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The Acts of Paul

The “Acts of Paul” is not preserved in its entirety, but only in large fragments that are difficult to piece together. The complete book is usually thought to have included the Acts of Thecla and the pseudonymous letter of 3 Corin­ thians (see below). Together, the various fragments narrate legendary epi­ sodes from Paul’s life, including the account, not excerpted here, of a talking lion whom Paul converts and baptizes, who then, at a later time, spares Paul when loosed upon him in the arena. The following extract was no doubt the conclusion of the book, for it describes Paul’s martyrdom. Put on trial before the evil emperor, Nero, Paul announces that even if executed, he will reappear as proof that he can never really die but will live forever. When Paul is then beheaded, we are told that milk (a symbol of life?), rather than blood, squirts from his wound, and that after his death, Paul fulfills his word by appearing to Nero and pro­ nouncing the emperor’s own imminent doom. Most scholars identify the Acts of Paul with a book known to the church father Tertullian, who, around 200 ce, claimed that it had been forged by a presbyter of Asia Minor who, after being caught, indicated that he had done it “out of love for Paul.”1

1

Luke, who had come from Gaul, and Titus, who had come from Dalmatia, expected Paul at Rome. When Paul saw them he rejoiced and rented a barn outside Rome where he and the brethren taught the word of truth. He became famous and many souls were added to the Lord, so that it was noised about in Rome

and a great many from the house of the emperor came to him and there was much joy. A certain Patroclus, a cupbearer of the emperor, who had come too late to the barn and could not get near to Paul on account of the throng of the people, sat on a high window, and listened as he

1

See the discussion in Ehrman, Lost Christianities, 31–32.

Translation by J. K. Elliott, Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993) 385–88; used with permission.

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