Modern Apocrypha

APOCRYPHA, MODERN ə pok’ rə f ə. A number of religious books—perhaps a dozen or more—mostly written within the last hundred years and purporting to add to the revelation of the Bible. They claim to be based upon genuine documents of Christian antiquity, but every one has been shown by scholars to be a hoax. The supposed ancient documents upon which they pretend to be based have never been found; yet many gullible people continue to be persuaded of their genuineness. Most of them deal with the life of Christ, chiefly with the silent years. Some are written to support a particular doctrinal aberration, or to promote a hoax. Because of the fantastic claims that are made for them, Christian people should know something about them lest they be deceived. The following brief descriptions will give some idea of the nature of these fraudulent works.

The Unknown Life of Christ, published in 1894, and written by a Russian named Nicolas Notovitch, on the basis of information he said he received from the chief lama of a Tibetan monastery. It is claimed that Jesus spent the years between thirteen and twenty-nine in India, Tibet, and Persia, and then returned to Pal. to be put to death by Pilate. The monks at Tibet denied ever seeing Notovitch or knowing anything about the ancient MSS about Christ they allegedly showed to him.

The Aquarian Gospel, first published in Los Angeles in 1911. It was written by Dr. Levi H. Dowling through inner illuminations which he said came to him between two and six in the morning. The book gets its title from the strange notion that with the life of Christ the sun entered the sign Pisces and that it is now passing into that of Aquarius. Jesus is described as studying with Hillel, with the sages of India and Tibet, visiting the Magi in Persia, preaching to the Athenians, and being ordained for His work by a council of the seven sages of the world held at Alexandria.

The Crucifixion of Jesus, by an eyewitness. This is in the form of a letter written seven years after the crucifixion of Jesus by an unnamed Essene elder at Jerusalem to another Essene at Alexandria. It first appeared in Sweden in 1851. Joseph, John the Baptist, Nicodemus, Jesus, the angel at the tomb—all were Essenes. There was no resurrection; but Jesus was resuscitated by Essenes following His crucifixion and then lived for six more months before He died.

The Report of Pilate, by the Rev. W. D. Mahan, a Cumberland Presbyterian clergyman, first appeared in 1879, but in 1884 the vol. was enlarged to include reports of interviews with the shepherds, Gamaliel’s interview with Joseph and Mary, Eli’s story of the Magi, Herod’s defense before the Rom. Senate for the slaughter of the innocents, and other similar journalistic scoops. The enlarged book was given a new title, The Archaeological and the Historical Writings of the Sanhedrin and Talmuds of the Jews. Later it was called The Archko Volume and The Archko Library. Scholarly investigation of the book’s claims showed that Eli’s story of the Magi was taken by Mahan verbatim from Lew Wallace’s Ben-Hur, even to typographical errors in the novel.

The Confession of Pontius Pilate was written originally as fiction by a Lebanese bishop in 1889. It appeared in Eng. four years later, but without the preface by the bishop that it was intended as fiction. It tells the story of the arrival of Pilate as an exile in Vienne, of conversations he had there with an old friend about his relationship with Jesus, and of Pilate’s remorse and suicide.

The Letter of Behan, published in Berlin in 1910. Behan, an Egyp. priest, wrote about Jesus to his friend Strato, once secretary to Tiberius, and told him about Jesus’ training in rabbinic lore as a boy in Egypt, later returning to Pal. to be put to death. Behan himself traveled all over the Rom. world and witnessed everything of note happening at that time—like the burning of Rome in 64, the fall of Jerusalem in 70, and the eruption of Vesuvius in 79.

The Twenty-ninth Chapter of Acts, published in London in 1871, contains an account of Paul’s journey to Spain and Britain, where he conferred with the Druids, who revealed to him their descent from the Jews who escaped from the Assyrian captivity in 722 b.c., and where he preached on Mount Lud, the future site of St. Paul’s Cathedral. This work was composed to support the movement which circulates it.

The Letter From Heaven. This is a one page document supposed to have been written by Jesus and found under a large stone at the foot of the cross. It appeared in Lat. as early as the 6th cent. and has circulated in many languages since then, often appearing in the form of a broadside with the promise of blessing to its possessors. It has to do chiefly with the keeping of the Sabbath and commands of Jesus.

The Gospel of Josephus. This was supposedly written by Josephus just before he died and was intended by him to be the source from which all four canonical gospels were later drawn. The discoverer of the MS was an Italian, Signor Luigi Moccia, who later admitted it was a hoax; but in spite of his admission, many people continued to believe in its genuineness.

The Book of Jasher. This is a condensation of the first seven books of the Old Testament. It was written by a Londoner named Jacob Ilive in 1751 and instantly exposed as a shameless literary forgery. This is, however, only one of many attempts to reconstruct the Book of Jasher mentioned in Joshua.

The Description of Christ. This widely circulated document is prob. as old as the 13th cent. and may have been based on the books of instruction written for the Gr. miniature painters who illustrated medieval MSS. It is less than a page long and is a kind of idealized portrait of a 1st cent. Jew. It appears in a letter supposedly written by the governor of Judea, Publius Lentulus, to the Rom. Senate. No official with this name is, however, listed with the Rom. governors of Pal.

The Death Warrant of Jesus Christ. This is a leaflet widely circulated in the United States giving Pilate’s warrant for the death of Jesus and enumerating the charges brought against Him. It claims to be the tr. from the Heb. of a copper plate found in the Kingdom of Naples in 1810. Needless to say, no such copper plate has ever been produced.

The Long-Lost Second Book of Acts. This was written by Dr. Kenneth S. Guthrie, an Episcopal clergyman and medical man, and published in 1904. It was written to support the claim that the Virgin Mary and Jesus endorsed the doctrine of reincarnation. It presents Mary on her deathbed in the home of the Apostle John explaining about her own successive incarnations. Jesus takes the dying Mary in His arms and tells of His own seven incarnations.

Oahspe, a huge book of 890 pages, written by Dr. John B. Newbrough in 1882. The author says it was mechanically written through his hands by some other intelligence than his own; while the publishers aver that it embraces “Evolution, Revolution, and Revelation” and claim that it is “the new American Bible.”

The Lost Books of the Bible. This book, published in 1926, is claimed by the publishers to include religious books deliberately kept out of the NT by the early bishops of the Church who arbitrarily decided what should be included in the NT Canon. It is actually nothing more than a reprint of an ed. of the apocryphal NT which had been published in 1820, and an ed. of the Apostolic Fathers which had appeared in 1737.

An examination of the credentials of these books shows that all of them are forgeries. The esoteric information which they pretend to provide is palpably false and almost always contradicts the teaching of the Bible. Many people, however, have been and still are led astray by their sensational claims.


F. M. Muller, “The Alleged Sojourn of Christ in India,” in The Nineteenth Century (1894), 515f.; F. M. Muller, “The Chief Lama of Nimis on the Alleged ‘Unknown Life of Christ,’” in The Nineteenth Century (1896), 667-678; L. Wallace, An Autobiography (1906), 942-945; E. J. Goodspeed, Strange New Gospels (1931); M. Dibelius, Fresh Approach to the NT (1936); E. J. Goodspeed, New Chapters in NT Study (1937); Modern Apocrypha (1956); B. M. Metzger, review of Modern Apocrypha by E. J. Goodspeed in The Princeton Seminary Bulletin (Feb 1957), 63.