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 according to the 1907 edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia scholars agree in assigning the resulting work to the middle of the fourth century AD.[2]

The section about Pilate is an older text found in the Greek Acts of Peter and Paul and, according to the surviving version,[3] is an official document from Pontius Pilate (or composed from reports at the praetorium at Jerusalem) reporting events in Judea to Emperor Tiberius, and referring to the crucifixion of Jesus, as well as his miracles.[4]

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 hands. According to the Acts of Pilate, the original version was preserved in the praetorium at Jerusalem.[3] 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 the pagan Acts.[4][6] It can be shown, that the work behind the Christian Acts of Pilate must have originated very early.[4]

"The first part of the book, containing the story of the Passion and Resurrection, is not earlier than the fourth century. Its object in the main is to furnish irrefragable testimony to the resurrection. Attempts have been made to show that it is of early date-that it is, for instance, the writing which Justin Martyr meant when in his Apology he referred his heathen readers to the ’Acts’ of Christ's trial preserved among the archives of Rome. The truth of that matter is that he simply assumed that such records must exist. False ’acts’ of the trial were written in the Pagan interest under Maximin, and introduced into schools early in the fourth century. It is imagined by some that our book was a counterblast to these. The account of the Descent into Hell (Part II) is an addition to the Acta. It does not appear in any Oriental version, and the Greek copies are rare. It is in Latin that it has chiefly flourished, and has been the parent of versions in every European language."[3]

Core texts[edit]

The main body of the Gospel of Nicodemus is in two parts, with an appendix, Descensus ad Infernos (the Harrowing of Hell).[citation needed] The first part (chapters i–xi) contains the trial of Jesus based upon Luke 23. In addition to the Greek and Latin witnesses of the first part, there are three other notable ancient versions including Syriac or Aramaic, Armenian, and Coptic.[7] The second part (xii–xvi) concerns the Resurrection. In it, Leucius and Charinus, the two souls raised from the dead after the Crucifixion, relate to the Sanhedrin the circumstances of the descent of Christ to Limbo. A literature of miracle-tale romance developed around a conflated "Leucius Charinus" as an author of further texts. The Harrowing of Hell episode depicts St Dismas accompanying Christ in Hell, and the deliverance of the righteous Old Testament patriarchs.

An appended text is a written report made by Pontius Pilate to Claudius, containing a description of the crucifixion, as well as an account of the resurrection of Jesus; both are presented as an official report.[8] One series of Latin manuscripts includes as an appendix or continuation, the episode Cura Sanitatis Tiberii ("The Cure of Tiberius"), the oldest form of the Veronica legend, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, in which Emperor Tiberius is cured of his malady. (Compare the legend of the Image of Edessa.)

Dating and readership[edit]

As the Church historian Eusebius of Caesarea (writing c. 325) shows no acquaintance with this Gospel, historians assume that it postdates this time. Eusebius was aware of related texts: the "Letters of Pilate" referred to by Justin and Tertullian as well as an anti-Christian text called Acts of Pilate, which was prescribed for reading in schools under the emperor Maximinus during the Diocletianic Persecution.[9] "We are forced to admit that [the Christian Acts of Pilate] is of later origin, and scholars agree in assigning it to the middle of the fourth century."[2] Epiphanius refers to an Acta Pilati (c. 376), but the extant Greek texts show evidence of later editing.

Justin Martyr wrote, "And that these things did happen, you can ascertain from the Acts of Pontius Pilate."[10] The Apology letters were written and addressed by name to the Roman Emperor Pius and the Roman Governor Urbicus. All three of these men lived between AD 138 – 161.

The Acta Pilati have had a long history inspiring devotional works. A Meditatione sopra la Passione del nostro signore Iesu Christo, drawing in part on Acta Pilati for its expanded anecdotal elements in the Passion, was printed twenty-eight times in Italy between about 1476 and 1500, and inspired the depiction of Christ before Pilate by Pontormo.[11]

Naming of New Testament figures[edit]

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 Reid, George (1913). "Acta Pilati" . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  3. ^ a b c James, M. R., ed. (1924). The Gospel of Nicodemus, or Acts of Pilate (PDF). The Apocryphal New Testament. Translated by M. R. James. Oxford: Clarendon Press; republished online at University of Oslo. ISBN 9780198261216. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-07-05.
  4. ^ 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. 1 (Revised ed.). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press. pp. 501–502. ISBN 978-0-664-22721-0.
  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. ^ 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.
  7. ^ "The Gospel of Nicodemus, or Acts of Pilate - Introduction, Tischendorf in his Evangelia Apocrypha". Early Christian Writings.
  8. ^ "Report of Pilate". Early Christian Writings.
  9. ^ Hennecke, Edgar (1963). Schneemelcher, Wilhelm; Wilson, Robert McLachlan (eds.). New Testament Apocrypha: Gospels and related writings. 1. Translated by Higgins, A.J.B. London: Lutterworth Press. p. 445. OCLC 7531530.
  10. ^ Justin Martyr (1870). "The First Apology of Justin". In Roberts, Alexander; Donaldson, James (eds.). Ante-Nicene Christian Library: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325 . 2. Translated by Marcus Dods. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark. p. 37  – via Wikisource. [scan Wikisource link]
  11. ^ 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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