In the welter of recent books on Gnostic gospels and other Christian apocrypha, Hans-Josef Klauck's Apocryphal Gospels shines out like sparks among stubble. Limiting his scope to 'gospels' (loosely defined by necessity), Klauck, who is Professor of New Testament and Early Christian Literature at the University of Chicago, expertly focuses updates, and greatly expands material once found in useful but now outdated handbooks such as M. R. James' great Apocryphal New Testament.
Prefaced with a comprehensive introduction to the literature, Klauck considers 25 non-canonical works from a wide range of provenance—Jewish- and Arab-Christian, gnostic, and others. He supplies often lengthy excerpts and good working bibliographies of recent critical exegesis for each entry. Arranged chronologically, and basically following the events of the life of Jesus (birth, ministry, death and resurrection), the collection begins with a valuable selection of agrapha, ("scattered words of Jesus" outside the canon) and ends with three fascinating chapters — "Legends about the Death of Mary" (Jesus' mother), "Lost Gospels," and a complete translation of a late anti-Christian pseudo-gospel, the Toledoth Jesu. Although falling outside the period of antiquity, this curious and disturbing work reflects literature from much earlier times.
Klauck's commentaries on the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene provide a careful counterweight to much of the tendentious interpretations and 'subversive subtexts' appearing in popular works. The Marian material will prove very helpful for anyone involved in the recent resurgence of studies in that area of scholarship. One of the more charming aspects of the book is Klauck's locating the origin of so many popular beliefs and legends about Jesus, his mother, the apostles, and other figures who appear in the canon, such as Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, and Pilate.
Klauck's concluding essay rounds out the collection with an excellent synopsis. Here, as throughout the relatively brief book, his approach is informed, balanced, and straightforward. Appended to the text are a helpful general bibliography, and three brief but indispensable indices. I recommend Apocryphal Gospels highly as an introductory text for graduate students and upper-level undergraduates and also as a vade mecum for anyone desiring a reliable update on the fascinating world of extra-canonical early Christian literature.