There have been hundreds of works dealing with the life of Jesus according to the canonical Gospels written since the Middle Ages. Beyond that, there have been numerous fictional accounts in story form, almost entirely the products of their authors’ imaginations. The number of these works has only continued to grow in the present day. This book also deals with the life of Jesus, but from a not-so-common point of view. The first part deals only with the “hidden life” of the Nazarene according to the canonical sources—the first two chapters of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. In other words, it covers the period from Jesus’ birth to the time of his public appearance in Galilee shortly after “the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar” (Luke 3:1). The second part of the book also provides an account of Jesus’ life, but one that is typical unfamiliar to readers of the New Testament. The second part relies exclusively on the apocryphal Gospels, which is to say, those that have not been received as “canonical” or “inspired.” This “hidden life” of Jesus, which has been systematically ignored by the Church, also covers aspects beyond the Nazarene’s childhood, aspects which have usually been hidden from the knowledge of the faithful.
The reliability of the sources used for Parts 1 and 2 varies a great deal. For Part 1 we have the oldest Gospels, the so-called “Synoptics”—Matthew, Mark, and Luke. These are without a doubt works of religious propaganda, and therefore suspected of skewing or exaggerating the data. Nevertheless, their mood is mainly historical. They try their best to offer to their readers the basics, historical and real, of the life of the main hero of the story, namely Jesus of Nazareth. With patience, aided by tools and the criteria of the critical studies that have been developed over the last two hundred years, it is possible to glean some information regarding the hidden life of Jesus. Some of that data, or perhaps much of it, comes by way of hypothetical deductions. Nevertheless, the results provided in this book, some of which are quite critical, correspond to the average findings of current research, including Catholic research, and is considered reasonably sure.
The works that serve as basis for Part 2 were not admitted into the New Testament canon. They come from many different places in the Mediterranean and were not written at the exact same time. They were written sometime between the mid-second century A.D.—although the Gospel of Peter might have been written earlier (c. A.D. 130)—and the mid-eighth century A.D. (e.g., some of the texts that tell the story of the assumption of Mary into heaven). With that said, those given a later date might have been preserved or developed from the nucleus of stories and traditions that date much earlier, perhaps the third or fourth centuries. This research is based on very ancient texts, and as such worthy of our attention.
Nevertheless, these works are all far removed in time from the events they narrate. As a result, their authors are continuously carried off by fantasy and imagination. A simple comparison of the apocryphal Gospels to the “Synoptic” Gospels (so-called because of their close resemblance to one another, allowing for an overview or “synopsis”) is easy enough. With the exception of a few details from these oldest non-canonical Gospels (Papyrus Egerton 2, Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 840, the Coptic Gospel of Thomas, and perhaps some fragment of Judeo-Christian Gospels), news about the hidden life of Jesus should be considered with great care and subjected to critical scrutiny. This overall judgment frees me to continually develop an explicit criticism as I do in the first part of the book. On the other hand, the apocryphal Gospels offer many details of the life of Jesus that do not appear in the early canonical Gospels, so joining them can draw a picture of that life that is full and rich in detail. It is quite another thing to accept them as historical. Many times these sources contain information that is just impossible to harmonize; they are simply contradictory. In such cases, when the details are muddled, we have chosen to go with the general storyline, or the one the evidence tends to suggest. We feel that the day and age in which we now live is an appropriate time for this hidden life of Jesus to come to light and to explain it using the apocryphal sources. So many people are interested in this topic. They long for the juicy details about the person of Jesus that the “unofficial” Gospels could potentially bring to the table. The reader will have to observe and judge for his or herself to what extent this data can enrich or reshape the image of he or she has of this person—an image that has been based up to this point solely on a critical reading of those Gospels that have been accepted as canonical, especially the data provided by the first three gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke).
The reader can also start to think about the debated issue of whether or not (and if so, how) various churches (especially the Catholic) shield their members from these apocryphal sources, perhaps fearing that in them they might discover a picture of Jesus that is more attractive than the one commonly offered to the faithful in sermons or devotional literature that reinterprets the image of Jesus found in the canonical Gospels. Many people think the details of Jesus’ hidden life, as well as the works that contain them (i.e., the apocryphal Gospels), have been systematically concealed by Christian churches, especially the Catholic Church. I can assure the reader that this is not the case, since the remains of the apocryphal Gospel writings—sometimes whole works, other times fragments, and sometimes only their titles—have been published in all languages.
Authors with religious affiliations have often edited volumes with these texts based on the oldest manuscripts, and they did so with the blessing of their churches. These works are readily available to anyone and everyone that is interested. Today in Castilian there are two volumes that have all of the extant apocryphal texts. At the same time, though, I must say that churches have cared little for the apocryphal Gospels. Those deemed “most harmful” had been destroyed in the great battles for orthodoxy from the third to fifth centuries. Furthermore, the gnostic apocryphal Gospels are sometimes so difficult to understand that an average person gets bored with them very quickly.
It will be up to the reader to consider and judge for his or herself to what extent the apocryphal Gospels can enrich or change how he or she views the person of Jesus. Is the picture found in the apocryphal Gospels really a more attractive picture of Jesus than the typical one that people have? At the end of the book, we will raise the same question again, almost verbatim. By that time author and reader alike will be able to answer this question.
Like many of the stories told in the second part of this book are very surprising, I must tell the reader that I did not put my imagination to work in almost anything that is not supported by the text. The reader will find in the very brief footnotes succinct information that supports each of our statements; that way he or she can have even more control over assessing the data. Yes I have taken the effort to add a chapter in vain that is structured systematically in a way not found in any of our apocryphal Gospels; with the clearest language possible, despite the density of ideas found within, I have tried to clarify the core of the esoteric doctrines that this other Jesus brings to men. Thus, in the final chapter, “The Secret Teachings of Jesus,” the reader will find a synthesis of the keys that explain the “gnosis”—that quiet and hidden message that brings out the other Jesus, the gnostic Revealer—as the remarkable samples of apocryphal works understood it and divulged to their audiences.
–Antonio Piñero, Universidad Complutense de Madrid
Piñero, Antonio. The Hidden Life of Jesus. Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2016 (forthcoming). Translated from La Vida de Jesús a la Luz de los Evangelios Apócrifos. Spain: Los Libros del Olivo, 2014.