The Acts of John

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Introduction by M. James

They give the length of this book in the Stichometry of Nicephorus as 2,500 lines: the same number as for St. Matthew’s Gospel. We have large portions of it in the original, and a Latin version (purged, it is important to note, of all traces of unorthodoxy) of some lost episodes, besides a few scattered fragments. These were fitted together in what seems the most probable order.

The best edition of the Greek remains is in Bonnet, Acta Apost. Apocr. 11.1, 1898: the Latin is in Book V of the Historia Apostolica of Abdias (Fabricius, Cod. Apoer. N. T.: there is no modern edition).

Persecution of Christians

The beginning of the book is lost. It probably related in some form a trial, and banishment of John to Patmos. A distinctly late Greek text printed by Bonnet (in two forms) as cc. 1-17 of his work tells how Domitian, on his accession, persecuted the Hebrews. They accused the Christians in a letter to him: he accordingly persecuted the Christians. Domitian heard of John’s teaching in Ephesus and sent for him: his ascetic habits on the voyage impressed his captors. They brought John before Domitian, and made him drink poison, which did not hurt him: the dregs of it killed a criminal on whom they tried it: and John revived him; he also raised a girl who was slain by an unclean spirit. Domitian, who was much impressed, banished him to Patmos. Nerva recalled him. The second text tells how he escaped shipwreck on leaving Patmos, swimming on a cork; landed at Miletus, where they built a chapel in his honor, and went to Ephesus. All this is late: but an old story, known to Tertullian and to other Latin writers, but to no Greek, said that either Domitian at Rome or the Proconsul at Ephesus cast John into a cauldron of boiling oil which did not hurt him.

John into a Cauldron of Boiling Oil

They eventually fixed the scene of this at the Latin Gate in Rome (hence the St. John Port Latin of our calendar, May 6th). May the 6th remained a Feast Day of the Martyrdom of Saint John before the Latin Gate (Porta Latina) until 1960. We have no detailed account of this, but it is conjectured to have been told in the early part of the Leucian Acts. If so, it is odd that no Greek writer mentions it. Though it is certainly possible that certain small fragments which might have preceded the extant episodes.

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