Reviving, Refurbishing, and Repurposing the Lost Apocrypha of M.R.James

by Robert A. Kraft (summer 2003); a version of this article appears in Things Revealed: Studies in Honor of Michael E. Stone, edited by Esther G. Chazon (Orion Center Director), David Satran (Hebrew University), and Ruth Clements (Chief of Publications for the Orion Center) [Brill 2004], 37-51.

In 1920, Montague Rhodes James (1862-1936) published The Lost Apocrypha of the Old Testament: their Titles and Fragments Collected, Translated and Discussed.\1/ He arranged the materials under the names of the biblical figures with whom they were associated, starting with Adam and working through the Jewish scriptural period to a somewhat unsure (and blatently Protestant\2/) conclusion with Ezra (as a religious figure) on the one hand and Hezekiah (as a regal figure) on the other. Some afterthoughts and appendices dealing with materials less easy to classify (unidentified quotations in early fathers, Hystaspes, Ladder of Jacob, Lost Tribes, etc.) conclude this slim volume, which gives clear evidence of the breadth of the author's knowledge and his acquaintance with various texts and traditions scattered throughout Europe's collections, but also betrays a certain haphazardness and haste (or perhaps scholarly impatience) in presentation.\3/

\1/London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge / NY: Macmillan. The biographical information on MRJ (as he often styled himself) is taken primairly from Montague Rhodes James by Richard William Pfaff (London: Scolar 1980); and M.R.James - An Informal Portrait by Michael A. Cox (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1983). See also A Memoir of Montague Rhodes James, with a list of his writings by A.F.Scholfield, by S.G. Lubbock (Cambridge: University Press 1939).

\2/James was the son of an evangelical Episcopal clergyman and while not exactly following in his father's path, neither did he break with that tradition. In a lighthearted early publication, MRJ comments, perhaps mimicking a "Puritan" Anglican perspective, "We tolerate the Lessons from Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus [Sirach], and Baruch, which are read in October and November; but your Tobits and Judiths, your Bel and the Dragon, and Susanna, are so many unmasked imposters, and we are not quite sure, some of us, that they were not invented by the Pope" (from the Guardian of 2 Feb 1898, 163-164, cited by Pfaff 161). It is interesting that none of the latter group of names occurs in the index to Lost Apocrypha (and only Baruch of the former), although Susanna is mentioned in passing in MRJ's summary of the Apocalypse of Zephaniah, Tobit in the Prayer of Joseph discussion, and Bel & Dragon under Habakkuk. Of course, most of these names occur also in the ancient lists of books that he cites.

\3/This volume seems to have drawn little attention from reviewers. An excellent assessment of its contents and impact can now be found in Pfaff's biography of MRJ. Pfaff also provides a bibliography of MRJ's scholarly publications, but does not include the writings of "the other" MRJ, well known even today as an author of ghost stories (see the following note). A more complete bibliography was published by Nicholas Rogers on pp. 239-267 of The Legacy of M. R. James: Papers from the 1995 Cambridge Symposium, edited by Lynda Dennison (Donington ENG: Shaun Tyas [Paul Watkins] 2001). An electronic synthesis of these materials may be found on my web site: (the internet links to this article are most easily accessed from the electronic version there as well).

In his Lost Apocrypha, James attempted a compromise between his technical scholarly works and his more popular fictional endeavors.\4/ It was a work with a long gestation period, if we can trust the biographers of MRJ. Already in 1879, as a 16 year old Eton schoolboy, MRJ recorded in his notebook "A Complete List of all Apocryphal Books (belonging to Both Testaments), Lost and Extant, with references added shewing in what Former volumes of notes [by MRJ] may be found either Notices, Fragments, Abstracts or Translations of each Book."\5/ In the same year he began his scholarly publishing career, with unrealistic ambitions regarding the "apocryphal" materials.\6/ Decades later, in 1913, he published a slim volume of translations for children entitled Old Testament Legends, Being Stories Out of Some of the Less-Known Apocryphal Books, dedicated "to Jane and my godchildren".\7/ And in 1917, he wrote to Claude Jenkins (Lambreth Palace Librarian) and mentioned that he was "trying to make a little English book containing the bits of the lost pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament" (Pfaff 371). As Pfaff incisively observes, the "success, or failure [of the Lost Apocrypha volume], results largely from a determined attempt to write non-technically on a highly technical subject. It could be said that what MRJ had done, in fact if not intention, was to provide a manual of concise information for those who already largely know what they are looking for" (Pfaff 371). Well, not entirely; Lost Apocrypha combines generalized and popularized information along with various new materials, sometimes in rather cryptic references, but also in sometimes extensive excerpts from the author's own forays among the MSS he had examined/explored as well as reflecting his special interests in Christian hagiography, art and architecture.\8/ "The lack of precise references is maddening, especially in a work which does provide a tremendous amount of information, albeit somewhat off-handedly. What MRJ should have written -- and could, with very little additional work -- is a proper manual for students about the 'Lost Apocrypha'" (Pfaff 372).

\4/James enjoyed writing, and performing, stories for children, in addition to his production of tales of the supernatural -- of course, the two interests are not necessarily unrelated. For internet interest in MRJ as a pioneer of writing ghost stories, see and its various links. Indeed, the magazine Ghosts and Scholars focused on his work -- see .

\5/Cited by Cox 35, from an unpublished Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge) notebook entry dated to January 1879 (alluded to by Pfaff 36). See also the letter reproduced in Pfaff (32), written only three months later (4 April 1879), with its playful reference to MRJ's future intention to publish a "Corpus Apocryphum Omnium V. T. et N. T. collegit edidit compilandum typisque committendum curavit M. R. J." [Complete Corpus of OT and NT Apocrypha, collected, edited, etc. by MRJ] in about 6 or 8 volumes.

\6/Later that same year, he had his first scholarly note published, and planned to follow it with a series of "apocryphal" texts (Assumption of Moses, "3rd Baruch," Aseneth, Testament of Job; see the letter cited by Pfaff 33).

\7/Published by Longmans. Although Pfaff does not include this volume among MRJ's scholarly bibliography, he does mention it (371 n.84). He also explains there the reference to "Jane" -- the daughter of MRJ's close family friend Gwendolen McBryde with whom lifelong bachelor MRJ carried on a lifetime correspondence (see her edition Montague Rhodes James: Letters to a Friend [London: Edward Arnold1956]). MRJ's interest in children, and in storying them, is well illustrated not only by such publications, but also by his extant letters -- see, for example, his "Letters to a Child" cited on (dated to 1903).

\8/From early youth, MRJ was smitten with "Archaeology," by which he meant "all antique knowledge, ... exploring every accessible church in the holidays and writing copious notes on everything" (Eton and King's: Recollections, Mostly Trivial, 1875-1925 [London: Williams & Norgate 1926] 14). His publications abound with notes and observations on church architecture and art, which also linked with his interests in "hagiology" -- the lives, deaths, and commemorations of the saints. Here he found a rich trove of little known texts and legendary materials, along with often mysterious symbols and artistic depictions. He also catalogued thousands of manuscripts during his very fruitful lifetime.

A work somewhat similar to Lost Apocrypha -- addressed to a popular audience, following the sequence of biblical narrative, and even more frustrating for its failure to identify its sources in the early volumes, but also much more ambitious and comprehensive -- had already appeared from the desk of Louis Ginzberg (1873-1953) and his admirer and translator Henrietta Szold in 1909-1913 under the title The Legends of the Jews.\9/ Although there is no indication that MRJ was familiar with it at the time he wrote Lost Apocrypha,\10/ Ginzberg's efforts focus on one aspect of MRJ's interest, the popular impact of the biblical personages on subsequent users (see n.14 below). The extensive scholarly notes to Ginzberg's Legends that would have interested MRJ most -- and remain the most valuable aspect of Ginzberg's Legends for scholars -- were not published until 1925-28, well after the appearance of Lost Apocrypha.\11/ Integrating Ginzberg's information into the outline of Lost Apocrypha promises to be a challenging and rewarding task (see further below).

\9/Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America. See the preface to Ginzberg's vol. 5 (1925): "Volumes one to four, containing the Bible as mirrored by Jewish imagination and phantasy, are intended chiefly for the general reader and not for the scholar" (vii).

\10/M.R.James wrote in full consciousness of the work of his predecessors and contemporaries as the extensive index to Lost Apocrypha demonstrates. Unsurprisingly, especially in the period following the first world war, and in a work attempting to address a semi-popular English language audience, he shows most familiarity with British and American scholarship (there are many references to the work of R.H.Charles, and to J. Rendell Harris), but he also alludes to the standard German works and workers (Gebhart, Harnack, Zahn, Schu%rer, Resch, Hilgenfeld, von Dobschutz, Tischendorf, Jellinek, Ro%ensch -- although surprisingly not Kautzsch [1900]), as well as to a few French (de Bruyn, Morin, Amelineau). Jewish scholarship is not strongly represented (Gaster gets mentioned, but not Ginzberg, Kohler, or the Jewish Encyclopedia (1901-1905) [but see Pfaff 76 n17], although rabbinic sources receive some notice. Scholarly Journals in various languages are referenced, along with constant mentions of manuscripts and papyri, published and unpublished. Of course he cites or alludes to his own scholarly work frequently, although the indexer refrains from including an explicit entry for "James, M.R."

\11/"Volumes five and six, which contain the notes to the previous four volumes, are meant primarily, if not exclusively, for the student" (Ginzberg 5, vii). The Lost Apocrypha and other materials by MRJ are cited in these notes. Ginzberg's plan for the 7th volume (see vol. 5, xi -- "which will consist of the Excurses, Index and Bibliography") was not carried out by him, but an extensive index appeared in 1938 by Boaz Cohen. It does not include modern authors or bibliography. In 1926, MRJ did review briefly a volume with a similar title: F. H. Marshall, ed., Old Testament Legends ... (1925), JTS 27. 320. -- without any mention of Ginzberg. Note also the allusion by MRJ below, in dealing with the giant Og, to other older collections of Jewish legendary material by Eisenmenger and Baring-Gould.

Although MRJ clearly could think of the "OT" and "NT" apocrypha as constituting a single series (see above, at n. 5), his respective treatments of the materials in Lost Apocrypha and in his widely used Apocryphal New Testament volume that appeared a few years later, in 1924,\12/ follow different organizational principles. In ANT he did not attempt to group materials under the onomastic/biographical umbrellas used in Lost Apocrypha, but followed the traditional divisions of the canonical NT anthology itself -- organized according to the standard literary groups of Gospels, Acts, Epistles, Apocalypses. This ANT compilation was intended to displace the widely used archaic volume with the same title by William Hone (1820; see MRJ's preface to ANT, xiv-xvii) and obviously succeeded in addressing a continued interest among English readers. James' ANT went through numerous reprintings and continues to be widely used in electronic segments today [as also is Hone!], although it has now been replaced in print by J. K. Elliott's more recent edition from the same publisher (1993).\13/ The situation with respect to these overtly early Christian writings resembles that of the Jewish scriptural counterparts -- various bibliographies, introductions and anthologies, and individual studies have continued to appear (see further below). But with these "ANT" materials, there is no "manual" in English of the type MRJ created in his Lost Apocrypha. In planning to expand and update Lost Apocrypha electronically, it makes sense to consider addressing the need for a parallel (or continuous) "NT" manual similarly organized by personal names (or groups).

\12/Oxford: Clarendon Press; supplemented edition in 1953.

\13/J. Keith Elliott, The Apocryphal New Testament: A Collection of Apocryphal Christian Literature in an English Translation (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993). For internet use of James' ANT, see or (and related sites).
For information on Hone, see ; for the electronic survival/revival of Hone's ANT, see the renamed Forbidden Books of the New Testament collection [derived from Hone's edition, which itself goes back to the collection by W.Wake] .
Even more recently, J. R. Porter has produced a very introductory volume titled The Lost Bible: Forgotten Scriptures Revealed (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2001)
in which excerpts from both "OT"-like and "NT"-like works are introduced and presented, along with some striking pictures.

As has been noted, from his youth, James was interested in religious stories and how they were told, whether in the "biblical apocrypha" as he broadly defined that category, or in hagiographical depictions, or church painting and art.\14/ In his preface to ANT, MRJ even compares the materials he has collected there to those he dealt with in Lost Apocrypha -- "they resemble many of the Jewish Midrashim and apocrypha" in their representations of history and legend (xii). Fortunately, MRJ also spends several pages of the preface explaining what he has not included in the ANT volume -- "gnostic apocrypha," works on church order and liturgy, "the Clementine literature," writings ascribed to Dionysius the Areopagite, and a miscellany of works associated with various early Christian figures, and with Christian tainted material on the various "Old Testament" personages dealt with in Lost Apocrypha (ANT xxii-xxvii). He admits that much more could have been mentioned, but at least he has given us a running start for creating expanded prosopographical/onomastic structures for those materials, in conscious continuity with the patterns in Lost Apocrypha.

\14/See n.8, above. Noteworthy is his defense of studying "the popular beliefs of average Christians in ... earlier times" by means of the often "obscure and devious by-paths" attested by the "apocryphal literature"; he writes that "no one cares very much to investigate the apocryphal books: ... I cannot altogether sympathize with the contempt that is rather freely showered upon the literature as a whole. It is plain to be seen that most of the books are very badly written, some of them very savage and horrible, all of them most obviously unhistorical. But ought we not to be alive to the interest which they possess as being the products of human minds? To me there is real pathos in the crude attempts of these ignorant or perverted souls to tell their friends or their disciples what -- to be feared or hoped for -- lies in the unseen future, or on the other side of the grave. But if the pathos is obscured to many readers by the crude fancy or the barbarous language, not many will deny that these books possess considerable historical value. ... The apocryphal books stand in the relation of by-paths -- not always clean or pleasant -- to the broad and well-trodden high-roads of orthodox patristic literature" (Apocrypha Anecdota 1 [Texts and Studies 2.3 (Cambridge: University Press 1993)] vii-viii. James saw the visual aspects of churches and manuscripts in a similar light.

In the decades following the publication of Lost Apocrypha and ANT, a flood of relevant literature has appeared, from focused bibliographies (e.g. Maynard [1927], Marcus [1946-47], Delling [1969, 1975\2], Charlesworth [1973 and 1981], DiTommaso [2001]) to detailed introductions and/or anthologies (e.g. Riessler [1928], Bonsirven [1953], Denis [1970], Charlesworth [1983-85], Sparks [1984], Hennecke-Schneemelcher-Wilson [1963-1992]) to numerous specific editions and studies.\15/ As in the days of MRJ, who contributed at least once to the relatively short-lived International Journal of the Apocrypha (1905-17),\16/ we now have our own contemporary Apocrypha journal (1990- Brepols, mainly in French) as well as the Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha (1987-), although I know of nothing exactly parallel for the early Christian materials. We also have the rapidly expanding collection of old and new information on the internet, with its wealth of exciting presentational possibilities as well as its often misleading or outdated aspects. There is much additional material along with new ways to format it that can be employed, along the lines used in Lost Apocrypha, to create an updated manual of the sort Pfaff envisioned!

\15/See especially Lorenzo DiTommasio, A Bibliography of Pseudepigrapha Research 1850-1999 (Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha Supplement Series 39; Sheffield Academic Press 2001) for "OT" bibliography, and Hennecke-Schneemelcher-Wilson, New Testament Apocrypha (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox 1991-92\2) for "NT" -- and online James Davila's site (among others) .

\16/It was called Deutero-Canonica in its first 7 issues; MRJ's contribution appeared in no. 25 (1911), a brief precis/review of J. Viteaux ed. & tr., Les Psaumes du Salomon (1911).

What I am describing in this article, since it is already under construction through my internet web site, is just such an electronic "manual" that both updates and expands what M.R.James initiated in his Lost Apocrypha.\17/ As has been noted, progress in the study of these materials has been immense in the past eight decades, especially prompted by new discoveries (papyri, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Nag Hammadi codices, and the like) and the work of scholars in uncovering, translating and interpreting the materials. It is an ideal project for internet publication, with the ability to update and adjust as needed -- providing an openended electronic resource to which all knowledgeable and interested parties are invited to contribute, directly or indirectly.

\17/See note 3 above for the internet address.

Why bother to develop such an onomastic approach based roughly on biblical sequence? How does it represent a significant improvement over the now tried and true practice of grouping things alphabetically or by genre according to the names and forms of the various writings represented (see DiTomasio and the various anthologies)? In a sense, we are talking about a collection of individual encyclopedia type entries, organized neither alphabetically nor by literaty type, but in a rough sequence of the appearance of the associated individuals or groups in the biblical accounts and/or the chronologies derived therefrom. Each individual name becomes a magnet for listing not only associated writings, but also what is known about each personage in pre-modern extracanonical tradition (e.g. hagiographical material, art). Each entry will mention stories and other types of ongoing impact as well as known or lost writings (objects and sites) associated with the name. For those who might find an alphabetic or some other type of organization preferable, the electronic format is sufficiently flexible to permit such variations. And the format also permits progress beyond the initial scope described here, which has "biblical" materials in primary focus.

To be more specific, an advantage of doing this electronically is that links (to materials outside the base file) and anchors (within the file) can be created to existing accessible material, thus avoiding needless duplication. Once the outline/structure is in place, following the approach pioneered by MRJ in Lost Apocrypha,\18/ additional information and links can be inserted with relative ease and existing material can be modified. Moving within the material (e.g. alphabetically) or to other files (e.g. existing electronic encyclopedias) is a relatively simple matter, as is modifying the base file to which it all connects.

\18/As a glance at the table of contents for Lost Apocrypha makes clear, MRJ based his initial approach on the various major "lists" from Christian antiquity that mentioned extracanonical works no longer in existence -- thus the "Lost" focus in his title. But he did not limit his presentation to the "lost" items, but created from these lists a structure within which to speak of parabiblical texts and traditions more broadly. This is the approach proposed below for the "NT" materials as well.

[For examples of expanded entries in the original Lost Apocrypha sequence, see the material on Eve, Og and the Giants, and Daniel, at the "New (electronic) James" site]

Expanding the "New James" Concept to Early Christian Materials

Carrying this approach over into early Christian material with "NT" associations is not difficult, at least in principle. Most of the main personages mentioned in the traditions about Jesus and/or the early development of what becomes "Christianity" have literature associated with them. But attempting to follow the lead provided by the various ancient literature lists (as MRJ does at the start of Lost Apocrypha) can lead to various difficulties.\19/ Not all of the materials in those lists are associated with individuals (e.g. Gospel of the Hebrews), nor are the associations included in the lists always within the historical context of the NT anthology (e.g. Penitence of Origen). In what follows, an attempt is made to create a tentative outline for these "NT" and early Christian materials, with primary focus on persons or groups mentioned in the canonical texts:

\19/For example, in the Muratorian Canon (ca 200 CE? from an 8th c Latin Fragment) we find reference to rejected writings by Arsinous, Valentinus, Miltiades, Marcion, and Basilides [Montanus?]; in the Gelasian Decretal (6th c?; see also Stichometry of Nicephorus [ca 9th c ?] and Catalogue of the 60 Books [7th c?]) there are various "odd" references that challenge the proposed organization such as Gospels which Lucian has forged, Gospels which Hesychius has forged, Gospel of the Hebrews, The Teaching of Ignatius, The Teaching of Polycarp, All books which Leucius, the disciple of the devil, has made, Book which is called Foundation, Book which is called Treasure, Book which is called of Nepos, Book which is called Penitence of Origen, Book which is called Penitence of the Holy Cyprian, The book Physiologus, compiled by heretics and called by the name of the blessed Ambrose, The History of Eusebius Pamphili (and several other patristic authors), Passion (Martyr Acts) of Cyricus and of Iulitta, Passion of Georgius, and a long list of "heretical" writings down through the 5th century. For the texts of the main lists see .

The main divisions envisioned for the Early Christian project include:

Barnabas sample entry (in outline)

For a sample entry, consider "Barnabas," the main elements of which are summarized here:

Hopefully, the potentials of such an approach are obvious -- it gathers and coordinates various sorts of material under the name of the individual (or sometimes the group or text) with whom some ancient extrabiblical writings have been connected (thus "Lost Apocrypha," broadly speaking). As a magnet (or set of magnets) for associated information, it is a dynamic, living project, and invites contributions from and linkange with various sources. It will not automatically generate the sort of quasi-popular treatment that MRJ apparently had in mind in his Lost Apocrypha, but it owes a great debt to him for getting the ball rolling in a direction he could scarcely have imagined.