Secret Scriptures Revealed – Tony Burke

Over the past little while, I have been reading Tony Burke’s Secret Scriptures Revealed – A new introduction to the Christian Apocrypha (London, SPCK, 2013). It took me a while because I was using it as my ongoing light reading material – the book I read to relax before going to bed and take with me to read in waiting rooms etc, rather than something I was using for my research.

Tony has been studying the Christian Apocrypha for many years and this book aims to provide the intelligent non-expert in biblical studies with clear, accessible information about them. I think he succeeds.

It is divided into seven chapters. The first asks (and answers) “what are the Christian apocrypha?”; the second provides an overview of what studying them is involved; the third looks at apocryphal lives of Jesus; the fourth at passion and resurrection gospels; the fifth focuses on legends about Jesus in the early church; chapter six looks at myths, misconceptions and misinformation about the Christian apocrypha; and the final (short) chapter sums up what has been covered. It doesn’t have footnotes, endnotes or in text referencing, but at the end of each section there is a box which tells the reader where the information has come from and there is a bibliography at the end, as well as a section on where to go for further information.

In addition to providing information about the texts themselves, Tony makes links between them and popular literature of today – like The Da Vinci Code – and indicates where there has been exaggeration and misrepresentation. He looks at where the texts came from, who wrote them, why they weren’t included in the Bible and whether reading them is harmful to personal faith (he says no and I agree with him).

I enjoyed reading it. Because I haven’t made an extensive study of the Christian apocrypha, I learned quite a number of things from it quite painlessly and am confident from what he has to say about the texts that I have studied in some depth that what he has written is accurate and trustworthy.  He gives the reader a taste for what can be found in each of the texts he covers, and shows them where they can find out more, including the names of trustworthy places on the web, whilst acknowledging that this can become out of date quite quickly.  I would definitely recommend it for those interesting in getting an introduction to and an overview of the Christian apocrypha.

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6 thoughts on “Secret Scriptures Revealed – Tony Burke

  1. Thanks for this post, Judy. The apocrypha, NT & OT, provide valuable reading and study material for exploration of the Judeo-Christian tradition. You indicate that Tony Burke’s book is a good general guide to the NT portion of these writings. I have Fred Lapham’s book on the subject, published in 2003.

  2. Judy, I’ve been reading the parts of ‘Secret Scriptures Revealed’ that are available on Amazon.com. This looks like a very understandable book and it’s short, 176 pages, so it can be read and digested quickly. The ‘Appendix Resources for Further Study’ is excellent, as Burke gives info on the study of Christian apocrypha in many modern languages. I agree with your assessment of this book. Judy, if it’s not too much, please provide a sentence or two about what Burke says on Secret Mark (pp. 61-63, 91, 132 according to the Index). Thanks.

  3. Paul, pp 91 and 132 just mention Secret Mark in passing. The primary material is on pp 61-63 where he talks about Secret Mark as a longer version of Mark available in second-century Alexandria. He says that we know something of its contents through a letter attributed to Clement of Alexandria and sent to another Christian named Theodore. In it, he (ie Clement) quotes/retells two stories from the manuscript. One of them is a story about a relationship between Jesus and a young student of his, which can be attributed as homoerotic, which causes problems for many scholars. He then outlines the cases for and against it being a forgery. He finishes by saying:
    “Today many scholars still resist working with _Secret Mark_, fearing that evidence will finally present itself proving the text to be a forgery. This stalemate demonstrates how scholars’ own sensitivities, biases and even dislike for other scholars can interfere with the study of ancient literature, particularly with gospel texts that describe a Jesus different from the one they know and believe is true to history.” (pp 62-3)

  4. He doesn’t dismiss it as a modern forgery ie perpetrated by Morton Smith. He suggests that this leaves a number of possibilities: that it is genuine; that it is a medieval forgery written in Clement’s name; or that it is the product of a seventeenth-eighteenth century Greek writer who left a copy at Mar Saba.

  5. Pingback: More on Burke’s “Secret Scriptures Revealed” | Judy's research blog

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