The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.2001 Tuesday, 16 November 1999.
Date: Monday, 15 Nov 1999 14:47:06 -0600
Subject: Apocryphal Gospels
Sorry Mike Jensen for being slow to answer your query about "gnostic
gospels". I have been away from the computer and my library for a few
The best known apocryphal gospel in the late Middle Ages was the *Gospel
of Nicodemus* or as it was called in Latin, the Gesta Pilati. The fact
that it was translated into Middle English Verse is prob. responsible
for its widespread influence on the drama. York, Chester and Wakefield
all draw on it for the harrowing of hell sequences and for some
legendary material about the Crucifixion and its immediate aftermath as
well. My knowledge of apocryphal gospels is at second hand; suggest
you start with Rosemary Woolf *The English Mystery Plays*. U of Calif.
Pr., 1972. See index s.v. gospels. Also Hardin Craig's English
Religious Drama of the Middle Ages Oxford: Clarendon 1955/1960. s.v.
Gospel of Nicodemus. There are other sources, prob. V.A. Kolve, The
Play Called Corpus Christi Stanford U.P. ca. 1965, but I cannot find my
copy just now. The two sources I cite above are only concerned with
Nicodemus/Gesta Pilati. There were other gospels current in the M.A.
and taken seriously. I remember titles like *Joseph the Carpenter* ,
The Girlhood of Mary, The Life of the Boy Jesus, etc. but do not
remember just where I read about them when studying medieval drama 35
years ago. The influence is said to be indirect in some cases, as the
Stanzaic Life of Christ and the Legenda Aurea both owe something to the
apocryphal gospels and these two sources doubtless contributed to the
I expect you can do better than this, but this will get you started.
Cheers for apocrypha,