An alternative theory of
A "Trinity" of "The Acts of Pilate"
Web Publication by Mountain Man Graphics, Australia
Introduction to The Three "Acts of Pilate"
(2) A collation of scholarly commentary
(3) Examining the "Three Acts of Pilate
(3.2) The early fourth century pagan "Acts of Pilate"
(3.3) The late fourth century christian "Acts of Pilate"
(1) The Documentary Tradition for "Acts of Pilate"
We have as yet no true critical edition of this book: one is in preparation, by E. von Dobschutz, to be included in the Berlin corpus of Greek Ante-Nicene Christian writers. A short statement of the authorities available at this moment is therefore necessary. Tischendorf in his Evangelia Apocrypha divides the whole writing into two parts: (1) the story of the Passion; (2) the Descent into hell; and prints the following forms of each: six in all: 1. Part I, Recession A in Greek from eight manuscripts, and a Latin translation of the Coptic version in the notes. 2. Part I, Recession B in Greek from three late manuscripts. 3. Part II (Descent into Hell) in Greek from three manuscripts. 4. Part I in Latin, using twelve manuscripts, and some old editions. 5. Part II in Latin (A) from four manuscripts. 6. Part II in Latin (B) from three manuscripts. Tischendorf's must be described as an eclectic text not representing probably, any one single line of transmission: but it presents the book in a readable, and doubtless, on the whole, correct form. There are, besides the Latin, three ancient versions of Part I of considerable importance, viz.: Coptic, preserved in an early papyrus at Turin, and in some fragments at Paris. Last edited by Revillout in Patrologia orientalis, ix. 2. Syriac, edited by Rahmaui in Studia Syriaca, II. Armenian, edited by F. C. Conybeara in Studia Biblica, IV (Oxford, 1896): he gives a Greek rendering of one manuscript and a Latin one of another. [Also extant is a 5th-century palimpsest from Vienna (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek MS 563; Izydorczyk 1997:44–45)] . All of these conform to Tischelldorf's Recession A of Part I: and this must be regarded as the most original form of the Acta which we have. Recession B is a late and diffuse working-over of the same matter: it will not be translated here in full. The first part of the book, containing the story of the Passion and Resurrection, is not earlier than the fourth century. Its object in the main is to furnish irrefragable testimony to the resurrection. Attempts have been made to show that it is of early date-that it is, for instance, the writing which Justin Martyr meant when in his Apology he referred his heathen readers to the 'Acts' of Christ's trial preserved among the archives of Rome. The truth of that matter is that he simply assumed that such records must exist. False 'acts' of the trial were written in the Pagan interest under Maximin, and introduced into schools early in the fourth century. It is imagined by some that our book was a counterblast to these. The account of the Descent into Hell (Part II) is an addition to the Acta. It does not appear in any Oriental version, and the Greek copies are rare. It is in Latin that it has chiefly flourished, and has been the parent of versions in every European language. The central idea, the delivery of the righteous fathers from Hades is exceedingly ancient. Second-century writers are full of it. The embellishments, the dialogues of Satan with Hades, which are so dramatic, come in later, perhaps with the development of pulpit oratory among Christians. We find them in fourth-century homilies attributed to Eusebius of Emesa. This second part used to be called Gnostic, but there is nothing unorthodox about it save the choice of the names of the two men who are supposed to tell the story, viz. Leucius and Karinus. Leucius Charinus is the name given by church writers to the supposed author of the Apocryphal Acts of John, Paul, Peter, Andrew, and Thomas. In reality Leucius was the soi-disant author of the Acts of John only. His name was transferred to the other Acts in process of time, and also (sometimes disguised as Seleucus) to Gospels of the Infancy and narratives of the Assumption of the Virgin, With all these the original Leucius had nothing to do. When his name came to be attached to the Descent into Hell we do not yet know: nor do we know when the Descent was first appended to the Acts of Pilate. Not, I should conjecture, before the fifth century.
Conybeare begins by noting that two main recensions of the Acts of Pilate exist, with recension A being earlier than B. The base version in this essay is recension A. Also using Armenian versions of the text, Conybeare translates these versions into Greek and Latin for comparison with the Greek original. With these resources, a critical edition of the Acts of Pilate is produced. This apocryphal document in sixteen chapters provides insight into views of Jesus and Christianity perhaps as early as the fourth century. 74p (Analecta Gorgiana 11, Gorgias Press 2007).
This title is first met with in the 13th century. This work gives an account of the Passion (i. - xi.), the Resurrection (xii. - xvi.), and the Descensus ad Inferos (xvii. - xxvii.). Chapters i. - xvi. are extant in the Greek, Coptic, and two Armenian versions. The two Latin versions and a Byzantine recension of the Greek contain i. - xxvii. (see Tischendorf, Evangelia Apocrypha', pp. 210-458). All known texts go back to A. D. 425, if one may trust the reference to Theodosius. But this was only a revision, for as early as 3 76 Epiphanius (Haer. i. I.) presupposes the existence of a like text. In 325 Eusebius (H.E. ii. 2) was acquainted only with the heathen Acts of Pilate, and knew nothing of a Christian work. Tischendorf and Hofmann, however, find evidence of its existence in Justin's reference to the "Aura HtXaTou (Apol. i. 35, 48), and in Tertullian's mention of the Acta Pilati (Apol. 21), and on this evidence attribute our texts to the first half of the 2nd century. But these references have been denied by Scholten, Lipsius, and Lightfoot. Recently Schubert has sought to derive the elements which are found in the Petrine Gospel, but not in the canonical gospels, from the original Ada Pilati, while Zahn exactly reverses the relation of these two works. Rendel Harris (1899) advocated the view that the Gospel of Nicodemus, as we possess it, is merely a prose version of the Gospel of Nicodemus written originally in Homeric centones as early as the 2nd century. Lipsius and Dobschiitz relegate the book to the 4th century. The question is not settled yet (see Lipsius in Smith's Dict. of Christ. Biography, ii. 708-709, and Dobschiitz in Hastings' Bible Dictionary, iii. 544-547).
(2) A Collation of Academic Summaries on the "Acts of Pilate"
Some Acts of Pilate, it seems, were known as early as the second century. Justin Martyr remarks in his first Apology (35) after he has mentioned the passion and crucifixion of Jesus: 'And that these things happened you can ascertain from the Acts of Pontius Pilate.' A similar statement occurs in chapter 48. Tertullian refers twice to a report made by Pilate to Tiberius. According to him, Pontius Pilate informed the Emperor of the unjust sentence of death which he had pronounced against an innocent and divine person; the Emperor was so moved by his report of the miracles of Christ and his resurrection, that he proposed the reception of Christ among the gods of Rome. But the Senate refused (Apologeticum 5). In another place Tertullian says that the 'whole story of Christ was reported to Caesar at that time it was Tiberius by Pilate, himself in his secret heart already a Christian' (Apol. 21, 24).
We see here the tendency at work to use the Roman procurator as a witness for the history of the death and resurrection of Christ and the truth of Christianity."
"The oldest piece of Christian Pilate literature seems to be 'The Report of Pilate to the Emperor Claudius', which is inserted in Greek into the late Acts of Peter and Paul and is given in Latin translation as an appendix of the Evangelium Nicodemi. It is probable that this report is identical with that mentioned by Tertullian. If that is true, it must have been composed before the year 197 A.D., the time of Tertullian's Apologeticum." (Patrology, vol. 1, p. 116)
Certainly some ancient writers believed that Pilate did send in such a report, but there is no evidence that any of them had any real knowledge of it. About AD 150 Justin Martyr, addressing his Defence of Christianity to the Emperor Antoninius Pius, referred him to Pilate's report, which Justin supposed must be preserved in the imperial archives. 'But the words, "They pierced my hands and my feet," ' he says, 'are a description of the nails that were fixed in His hands and His feet on the cross; and after He was crucified, those who crucified Him cast lots for His garments, and divided them among themselves; and that these things were so, you may learn from the "Acts" which were recorded under Pontius Pilate." Later he says: 'That He performed these miracles you may easily be satisfied from the "Acts" of Pontius Pilate."
Then Tertullian, the great jurist-theologian of Carthage, addressing his Defence of Christianity to the man authorities in the province of Africa about AD 197, says: 'Tiberius, in whose time the Christian name first made its appearance in the world, laid before the Senate tidings from Syria Palestina which had revealed to him the truth of the divinity there manifested, and supported the motion by his own vote to begin with. The Senate rejected it because it had not itself given its approval. Caesar held to his own opinion and threatened danger to the accusers of the Christians."
It would no doubt be pleasant if we could believe this story of Tertullian, which he manifestly believed to be true but a story so inherently improbable and inconsistent with what we know of Tiberius, related nearly 170 years after the event, does not commend itself to a historian's judgment.
When the influence of Christianity was increasing rapidly in the Empire, one of the last pagan emperors, Maximin II, two years before the Edict of Milan, attempted to bring Christianity into disrepute by publishing what he alleged to be the true 'Acts of Pilate', representing the origins of Christianity in an unsavoury guise. These 'Acts', which were full of outrageous assertions about Jesus, had to be read and memorized by schoolchildren. They were manifestly forged, as Eusebius historian pointed out at the time;' among other things, their dating was quite wrong, as they placed the death of Jesus in the seventh year of Tiberius (AD 20), whereas the testimony of Josephus' is plain that Pilate not become procurator of Judaea till Tiberius' Twelfth year (not to mention the evidence of Luke iii. 1, according to which John the Baptist began to preach in fifteenth year of Tiberius). We do not know in detail these alleged 'Acts' contained, as they were naturally suppressed on Constantine's accession to power; but we may surmise that they had some affinity with Toledoth Yeshu, an anti-Christian compilation popular in some Jewish circles in mediaeval time.'
Later in the fourth century another forged set of 'Acts of Pilate' appeared, this time from the Christian side, and as devoid of genuineness as Maximin's, to which they were perhaps intended as a counterblast. They are still extant, and consist of alleged memorials the trial, passion, and resurrection of Christ, recorded by Nicodemus and deposited with Pilate. (They are also own as the 'Gospel of Nicodemus'.)"
REFERENCES TO THE GOSPEL OF NICODEMUS,
FORMERLY CALLED THE ACTS OF PONTIUS PILATE.
Although this Gospel is, by some among the learned, supposed to have been really written by Nicodemus, who became a disciple of Jesus Christ, and conversed with him; others conjecture that it was a forgery towards the close of the third century by some zealous believer, who, observing that there had been appeals made by the Christians of the former age, to the acts of Pilate, but that such acts could not be produced, imagined it would be of service to Christianity to fabricate and publish this Gospel; as it would both confirm the Christians under persecution, and convince the Heathens of the truth of the Christian religion. The Rev. Jeremiah Jones says, that such pious frauds were very common among Christians even in the first three centuries; and that a forgery of this nature, with the view above-mentioned, seems natural and probable.
The same author, in noticing that Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History, charges the Pagans with having forged and published a book, called "The Acts of Pilate," takes occasion to observe that the internal evidence of this Gospel shows it was not the work of any Heathen, but that if in the latter end of the third century we find it in use among Christians (as it was then certainly in some churches), and about the same time find a forgery of the Heathens under the same title, it seems exceedingly probable that some Christians, at that time, should publish such a piece as this, in order partly to confront the spurious one of the Pagans, and partly to support those appeals which had been made by former Christians to the Acts of Pilate; and Mr. Jones says, he thinks so more particularly as we have innumerable instances of forgeries by the faithful in the primitive ages, grounded on less plausible reasons.
Whether it be canonical or not, it is of very great antiquity, and is appealed to by several of the ancient Christians. The present translation is made from the Gospel, published by Grynaeus in the Orthodoxographa, vol. i, tom, ii, p. 613.
Acts of Pilate (or The Gospel of Nicodemus)
This work does not assume to have written by Pilate, but to have been derived from the official acts preserved in the praetorium at Jerusalem. The alleged Hebrew original is attributed to Nicodemus. The title "Gospel of Nicodemus" is of medieval origin. The apocryphon gained wide credit in the Middle Ages, and has considerably affected the legends of our Saviour's Passion. Its popularity is attested by the number of languages in which it exists, each of these being represented by two or more recensions. We possess a text in Greek, the original language; a Coptic, an Armenian and a Latin, besides modern translations. The Latin versions were naturally its most current form and were printed several times in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. One class of the Latin manuscripts contain as an appendix or continuation, the "Cura Sanitatis Tiberii", the oldest form of the Veronica legend.
The "Acta" consist of three sections, which reveal inequalities of style. The first (i-xi) contains the trial of Jesus based upon Luke 23. The second part comprises 12-16; it regards the Resurrection. An appendix, detailing the Descensus ad Infernos, forms the third section, This does not exist in the Greek text and is a later addition. Leucius and Charinus, the two souls raised from the dead after the Crucifixion, relate to the Sanhedrin the circumstances of Our Lord's descent to Limbo. The well-informed Eusebius (325), although he mentions the Acta Pilati referred to by Justin and Tertullian and heathen pseudo-Acts of this kind, shows no acquaintance with this work. We are forced to admit that is of later origin, and scholars agree in assigning it to the middle of the fourth century. There is no internal relation between the "Acta" and the feigned letter found in the Acts of Peter and Paul. Epiphanius refers to the Acta Pilati similar to our own, as early as 376, but there are indications that the current Greek text, the earliest extant form, is a revision of the original one. The "Acta" are of orthodox composition and free from Gnostic taint. The book aimed at gratifying the desire for extra-evangelical details concerning Our Lord, and at the same time, to strengthen faith in the Resurrection of Christ, and at general edification. The writers (for the work we have is a composite) could not have expected their production to be seriously accepted by unbelievers.
(3.1) The Early Christian "Acts of Pilate"
In their book Apocryphal gospels Hans-Josef Klauck and Brian McNeil (2003) write:
In their book The Apocryphal New Testament James Keith Elliott and Montague Rhodes James write (p.164):
Justin Martyr [c.150-155] remarks in his first Apology (35) (to the emperors Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius, and Lucius Verus.) after he has mentioned the passion and crucifixion of Jesus: 'And that these things happened you can ascertain from the Acts of Pontius Pilate.' A similar statement occurs in chapter 48. CHAPTER XXXV -- OTHER FULFILLED PROPHECIES. And after He was crucified they cast lots upon His vesture, and they that crucified Him parted it among them. And that things did happen, you can ascertain from the Acts of Pontius Pilate. CHAPTER XLVIII -- CHRIST'S WORK AND DEATH FORE- TOLD. And that it was predicted that our Christ should heal all diseases and raise the dead, hear what was said. There are these words: "At His coming the lame shall leap as an hart, and the tongue of the stammerer shall be clear speaking: the blind shall see, and the lepers shall be cleansed; and the dead shall rise, and walk about." And that He did those things, you can learn from the Acts of Pontius Pilate.
Tertullian refers twice to a report made by Pilate to Tiberius. According to him, Pontius Pilate informed the Emperor of the unjust sentence of death which he had pronounced against an innocent and divine person; the Emperor was so moved by his report of the miracles of Christ and his resurrection, that he proposed the reception of Christ among the gods of Rome. But the Senate refused (Apologeticum 5). TERTULLIAN , APOLOGY. [TRANSLATED BY THE REV. S. THELWALL] CHAPTER. V. Tiberius accordingly, in whose days the Christian name made its entry into the world, having himself received intelligence from Palestine of events which had clearly shown the truth of Christ's divinity, brought the matter before the senate, with his own decision in favour of Christ. The senate, because it had not given the approval itself, rejected his proposal. Caesar held to his opinion, threatening wrath against all accusers of the Christians. In another place Tertullian [200-205 CE] says that the 'whole story of Christ was reported to Caesar at that time it was Tiberius by Pilate, himself in his secret heart already a Christian' (Apol. 21, 24). CHAP. XXI. Thereafter, having given them commission to preach the gospel through the world, He was encompassed with a cloud and taken up to heaven, - a fact more certain far than the assertions of your Proculi concerning Romulus. All these things Pilate did to Christ; and now in fact a Christian in his own convictions, he sent word of Him to the reigning Caesar, who was at the time Tiberius. Yes, and the Caesars too would have believed on Christ, if either the Caesars had not been necessary for the world, or if Christians could have been Caesars.
(3.2) The Pagan "Acts of Pilate"
Chapter V.—The Forged Acts.
 These Acts are no longer extant, but their character can be gathered from this chapter. They undoubtedly contained the worst calumnies against Christ’s moral and religious character. They cannot have been very skillful forgeries, for Eusebius, in Bk. I. chap. 9, above, points out a palpable chronological blunder which stamped them as fictitious on their very face. And yet they doubtless answered every purpose; for few of the heathen would be in a position to detect such an error, and perhaps fewer still would care to expose it if they discovered it. These Acts are of course to be distinguished from the numerous Acta Pilati which proceeded from Christian sources (see above, Bk. II. chap. 2, note 1). The way in which these Acts were employed was diabolical in its very shrewdness. Certainly there was no more effectual way of checking the spread of Christianity than systematically and persistently to train up the youth of the empire to look with contempt and disgust upon the founder of Christianity, the Christian’s Saviour and Lord. Incalculable mischief must inevitably have been produced had Maximin’s reign lasted for a number of years. As it was, we can imagine the horror of the Christians at this new and sacrilegious artifice of the enemy. Mason assigns “the crowning, damning honor of this masterstroke” to Theotecnus, but I am unable to find any proof that he was the author of the documents. It is, of course, not impossible nor improbable that he was; but had Eusebius known him to be the author, he would certainly have informed us. As it is, his statement is entirely indefinite, and the Acts are not brought into any connection with Theotecnus. [Schaff, editor]
Chapter VII. The Decree Against Us Which Was Engraved on Pillars.
(3.3) The Late Christian "Acts of Pilate"
(4) Extracts from "Acts of Pilate" (M.R. James translation)
Prologue - (Absent from some manuscripts and versions).
I Ananias (Aeneas Copt., Emaus Lat.), the Protector, of praetorian rank,
learned in the law, did from the divine scriptures recognize our Lord Jesus Christ
and came near to him by faith and was accounted worthy of holy baptism:
and I sought out the memorials that were made at that season
in the time of our master Jesus Christ, which the Jews deposited with Pontius Pilate,
and found the memorials in Hebrew (letters), and by the good pleasure of God
I translated them into Greek (letters) for the informing of all them
that call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ:
in the reign of our Lord Flavius Theodosius, in the seventeenth year,
and of Flavius Valentinianus the sixth, in the ninth indiction
[corrupt: Lat. has the eighteenth year of Theodosius,
when Valentinian was proclaimed Augustus, i.e. 425 CE].
All ye therefore that read this and translate (or copy) it into other books,
remember me and pray for me that God will be gracious unto me
and be merciful unto my sins which I have sinned against him.
Peace be to them that read and that hear these things and to their servants. Amen.
The Jews say: We have a law that we should not heal any man on the sabbath:
but this man of his evil deeds hath healed the lame and the bent,
the withered and the blind and the paralytic, the dumb
and them that were possessed, on the sabbath day!
Pilate saith unto them: By what evil deeds?
They say unto him: He is a sorcerer, and by Beelzebub the prince of the devils
he casteth out devils, and they are all subject unto him.
Pilate saith unto them: This is not to cast out devils by an unclean spirit, but by the god Asclepius.
And when Karinus and Leucius heard this adjuration, they trembled in their body and groaned, being troubled in heart. And looking up together unto heaven they made the seal of the cross with their fingers upon their tongues, and forthwith they spake both of them, saying: Give us each a volume of paper, and let us write that which we have seen and heard. And they gave them unto them, and each of them sat down and wroteXXVII (Karinus and Leucius asked not to relate mysteries of god head)
These are the divine and holy mysteries which we saw and heard, even I, Karinus, and Leucius: but we were not suffered to relate further the rest of the mysteries of God, according as Michael the archangel strictly charged us, saying: Ye shall go with your brethren unto Jerusalem and remain in prayer, crying out and glorifying the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, who hath raised you from the dead together with him: and ye shall not be speaking with any man, but sit as dumb men, until the hour come when the Lord himself suffereth you to declare the mysteries of his god head.XXVII (Karinus and Leucius finish writing; equal writings)
And when they had finished writing all things in the several volumes of paper they arose; and Karinus gave that which he had written into the hands of Annas and Caiaphas and Gamaliel; likewise Leucius gave that which he had written into the hands of Nicodemus and Joseph. And suddenly they were transfigured and became white exceedingly and were no more seen. But their writings were found to be the same (lit. equal), neither more nor less by one letter. And when all the synagogue of the Jews heard all these marvelous sayings of Karinus and Leucius, they said one to another: Of a truth all these things were wrought by the Lord, and blessed be the Lord, world without end, Amen. And they went out all of them in great trouble of mind, smiting their breasts with fear and trembling, and departed every man unto his own home. And all these things which were spoken by the Jews in their synagogue, did Joseph and Nicodemus forthwith declare unto the governor. And Pilate himself wrote all the things that were done and said concerning Jesus by the Jews, and laid up all the words in the public books of his judgement hall (praetorium). 9.5 (Introducing "Dysmas" and "Gestas")
"And let "Dysmas" and "Gestas", the two malefactors, be crucified with you." This is the first text to give the two malefactors who were crucified to the right and the left of Jesus the personal names which would now be theirs in the tradition of Christian piety.
(5) Are the "Christian" Acts of Pilate in fact "Pagan"?
We can reasonably ignore the witnesses to an early first Acts of Pilate before Eusebius. We do not have the text of second and blasphemous "Pagan" Acts of Pilate described by Eusebius. We have the text of a third Acts of Pilate which is presumed to be authored by a "Christian". Perhaps Eusebius made a mistake and the "Pagan" Acts of Pilate was authored after Nicaea? Perhaps Eusebius was concerned over the harmony of the reception of Christianity? Perhaps Arius of Alexandria or Leucius Charinus wrote the Acts of Pilate immediately after Nicaea? The Acts of Pilate has strong Hellenistic overtones - Jesus heals by the power of Asclepius. It is the Hellenistic Romance narrative that best parallels and mimics the canon. Perhaps the author was facetiously attempting to Homerize the New Testament? Perhaps the Acts of Pilate in our possession was written by a non christian gnostic Hellenist. Of course, it was a very seditious reaction to the new testament canon, but perhaps the author had no other alternatives. Perhaps it was written in resistance mode to the new state religion. The reference to Asclepius is only one of many Hellenistic flags waving inside the "Christian" Acts of Pilate. Perhaps the "Christian" Acts of Pilate is not "Christian"? Perhaps the "Christian" Acts of Pilate does not exist"? Perhaps there was only ever the "Hellenistic" Acts of Pilate. This tractate was taken around to schools after Nicaea and recited. All is well: Jesus heals through the power of Asclepius. And if the above is insufficient to arouse curiousity, try the names of the scribes who, provided in the text of The Acts of Pilate are named Leucius and Karinus. These two scribes write each a copy of the book simultaneously under inspiration as the outrageous events unfold, and after putting pens down and counting the lines to find two exactly the same accounts, the two Leucius and Karinus disappear before everyone's eyes in a blinding flash. See the articles on: Who was Arius of Alexandria?, Who was Leucius Charinus? and a third article which examines and compares what we know about these two figures. The third article suggests that They are the same person. The memory of Arius was damned by Constantine, and everyone followed the party line. The texts written by Arius were described as being authored by a new name which appeared in the mid fourth century. The new name given to the author of the heretical tractates was Leucius Charinus. DRAFT: P.R.F. Brown March 2009