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The practice of Christian forgery has a long and distinguished history. We know of Gospels and other sacred books forged in the names of the apostles down into the Middle Ages—and on, in fact, to the present day. Some of the more ancient ones have been discovered only in recent times by trained archaeologists or rummaging bedouin, including Gospels alleg­ edly written by Jesus’ close disciple Peter, his female companion Mary Magdalene, and his twin brother Didymus Judas Thomas. The debates over which texts actually were apostolic, and therefore authoritative, lasted many years, decades, even centuries. Eventually—by about the end of the third Christian century—the views of one group emerged as victorious. This group was itself internally diverse, but it agreed on major issues of the faith, including the existence of one God, the creator of all, who was the Father of Jesus Christ, who was both divine and human, who along with the Father and the Holy Spirit together made up the divine godhead. This group promoted its own collection of books as the only true and authentic ones, and urged that some of these books were sacred au­ thorities, the “New” Testament that was to be read alongside of and that was at least as authoritative as the “Old” Testament taken over from the Jews. When was this New Testament finally collected and authorized? The first instance we have of any Christian author urging that our current twentyseven books, and only these twenty-seven, should be accepted as Scripture occurred in the year 367 ce, in a letter written by the powerful bishop of Alexandria (Egypt), Athanasius. Even then the matter was not finally re­ solved, however, as different churches, even within the orthodox form of Christianity, had different ideas—for example, about whether the Apoca­ lypse of John could be accepted as Scripture (it finally was, of course), or whether the Apocalypse of Peter should be (it was not); whether the epistle of Hebrews should be included (it was) or the epistle of Barnabas (it was not); and so on. In other words, the debates lasted over three hundred years. The issues I have been addressing in the previous paragraphs are highly involved, of course, and require a good deal of discussion and reflection. I have dealt with them at greater length in the book written as a companion to the present collection of texts: Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003). There I discuss the wide ranging diversity of the early Christian movement of the first three centuries, the battles between “heresies” and “orthodoxy,” the production of forged documents in the heat of the battle by all sides, the question of how some of these books came to be included in the canon of Scripture, on what grounds, and when. The present volume is intended to provide easy and ready access to the texts discussed in Lost Christianities—that is, revered texts that were not included in the canon. Many of these texts were excluded precisely because they were thought to embody heretical concerns and perspectives. Others were accepted as “or­ thodox,” but were not deemed worthy of acceptance in the sacred canon of Scripture, for one reason or another. I have called this collection of other sacred texts “Lost Scriptures,”


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