NON-CANONICAL ACTS OF THE APOSTLES
Introduction Only one account of the activities of the apostles of Jesus came to be included in the New Testament, the book of Acts, written by the author of the Gospel of Luke. The second century, however, saw the production of numerous legendary accounts of the missionary endeavors of the apostles, who were said to have taken the gospel message far aﬁeld throughout the Roman Empire, and even outside of it. These narratives recount the apostles’ heroic deeds in order to show that they were empowered by the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit to do God’s will here on earth, as they heal the sick, cast out demons, and raise the dead. In addition, the accounts reveal the numerous obstacles the apostles encountered, especially in their con frontations with advocates of “pagan” religions, whose temples are occa sionally destroyed by a word from an apostle, and with “heretics,” who proclaim a false view of the religion. Some of the stories involve miracleworking contests between the apostolic advocates of the truth and their heretical opponents, who, naturally, come to be soundly defeated by the power of the one true God. In addition to tales of the apostles who were known from the New Testament, there were lively accounts written about others as well—most notably a female apostle, a companion of Paul, named Thecla, whose miraculous exploits and supernatural escapes from death continue to enthrall readers today. Throughout these accounts one ﬁnds not just a set of episodic narratives, but an ideological point, stressed time and again, relating to the need for true followers of Christ to abandon the trappings and pleasures of this world—especially the pleasures of sex—in order to participate fully in the life of the other world, the world of God. And so these tales consistently take an ascetic line, urging their readers to abandon what might be otherwise thought of as wholesome activities of daily life that bind society together (sexual love of married couples, raising of children, commitment to family life) in order to serve the God who stands over against the social conventions of this world. Scholars have long noted that this ascetic ideology stands at tension with the “pagan” writings that are most similar to the Christian Acts and probably served as their model—ancient pagan Romances (sometimes called novels), which celebrate sexual love and the bonds of family that it creates. Numerous subplots tie the Romances together with the Christian Acts— travels and dangers on sea and land, shipwrecks, piracy, kidnappings, stories of broken marriages and frustrated love. But whereas the pagan romances afﬁrm what today some might call “family values,” the Christian Acts denounce these as worldly concerns to be overcome by the true believer. For the authors of these books, it is the true worship of God and the spread of the Christian gospel that are of ultimate importance, with society and its institutions seen as impediments to the goals of the Christians’ existence, which is to be directed to life in heaven, not life on earth.