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The Acts of John is a 2nd-century Christian collection of narratives and traditions, well described as a "library of materials" [138466], inspired by the Gospel of John, long known in fragmentary form. The traditional author was said to be one Leucius Charinus, a companion of John, who was associated with several 2nd century Acts. As a description of acts attributed to one of the major apostles who had put their words down into the New Testament, together with the Acts of Paul it is considered one of the most significant of the apostolic Acts in the New Testament apocrypha. It was traditionally ascribed to Prochorus, one of the Seven Deacons discussed in Acts of the Apostles.

It contains two apocryphal journeys of John to Ephesusmarker, filled with dramatic events, miracles such as the collapse of the Temple of Artemismarker just as John is in the theater preaching to try to convert Artemis' followers, anecdotes and well-framed melodramatic speeches. It may have originated as a Christianized wonder tale, designed for an urbane Hellenic audience accustomed to such things as having one's portrait painted (the setting for one episode), living in that part of the province of Asia. It also contains the episode at the Last Supper of the Round Dance of the Cross initiated by Jesus, saying, "Before I am delivered to them, let us sing a hymn to the Father and so go to meet what lies before us". Directed to form a circle around him holding hands and dancing, the apostles cry "Amen" to the hymn of Jesus.

Embedded in the text is another hymn (sections 94 – 96), "which no doubt was once used as a liturgical song (with response) in some Johannine communities" (Davis). In the summer of 1916 Gustav Holst set it, in a version by G.R.S. Mead, as "The Hymn of Jesus" for two mixed choirs and a small orchestra (Trippett).

Though the Acts of John was condemned as heretical, a large fragment survives in Greek manuscripts of widely varying date. In two medieval Greek versions, the magical survival of John when put to tortures will be familiar to any reader of hagiography: "He was brought before Domitian, and made to drink poison, which did not hurt him: the dregs of it killed a criminal on whom it was tried: and John revived him; he also raised a girl who was slain by an unclean spirit." (James 1924, Introduction).

Most of its docetic imagery and overt gnostic teachings are concentrated in a few chapters (94-102 and 109), which may be interpolations, or they may simply reflect the diverse nature of the sources that were drawn upon to assemble this episodic collection, which falls in the genre of Romance.

The surviving Latin fragments, by contrast, seem to have been purged of unorthodox content, according to their translator M. R. James: the Latin fragments contain episodes now missing in the Greek. The Stichometry of Nicephorus gives its length as 2500 lines. An on-line translation [138467] presents the confrontation of John and Domitian during Domitian's persecution of Christians, described as instigated by a letter of complaint from the Jews.

See also


  • Jan N. Bremmer (editor), The Apocryphal Acts of John (1995) brought together a series of eleven essays by various authors on the Acts of John and a bibliography (Kampen, Netherlands: Pharos). On-line as a series of pdf files

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