Gospel of Nicodemus

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A 9th- or 10th-century manuscript of the Gospel of Nicodemus

The Gospel of Nicodemus, also known as the Acts of Pilate[1] (Latin: Acta Pilati; Greek: Πράξεις Πιλάτου, translit. Praxeis Pilatou), is an apocryphal gospel claimed to have been derived from an original Hebrew work written by Nicodemus, who appears in the Gospel of John as an associate of Jesus. The title "Gospel of Nicodemus" is medieval in origin.[2] The dates of its accreted sections are uncertain, but the work in its existing form is thought to date to around the 4th or 5th century AD.[2][3]

History and authenticity[edit]

The oldest sections of the book appear first in Greek. The text contains multiple parts, which are uneven in style and would seem to be by different authors. A prologue found in some versions asserts that the text is a translation into Greek of eyewitness accounts found in the praetorium at Jerusalem.[4][2] The question of the original language is debated. Beyond Greek, the versions in Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Georgian, Slavonic, and other languages have survived.[5]

The prevailing view is that the Christian Acts of Pilate were first devised and published as a confutation to an earlier pagan and anti-Christian work also known as the Acts of Pilate.[6][7] It can be shown that the work behind the Christian Acts of Pilate must have originated very early,[6] but the complete work in its existing form dates to no earlier than the 4th or 5th century.[2][3] Although "the Acts of Pontius Pilate" are mentioned by Justin Martyr in his First Apology (c. 155 AD),[8] this simply refers to unspecified records which Justin assumed must exist.[9] Church historian Eusebius of Caesarea (writing c. 325 AD) shows no acquaintance with this Gospel, despite being aware of related texts (such as the "Letters of Pilate" referred to by Justin and Tertullian as well as a pagan version of the Acts of Pilate).[10] Epiphanius refers to an Acta Pilati (c. 376 AD), but the extant Greek texts show evidence of later editing.


The main body of the Gospel of Nicodemus is in two parts. The first part contains the trial of Jesus (chapters i–xi) and an account of the Resurrection (chapters xii–xvi). The narrative of the trial is based upon Luke 23. In addition to the Greek and Latin witnesses of the first part, there are three other notable ancient versions in Syriac, Armenian, and Coptic.[9] The second part (chapters xvii–xxvii) contains the story of the Harrowing of Hell. In it, Leucius and Charinus, two souls raised from the dead after the crucifixion, relate to the Sanhedrin the circumstances of the descent of Christ into Hell, and the deliverance of the righteous Old Testament patriarchs. It also describes the salvation of Saint Dismas, the penitent thief. This section is a later addition to the Acts, but is probably based upon an older document. It appears most often in the Latin manuscripts, and only rarely in Greek.[11]

Some Latin manuscripts contain an appended text, the Letter of Pilate to Claudius. This purports to be an official report made by Pontius Pilate to Claudius containing a description of the crucifixion, as well as an account of the resurrection of Jesus. This text is also found in the Greek Acts of Peter and Paul.[12][6] One series of Latin manuscripts also includes the episode Cura Sanitatis Tiberii ("The Cure of Tiberius"), the oldest form of the legend of Saint Veronica.[2]


The Gospel of Nicodemus has had a long history inspiring devotional works. A Meditatione sopra la Passione del nostro signore Iesu Christo, drawing in part on this gospel for its expanded anecdotal elements in the Passion, was printed 28 times in Italy between about 1476 and 1500, and inspired the depiction of Christ before Pilate by Pontormo.[13]

The Gospel of Nicodemus names several minor New Testament figures who were not named in the canonical texts; for example, the soldier who speared Jesus on the cross is named as Longinus and the two criminals crucified beside Jesus are named as Dismas and Gestas.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ehrman, Bart D.; Pleše, Zlatko (2011). "The Gospel of Nicodemus (The Acts of Pilate) A". The Apocryphal Gospels: Texts and Translations. Oxford University Press. p. 419. ISBN 978-0-19-973210-4.
  2. ^ a b c d e Reid, George (1913). "Acta Pilati" . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  3. ^ a b Yamauchi, E. M. (1979). "Apocryphal Gospels". In Bromiley, G. W. (ed.). The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. William B. Eerdmans. p. 183. ISBN 0-8028-8161-0. Although some of the elements may go back to the 2nd cent., the work as it now stands does not date prior to the 4th–5th centuries.
  4. ^ James, M. R., ed. (1924). "The Gospel of Nicodemus, or Acts of Pilate". The Apocryphal New Testament. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 95. ISBN 9780198261216.
  5. ^ Irmscher, Johannes; Cutler, Anthony (1991). "Gospel of Nicodemus". In Kazhdan, Alexander (ed.). The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. p. 1472. ISBN 0-19-504652-8.
  6. ^ a b c Scheidweiler, Felix (2003) [1991]. "The Gospel of Nicodemus: Acts of Pilate and Christ's Descent into Hell". In Schneemelcher, Wilhelm; Wilson, Robert McLachlan (eds.). New Testament Apocrypha: Gospels and Related Writings. Vol. 1 (Revised ed.). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press. pp. 501–502. ISBN 978-0-664-22721-0.
  7. ^ Van Voorst, Robert E. (2000). Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. p. 51. ISBN 0-8028-4368-9.
  8. ^ Justin Martyr (1870). "The First Apology of Justin Martyr" . In Roberts, Alexander; Donaldson, James (eds.). Ante-Nicene Christian Library: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325. Vol. 2. Translated by Marcus Dods. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark. p. 37  – via Wikisource.
  9. ^ a b James 1924, pp. 94–95
  10. ^ Scheidweiler, Felix (1963). Schneemelcher, Wilhelm (ed.). New Testament Apocrypha: Gospels and related writings. Vol. 1. Translated by Higgins, A.J.B.; Wilson, Robert McLachlan. London: Lutterworth Press. p. 445. OCLC 7531530.
  11. ^ James 1924, pp. 95, 117–8
  12. ^ James 1924, p. 146
  13. ^ Giles, Laura M. (1991). "Christ before Pilate: a major composition study by Pontormo". Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies. 17 (1): 34–51. doi:10.2307/4101546. JSTOR 4101546.

Further reading[edit]

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