By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
Apocryphal Christian texts say wizards tried to destroy a church built to honor Mary, Live Science reported. Another story is that Dimas, who was crucified next to Jesus, once worked as a border guard and helped Baby Jesus’s family escape King Herod. Many apocryphal texts feature Mary.
According to Live Science, some apocryphal texts that were only recently translated contain some surprising supernatural elements. “One of the newly translated texts tells of a battle against ‘diabolical’ wizards who are trying to destroy an ancient church being built as a dedication to the Virgin Mary in the city of Philippi in Greece,” the article said. “The story is told in two texts that were both from the Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great in Egypt. At that time, much of the population around the Mediterranean had converted to Christianity, although some still followed polytheistic faiths.”
Although this story may be new, the inclusion of Jesus’s mother Mary in apocryphal texts is not. They outline much of her life, including her own miraculous birth and her later years after Jesus’s death.
The Proto-Gospel of James
One such text is commonly known as The Proto-Gospel of James and is believed to have been written in the mid-2nd century.
“We learn from this work that Mary’s own birth was miraculous,” said Dr. David Brakke, the Joe R. Engle Chair in the History of Christianity and Professor of History at The Ohio State University. “Her parents Anna and Joachim were unable to have a child, but God heard their prayers and gave them Mary. Anna and Joachim dedicated Mary to God, and she grew up secluded in the Temple, weaving and praying and receiving food from an angel.”
According to Dr. Brakke, this text explains that Mary left the Temple when she was 12 and came under the care of Joseph, who was an elderly widower. The proto-gospel also emphasizes Mary’s virginity both before and after Jesus’s birth, including telling a story of Salome doubting Mary’s virginity and examining her only for Salome’s hand to begin to burn and fall off.
Dr. Brakke said that the emphasis on Mary’s virginity was likely made to emphasize three things: It defended Mary against naysayers who claimed Jesus wasn’t born of a virgin, promoted Mary as a model for Christian virgins, and glorifies her as “exceptionally pure and sacred.”
The Questions of Bartholomew
According to Dr. Brakke, another apocryphal text—The Questions of Bartholomew—deals with Mary after Christ’s resurrection. The disciples had many questions about Heaven and Hell, salvation, and so on, and they were sitting in a group discussing it when Mary came along to speak with them. They wished to know how she conceived and gave birth to Jesus, but the only one who would ask is Bartholomew.
“Mary says that she’s afraid to speak of this mystery because, if she does, fire will come out of her mouth and destroy the world. Then, she and Peter dispute who should lead the group in prayer, but unlike in the [apocryphal] gospels of Thomas and Mary, Peter does not reject Mary. Instead, Peter says that as the tabernacle that once contained God, Mary should lead the prayer, but Mary says that Peter, as the pillar of the church, should lead.”
After some disagreement, Mary led the group in prayer. Later, they defer to each other again when the subject of “Who should ask Jesus a question?” arises. Eventually, Bartholomew asks the question.
“In addition, Mary does tell the disciples about the vision that revealed to her that she would conceive and give birth to Christ,” Dr. Brakke said. “And, as she warned, fire comes out of her mouth, and it looks like it will destroy the world, until Jesus intervenes to stop it.”
Fighting evil wizards may seem like a pretty difficult story to sell, which is likely one of the reasons it wasn’t accepted as canonical by the church. However, that tale is in some fascinating company in the apocrypha.
Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily
Dr. David Brakke contributed to this article. Dr. Brakke is the Joe R. Engle Chair in the History of Christianity and Professor of History at The Ohio State University. He received his B.A. in English from the University of Virginia, his M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and his Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Yale University