What are Apocrypha?
The term Apocrypha is used to describe texts that are of questionable authorship or authenticity. The term is most often used in the context of non-canonized Judeo-Christian scriptures which were excluded from the Bible. As a result, such Apocrypha texts are typically not recognized by the Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Churches amongst the gospels of the apostles included in the Bible. However, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church previously incorporated various Apocrypha texts into their New Testament canon.
The Gnostic tradition incorporated New Testament Apocrypha, or Gnostic Gospels, into their esoteric teachings and allegorical interpretations. The main New Testament Apocrypha are the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Truth, the Gospel of Philip, and the Gospel of Judas, which was discovered as recently as the 1970s and reconstructed in 2006.
Certain revelations in the New Testament Apocrypha, particularly concerning the nature of Jesus Christ, seem to contradict traditionally-held beliefs which stem from New Testament teachings, and have therefore been met with controversy. In the Gospel of Philip, for example, the statement that Christ loved Mary Magdalene “more than the disciples, [and used to] kiss her” implies that he and Mary Magdalene were romantically involved –- a theory that’s echoed in the popular book and film, The Da Vinci Code. As well, the Gospel of Thomas appears antithetic to the commonly-held Christian belief in a bodily resurrection, and the Gospel of Truth suggests that knowledge, rather than repentance, is the path to salvation.
In 2006, the Vatican issued a public statement regarding the preliminary translation of the Gospel of Judas, completed earlier that year by the National Geographic Society. The newly-reconstructed Gospel suggests that apostle, Judas Iscariot did not betray Christ by handing him over to Jerusalem's Temple authorities and consequentially Pontius Pilate, but was actually complying with a direct request from Christ to do so. Pope Benedict XVI argued that Judas displayed “an open rejection of God's love”, and “viewed Jesus in terms of power and success: his only real interests lay in his power and success, there was no love involved. He was a greedy man: money was more important than communing with Jesus; money came before God and his love”.
In addition to certain biblical texts, literature by noted authors has also been deemed Apocryphal, such as the Shakespeare Apocrypha. Although this group of plays is often attributed to English poet and playwright, William Shakespeare, their true authorship remains questionable, due to the fact that they were excluded from Shakespeare’s First Folio and seem to diverge from Shakespeare’s style. While some speculate that Shakespeare may have written the plays in collaboration with someone else or had a hand in editing them, others say the poems are entirely written by an unknown author. The anecdote of George Washington and the cherry tree, as told by American printer and author, Parson Weems, is another example of Apocryphal literature. Today, the story is widely-considered to be a fabrication for the purpose of financial gain or simply to glorify Washington.
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