Vignette from the Gospel of Nicodemus

As I’ve previously mentioned, which books are included in our official New Testament was largely established by informal consensus by the 2nd century or so. In the case of the four gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — this consensus was virtually unanimous very early. But there were a number of ‘alternative’ gospels that didn’t make the cut. One of them is the Gospel of Nicodemus — I’m currently working through its (Greek) text.

The Gospel of Nicodemus goes into much greater detail about Jesus’ trial, crucifixion and resurrection than the official Gospels. The current scholarly consensus is that it was written in the 4th century — too late to be taken seriously as an historical account. So it’s likely an ‘imaginative expansion’ of the official Gospel narrative.

One of these imaginative expansions is Jesus before Pilate. The official Gospels reduce this interaction to a few sentences, the Gospel of Nicodemus has eight pages! Here are two excerpts I found particularly interesting:

(2:3) And answering, the elders of the Jews say to Jesus: “What shall we see? First, that you were born of fornication; secondly, that your birth in Bethlehem was the cause of the murder of the infants; thirdly, that your father Joseph and your mother Mary fled to Egypt because they had no confidence in the people.”

Wow, according to this, the Jewish leaders blame Jesus for the ‘Slaughter of the Innocents’ by Herod at Jesus’ birth, and held it against Him that his parents took Him to Egypt to escape Herod’s murderous designs!

And we have what turns out to be the clinching argument by the Jewish leaders to Pilate that Jesus should be crucified:

(9:3) And having risen up from the tribunal, [Pilate] was seeking to go out. And the Jews cry out, saying: “We know that Caesar is king, and not Jesus. For the magi from the east brought gifts to him as to a king. And Herod having heard from the magi that a king had been born, he sought to kill him. But his father Joseph, knowing (this), took him and his mother, and they fled into Egypt. And Herod, hearing (of it), destroyed the children of the Hebrews, which had been born in Bethlehem.”

(9:4) And when Pilate heard this reasoning, he was afraid; and silencing the crowd, because they were crying out, he says to them: “So this is he whom Herod was seeking?” The Jews say: “Yes, this is he.” And, taking water, Pilate washed his hands before the sun, saying: “I am innocent of the blood of this just man; you see (to it).” Again the Jews cry out: “His blood be upon us, and upon our children.”

Wow, according to this, the Jewish leaders are arguing that because Herod tried to kill baby Jesus for being a king (according to the magi), Pilate should too!

These passages certainly expand the imagination!