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The Apocryphal Jesus

Gain a new perspective on early Christian life and history through non-canonical Christian literature led by an award-winning professor.
The Apocryphal Jesus is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 79.
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Rated 4 out of 5 by from Salutary and rewarding for all As far as I can gather fro the great variety of courses on Christanity, Jesus, Christan Culture and politics 1. Orthodoxy was a function of political power 2. Heresy is a departure from the authorised canons 3. Much of modern scholarship is concerned with the accidental finds of literature compiled concurrently with the Canon and many of the more recent findss should transform our concept of the teachings of Jesus We are steared deftly through this myriad of texts aand what emerges is a fount of Christian thought that is in many respects 'modern'. For the study of Philosophy, Theology ad culture these recent studies are of considerable importance not only to and for belief and faith but to a study of how Christian Culture has developed, so that it becomes impossible to deny or pretend,, that by choosing agnosticism or Atheism, or Humanism we are set free from the obligation to learn more about Jesus, his life and times, and his consorts . In all this Dr. Brakke is a most important guide and I would recommend that all, regardless of their belief or disbelief should follow this course [amongst many] so as to understand the basis of our Ethics and morality
Date published: 2023-01-01
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good History The instructor tried to give overviews of a lot of the relevant literature being presented. Presentation was good, kept things moving, but seemed to present similar themes throughout the course,
Date published: 2022-12-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good course I enjoyed this course almost as much as the other 2 courses from Professor Brakke. However, in this case, while I appreciate the thoroughness with which the topic is presented, I also felt that it was sometimes a bit redundant and that some of the information covered could have been omitted without detriment to the quality and depth of the course.
Date published: 2022-11-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I enjoyed this presentation. It's nice to know all different aspects of information concening the Bible. I recommend an open mind and consideration of the content represented in this lecture series.
Date published: 2022-10-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating Extra-Biblical History Only 1/2 way thru but am impressed with the knowledge this prof at Ohio St U. is revealing. The course surprised me with all the ancient letters and gospels that circulated the Christian communities in during the formation of churches. Many were found in the last century, whole or in part as well as others referred to by the early church fathers. Many were available before the canon of scripture was voted on by the bishops of the Roman empire church. These bishops then authorized the burning of all other letters and gospels. This religious course is one of many that any Christian should invest in before simply accepting the creeds and dogmas of their respective Christian traditions. Knowing how one's religion has morphed into present day orthodox beliefs is essential to anyone who is a serious truth-seeker. Dr. Brakke, who also has an M.Div. degree, has my respect as a serious religious historian and am looking forward to the rest of the course.
Date published: 2022-08-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Best These courses by Dr. Brakke make me want to enroll at Ohio State just so I can see what else he has to offer! This has a been a suburb starting point in my exploration of the early church fathers and what makes the apocrypha the apocrypha. What I enjoy most is Brakke's careful nature, the critical historical view of theology with evidence for time periods and the limits of what we can truly ascertain from the time period, and his sober categorization of each lesson enrich my basic understanding. I just finished my undergrad in history, and this reignited my want to further my education. If you haven't checked out his other courses please do so, there is a lot of early Christianity structural overlap and it solidifies an image of the evolution of and outside of the core of Chistiandom.
Date published: 2021-12-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from the road less travelled prepare for a journey into a vast library of texts that you’ve probably never heard of. i thought i knew a fair bit about early biblical literature, but most of these texts were completely new to me. they range from the more or less orthodox to the bizarre, and some of them may well be the sources of stories that you’re familiar with but have never been able to find in the bible. professor brakke as usual is a solid guide to this material. the course inspired me to actually read some of these documents, and i discovered that the professor’s summaries are uniformly excellent, covering everything of note and usually following the text word for word. his trademark ability to explain things in a clear and straightforward manner is very much in evidence. some of these works may be hard going, even for a professor with such skill, but these rough patches just make you appreciate his steady guidance all the more. for me the weakest lectures were the ones which essentially amounted to little more than an extended summary. there was sometimes so much material to cover in a particular text that all the professor could do was rehearse the narrative, which meant leaving aside any analysis of its meaning or context. but when we’re dealing with so much unfamiliar material, it’s vital that we take the time to understand who these works were important to, as well as who didn’t like them and why. and indeed most of the time prof. brakke does cover this, but in a few cases we spend so much time following some fairly rambling storylines that at the end we’re left wondering what the point of it all was. overall however the course does a great job of giving you a sense of the huge variety of literature that the early christian movement produced, and this in turn is a reminder of the incredible diversity of the first christian centuries. we get a glimpse into a world in which the name “christian” might not at all mean what you think it means. now in comparison to prof. brakke’s course on gnosticism, relatively little of this material is completely beyond the pale of mainstream christianity today, but a good chunk of it does straddle the line, and this gives us a window onto many of the things that early christians argued over: sex, marriage, the role of women, the humanity of jesus, jewish law & identity, heaven & hell, and of course which of the hundreds of texts which christians produced should actually be considered authoritative. and if any of these arguments sound familiar to you, then you might have a sense of why these obscure and occasionally bizarre old texts are still worth studying.
Date published: 2021-10-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent investigations into Authors' Purposes This course was exceptionally better than I imagined it would be going in. I thought there would be a lot of overlap with Professor Bart D. Ehrman's course "Lost Christianities: Christian Scriptures and the Battles over Authentication" and there would be few new insights gained considering Mr. Ehrman is one of my favorite professors. Shame on me. Professor Brakke has entered that rarified air. Sure a number of the same books were covered but he brought a fresh perspective, was easy to listen to, and excelled at anticipating and answering questions that might pop into listeners' minds. He ends lecture 1 stating: “The apocryphal Jesus is no less historical and nearly as influential as the Jesus of the New Testament”---I was taken aback by this bold statement but he presents a solid case by doing a wonderful job of tracing key elements of the Christian “story” that modern Christians accept (such as specific details of Jesus’ birth story, the assumption of Mary, and Jesus’ childhood) back to specific apocryphal books---elements that are not found in any of the books of the New Testament. He indeed proves how influential these books are on Christian notions of Jesus and his early followers---notions, beliefs, and traditions held not just by Christians from the first few centuries AD but also modern Christians. His brilliance is realized in two areas: his explanations of the contents of the apocryphal books (which at times can seem archaic and make little sense) and investigations into why the books were written and the purposes of the authors. One common theme is how they fill in the gaps of stories from the canonical books (such as Jesus’ childhood), provide supplemental information on certain characters (such as Joseph, of which we know little in the canonical gospels) or explain why certain things are such in the canonical books (such as why Mary was chosen among all other women to give birth to Christ). Top lectures for my money were 7 (Gospel of Thomas) and 16 (different views of how Paul viewed women’s role in the church) although my money was well spent on every lecture. He also provides fascinating insight into why certain books may have been considered heretical to orthodox belief, how the canon of New Testament books was defined, and how Christians responded to the books post New Testament through the years. I was hard pressed to find any criticisms of this course but perhaps one would be the surprising lack of criticism the professor has for the apocryphal books themselves. He treats the apocryphal books very well...maybe too well. While he would at times call out the unlikelihood of some of the fantastic stories in these books being true and historical, I’m not sure how he could keep a straight face while treating some of these books as serious literary pieces since most people would consider them silly (I expected more criticism from him). I don't know how anyone can discuss some of the wild accounts in some of these books (from the unrealistic miracles meant more for a chuckle vs. awe/historical accuracy to the talking lions, obedient bed bugs, and exaggerated views of abstinence) without at least a smirk every now and then or an acknowledgement that this has veered into the area of the truly outrageous. But again he excels at explaining the "whys" behind the authors' intentions for including all of the bizarre. And those explanations added a tremendous amount of value to the course and insight that wasn't always obvious to me. Professor Brakke is the real deal. This series of lectures is truly deserving of the moniker "Great Course". Five stars are hard to come by in my grading but here it is earned. Even if you think you know all there is to study on the Apocryphal books and have read them yourselves (like I have) I would recommend this course strongly. What a great way to spend 12 hours. I am so looking forward to listening to his other courses ("Understanding the New Testament" and "Gnosticism: From Nag Hammadi to the Gospel of Judas").
Date published: 2021-10-19
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Much of what we know about Jesus today comes from apocryphal sources rather than the Bible. The Apocryphal Jesus is your chance to learn about the early Christian world from a variety of sources-many of which have been considered heretical. Over 24 revealing lectures, Professor Brakke explores the stories and ideas that shaped the foundations of early Christian thought-and continue to influence Christianity today.


David Brakke

What the people we will study would want us to do is to read their texts, to consider with open minds what they teach us, and-just possibly-to pursue our own quests for the truth about God and ourselves-that is, to seek our own gnosis.


The Ohio State University

Professor David Brakke is the Joe R. Engle Chair in the History of Christianity and Professor of History at The Ohio State University. He received his B.A. in English from the University of Virginia, his M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and his Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Yale University. He taught for 19 years in the Department of Religious Studies at Indiana University.

Professor Brakke has published extensively on the history and literature of ancient Christianity, especially Egyptian Christianity, early monasticism, the formation of the biblical canon, and Gnosticism. His books include The Gnostics: Myth, Ritual, and Diversity in Early Christianity; Demons and the Making of the Monk: Spiritual Combat in Early Christianity; and Introduction to Christianity, with Mary Jo Weaver. He has co-edited six volumes of scholarly essays and contributed nearly 40 articles to professional journals and volumes. From 2005 to 2015, he served as editor of the Journal of Early Christian Studies.

At Indiana University, Professor Brakke received recognition for his teaching and research, including the Outstanding Junior Faculty Award. He has held several important fellowships, including ones from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. He is currently preparing a revised edition of Bentley Layton's The Gnostic Scriptures.

By This Professor

Gnosticism: From Nag Hammadi to the Gospel of Judas
The Apocryphal Jesus
Understanding the New Testament
The Apocryphal Jesus


The Influence of Apocrypha

01: The Influence of Apocrypha

The term "apocrypha" comes from the Greek and means "hidden" or "secret." The apocryphal writings of early Christians have a reputation for being heretical because they are not part of the New Testament's 27 canonical books. But as you will learn in this first lecture, these early Christian writings have contributed greatly to Christian culture and doctrine.

33 min
Jesus and Mary in the Proto-Gospel of James

02: Jesus and Mary in the Proto-Gospel of James

Begin your foray into the early Christian apocrypha with an extended reflection on the Virgin Mary. You may think you know her from the New Testament gospels, but you might be surprised to find out that much of her life's story actually comes from the Proto-Gospel of James, which fills in many of the gaps from the canonical gospels.

28 min
Young Jesus in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas

03: Young Jesus in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas is considered a bizarre book, offering what some see as troubling insight into the childhood of Jesus, portraying him as both amazingly divine but also troublingly human. Delve into some of the scholarly debates around this book and find out why it was so popular in the Middle Ages....

30 min
Joseph and the Magi in the Apocrypha

04: Joseph and the Magi in the Apocrypha

The New Testament gospels leave many questions on the table: Why was Mary a virgin if she was married to Joseph? How did Joseph feel about his wife bearing the child of the Lord? In this lecture, see how many early Christian apocryphal works humanize Joseph and resolve some of the questions-and contradictions-of the New Testament....

30 min
The Apocrypha and the Cult of Mary

05: The Apocrypha and the Cult of Mary

While Mary is present in the canonical gospels, it's really in the early Christian apocrypha that she becomes the leader among the saints. Explore several key texts to uncover what we know about Jesus' mother, her relationship with the disciples, and what makes her unique among New Testament figures. Better understand her special place in Christianity today....

32 min
Lost Gospels and Fragments

06: Lost Gospels and Fragments

Not all apocryphal works have survived, and many of the ones we have today exist only as fragments. Survey several important fragments and lost gospels-how we discovered them and what they say-to gain a fascinating glimpse of early Christian beliefs and controversies that we would not know about otherwise....

32 min
Sayings of Jesus from the Gospel of Thomas

07: Sayings of Jesus from the Gospel of Thomas

The Gospel of Thomas is the most famous-even infamous-apocryphal gospel, suppressed by the Church for its supposed heresy. As you'll find out in this lecture, the gospel compiles the sayings of Jesus and is modeled on the wisdom books from the Old Testament. This "living Jesus" provides a radically different angle on the meaning of Jesus' life and teachings....

32 min
Jesus's Statements beyond the Gospels

08: Jesus's Statements beyond the Gospels

Not all of Jesus' words come directly from the canonical gospels. These words-known as "agrapha"-come from numerous sources: books of the New Testament other than the gospels, the works of early Christian authors such as Origen, and alternative manuscripts of the New Testament gospels. Examine several of these sources to gain new insights into Jesus....

31 min
Conversations with the Living Jesus

09: Conversations with the Living Jesus

The gospel writers recorded much of Jesus' life, but they also acknowledged that they didn't record everything. Much of what he said is recorded in so-called "dialogic gospels," accounts of Jesus in lengthy conversations with one or more of his disciples. Study three of these unique works and gain new theological insight into Christianity.

30 min
The Gospel of Judas's Gnostic Vision

10: The Gospel of Judas's Gnostic Vision

Judas Iscariot is one of the most infamous figures in the Christian Bible, but the Gospel of Judas gives us a new perspective on this traitorous disciple. In this lecture, Professor Brakke introduces you to Gnosticism and shows how, in this gospel, Judas' betrayal of Jesus points to a greater truth about divinity and the material reality of the world.

32 min
The Gospel of Peter and the Talking Cross

11: The Gospel of Peter and the Talking Cross

Jesus designated Peter as the founder of the Church, which arguably makes him one of Christianity's most important disciples. The Gospel of Peter, however, adds some complexity to Peter's story-and it reframes the story of the Crucifixion to help make Christianity more compatible with the politics of the Roman Empire....

32 min
The Apocrypha and Pilate's Sanctification

12: The Apocrypha and Pilate's Sanctification

In the early centuries, Christianity became a Roman religion, which created awkwardness given that the Roman Pontius Pilate crucified Jesus. Find out how certain apocryphal texts-including the Gospel of Nicodemus, also known as the Acts of Pilate-dealt with this problem by recasting Pilate as a sympathetic figure and, ultimately, a Christian saint....

33 min
Dialogues with the Risen Jesus

13: Dialogues with the Risen Jesus

The New Testament tells us Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to the apostles before ascending into heaven. While the canonical gospels left Jesus' words a mystery, many apocryphal writers filled in the gaps. Examine several of these dialogic gospels to learn what Jesus told his followers after the resurrection....

34 min
Hope and Adventure in the Acts of John

14: Hope and Adventure in the Acts of John

Many of the apocryphal gospels were essentially novels written during the early Christian era, and they were filled with adventurous tales of shipwrecks, necrophilia, self-mutilation, and other wild stories. Dive into the Acts of John to consider this fascinating genre of literature and what it offered audiences of the time-as well as historians today....

33 min
Social Disruption in the Acts of Paul

15: Social Disruption in the Acts of Paul

Historians agree that this fragmentary work presents us a largely invented character, yet the Acts of Paul also gives us a remarkable challenge to the basic structure of Roman society-the household, the city, the empire, and even the Church. Examine this subversive book and discover a version Christianity that completely upends the reigning social order....

33 min
Thecla: Independent Woman of the Apocrypha

16: Thecla: Independent Woman of the Apocrypha

Continue your study of the Acts of Paul and turn to his disciple, Thecla, who is one of the most interesting women in early Christian writing. Although she likely did not exist in real life, she represents many women who did, and her story gives us a powerful look at the role of women in early Christian society....

31 min
Miracles and Magic in the Acts of Peter

17: Miracles and Magic in the Acts of Peter

As you have seen, Peter may have been the first leader of the Church, but he was a flawed leader. The fragmentary Acts of Peter builds on his story from the canonical gospels and shows us a fascinating, if somewhat troubling, figure. Learn more about Peter and his miracles, and find out why he was crucified upside down....

31 min
Peter versus Paul in the Pseudo-Clementines

18: Peter versus Paul in the Pseudo-Clementines

Each of the surviving apocryphal acts of the apostles make one apostle its hero, but they don't disparage the other apostles. However, the Pseudo-Clementine texts present a dramatic fight surrounding the early Church. This theological mess may pose a problem for historians, but it is nonetheless an important piece of early Christian literature.

31 min
The Acts of Thomas and the Mission to India

19: The Acts of Thomas and the Mission to India

How did Christianity get to India? Did Thomas really travel across the Middle East and preach the gospel in South Asia? Historians debate these questions and more, but regardless of the literal truth, the Acts of Thomas provides spiritual guidance about humanity's place in the world and challenges us to liberate ourselves....

30 min
Spiritual Love in the Acts of Andrew

20: Spiritual Love in the Acts of Andrew

While it was not the most profound of early Christian writings, the Acts of Andrew contains some of the strangest stories in all of early Christian literature, including tales of cannibals, myriad seductions, jilted husbands, and a human-killing giant serpent. Learn about some of these exciting stories, consider the book's genre, and reflect on the role of women....

31 min
Forged Letters of Jesus and the Apostles

21: Forged Letters of Jesus and the Apostles

The letter is one of the most important forms of Christian communication, from the New Testament letters of Paul through today's Papal addresses. In the early Christian world, apocryphal letters abounded, many of them forged. Examine the content of some of these letters, including ones purportedly written by Jesus....

31 min
Revelations That Didn't Make the Bible

22: Revelations That Didn't Make the Bible

The New Testament Book of Revelation is not the only apocalypse narrative from the first centuries of the Common Era. In this lecture, you'll explore the content and theology of several other Christian apocalypses and consider why the Revelation to John made it into the canon while the many other apocalypses did not....

30 min
Tours of Hell before Dante

23: Tours of Hell before Dante

You might be surprised to learn the canonical New Testament does not present a single consistent picture of the afterlife in general or hell in particular, yet visions of damnation exist in much of the early Christian apocrypha, including the Apocalypses of Peter and Paul. Take a tour of hell through several of these works and review their continued influence....

30 min
Apocrypha after the New Testament

24: Apocrypha after the New Testament

Although the New Testament was codified in the fourth century, apocryphal books continued to be written into the Middle Ages. Round out the course by surveying the later Christian apocrypha and witness the way the creative flourishing of Biblical writing continued through the Middle Ages and even into the present....

33 min