning the accuracy of the Gospel of Matthew? Is it possible that this author heard this question from some Jews and then tried to hush them?

Please feel free to share your views with me :)

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Offline Dan-Romania

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Re: Protoevangelium of James?
« Reply #12 on: July 21, 2009, 04:07:22 AM »
Personally , to me the Protoevanghelium of James looks very weird, also with other apocryphas about Mary or Mary Magdalene.It has a lot of controversed things in it , and controversed acts , and if we are trying to compare the person from the 4 Gospels of the NT with the one from the Protoevanghelium of James , might not match and be two different personalities.This apocrypha as a source of inspiration for me is not right.Along with the other apocryphas.But as long as I know apocryphas can be written things transmitted from mouth to mouth but can also have an impact of the own author of blossom it a little.Anyway from mouth to mouth , the stories can differ , and it depends very much of the person who transmits it his oratory way.We know the heatheans and pagans build up stories about gods , blossoming them much , making people supperstitious, inventing things.The veridicity of all those written things on the Protoevanghelium of James are very doubtfull for me.Esspecially the part when Zechariah saw her while she was a baby and chose to put her in the Holy of Holies.We know how strict was the Law , and how only the High Priest entered into the Holy of Holies very rarely and first he needed to bring offerings of sin for himself and for the people.Also the episode of Mary lifting up the leaders of the temple.Then the presence of virgins who served the Temple , no where in the OT is mentioned something like that.Than Mary spending all the time in the Holy of Holies , being visited by the angel who brings her food.And one time while she was reading Isaiah as she get unto the part of the Virgin giving birth to Emanuel , she cried and said how bless that woman was , and the angel coming than to her and told her that she was going to be that woman.The episode of Joseph sounds believable but not entirely.All the priests of the temple making counsel for it and being brough 12 rods , that sounds controversative.I doubt the entire episode of Mary being brought to the temple and what happened to her at the temple, that part for me looks very made-up.But I don`t reject the possibility of being true in some manner.As I said for me is a controversed book , and I don`t consider it for my theologic belief . As I said oral tradition can contain true things , but also the truth can be altered , and depending of the one who spreads the story , of his character can be very much blossomed and altered.And around 100 from the events can be a lot of time.I am interested of a priest / bishop idea about this.One with grace , who wants to be real and sincere.
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Offline Hopeful Faithful

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Re: Protoevangelium of James?
« Reply #13 on: July 22, 2009, 01:11:26 AM »
I don`t consider it for my theologic belief.

We all make our choices. We should be careful what we disbelieve, as much as what we believe.

Forgive, brother John
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