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The Material of Christian Apocrypha

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Scholars have long noted the widespread presence of “apocryphal” or “non-canonical” elements in Christian art. The most famous example is perhaps the consistent presence of the ox and the ass in visual representations of the nativity of Jesus, an element described in the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, but absent from the canonical birth narratives. While there is notable interest in this phenomenon—scholars of Christian apocrypha frequently illustrate lectures, essays, and monographs with these images, while scholars of Christian art regularly point readers to the texts—critical study has been surprisingly rare.

The Material of Christian Apocrypha examines both the physicality of apocryphal Christian texts (i.e. various aspects of the manuscripts or papyri themselves) and the representation of apocryphal narratives in other forms of material culture (e.g. frescos, mosaics, sculptures, icons, pilgrimage objects, reliquaries, etc.). It includes contributions from textual scholars and art historians. Beyond simply representing both perspectives, the essays in this volume will be very much in conversation with each other. A recurring theme is the “fluidity” in the development of both text and image, and the ways in which these developments proceeded both independently and interconnectedly. The volume also looks at the difference made by emerging digital media, with its capacity to represent the fluidity of both text and image in a way that was simply impossible even just ten years ago. Leading scholars (Carrie Schroeder, James Walters, and Brandon Hawk) reflect on the specific ways in which digital technology can help cope with the specific characteristics of apocryphal material.

Published: Oct 1, 2021